Donald J. Trump is trying to breathe life into the issue Republicans call “death taxes” and which most people simply call estate taxes.

The GOP presidential candidate said in a speech Thursday that he would “end the death tax,” which a fact sheet he released said “falls especially hard on small businesses and farmers.”

Tax experts beg to differ. They say those groups have been relatively spared the tax. The amount that an individual must be worth before paying estate taxes is $5.43 million for an individual and $10.86 million for a couple, levels beyond the fortunes of most small businesses or individuals. Small privately-owned farms rarely run up against the tax either.

“Only 30 small farms and closely held businesses-estates with farm and business assets totaling no more than $5 million and making up at least half of gross estate-will pay any estate tax in 2015,” said the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. “Such estates will represent less than 1 percent of all taxable estate tax returns.”

Moreover, when the beneficiaries of those estates do owe taxes, they don’t owe all that much. The Tax Policy Center estimates that “small farms and businesses will pay only $10 million in estate tax in 2015, less than one-tenth of 1 percentage of the total estate tax revenue.”

Somewhat larger farms and businesses pay a bit more. Those returns, on which farm and business assets make up more than $5 million and at least half of the value of an estate, account for 310 of the 5,330 taxable estate tax returns in 2015, and they paid only 6 percent of total estate tax revenue.

Even that doesn’t give the entire picture, though. If you die with less than the threshold amounts, your heirs don’t need to file an estate tax return at all. The Joint Committee on Taxation said in 2013, taxable estate tax returns were needed for just one fifth of one percent of the deaths that year.

More than half of the people who died with estates deemed large enough to require a return in the end owed no taxes at all because of various credits and exemptions. When one member of a couple dies, for instance, the surviving spouse does not owe any money until he or she dies. The maximum tax rate on the amount higher than the thresholds would be 40 percent.

The real winners from scrapping the estate tax? People like Trump. The Tax Policy Center says that virtually all the revenue from the estate tax – $18.4 billion in 2015 – comes from people who came from the top 10 percent of income earners, and more than one-third of the revenue came from those in the richest 0.1 percent. They have the most to gain.


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