You Can Sleep (And Pay Taxes) When You’re Dead

No matter how much you would like to believe that money is not all that important, it is.  There’s no avoiding that fact.  But you might be surprised by the lengths people will take just to strike a good deal while it’s hot.  

Take the most recent issue of Time Magazine, for example.  One of the articles discusses a phenomenon called “death elasticity,” where it has been found that death rates increase slightly among the wealthy when estate tax rates go down.  Basically, this means that the filthy rich are more likely (and willing) to die during a period when estate tax rates are low so that their heirs can keep as much of their inheritances as possible.  Talk about scrounging for every penny.

Currently, there is no federal estate tax and people are taking advantage of that fact before the rate spikes to 55 percent in 2011.  By take advantage, I mean DYING.  One NYC estate-planning attorney was even quoted in the article saying, “I’ve had clients tell me that if they were to get terminally ill this year, they would want to pull the plug instead of hanging on.”

Now the article assures that there won’t be a “death wave” over this issue, but the fact that there is empirical proof of a trend, however slight, is disconcerting to say the least.  On the bright side, death elasticity goes both ways.  In Australia, when the estate tax was eliminated, the death rate decreased with an estimated 50 extra people, who should have died otherwise, living through the week until the tax was abolished.  Go figure.  

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
— Benjamin Franklin

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