Death should not be a taxable event — it's time to end the estate tax

A few years ago, a Missouri farmer passed away. His family carefully planned for his death and had incorporated his grandson into the farm as his eventual successor. The family knew they would face a hefty tax bill, and even knew there would be an additional tax for skipping a generation on the inheritance. But their careful planning wasn’t enough.

In the wake of the grandfather’s death the family still had to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to pay the tax burden thrust upon them by the federal government, and it took them years to pay it off. The smart financial decision would have been to sell the farm, but for this family — like so many rural families that face the same agonizing decision — keeping the farm was not a financial decision at all. It was personal.

As a 7th generation Missourian and family farmer from southern Missouri, I know firsthand that the last thing this hardworking American family needed was a hefty estate tax that nearly prevented their family’s legacy from being carried on.

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Unfortunately, this family isn’t unique. For over 2 million family farms and ranches across the country and the tens of millions of small businesses, the threat of losing generations of their family’s work is a very real possibility. Every day family-owned farms and small businesses are forced to take out loans or sell off land, equipment, property, or — in the worst-case scenario — the entire business operation to pay the federal estate tax and cover attorney fees.

In addition, the death tax forces family businesses to waste money on expensive insurance policies and estate planning. These burdensome compliance costs make it even harder for and deter business owners from expanding their businesses and creating more jobs.

In 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which I proudly helped write, ushered in the strongest economy our nation has ever seen. It put money back into the pockets of hardworking Americans and gave Main Street businesses relief from the heavy-handed tax burdens of Big Government policies of the past.

Among these reforms was a doubling of the death tax threshold. Now, instead of spending money on life insurance and estate planning, more farmers are able to expand their businesses, upgrade buildings, and purchase needed equipment and livestock. But most importantly, in the tragic event that a family member passes away, families can continue operating their businesses without having to question how they are going to afford to write an expensive check to Uncle Sam.

Despite this much-needed relief, more needs to be done. That is why I have introduced, with the bipartisan support of over 140 of my colleagues, the Death Tax Repeal Act. This legislation would provide significant relief and peace of mind to family-owned farms, ranches, and businesses by fully repealing the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes. Without the full repeal of the death tax, families with generational farms and small businesses will always live with uncertainty and in fear of the estate tax.

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Estate tax repeal is popular with voters as well. A 2017 NPR/Ipsos Poll found that 65 percent of respondents favored repealing the estate tax, including 51 percent of self-identified Democrats polled.

The doubled tax exemption amount I fought for in TCJA expires at the end of 2025, increasing uncertainty and planning costs. It is high time for Congress to come together and provide certainty by fully repealing the death tax.

It is bad policy to require grieving families to pay an unreasonable tax on their loved one’s nest egg. Far too often Americans have to sell family assets or take out egregious loans all to pay off this tax.

Death should not be a taxable event and no one should be punished for fulfilling the American dream.

Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithGender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama Death should not be a taxable event — it's time to end the estate tax GOP ramps up attacks on Biden's border wall freeze MORE represents Missouri’s 8th District.