Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Edward A. Zelinsky (Cardozo): Warren Buffett and the Estate Tax (Oxford University Press Blog):
Among his other observations, Buffett has correctly noted the dangers to a democracy of inherited wealth as well as the moral obligation of those who have done particularly well in American society to give back to that society. ... These concerns have led Buffett to support retention of the federal estate tax and to express dismay that his federal income tax bracket is lower than his secretary’s. ...
All of this leaves me perplexed by the way Buffett is contributing the bulk of his assets to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett has received excellent legal advice to guarantee that his contributions will not generate federal tax. This provokes the question: Why?
Buffett could give his fortune to the Gates Foundation in a manner which generates federal tax. This would leave less for the foundation but more for the federal fisc. Indeed, Bill Gates, like Warren Buffett, advocates retaining the federal estate tax. He too could leave his assets to his foundation in a fashion which would share part of those assets with Uncle Sam
It seems strange for prominent and outspoken advocates of the federal estate tax to dispose of their assets in a manner meticulously designed to avoid the federal estate tax. ... The same skilled lawyers who arranged for Buffett’s fortune to go the Gates Foundation tax-free could instead arrange for Buffett’s assets to go to this foundation on a taxable basis. The resulting payment to the federal Treasury would demonstrate that the sage of Omaha is willing to put his money where he says his heart is.