While little agreement exists regarding the taxation of bequests in general, there is a widely held view that accidental bequests should be subject to a confiscatory tax. We reexamine the optimal taxation of accidental bequests in an economy where individuals care about what they leave to their offspring in case of premature death. We show that, whereas the conventional 100 %-tax view holds under the standard “utilitarian social welfare” criterion, it does not hold under the “ex post egalitarian” criterion, which assigns a strong weight to the welfare of unlucky short-lived individuals. Under the latter, it is optimal to subsidize accidental bequests, rather than tax them. We also show that, although the sign of an optimal tax depends on the form of the “joy of giving” motive, it remains true that the 100 %-tax view does not hold under the ex post egalitarian criterion.
Premature Deaths, Accidental Bequests and Fairness
Grégory Ponthière and Stéphane Zuber