My fiancee's family isn't rich by any means. They own a pair of gas stations and some lease some land in a rural area on the Big Island of Hawaii, but don't really make much profit from it. However, they've built their business over 50 years since the original gas station through hard work and smart investment into land in the area.
Their estate might be worth several million dollars (let's say $5 million).
You don't think $5 million is rich at all. Where are you coming from?
.. I just want to know what the point is behind the estate tax, whether y'all agree with its fairness or unfairness, and whether there are any options that could be theorized to make it better.[/QUOTE]
Well the point is that a modern country needs taxes to have a modern decent society. Frankly . though it is often denied by conservatives and libertarians you need the government to fund substantial infrastruture so that everyone, even the rich can make their money, so even they are dependent on sufficient tax revenues. Where are you going to get the money, if not from millionaires"?
Some of the values inherent in the estate tax are: 1) we don't just want an aristocracy run by folks who have inherited wealth. 2) Inheriting a lot of money greatly decreases the motivation to work by what could otherwise be productive kids born to privileged families. 3) It is a lot less painful than just raising all the money from ordinary working folks.
I suppose we could have raised the money through additional taxes on your wife's family throughout the 50 years, but would that have been that much better? As for the Hawaiian real estate, taxing the value that increased with time does not seem a particularly harsh way to raise tax money.
I believe actually the state tax doesn't kick in until several milliion in taxes. Also if they want to hang on to the working gas stations and any of the younger generation wants to work them, why not take out a mortgage on the property or sell the land? If none of the kids want to work the gas stations, they are just emotionally like any other asset.
As far as making the state tax fairer we could make some special provisions for small businesses that are still going to be run by the survivors. None of the typical bs in which say the Walton Family pr machine hides behind the plight of the few small family farms that are sold for inheritance taxes each year.