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The inheritance and gift tax in Germany: Reform potentials for tax revenue, efficiency and distribution

Martin Beznoska, Tobias Hentze and Maximilian Stockhausen ()
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Martin Beznoska: German Economic Institute, Köln, Germany
Tobias Hentze: German Economic Institute, Köln, Germany

Public Sector Economics, 2020, vol. 44, issue 3, 385-417

Abstract: The inheritance tax is often seen as an effective tool to reduce wealth inequality, to raise public revenues if needed, and to increase incentives to work by lowering the tax burden on labour, which is especially high in Germany, according to the OECD. The purpose of this paper is therefore to shed light on the question of whether an inheritance tax is a promising tool for fighting wealth inequality without having distorting effects on the economy. For this purpose, firstly, the distributional effects of inheritances on wealth distribution are evaluated for Germany and are then compared with those in Austria and France, using data from the Household Finance and Consumption Survey (HFCS). A change in the German inheritance tax law in 2009 is further used in a difference-in-difference analysis to identify the behavioural effects of the change in the inheritance tax on the volume of bequests, which are large and robust for different specifications. Secondly, the insight from part one is applied to the design of an inheritance tax reform for Germany. The potential tax revenue of the reform can be estimated by using the data from the inheritance and gift tax statistics. A revenue shift from income to inheritance tax could be used to increase work incentives by cutting the marginal tax rates for the working population. However, it turns out that taxing inheritances will be accompanied by significant behavioural responses of donors via tax planning. Furthermore, the introduction of a flat tax model with a broad tax base would not generate enough additional revenue to foster relevant employment effects.

Keywords: inheritance taxation; wealth distribution; redistribution; inequality; labour supply; Germany (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D31 H20 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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Handle: RePEc:ipf:psejou:v:44:y:2020:i:3:p:385-417