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Ranching and The “Death Tax”

Ranching and The “Death Tax”

A Matter of Conservation as Well as Equity

(p.267) Spotlight 13.1 Ranching and The “Death Tax”
Stitching the West Back Together
Thomas E. SheridanAndrew ReevesSusan Charnley
University of Chicago Press

The estate tax, or “death tax,” is often attributed to the demise of large ranches and nonindustrial private forests under the premise that the taxes owed by those who inherit the property are unaffordable, forcing the descendants to sell or subdivide the property. This situation arises when land is highly valued as a real estate investment, even if those making a living off it—and preserving its ecological value—are barely able to make a profit, let alone pay a large tax bill. A 2008 Tax Policy Center report claimed that only a small percentage of family farms and ranches have sufficient assets to evoke the estate tax. However, it overlooks the fact that the average size of western ranches and forest holdings is larger than in the East, and loss of just a few working landscapes may promote fragmentation of ecosystems and conservation efforts more than provide economic equity.

Keywords:   death tax, estate tax, Tax Policy Center, working landscapes, nonindustrial private forest

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