Postmortem Austerity and Entitlement Reform
71 Stanford Law Review Online 132 (2018)
8 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2018
Date Written: July 16, 2018
This Essay proposes a novel policy of "postmortem austerity" to address the unsustainable, rapidly escalating cost of federal entitlement programs following the 2017 tax reforms. If Social Security and Medicare continue on their current path to insolvency, then they will eventually require austerity reforms absent a politically unpopular tax increase. This Essay argues that, if austerity becomes necessary, federal entitlement reforms should be implemented progressively in a manner that minimizes displacement of benefits on which individuals relied when saving for old age. A policy of postmortem austerity would establish new eligibility criteria for Social Security and Medicare that postpone the effective date and economic consequences of benefit ineligibility until after death. All individuals would continue to collect federal entitlements during life, but at death, wealthy decedents would be deemed retroactively disqualified from part or all of Social Security and Medicare benefits received during life. The estates of such decedents would then be liable for repayment of disqualified benefits.
Keywords: Entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, Retirement, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017
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