The Profits and Penalties of Kinship: Conflicting Meanings of Family in Estate Tax Law

69 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2005


This article critically examines the conflicting estate tax definitions of family in I.R.C. Sections 2036, 2032A and 6166. The sections use terms such as family and related in ways that conflict with each other and with lay understanding of the terms. From an historical perspective, the multiple estate tax definitions reflect the Code sections' distinct purposes. From a theoretical perspective, they acknowledge the personal and economic interconnectedness within families as well as diversity in the structure of family arrangements. The existing definitions of family fall short, however, in that they fail to recognize the full range of associational arrangements that function as families and the non-market contributions that women, in particular, make to families.

The author evaluates four proposed solutions to the complexity created by the multiple estate tax definitions of family: adopting a uniform definition of family, eliminating all wealth transfer tax rules that penalize or prefer the family, eliminating only the preferential rules for families and increasing the estate tax exemption. The author rejects these proposals as individually and collectively incomplete, though, and embraces instead a fifth proposal that uses unique terms to bring the estate tax definitions in line with the rules' underlying policies. Adopting the unique terms will make the law less complex and will help achieve statutory integrity.

Keywords: Estate tax, family, wealth transfer taxation, wealth, women

JEL Classification: K34, K19, K29

Suggested Citation

Crawford, Bridget J., The Profits and Penalties of Kinship: Conflicting Meanings of Family in Estate Tax Law. Pittsburgh Tax Review, Vol. 3, 2005, Available at SSRN:

Bridget J. Crawford (Contact Author)

Pace University School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States

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