For the Press

Tax Analysts Columnists David Cay Johnston Challenges You to Help Simplify the Estate Tax: Proposes Idea to Cut Paperwork, Scrap Need for Credit Shelter Trust

October 13, 2009

FALLS CHURCH, VA — David Cay Johnston, the Tax Analysts columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, proposes in this week’s Tax Notes a way to greatly simplify the estate tax by eliminating forms and the need for shelters.

Rather than assume the current estate tax as a starting point, he writes, “What if we start from a different premise: The way married couples hold their money is no more the government’s business than how they hold each other.”


After outlining his idea, which involves a check-the-box feature on IRS Form 1040 for a person to check when his or her spouse dies, Johnston issued a challenge to Tax Notes readers:

“Critique this proposal in terms of how to make the law as simple as possible. Even if you favor eliminating the tax, take a hand at trying to figure out how to make compliance with a continuing estate tax as simple as possible.”

If, he writes, readers can agree on ways to simplify the estate tax, two good things may happen: “First, Congress just might enact a simpler estate tax. Second, a lot of informed and bright minds could start working on how to do the same for the rest of the tax code.”

Read Johnston’s column.