In 1916 Congress for the first time levied a tax upon the transfer of a decedent's net estate. The Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives explained that a new type of tax was needed, because the "consumption taxes" in effect at that time bore most heavily upon those least able to pay them. The Committee further explained that the revenue system should be more evenly and equitably balanced and "a larger portion of our necessary revenues collected from the incomes and inheritances of those deriving the most benefit and protection from the Government."
The Committee recommended an estate tax rather than an inheritance tax because many states already imposed inheritance taxes. It felt that the estate tax helped to form a well-balanced system of inheritance taxation between the Federal Government and the various states and that an estate tax could be readily administered with less conflict than a tax based upon inherited shares.
Various changes in the estate tax provisions of law, as well as their repeal, have been proposed over the years, but the principle has been retained. Our office has available an excerpt from the Ways and Means Committee's report on the Revenue Act of 1935. The report reproduces a June 19, 1935, message from President Roosevelt
to Congress advocating an inheritance tax, in addition to the estate tax. Although the inheritance tax proposal was not adopted, the message provides information on why the taxation of individuals' estates was considered appropriate.