Some advocates of the inheritance tax claim that it is only because of the action of the state that, in the first place, there is an accumulation of wealth, and in the second place, that a transmission of this wealth is allowed; consequently, the state is justified in exacting a part of the wealth of the decedent.
Expense of Service. - The mere transmission of wealth at death inevitably places some burden upon the state, with an accompanying expense. Court officials must be maintained for the purpose of making the transfer in a proper manner, and of guaranteeing the title to property. While these are maintained primarily for the benefit of the public, yet at the same time a special benefit is conferred for which it is perfectly proper to make some exaction. From the nature of the case, and in comparison with other similar court services, the payment required would be no more than the cost of rendering the service. This would be a fee payment and could scarcely be classed as a tax. The payment would necessarily be small and there would be no place for progressive, nor even proportionate rates. A uniform charge for a bequest of any size would be the most logical, since the cost to the court would vary but little with the size of the estate. This principle is the chief consideration in some of our states in their laws relating to the levies placed upon inheritances.
Value of Service. - A more strict application of the benefit theory is found when it is claimed that a state should exact an amount based upon the value of its service to the recipient of the transfer. The argument goes back to the principle that there is no natural right to transfer property after death. Since this is true, the state has conferred a benefit upon the recipient by establishing the institution of inheritance, and thereby making it possible for the transfer to exist. A valuable benefit has thereby been conferred, and payment should be exacted for this benefit. The state furthermore looks after the safe transfer of the property, and places the title securely in the hands of the recipient, which enhances the value of the benefit. The difficulty with this argument is the difficulty with the whole theory of benefit as a base for taxes. To measure accurately the value of these benefits in each particular case would be impossible, and the justice of the tax would then vary according to the accuracy of the measurement.
Partnership of State. - Still another application of the principle of benefit is found in the concept that the state is a partner to the accumulation of wealth, and at the death of the holder is entitled to its share, rather than have the whole estate pass to some one who was only remotely, or not at all, instrumental in its production. Since it has been through the contributions of society that large fortunes have grown, society has the right to demand some return. This return may be secured through a contribution to the government at the death of the holder of the accumulated fortune. The difficulty of measurement again presents itself in both of these cases. That the state and society are instrumental in the accumulation of individual wealth is an outstanding fact, and it is for such intangible and unmeasurable services that taxes in general are partially levied. The principle of benefit, however, in tax levies, has been all but discarded.