For all of the attention it gets, a relatively small number of estates actually pay the federal estate tax. In 2014, fewer than 12,000 estate tax returns were filed with the IRS, and most of the estates that filed the returns did not owe any tax.
Thus, the estates that do pay the tax are those of the wealthiest of the wealthy in the country. By looking at the data on the returns where an estate tax was due it is possible to get an idea of what kind of assets wealthy people have.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, in "When the Superrich Die, Here's What's in Their Wallets," the IRS has recently released that information for estate tax returns filed in 2014.
While the article breaks the data down into what the extremely wealthy few hold and what the just wealthy enough to pay the estate tax hold, there are things both groups have in common when they pass away.
Overwhelmingly, the most common asset is stock in publicly traded companies. The next most popular assets are closely held stock and bonds. Real estate, cash, retirement accounts and limited partnerships also make up a large percentage of the assets held by estates that are subject to the estate tax.
What this data reveals is that wealthy people have several different types of assets that need to be included in an estate plan.
It is important to treat each asset appropriately to limit the estate tax burden and to ensure that if any estate tax is owed, that the assets are liquid enough for the estate to pay it.
A qualified estate planning attorney can guide you through this process.
Reference: Wall Street Journal (October 30, 2015) "When the Superrich Die, Here's What's in Their Wallets"