Any types of taxes which are assessed against a decedent’s assets when they are transferred to a beneficiary are death taxes. The best known of such taxes is the inheritance tax, but death taxes may take many guises. Laws differ considerably between jurisdictions. Such taxes are levied upon the beneficiary of the estate and the amount is based upon the value of the property when the owner passes away.
In the U.S., death taxes specifically refer to an estate tax which the beneficiary must pay in order to assume control of the property. Related to the estate tax is the inheritance tax. This applies to taxes paid on funds willed to a beneficiary. Each state has its own laws regarding such taxes; some states impose much heavier taxes than other.
Death taxes are very controversial no matter where they are assessed. Opponents feel that such taxes place a financial burden on inheritors when they are grieving. Worse, there are instances where the tax is so large the beneficiary must sell off the assets of the inheritance in order to pay the bill. This may obviate the entire point of making someone a beneficiary.
Supporters of such taxes feel that this tax, like others, is intended to provide revenue for local and federal governments which provide numerous services enjoyed by all citizens, including the beneficiary. They argue that the inheritor didn’t earn the assets they are being given and never paid taxes on them before, so it makes sense to tax them at the time of receipt.