Shortly after I started my PhD, a paper hit the economics world that made a lot of people open their eyes to the power of the dismal science. This paper, on the heals of the popularity of Freakonomics and behavioural economics, by Wojcieck Kopczuk and Joel Slemrod was entitled Dying to Save Taxes and asked “Do people find ways to postpone their deaths if it qualifies them for a lower inheritance tax rate?” While I don’t see any HT to Douglas Adams in their paper, the paper is testing Adams’ world where people can be ‘Dead for Tax Reasons.’
The punchline of this relatively short paper is that there is a marginally (1.6%) higher probability of people whose estate would benefit from a lower inheritance tax regime dying in such a regime. The authors do note that this effect could be doctor induced, but I am not all that clear on the incentive for the doctor to influence or ex post change the death date so the estate can benefit.
This work contributes to the voluminous literature that taxes do indeed effect behaviour. Taxes have been shown to influence marriage, divorce, labour supply, stock options, births, and now even deaths! Taxes, you see, are a powerful motivator and if you take the time to understand them, you too can benefit from day to day mundane tasks that you were going to do anyway, like dying.