The Real “Buffett Rule”: Estate Tax Avoidance

by Greg Pollowitz

How come Warren Buffett is trying to get fellow billionaires to give their fortunes to charity, shielding the money from estate taxes?

Forty wealthy families and individuals have joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett in a pledge to give at least half their wealth to charity.

Six weeks after launching a campaign to get other billionaires to donate most of their fortunes, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. released the first list Wednesday of people who have signed what he and Gates call the “giving pledge.”

Buffett decided in 2006 to give 99 percent of his fortune to charity. Then, he was worth about $44 billion. After five years of investment returns while making annual gifts to five foundations, Buffett’s fortune totals nearly $46 billion.

Bill and Melinda Gates do most of their philanthropic giving through their foundation, which had assets of $33 billion as of June 30 and has made at least $22.93 billion in total grant commitments since 1994.

Buffett said he, the Gateses and others have made 70 to 80 calls to some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals. The people who agreed to the pledge are from 13 states, with the most participants in California and New York.

Allen, the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, disclosed last month that the bulk of his wealth would go to philanthropy after his death. lists Allen, who made his fortune as the co-founder of Microsoft, at No. 17 on its 2009 list of the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of $11.5 billion.

Hey, I’m all for giving to charity. I’m all for the estate tax exemption for charity. But don’t argue that the federal government is starved for tax dollars when you are doing everything you can to make sure your money is spent how you want, not how Leviathan wants it spent.

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