A change in tax laws could see wealthy New Yorkers taxed up to 164% on their estates.
A change in tax laws could see wealthy New Yorkers taxed up to 164% on their estates.flickr

There are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes.

However, rich New Yorkers won't be able to escape the taxman, even when they die, because they could be hit with a 164% rate on portions of their estates.

A recent change in New York's estate tax was billed as tax relief for the wealthy in the hope that it would halt them from skipping town to a state with a lower tax.

The reprieve means that the states exemption will match the federal one by 2017 which is slightly over $5m (£3m, €3.6m).

But a detail within the new tax laws could force wealthy New Yorkers to cough up a large fee from the grave. If an estate is worth over $5m, then it could be hit with a 164% marginal tax rate.

Kevin Matz, an accountant and attorney in White Plains, New York, did the maths.

If an estate is worth $262,500 more than the $5.25m threshold, then the estate would pay $430,050 – 164% of the marginal rate.

Matz told CNBC "It's nonsensical. The governor said this is about making New York a better climate for the wealthy. It's had the opposite effect."

The previous law stipulated that New Yorkers would have to pay 3% to 16% on the value of properties over $1m. The new law raises that to just over $2m and it will eventually reach $5m by 2017, where the 164% marginal tax comes into play.

A spokesman for the New York State Division of the Budget told CNBC that while the marginal rates may have changed, "No one's taxes have gone up. The dollar amount they pay does not increase."

By the time that the tax change is fully in place in 2017, 90% of New York's estates will be exempt from tax.

Experts now fear that this will force New York's richest will move away.

"For the wealthiest New Yorkers, moving to Florida may be nothing more complicated than moving your domicile," Ronald Weiss, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who specialises in trusts and estates told CrainsNewYork.com

"If you're well-off, it doesn't take a lot of effort to reorient your life, especially if New York is still an unfriendly place to die."