A death tax is a tax on the right to transfer property or to receive property upon the death of the owner. Consequently, a death tax falls into the category of a excise tax. If the death tax is imposed on the right to pass property at death, it is classified as estate tax. If it taxes the right to receive property from a decedent it is classified as an inheritance tax. As is typical of other types of excise taxes the value of the property transferred provides the base for determining the amount of death tax.
The federal government imposes only an estate tax. State governments levy inheritance taxes, estate taxes or both.