Estate tax filings by taxpayers with estates of at least $3.5 million surged during the first part of the decade. The number of returns for this group grew from 9,440 to 14,281 between 2001 and 2007, according to IRS statistics late last year. The boomlet occurred as estate tax returns dwindled overall. The total number filed fell to 38,031 from 108,071 in the period. One force was clearly at work: The estate tax exemption rose steadily under the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, from $675,000 in 2001 to $2 million in 2007.

The IRS couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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