AND DISCOVERS PLANS FOR GUILLOTINE
I've read over and over again for the last several years about this "death tax" -- the estate tax that causes families to have to sell the family farm or business to pay the federal estate tax, and leaves the grieving heirs with nothing for their (usually) father's hard work. But I have yet to see one specific example of such an occurrence. As was pointed out in a previous commentary ("Another Look at Tax Cuts"), the stories of selling the family farms to pay estate tax are rural legends.
But I am willing to keep an open mind. So I will now make an offer to readers of this commentary: if anyone can offer me proof of any resident of Nebraska whose family sold their farm because the owner died and the estate tax was so high that the farm had to be sold to pay it, I will appear at a GOP function and admit that it does happen, and then salute a picture of Ronald Reagan.
Before you start deluging me with e-mails, though, here is the proof I require (I am , after all, a lawyer and must define terms): 1) You must produce the final estate tax calculation by your accountant or attorney for your decedent; 2) You must produce clear evidence that the decedent's estate was not sufficient to pay that tax (i.e., that the tax was more than the money or other property he left behind, not counting the family farm); 3) you must show that there were no other debts against the farm that were not paid out of his estate (this means you have to prove that you sold the farm solely to pay off the estate tax); and 4) you must show that once the farm was sold, the proceeds from the farm went to pay the estate tax (i.e., the heirs didn't pocket the proceeds and default on the tax).
Is that too stringent to require? I don't think so. If you will claim that it was the "death tax" that cost the family the farm, you have to show that it was this tax that did it, not that it was some other debt or just the desire to fold up the farm and move to the city on the part of the heirs.
I've been doing some reading about the French Revolution recently as I prepare for auditions for Les Liasons Dangeruese at the Lincoln Community Playhouse. It's very revealing. Consensus these days on the cause of the revolution (in a simplified form) seems to be the following:
1) High deficits on the national budget as a result of several badly-managed wars (including, oddly enough, supporting our own American Revolution);
2) A wealthy plutocracy/nobility which paid no taxes, held most privileges in society, held the overwhelming majority of wealth, and continued to concentrate the nation's wealth in its own hands without allowing it to move back to the remainder of society;
3) A national leader -- the king -- which was linked closely with the religious leadership, exempted the nobility from taxation, involved the nation in wars which drained the economy without replenishing the national budget from those who had the most to contribute
4) Increased separation between the wealthy and poor, increased suffering among the poorest, increased indifference of the most wealthy to the plight of the poorest, and a sense of isolation of the majority from the government.
Does any of this sound familiar? Just as a side note, I did find the plans for erecting a guillotine...