Yesterday, Laura Holden in August, 2010, Laura Holden began her autopsy of Sidney Frome. Let’s meet Sidney
December 15, 2009.
Sidney Frome lived like many billionaires, in a federal style house in rural Virginia. It had the usual long blue stone drive, with a circular asphalt driveway near the house. Off to the side of the house was a garage housing several late model imported cars for himself and his children, not to mention the Duzenberg convertible that was his pride and joy.
Sidney Frome looked haggard. The chemotherapy had not worked. His billions could not stop the inevitable. His two children, Daniel and Marilyn entered the room along with his lawyer, Fred Smith. There were some tax issues that Fred wanted to discuss. Marilyn wondered why she needed to sit in on such a boring topic as taxes. “Fred, what’s on your mind?”, Sidney rasped.
“In 2001, a new Tax Act was passed. It states that if you die in 2009, you can pass $3.5 Million to your heirs tax free. What I am about to say may sound macabre, but if you die in the year 2010 your entire estate will pass to your children tax free. ” Fred continued, “Man, there is no easy way to say this, but Sidney you really need to consider revoking your living will.” A living will is a document where a person states their wishes that they do not wish to be kept alive artificially. Sidney winced. He could not imagine even one more day of pain, much less sixteen more days, a near eternity. However, Fred had a point. He had worked hard for his fortune. Why should the government get it instead of his kids? His children were the most important things in his life, now. He regretted the things that he had done to sever his relationship with their mother. He reflected on the long hours, the affairs and the lack of respect that he had shown her. Now, she was happily married to some other man. He thought about the day that each of his children were born. He thought about the way he felt in the delivery room each time. He remembered holding them in his arms after they were born, the nighttime feedings, the diapers, and the smell of baby powder. He recalled their birthday parties, the baptisms, the prom nights, and all their many dates. He remembered when Marilyn’s date came to pick her up, she was wearing a resplendent pink dress, and Sidney made sure he was out trimming the hedges with his massive garden shears, even though the gardeners had that chore covered. He recalled playing catch in the backyard with Danny. He recalled several visits to the principal’s office after Danny’s many fights in school. Yes, he could try and hold on for sixteen days, and revoke the document. “I guess its true that your life passes before your eyes in your final days”, he thought.
“I hope the old goat dies next year”, thought daughter Marilyn. “It’s the least he can do. I’ll never forgive the bastard for what he did to mom. I hope the jerk suffers, too. If anyone deserves to suffer, its him. After all, he’s kept us on an allowance our whole lives, and now its ours.” She thought of yachts, young men, trips to the Riviera, chauffeurs, and homes in all the trendy spots, Cannes, Martha’s Vineyard, Palm Springs, South Beach, Paris, and La Jolla. What a life. All that she said out loud, though, was, “Dad, it’s a lot of money!”
Daniel, too, had thoughts about his childhood. His thoughts were more balanced. Going to ballgames with his father, playing golf with his father and his business associates, spending time together at the office were some things that they did together and gave Daniel some fond memories to go with the less fond ones. He would take over the family business which he had been running for the last few years. He respected his dad and loved him. He would miss the times they rode into the office together. But he also knew reality. He knew that if they had to pay 50% estate taxes, there would be no way to retain the business in the family. Dad would not want it sold to strangers, or tied up in charitable trusts with a bunch of priests, university presidents, and lawyers making all the decisions. His dad had resisted such overtures in the past. He said, “Dad we could keep the business in the family, forever.” “That’s right” Fred added, “and with those dynasty trusts we created last year, your family could own the business for two generations without any death taxes. But that’s only if you live past December 31. You see back in 2001, President George W. Bush promised to repeal the Estate Tax. Congress kept that pledge, but because of the Budget Act passed by Congress in the 80’s, the Senate cannot pass a tax bill which creates a budget deficit without sixty votes. Since there were only 55 senators in favor of repeal, they had to pass only a partial repeal. Thus, the Estate tax is reduced to zero for one year, the year 2010. The catch is that you have to actually die in 2010, not 2009 or 2011. Thus, if the scion of a wealthy family dies in that one year, his estate avoids estate and generation skipping taxes. Then the wars hit, the economy tanked, and suddenly the year 2009 is upon us with no change in the law.” Sidney signed the document revoking his living will without reading it. He thanked Fred for coming out this close to Christmas, and Fred left.