Saturday, June 24, 2017

On Death Taxes and Life Taxes

My friendly readers, this will be a quick post.  I have far too little time for much of anything this weekend except doing my duties -- to my “day” job, to my 501(c)(3), and to my mom. 

Sadly, my beloved mother is battling a serious setback in her health and I find myself unable to spend a day without seeing her.  She’s less than six weeks away from her 96th birthday and for the first time in her life, she’s becoming mentally docile.   That’s not my mother.   She’s a fighter.  But serious health setbacks at her age are a tough thing to fight.

My mom’s condition is forcing me to think about other people I’ve known with nonagenarian parents who don’t exactly live swimmingly until the day they die.  Year after year, they weaken -- sometimes dramatically, sometimes gradually, but ever so naturally.  It can be difficult to watch, but it is also compelling, for there is nothing like seeing a great old soul laugh or smile.  And if that great old soul happens to be your mother and you’re able to spend time helping her remember things or making her beam, you know that for that one moment in the universe, you are where you belong.

This is a time when the nation is thinking about health care policy, or at least it ought to be.  If you’re not spending at least a little time these days focusing on the topic, you need to question whether you belong in a democracy like America.    I won’t bore you with my ruminations on “The Bill” – either its substance or its process.   I will instead simply share with you my perspective on a single health care issue, a perspective born from the fact that I am the only child of a woman who has lived to the age of nearly 96 ... and counting ... and who has for the past few years required health care assistance from a facility.

Frequently, I hear people object to estate taxes as being a so-called “death tax” that inappropriately taxes the same income not once (during the years the income is generated) but twice (when the patriarch or matriarch dies).   According to those who decry the “death tax,” double-taxing an estate of $10 million, $100 million, $1,000 million or even $10,000 million is morally wrong and “unfair” to all families that generated such wealth.

Well, let me say that I am not so privileged to be worried personally about death taxes affecting estates that large.  However, nor am I so cursed to be worried personally about losing my entire inheritance to health care providers who are caring for my mother.  Fortunately, she retired with a government pension, which covers the cost of much of her care.  By contrast, most Americans with mothers who live as long as mine and require long term health care are not so fortunate.  After their health bills are paid, they inherit absolutely zero.  Not a penny.    And what does that do but penalize the patriarch or matriarch for taking care of their body and living too long.   Call it a “life tax” – one that is imposed on many, many more families than would ever pay an estate tax.

I believe that every American is entitled to health care.  And that every American matriarch or patriarch who lives to a ripe old age and has retained at least a modicum of net assets is entitled to the dignity of passing on some of that wealth to the next generation.   We shouldn’t impose a tax on a long life.  That would be far less humane than telling a billionaire that his children or grandchildren won’t have quite as many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to play with.  

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