Mickey Mouse, Disney, and the Estate Tax…A Story with a Surprise Ending!

In Estate Planning, Tax Planning by Daniel Friedel

Although we have yet to see legislation to preempt the reversion of the estate tax to the 2001 rates on January 1, 2011, the media has become inundated with opinions and speculation surrounding such.  Most of the talk I find rather boring as a lot of the arguments are merely re-worded sentiment that has been around since the enactment of the estate tax.

However, I found the article below interesting not only because it challenges the typical arguments against the estate tax, but because it was written by someone whose inheritance was actually diminished by the estate tax.

Tax Mickey's Estate...but don't take away his Magic Kingdom!

USA Today op-ed, Mickey Mouse, the Estate Tax and Me, by Abigail Disney:

[T]he estate tax will automatically be reinstated after a year’s hiatus — in its 2001 form. … In a far stricter tax environment, my grandfather still managed to accumulate and pass on ample funds to make three subsequent generations very comfortable indeed. And as an inheritor I am here to tell you, the estate tax is not as much of a bogeyman as you’ve been led to believe. Let’s start with the facts:

  • First, the estate tax is not a double tax. … People like me, who inherit assets such as Disney stock, can spend our lives watching those assets grow, and when we pass them along to our children, they have not been touched or diminished at all by the tax system. The only thing I have paid taxes on is the interest from these assets, not their increased value.
  • Second, opponents of the estate tax claim family farms will have to be broken up to pay the tax, but good luck finding an example of this. …
  • Third, the estate tax incentivizes people like me to do good with our wealth because there is no estate tax on donations to charity. My filmmaking and foundations rely on a tax code that supports a vigorous non-profit sector, a vital part of our society that is bigger and stronger because of the many millions of dollars that flow into it as a result of the estate tax and other tax provisions.

To those who believe the estate tax is unfair, I say that there is no tax more fair than this one. I recently signed the Call to Preserve the Estate Tax organized by United for a Fair Economy because the estate tax is an expression of our deepest American values: that we live in a meritocracy, not an aristocracy; that every generation is a fresh start; and that we choose to build a society in which wealth and opportunity do not accrue to people simply for being born wealthy. …

The estate tax is the cornerstone of a progressive system that leaves wealthy heirs with ample funds while providing the government with the resources it needs to build an environment for the common good. By preserving it, we not only restore billions in revenue to the national treasury — we also restore our most cherished collective ideals as a nation.

“Tax me” may be the least popular sentence in America, but it’s what I am asking, and I hope that our leaders are listening.