Death Tax Just Won’t Die

Over a baloney sandwich and cold drink Uncle Sid was talking to the gang down at the country store, when Billy Bithers for some reason right out of the clear blue sky, questioned his patriotism. It was during a discussion about taxes and I’m sure Uncle Sid has been questioned a number of times on many things, but to question his patriotism to this country is fighting words in my part of the country. It seems Uncle Sid was talking about the current shenanigans going on up in our nation’s capital over the estate tax rates changing at the first of the year and Billy didn’t like Uncle Sid using the term “Death Tax” to describe estate taxes.

“Well, that is just what they are,” Uncle Sid said while pouring a bag of nickel peanuts that now cost fifty-five cents in his cold drink. “We pay property taxes on all of this all our lives and then before we even get good and cold the government is here with their hand out getting more taxes from our children because we died. Looks like to me that is double taxing. Why should they have to pay anything if I want to give it to them? They worked about as hard as I have out there making the crops and deserve to be left alone. The government is going to get their share soon enough when the kids start paying property taxes. If the Death Tax is too high they may have to sell it and that is going to be a shame. To have to sell a farm that has been in our family for so long just to keep the government happy is just a crying shame.” “Paying taxes is our patriotic duty,” said Billy while putting his grimy hand over his heart. “Taxes help pay for all the things we have here and keep our country safe.”

Uncle Sid pulled his red bandana out of his back pocket and wiped his mouth. He then pushed his wide brimmed straw hat with its green plastic window in the front up a bit so he could get a better look at Billy. He picked up his cold drink and pointed the bottle straight at Billy and said, “Paying taxes sure is patriotic. It is red, white and blue patriotic. You turn red talking about them, you turn white when you get the tax bill in the mail and then you are just plain blue after you pay them. Plus, the next peckerwood that comes along calling me unpatriotic may just see stars to go along with all of it.”

Uncle Sid is not the only one getting a little testy down at the farm gate when it comes to the possible changes that just may happen come January 1 if something is not done in Washington about estate tax reform. In 2009, the estate tax rate was 45 percent, with a $3.5 million exemption and if something is not done now, it will change on January 1, 2011, with a top rate of 55 percent and a $1 million exemption. When it returns at that rate almost 10 times the number of farms and ranches would be subjected to the estate tax than there were in 2009. That’s also 10 times the number of surviving family members who may have to consider selling off part of their farm.

¬†There is a solution to the problem, however. Our farmers are calling for a permanent estate tax provision that would increase the exemption level to $5 million and adjust it for inflation and reduce the maximum rate to 35 percent. A higher exemption and lower rate will give family farms a better chance to remain in operation when they are transferred from one generation to the next. The better solution would be to kill the “Death Tax” altogether, but that is one tax that lives a life of indestructibility.

The death of a loved one often requires the remaining family to make some hard decisions. When the deceased is a farm owner, those decisions will determine the future of the operation. Hopefully, taxes will not cast a darker shadow over the decisions than is already there, but unless our elected officials do something pretty quick, many farm families may have to make tax decisions that could cost a family farm’s future.