Friday, October 15, 2010

Death and [Estate] Taxes: 2011 and The Rebirth of The Death Tax

"The Estate Tax is a tax on your right to transfer property at your death," so sayeth the damed Internal Revenue Service. To be sure, it is a double tax. Keep in mind that all property transfered at death has been taxed previously. Whether the property has been accumulated by way of income, gift, inheritance, etc., this property has already been taxed by the IRS before. Not that it makes it any better, but it does provide evidence of some consistency. That is, nearly - if not all - transfer rights (such as transfers by way of gift, etc.) are taxed. So, it's nothing new, nor unique when it comes to the M.O. of the IRS. However, despite this apparent consistency, it still makes all red-blooded capitalists cringe.

Pictured above is the United States Treasury Building (depicted in its true nature). Things in the tax collections department, particularly with regard to American's estates, are predicted to see a substantial increase in activity in the coming year. 2010 has been joked to have been the year in which - if one could so choose the occurrence of death - one should die. This cynical insight is predicated on the fact that this year there is no estate tax, or to use the pejorative: "death tax." There are very few fiscal transactions that take place in the United States that doesn't in some wise implicate a taxable event. The present reality of this uniquely nontaxable event, coupled with the fact that the most "expensive" (in terms of sheer amount) taxable event in one's life might, indeed, be an estate tax is truth that makes the jest (about the benefits of death in 2010) resonate. The lack of an estate tax in the current year is the single greatest "tax shelter" in the relatively short history of our great nation.

Each year, there is a minimum amount which triggers the estate tax. Each year, since the implication of the estate tax that amount has increased. In 2009 the estate tax exemption amount hit its peak at $3.5 Million (not including the non-existence of an estate tax in 2010). That means that in 2009 if you did not have a federal gross estate amount equal to $3.5 Million, then you did not need to worry about an estate tax. Likewise, most people (and attorneys) lost interest in the concept altogether, as most average citizens do not accumulate that amount of wealth. This ever increasing exemption amount is a trend that is thought - amongst tax lawyers and academics - to be coming to a abrupt halt. For the first time since its implication, the federal gross estate tax exemption rate will very likely decrease from its previous amount. Decrease downwards near the $1 Million mark. That amount, unlike that of the 2009 $3.5 Million mark, will catch a lot of us.

This is no way good news for those that will, inter alia, "meet their great reward," (or die) in 2011 and thereafter (save, of course, another repeal of the death tax). However, for those of us in the legal field, there might be some silver lining. In 2011 and beyond, it will be vitally important for all of those out there to seek the advice of a learned estate planner/estate tax specialist. Death and taxes are the only things certain in this life; and, next year they reemerge as a collective unit. Do yourself a favor: seek expert counsel.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Green Faerie

I just found out that absinthe has been legalized in America. As a student of drug history, this drink fascinates me. Despite my extreme enjoyment of various controlled substances throughout my life, I have never had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the Green Faerie. I know that various hailed artisans from the past have reveled in her flavor, but I have never taken it upon myself to indulge in the ritual of absinthe drinking. I do favor many of what I would call "man-drinks"; not the least of which, being, straight whiskey. There is, however, something from my past (whether rightly or wrongly so) that calls to me with respect to trying this relatively recent deregulated spirit.

After a little research, I have found that there is one American distiller that has worked hard at reproducing the drink, as it originally was in France - around the 1800s. The brand is Lucid, and the man behind the product is Ted Breaux. He is an engineer who has tasted some of the finest, unopened absinthe from the aforementioned period in an effort to reverse engineer the beverage in order to properly reproduce it for you and I.

The active chemical in absinthe is thujone. It is this chemical that was banned by the FDA for nearly one hundred years here in the United States, until recent deregulation. It is this chemical that is rumored to have the hallucinogenic effects enjoyed by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and others in the past. It is also rumored to cause convulsions; however, reports indicate that one would require an un-consumable portion to effectuate such a physiological response.

The reason behind outlawing absinthe has been reported to be the early, fledgling French wine and champagne industries. Much like the assault on marijuana by alcohol manufactures here in the United States, the French wine manufactures of the time proposed that absinthe would cause insanity and various other adverse effects (See, "Reefer Madness" for similarity). And like the pleasurable use of marijuana it might, in fact, be that very same circumstance that has me eagerly awaiting my first taste of absinthe.

Bottoms up!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Spite of Shakespeare

As a third year law student I should be excited at what awaits me after graduation. But the truth is, I'm kind of worried. In William Shakespeare's King Henry VI Part 2, he recommends, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Well, with the current legal prospects given our economic state, there might not be many lawyers left to kill off.

I grew up watching stories of successful attorneys become wealthy beyond the imaginations of most, but this fairy tale is slowly becoming a thing of the past -- at least for most new attorneys. There are over 300 million Americans living today and, according to the American Bar Association, " . . . there were 1,116, 967 licensed attorneys in June of 2006. The number rose to 1,128,729 by the end of 2006, and grew to 1,143,358 by the end of 2007." With those kind of numbers, one would expect that - as rare as a licensed attorney is - the ability to be fabulously wealthy, as an attorney, is still relativity likely. It's just not the case.

The average salary for an attorney now is less than $60,000. Of course, 60k is nothing to sneeze at, especially when there are two incomes in the family. However, it's very unlikely that at $60,000, the average attorney will be featured on "The Life Styles of The Rich and Famous." To be sure, money is not the only reason to practice law. I can tell you from experience that if one does not possess a passion for the study and practice of law, life as an attorney can amount to a miserable experience -- even if the money is good. As an attorney one is provided with countless opportunities to do good for society. There are so many of us out there that are trying to manipulate the system and perpetuate the negative connotations that come with the title of "esquire" that the need for honest, principled practitioners is as great and as rare as it has ever been. There is a lot of purpose one can find in being an attorney and that (along with the money) is what keeps people like me passionate about the practice of law.

I certainly hope to be one of the noblemen that bring integrity back into the practice of law, but I also would like a stable of European super cars out behind a multi-million dollar family estate. The truth is that there are always going to be obstacles to the path of independent wealth. It is the innovator, the hard worker, the man unwilling to give up on his dreams and that of his family's who makes it. I fully intend on making it; and, in spite of those with a mind like Shakespeare, I'll do it with a law license.

An Automobile Among Cars

The result of being born a man has therefore given me a predisposition to an addiction with automobiles. Being brought up in the 80's didn't really give me a fabulous opportunity to experience the art of the automobile like those being raised in different eras. Now, there surely are a few cars from the 80's that are worth mention, but for a large portion of that period of time and even into the early 90's the "art" of the automobile was lost. It was, however, a picture of "Refrigerator Perry" - for a Kangaroos Shoes advertisement - sitting on a Lamborghini Countach that sparked my fascination with Lamborghini and automobiles in general.

I still hold Lamborghini very high in my obsession with cars, but my tastes have matured and expanded to include other great manufacturers. I personally own a BMW and believe that they are truly "the ultimate driving machine," at least for my price range. One day I hope that a huge personal injury settlement may be able to provide me the necessary funds to purchase my new favorite dream car: the 2010 Bugatti C Galibier. (Photo by Top Speed)

Bugatti is truly an automobile among cars. With the current production line having not more than three-four makes, Bugatti shows how successful one can be when they forsake quantity and focus on quality. Many of you who know of Ralph Lauren are also familiar with the fact that the man is a true connoisseur of automobiles. So much so that a portion of his fleet was featured in a recent - few years - art show. Among his pieces the 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic is truly beautiful and serves as a harsh reminder of how much has been lost in the way of automobile design. The new Galibier draws on styling from the '38. This is a common theme among automobile manufacturers as they come to the realization that - like many things - if it's not broke, don't fix it . . . but you may make improvements. Only new materials and technology available to automobile manufacturers that improve on the excellence of our most favored designs should be making their way into the production lines, save the occasional masterpiece in the design department.

Behold, the perfect automobile:

Whiskey is What Men Drink

This summer after my wedding, my wife and I chose to stay with my parents for the summer. I am working on making connections in the legal field here at home. The means that - much to my wife's dismay - we have to leave our place in Virginia. Along with the other aspects of living as newlyweds with one's parents that might be frustrating, the local spirits store doesn't carry my preferred whiskey -- the biggest bummer of all.

A little over a year ago I started drinking Bernheim Original, and have never looked back. It is truly a unique whiskey. Here is the website: I'll let you take time to look through the website and learn more about it, as opposed to copying and pasting all the specifics on here. However, in pure laymen's terms, I can tell you that it is a great whiskey for sipping. Most devoted whiskey drinkers out there can sip nearly any whiskey, and enjoy it. For most, they will often add water or cola to dilute the elixir. I will not take the opportunity to knock on such activities, as I myself sometimes like the occasional mint julep. The major difference in Bernheim Original and that of other purveyors of whiskey is that Bernheim is made from a soft winter wheat and not corn, rye, or barley. This results in a much crisper, cleaner drink and no sign of "whiskey face."

Although I do long for the days when I can get back in touch with my old friend, this summer's absence from it has opened many opportunities to sample the different brands out there. This summer's hit list includes: Eagle Rare, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, and Maker's 46. Of the three, I would highly recommend the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, then Maker's 46, and lastly Eagle Rare.

Looking Forward to The New Fall Lines

As great as this summer has been, I'm growing a little tired of looking at the same old offerings from my favorite mens clothiers. In particular, I cannot wait to see what new designs will come from the Phineas Cole line via Paul Stuart heritage. Like that of Tom Ford (although a bit more extreme), Phineas Cole reincorporates those classy vintage stylings that have been missed or messed up throughout the later part of the 20th Century and adds to it the current modern leaps in cut and fit.

Bringing back peak lapels, wide ties, ticket pockets, etc. has been reinvented - as a look - when paired up with the new courageous mixes of colors, patterns, and textures. This new look that has been brought upon by the likes of Phineas Cole and others in his class, does what many industries are trying to do in all types of fields. For classical men's elegance that means, bringing back to the future of design those brilliant ideas from the earliest years in men's "sartorialology" (sic), while using the new brilliance among modern day haberdashers to make those ideas from the past explode with a redefinition of cool.

I don't want to take anything away from J. Press, Ralph Lauren, or Brooks Brothers because I still love them and those of their ilk. They have their place in my life, but more and more that place is shifting to the leisure portion thereof. For the office, business, or the theater, Phineas Cole and his classmates have my ear. They are reaching the climax of classical men's elegance.