Leibovitz Has to Pay Rich People Tax: Boo F*ckin’ Hoo

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Leibovitz Has to Pay Rich People Tax: Boo F*ckin’ Hoo

Two weeks ago the New York Times reported a story that, due to financial difficulty, Annie Leibovitz needed to take a loan out against the rights to all her works, totaling $15 million.

The Times describes Leibovitz's financial difficulty as stemming from a $700,000 law suit, being over-extended on her Chelsea Photo Studio, dealing with the estate of recently deceased parents, as well as the mortgages owed on property inherited from Susan Sontag, her lover, who passed away five years ago. Last week, Afterellen writer Julia Miranda mischaracterized the nature of Leibovitz's financial problems as being about the inequities of gay partnerships versus the benefits of marriage.

Miranda writes:

What struck me about her [Liebovitz’s] story was that most of her financial woes stemmed from her inheritance of her long-time partner, Susan Sontag’s, estate.

Not only is this stretching the truth, but Miranda’s story is based on her own assumptions, at best.

Miranda continues:

Same-sex couples do not have the same privileges as straight married couples when it comes to inheritance. If your partner passes away and leaves her estate to you, you have to pay up to 50 percent of the value of your inheritance in taxes.

This over-simplification is a total misrepresentation of the issues. I’m not sure if the gay press has just become lazy or they are just looking for ways to sensationalize gay issues, but the Advocate and Queerty picked up Miranda’s story calling the estate tax the “Gay Tax” without explaining what the tax is or the issues surrounding Leibovitz’s financial woes.

The estate tax is a tax on wealth. It was put in place about 100 years ago as a levy on inherited assets, and only affects .27% of all American families. If you want to give the estate tax a moniker, let's call it “Rich People's Tax” or “Rich Gay People's Tax.” It is the only wealth tax this country has.

Taxing the rich is how President Obama plans to minimize the deficit without raising taxes on the middle class. Hello?! Basically 99% of us gays and straights will not ever pay the estate tax. During the Clinton years, the estate tax of 55% was levied on inheritance above $1 million. That meant, if your rich uncle died today and left you a million bucks, you would receive it tax-free.

Comments [37]

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

I think what Grace meant was

I think what Grace meant was that the successor trustee of a living trust acts in the same capacity as an executor of a will, in that they follow the instructions of the trust for the dispersal and disposal of assets and liabilities.

It's very rare to need both a will and a trust (though it happens), and having both can create far more problems than it would solve. Most lawyers shy away from that scenario, since even the slightest error could create a legal mess that lasts years.

sophia wallace's picture

Brilliant Grace.

Brilliant Grace.

mysticsmb's picture

Grace and CAMW--thanks so

Grace and CAMW--thanks so much for the info. Guess it's finally time to be an adult and start dealing with all this stuff. The fact that one needs both a living trust AND a will pisses me off--and sounds like lawyers setting up a system so they get paid TWICE!

Grace Moon's picture

If I may add to your thorough

If I may add to your thorough explanations...

A will must be carried out by the courts upon your death, which means it goes into "probate" where a public notice of your death is placed, signaling any relative who may want to contest the wishes of your will are able to do so. Also in probate court the courts take a fee, not sure the % of the estate but i think it depends on the sate.

A Living Trust is a legal document that you transfer all of your assests & property into -- and you become the "trustee" of your own trust. This document also allows you to designate a co-trustee (your partner) if you choose and a successor Trustee, who upon your death must distribute your assets as you've described them in your will. A living trust protects all of your assest under its terms and will transefer to any beneficiaries you designate in your will, by passing court intervention (probate).

"The reason that a trust bypasses probate is that you have taken the steps, while you are alive, to transfer assets from your name as an individual into the separate entity of the trust. When you die, the trust doesn't die."

tweet tweet @gracemoon

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

Oh yeah, she's definitely got

Oh yeah, she's definitely got my back. She also has experience in this area, not to mention a proven track record for strict adherence to the wishes of others in this area. That sort of friend is absolutely priceless.

Not2Taem's picture

Its a plot. An evil, evil

Its a plot. An evil, evil plot to scarwe them into sending their readers here, where we will turn them into mindless minions who will do our bedding bidding.

That Moon is scarwy. Very, very scarwy!


CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

Yeah, working in high risk

Yeah, working in high risk occupations since age 17 means I have to make sure every possible situation is covered, especially since many of those jobs included extensive travel. Add to that how frequently and blatantly the legal system ignores LGBT rights and wishes, and it becomes very necessary to make sure every legal eventuality is covered, in detail.

On the medical side, I also make sure EVERYONE I know is as aware of my wishes as their comfort level allows. My biggest fear is ending up like Terry Schiavo, used by political and religious extremists who could care less about me, but want to use me to promote an agenda I totally disagree with.

Not2Taem's picture

"God help anyone who crosses

"God help anyone who crosses her..."
I don't doubt it. You seem a genuinely gentle soul, but even at a distance I sense there are things you take very seriously. I would imagine that whoever you have chosen to handle such a serious matter must be very capable. Laughing out loud

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

EMS rules are very different

EMS rules are very different when it comes to MPOA's, AD's, and DNR's.

MPOA's grant authority to someone specific to make medical decisions for a patient in the event that patient cannot make the decision for themselves due to physical or mental incapacitation (loss of consciousness or disorientation to self, place, and time). If the person authorized under a MPOA is not present, the MPOA document is not present, or we cannot reasonably confirm the identity of the MPOA authorized person, we fall back on specific protocols established by the local (usually county) medical authority (an MD who oversees the local EMS system) to deal with the specific medical emergency we are responding to.

We ignore Advance Directives, since they require a medical diagnosis be made, which only a medical doctor, or a physician assistant or nurse practitioner under an MD's authority, can make.

If a patient is physically and mentally capable (alert and oriented as to who they are, where they are, and when they are), they can refuse any and all care. If they lose consciousness or become disoriented, they cannot refuse care at that point. Even if they told us they do not want care, signed a refusal of care, etc, the refusal of care is voided once they are unable to speak for themselves. This applies only to dealing with EMS. The exception to this rule is unaccompanied minors or women who are pregnant (must be transported under specific local protocols, regardless of wishes).

If there is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, we do not violate it (we can end up in prison if we do). This is a standing written medical order issued by a medical doctor that can only be revoked in writing by the patient or the issuing medical doctor. We must see it, we cannot take anyone's word for it, not even the patient's. A paramedic or higher may provide temporary immediate pain relief, but even that depends largely upon the local EMS protocols. I suspect this is the "all or nothing" the medical staff are speaking of. An MPOA or AD cannot void any part of a DNR.

As for my specific circumstances (in relation to how much and far I travel), while it may take several hours to a day to get my friend to whatever hospital I end up in, once she arrives she now carries more authority than the doctor when it comes to my care. Anyone who violates her orders can be prosecuted and/or sued, regardless of the outcome. She will have a copy of the MPOA and AD with her. God help anyone who crosses her in relation to my care and my wishes.

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

The clearest explanation of

The clearest explanation of the differences between a will and a living trust I've found is here:


You should always prepare either with the help of an attorney in your state that is LGBT friendly and knows the best way to insure your wishes are carried out with minimal legal challenge.

We've all seen, read, or heard stories in the media and through those we know of LGBT wills being challenged, and of LGBT persons being left without a penny and homeless by probate decisions that side with estranged and hostile blood relatives over the wishes of a deceased partner. And, please don't assume that because same-sex marriage may be recognized and/or legal in your state that somehow you and your spouse are protected from this sort of legal abuse.

And, for those younger readers who think they have time to deal with this, trust me, you don't. You and/or your partner/spouse are every bit as vulnerable as those who are elderly for having your wishes and needs ignored at the behest of someone motivated by greed or hate.

mysticsmb's picture

I agree that this state by

I agree that this state by state ad hoc business isn't going to work over the long haul. It was a good way to get the ball rolling in liberal states like Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, but now I think the gay rights movement needs to think on a national scale. While gay advocates were devastated by Prop 8 in CA, the ballot initiatives in Florida and Arizona (?) were much more draconian: CA still had domestic partnership rights while these states ended up with zilch.

I think we need a national "Leave No Gay Couple Behind" movement. Smile

Not2Taem's picture

CAMW, I am very glad you


I am very glad you have found a method that will work for you.

So if I understand you correctly, my friend should have just been able to have in the pocket on his door, where EMS couldn't avoid seeing it, the detailed paper that I carried with me. Then they should have only done what he authorized on the paper, until I arrived with MPOA.

If I have that right, can you think of any reason he would have been told differently? I know its too late to change anything for him now, but I'm the youngest member of a community that includes a number of older folks who don't have family immediately available, so the general issue comes up a lot.

Thanks for your patience. You are, as usual, a wealth of information. Smile

mysticsmb's picture

Just a basic question and

Just a basic question and please don't feel like you must go into great detail, but what's the difference between a will and a living trust and why do both exist? I mean why bother with a will if it doesn't hold up in court and if the living trust is the stronger legal document?

I'm only looking for some basic info here, I can research the rest.

Not2Taem's picture

Good point Grace, just make

Good point Grace, just make it part of the Skills for Adolescents class.

Grace Moon's picture

Holy jesus, you are really

Holy jesus, you are really prepared for any and all eventualities...

and to your above reply -- thankfully the military trained you about PA -- regarding all else it really isn't until families are in a fix that we learn about the options.

It really seems these basic estate and health care issues should be taught along with safe sex in school, they truly are equally important.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Grace Moon's picture

yeah, its damned if you do

yeah, its damned if you do damned if you don't.

I just read this in the NYTs this morning.

it just might be that everyone will be taxed on employer health benefits.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

LongBeachDogLover's picture

Grace, I certainly do agree

Grace, I certainly do agree about the issue of health care. It is frustrating to see the 'domestic partner' health care issue treated as it is in California. I believe that this is one more reason why marriage equality must be a Federal issue, and not... state by state.

For a lesbian, or gay man, to have to claim the 'value' of their medical benefits (when it is their partners insurance) as income.... is definately not 'equality under the law'.

I was talking about this with a friend of mine. He told me that this year he has to claim $19,850 on his Federal income taxes because the 'market value' of his medical insurance is treated as a taxable benefit. WTF. How many married, straight couples have to do that? None. He and his partner are registered 'domestic partners', but on the Federal level, it is not recognized..... where's the equality.


CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

The hard part with the MPOA

The hard part with the MPOA and Advance Directive (different from a DNR), was Louisiana, because their legal code differs (French Common Law) from the other states (English Common Law).

I carry a copy of both on my person, in my rig's permit book, and there is an electronic copy on my computer. My employer and regular physician both have copies. My employer knows to call one specific person in an emergency, and will send someone to her home if they cannot make contact within one hour (she lives only a few miles from one of our terminals). She has sufficient resources to go anywhere in the country I may be on very short notice, and knows in great detail my wishes.

Also, in my case, the MPOA and AD are part of the same document, and are very detailed and explicit, leaving no room for misinterpretation. I've had both for more than two decades now, and working in the medical field off and on has taught me how to cover every base, every scenario, and whatever else I can think of. It even covers how to deal with my death and remains (in accordance with Hebrew Law).

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

The power of attorney I've

The power of attorney I've known about since I joined the US Army at 17, they really hammer that one home.

The medical power of attorney and advance directive I learned about when I was stationed at Ft. Irwin, CA in 1987, but I couldn't get them until I left in 1988 (I was government property until then). I actually stumbled across both while searching for something else in the California legal codes.

The living trust I learned about the hard way, when dealing with the family legal battle that erupted upon the death of my grandparents (they had a will, not a living trust). Everything that was left to me was stripped away by my greedy and particularly ruthless relatives, so I got an education on how to prevent that from happening if I died.

I discovered, quite by accident, that between the four documents, anything and everything that could possibly come up was completely covered. The hard part was making sure they were legal in all states, because of Louisiana law being based upon French Common Law (the other states are based on English Common Law).

Grace Moon's picture

that was the bone i was

that was the bone i was picking actually, why is everyone copying afterellen?

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Grace Moon's picture

to me there's actually a

to me there's actually a difference between the maddow interview and this story.

someone acting like a douche bag for laughs and failing, and actually misreporting news is different.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Lezbeth's picture

Great research Grace. This

Great research Grace. This is something I think about frequently. Despite how piddly my worldlies are, I want them to go to the people I want them to go to.

Your article is more comprehensive than the end of life issues, but this is what popped out for me. It's hard to sit down and make those decisions, especially with advanced directives because the circumstances could be quite complex. Perhaps the biggest barrier for me is facing the ultimate truth--at the end of our lives, still alive or dead and gone--we lose control of all we thought was ours, including our ability to decide when and how we take that last step over the threshold.

Lezbeth's picture

Hoopla, fact or fiction,

Hoopla, fact or fiction, seems to carry the currency.

Lezbeth's picture

The family and loved one

The family and loved one upheaval can't be emphasized enough. I've been through it several times. Even my mother's Deluxe Scrabble game became a bone of contention between her sisters and me. Ridiculous. Thank goodness Dad was still alive and his say so stood behind me as we sorted through stuff. People get nutty when someone dies and they want to hold on to that person or get some kind of justice for perceived wrongs or slights. Add gay or lesbian into the mix and things get much uglier.

Grace Moon's picture

Now how did you know what

Now how did you know what documents to have done?

I ask because I only learned about these protections when a parent was ill, and we made preparations at the last minute.

i'm just wondering how people learn how to protect themselves if their families don't.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Not2Taem's picture

Playing devil's advocate

Playing devil's advocate here, because we all know how I like to stir up trouble. :twisted:

How well does all of that hold up on the road? A friend of mine here in Texas was dealing with a terminal illness and trying to establish what could and could not be done for emergency medical procedures. He talked to doctors, support nurses, counselors, and a medical lawyer who all told him the same thing. It didn't matter what paperwork he had. Unless he had someone with a medical POA on site when things went South, there were only 2 options: Yes treat me, or no do not. EMS in Texas will do everything, or nothing with no in between. Since he lived in my complex I was his POA until he entered hospice, at which point he was ready to forgo all that. The lawyer gave him a very plain page to put on the outside and inside of his door. If I was there, EMS would do what the paperwork I carried with me and I said, and nothing if I was not. He was also lucky enough to have a very well trained support dog who pawed a button when things went South. The tech set it up so it dialed my pager and EMS simultaneously on 2 separate lines so I could get there if I was home.

I guess the question is, how do you deal with stuff like that when you're driving through many different states? Do you have a cab partner?

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

I have a living trust, a

I have a living trust, a medical power of attorney, a very specific and detailed advance medical directive, and a durable power of attorney.

Between these four documents, I'm reasonably certain my wishes will be honored, and that hassle for others will be minimal. I also know that there is no way the judgmental and hypocritical members of my biological family will have any say or get one penny.

minniesota's picture

Some of the laziness involves

Some of the laziness involves the other sites copying the AfterEllen story without doing their own fact checking. Yes, I'll call that lazy. Definitely lazy. Definitely effing lazy.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Erin Blackwell's picture

there's press and there's

there's press and there's press but much of the working press has had the ground cut out from beneath its feet. traditionally underpaid. newspapers folding. magazines struggling. huge congloms buying up media outlets which issues... gunk. lazy? no, the profiteering "press," really a form of PR, is corrupt. the rest of us are starving

there's a separate issue of bias on the part of the gay press, cheerleading, toeing the party line. that's built into the demographic, which is pandered to. witness the "outrage" over Rachel Maddow's "treatment" by Vanity Fair.

not sure why Moon has it in for the competition today.

mysticsmb's picture

Here are some links on her

mysticsmb's picture

Excellent point--your last

Excellent point--your last one. I wish Orman would remember to emphasize these kinds of peace-of-mind issues rather than implying that the accumulation of wealth is an end unto itself.

Not2Taem's picture

Great point. The things even

Great point. The things even ordinarily kind people say and do in a state of grief can be very unfortunate.

Grace Moon's picture

I didn't know about her real

I didn't know about her real estate dealings, thanks for that bit of sluething -- in my attempt at researching -- I did notcie that she owns all kinds of property in the city now i know why.

I also appriciate Orman giving us middle and lower income folks the "How To's" of the rich. If Orman didn't yell at us about all this stuff what rich person would clue us in?

in regards to not taking it with us, a well planned estate goes along way in easing the emotional burden of the survivors and beneficiaries. Its a surprise what emotional hurts and falling outs happen within families after someone dies. Its like the remaining material items become a stand in for all the unresolved issues of the deceased. So the more clearly defined someone makes their will and trust the less emotional trauma and fighting occurs among the survivors. Been there.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

minniesota's picture

Fascinating, Grace! After VPM

Fascinating, Grace! After VPM posted that story about Suze Orman discussing estate taxes, I actually looked around to learn more about estate/inheritance tax, so I could understand the tax law better.

Hey, if I can go research this, why can't the gay press? Like Rusty said, the press in general is getting lazy.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

mysticsmb's picture

Grace, have you been

Grace, have you been moonlighting at Finance Weekly? I'm most impressed.

I appreciate your take on this, though I also appreciate Suze pointing out the inherent unfairness for gay couples vis a vis straight married couples. That said, when she talks about it the hair on the back of my neck stands up because she acts as though money is EVERYTHING. The reason for living. That it gives life and coupledom meaning. Please. Neither of you can take it with you.

Annie as victim of the 'gay tax' couldn't be further from the truth. Fact is, she was largely in debt prior to Sontag's death because of a self-made real estate boondoggle. You probably know she bought and completely gutted a townhouse (which was on a historic registry and so shouldn't have been gutted) and in the process damaged several neighbors' buildings. She then bought some of these properties rather than deal with repairing the damage. The original property has been vacant for years and is a major eyesore for its West Village neighborhood.

If she's participating in this portrayal of herself as a victim she's utterly shameless.

p.s. great f*ckin' headline!

Tex's picture

Here, here! I've always had a

Here, here! I've always had a hard time with the rich complaining about paying taxes - of any kind. Real hard time now that we're in a period of the Rich Getting Richer. Do you know that in Texas you can still hand write your legal will?

Twitter Time @kdhales

Rusty's picture

"I’m not sure if the gay

"I’m not sure if the gay press has just become lazy or they are just looking for ways to sensationalize gay issues . . . ."

It's not just the gay press, Grace; the press in general is getting lazy. Thanks for clarifying an important issue.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna