Georgia Bar Journal
GSB Vol. 14, NO. 7, Pg. 36.
Death Tax Holiday 18th Annual Fiction Writing Competition Winner
GSB JournalVol. 14, NO. 7June 2009Death Tax Holiday 18th Annual Fiction Writing Competition WinnerBy Lawrence V. Starkey10:00 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010
My name is Winston Brickley. I am 83 years old and have been a widower for almost 20 years. Until I began transferring assets to my foundation, I was, according to a study performed by the School of Business of the University of South Carolina, the third richest man in South Carolina. That statistic struck me as more embarrassing than satisfying. Well, I'll just admit it: it made me wince. On the one hand, I guess I am proud of what I have accomplished in business, but really, the third richest man in South Carolina? Hardly Forbes 400 material and politically incorrect to boot. It took no imagination to picture my colleagues at The Cosmopolitan Club smirking at my discomfort.
Despite my transfer of assets to The Brickley Foundation and other charities, I plead guilty to remaining wealthy by most any standard. Ever since I sold my company some nine years ago, it has been my goal to enjoy my wealth and to enjoy being in a position to affect good and to revel in the power game of selective charitable giving. I love creative charitable giving. It is a very heady experience to be shamelessly courted by college presidents, museum directors, artists of every stripe, brilliant researchers and a parade of others. I wish I had done more of this while my wife was still alive as there is no more effective entree into high society than well-placed charitable donations. I say this without a scintilla of cynicism as many of my most satisfying and genuine friendships have been those made through my gifts to charity.
My wife, Sally, and I had three children. Our youngest son, Scott, was killed in a boating accident when he was 22. He left a pregnant girlfriend , Ann Hudson. My wife and I became very close to Ann, especially after our grandson, Brett, was born. As for my other two children, Richard and Michele, I am afraid I spoiled them with any indulgence their hearts desired. So it was somewhat of a shock to me when I came to the realization that they are trying to murder me.
Let me explain how I got into this mess. About five years ago, doctors detected a blockage in two of my arteries and I had a procedure known as angioplasty. This is where a small balloon is inserted in the diseased artery and when inflated, unblocks the accumulated plaque. The procedure was successful but on a routine check-up two weeks ago, a further blockage was discovered. This time it was decided to place a medical stent in the affected artery and I arranged to have this done two days after Christmas. My son Richard insisted that I recuperate at his home, which used to be mine and is where Richard was raised. The house was way too large for me after Sally died, and I gladly transferred it over to Richard several years ago.
I thought Richard's insistence that I recuperate in my former bedroom suite was unusual, but nevertheless touching and when he invited my daughter, Michele, to assist in the process, I was moved, if somewhat annoyed that I was to be housebound with my children when I would rather be elsewhere.
While a stent is no big deal these days, I decided to humor my son and daughter until I noticed that the shape of my Warfarin tablet was different than before and that my daughter became very nervous when asked about it. I told her just to leave the medicine and I would take it later. A few moments later, I heard the two of them arguing in the anteroom. My son burst into my room and angrily demanded that I take my medicine for my own good. I thought it strange that there were no servants around and this added to my concern. I made a decision to take the medication, but to try to keep from swallowing it. Miraculously, I was able to pull this off with limited success and after a few minutes managed to spit the remainder of the two now soggy tablets into the hem of my pillow. The excited but muffled voices of my son and daughter continued for some time in the upstairs library which adjoined my suite.
Friday, Dec. 31
At 3 a.m. I decided it was safe to make my move. I stealthily moved toward the upstairs hallway and found the door locked. I began to taste real panic, but pulled myself together enough to review in my mind the floor plan of this house which I knew so well, this house in which each of my children celebrated every birthday until they left for college; this house in which my sons built model boats and played football on the lawn; this house in which my daughter was married. This is the very room in which each of them was conceived. This is the very room in which Richard shattered the glass of a French door with an errant baseball.
But of course! The French doors. I walked across the room and tested the handle. Locked. If my son could break the window with a baseball, I could with the base of a table lamp. I wrapped a hand towel around the marble base and broke the glass. To my surprise, the muffled sound was minimal. I was able to reach through the broken pane and try to open the door to the balcony by turning the knob from the outside. No luck. It was stupid of me not to realize that if the locked door would not open from the inside, it would certainly not open from the outside. I was not thinking clearly and I needed to be. Then I remembered the detective ploy of slipping a credit card between the doors to trigger the lock. Again, no luck.
Frustration comes much easier at age 83 than for a younger man, but I had to think clearly. Was it possible I was mistaken about my son and daughter? Was the door locked just for my protection? They knew I was not a senile old man, but perhaps they thought I was confused after the surgery and were afraid I would wander off. What was really going on?
And then, an epiphany. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Today's date is Dec. 31, 2010. All of this was about The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. Yes, good old Public Law 107-16. As a person of some wealth, I have been made fully aware of all of the intricacies of this rather bizarre law designed by the last administration and passed by Congress that gradually phased out federal estate taxes between 2001 and 2010. No estate taxes at all in 2010. How great for us who are wealthy and how bad for the tax attorneys of the world.
Good news, of course, but incredibly the same law fully restores estate taxes to their original distasteful levels beginning Jan. 1, 2011. Of course, anyone in my position was frustrated that Congress had not lived up to its pledge to correct the problem by repealing the estate tax permanent- ly or at least implementing a generous exemption on each estate. Unfortunately, democrats insisted on the exemption and the republicans insisted on total repeal. Both were stubborn and there were not quite enough democrats in the Senate to cut off debate. Very possibly Congress will correct the problem in January and the solution will be retroactive. But apparently, that prospect was not good enough for my children.
No time for recriminations. And if there were time, then self-recrimination would probably be in order. It was not the smartest thing in the world to give my children a copy of my last will. Even with further testamentary gifts to my foundation, the difference between my dying in 2010 as opposed to Jan. 1, 2011, would, they have doubtlessly figured out, mean a difference of $200 million and change to each of them.
If I were to die today, and not of natural causes, would it be murder or suicide? How foolish I was to set myself up in this manner. It is no comfort to wonder if other wealthy men or women of advanced age are hiding out or getting ready to do so all across the land.
I don't know whether to blame myself, the president, Congress or only my children for placing my life in jeopardy. It's clear that neither the president nor Congress switched my heart medication from Coumadin, which in the prescribed dosage is designed to prevent a heart attack, to a mystery drug which I am willing to bet my Augusta National membership is almost guaranteed to cause one. On second thought, scratch the Augusta National bet. Some things are sacrosanct.
Now I need to address the serious business of saving my life. I take the marble lamp base and towel and systematically break five more window panes in the French doors as quietly as I can. When I have six panes broken, it is really no problem to knock out the wood fretwork which supported the glass and slither out of the opening onto the balcony. One does not think of an 83-year-old man slithering, but slither I did, and to good effect. The balcony off my bedroom suite also shared French doors with the upstairs library and the doors into the library were happily unlocked. I quietly entered the library and from there was able to steal downstairs and out onto the front lawn. But before I left the library, I saw something which chilled my spine: on the rosewood library table was an open copy of Public Law 107-16!
Although glad to finally be out of the house, Winston Brickley was apprehensive as he walked deliberately across the expansive lawn of his former home toward the street. He had no cell phone, no identification and no money. He had not hitchhiked since college days, but knew it was now...