Death Tax Upsets Winfrey

Candid “Oprah” Moment Displays Winfrey’s Regrets Over “Death Tax”…Aka…Estate Tax

“The following is a direct lift from the transcript of the nationally syndicated “Oprah” program for August 4, 1997. It speaks for itself.

WINFREY:You know, how many of you in here have a will? Will? Will? This is the will-less section here? Unbelievable. Wills– raise your hands? Everybody should have one. OK, good. Sometimes you really don’t know what somebody was thinking until they pass away. This is Herb Nass. He’s a New York lawyer who has handled the estates of well-known millionaires and is the author of this book. “Wills of the Rich & Famous.” He’s seen the wills of scores of celebrities and can offer us some insight into what they may have been thinking when they drafted their last will and testament. Let’s start with Jackie Kennedy Onassis. What does her will say about her?

Mr. NASS: Her will shows what a sensitive person she was. She left numerous bequests to a variety of friends and employees of hers. She left a Greek alabaster bust of a woman to her boyfriend, Maurice Templesman.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NASS: She left a copy of her husband’s inaugural address from 1961, which had been signed by Robert Frost, and she left that to her attorney. The bulk of her estate was left to her two children. John and Caroline

WINFREY: So all those things that were auctioned off– I had heard this, too, from some family members– they– they kept all the things that they really valued themselves and that they wanted themselves.

Mr. NASS: Correct. That auction netted over $34 million for her estate, though. And tha– those funds were paid to her two children, subject to estate tax.

WINFREY: And isn’t that estate tax 55 percent?

Mr. NASS: At that level of wealth, yes. Her– her estate…

WINFREY: Yes. I think it’s so irritating that once I die, 55 percent of my money goes to the United States government.

Mr. NASS: Well, you should give it away while you’re alive then.

WINFREY: That’s what I’m trying to do. You know why that’s irritating? Because you would have already paid nearly 50 percent.

Mr. NASS: Correct. It’s really double tax.

WINFREY: You would have already pai– it’s double tax.

Mr. NASS: You’re taxed on your income and on your estate. Alternatively…

WINFREY: And therefore, when you leave like a house or you leave money to people, then they’re taxed 55 percent, so you’ve got to leave them enough so that once they’re taxed, they still have some money.

Mr. NASS: Correct. Correct.

WINFREY: That’s why you always hear about people where their aunts left them houses or left them stuff and they can’t keep the house because the taxes are so much.

Mr. NASS: Well, charity is one other alternative. Sometimes wealthy people set up charitable foundations, which is a vehicle for avoiding the estate tax.

WINFREY: You’re talking to me.

Mr. NASS: I’m talking to you.

WINFREY: I understand that Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, had a rather unusual clause in his will.

Mr. NASS: He– he did. He provided on the first page of his will that $100,000 should be set aside for a commemorative party in his memory, regardless of whether it was tax-deductible to his estate or not.

WINFREY: Really? And did they do that?

Mr. NASS: They did.

WINFREY: Were all the Muppets there?

Mr. NASS: I don’t know if they attended, but…

WINFREY: Oh, God, that would have been fun.

Mr. NASS: But there were no bequests to Kermit or Miss Piggy in his will.

WINFREY: That’s good. That’s Good

Mr. NASS: It went primarily to his children.

WINFREY: Dor– to his children. Doris Duke at one time was the richest woman in the world. She inherited a tobacco fortune worth over $1 billion. I understand she was very generous to her dogs.

Mr. NASS: Well, in her case, she set up a trust with $100,000 for one of her dogs. She set up a variety of charitable foundations for the prevention of cruelty to animals and to children and for the preservation of wildlife. She also, interestingly enough, directed that she be buried at sea.

WINFREY: Really?

Mr. NASS: Yes.

WINFREY: OK. So the dogs– when the– when you designate $100,000 to your dogs, which I will not be doing– love my dogs…

Mr. NASS: Right. Right.

WINFREY: But you designate $100,000 to the dogs, how do you know that that’s going to be execa– executed?

Mr. NASS: Well, it’s put in a trust and the trustee is responsible to administer the trust in accordance with the terms of the will.

WINFREY: So on a regular basis, the dog gets a check?

Mr. NASS: Filet mignon, whatever– whatever the dog likes to eat.

WINFREY: Unbelievable.

Coming up, how complete strangers got most of the money from Marilyn Monroe’s will. Details on that when we come back. Fifty-five percent– irritating.

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