Open Letter from a Tax Payer
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Clayton and I have a story to tell. In the 1860’s my great-great grandfather was a cattleman. He had moved from England to Virginia and from Virginia to Texas. He began leasing land from landowners to graze cattle, all the while saving his money. Gradually, as he saved more and more, he began purchasing small tracts from the people he was leasing from and over his lifetime he had purchased several thousand acres through hard work and frugal living, the typical American dream.
When he passed away the land then went to his children. His children continued the ranching tradition and passed it on to his five children (one of which was my grandmother). My grandmother passed away in 1997 and unbeknownst to my father (or my grandmother at the time of writing her will), he suddenly had to pay a tax, 38.5% of the estate minus a $1mil deduction, on the appraised value of the land that her grandfather had worked so hard to purchase, protect, and work. At the time, no one even knew the value of her estate because its value was in what it could produce, not what it could sell for. Her estate didn’t have many liquid assets or a large amount of cash that could pay this new debt to the IRS. So, my father set up a payment plan and began working to pay it off.
We fast forward to the Summer of 2006. My father began to get ill and since the estate tax of my grandmother had become such a burden and such a large part of our family life we got together with a team of attorneys, CPA’s, and tax planners to try and avoid the dreaded estate tax should something happen to my father. In November 2006, my father passed away. We had a written plan on how to structure the family ranch, but the majority of it we didn’t get to put into practice in enough time to steer clear of the estate tax.
So, once again, my father’s will stipulated that the family ranch would go to my brother and me. We would be the 5th generation to own and work this land. But, we had to pay for inheriting what he fought to hold on to…again! And once again, my father didn’t have much saved cash or liquidable assets. What few liquid assets he had were quickly spent on CPA’s, tax attorneys, surveyors, and appraisers to determine what we owed the IRS. So, we were forced to set up another payment plan with the IRS.
We are now burdened with two estate tax payments every year. One for my grandmother’s estate (from 1997!), and one for my father’s estate. We will be making these payments for the next 15 years. So, not only are we trying to make a small family business in ranching profitable for ourselves, we are now trying to make it profitable for the IRS so that it doesn’t end up as federal land.
For five generations my family has worked this land. Five generations have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this land, this family business. We have diligently paid our local, state, and federal income taxes. We have sowed into our local, state, and national economy. But because we’re now defined as wealthy according to someone else’s definition of the word, it will be next to impossible to preserve our family heritage for another generation.
Thomas Jefferson once said: “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” Ask yourself if our story is one that represents the sum of good government.
Thank you for your time.
Clayton T. Leverett