Only Two Sure Things in Life?

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
August 29, 2004

Admittedly, I get too much of my news from easy sources, like radio and television. I haven't read much about Mayor Mike Ragsdale's new tax proposal, but I hear it discussed on the local radio stations and often mentioned on television. And I am shocked that the guy I voted for would propose this unfair, regressive $30 tax.

I agree with callers to the Hallerin Hilton Hill radio show: Knox County does not need a will tax.

Sadly, the people who are often most in need of estate planning will be discouraged from seeing someone who can help them, simply because of the perception ' and the reality ' that the government is going to tax them for doing something they and their family desperately need. The county government should not tax people for preparing wills.

What's next? A tax return tax? What about a plumbing tax? A will tax is only the beginning.

Too many people already procrastinate when it comes to preparing a will. It is a difficult process that forces you to contemplate unpleasant possibilities. Why add to that difficulty by charging someone a $30 will tax? What about codicils? Will those cost $15? Once we let the camel's nose under the tent, living wills and durable powers of attorney won't be far behind.

We are already taxed to death. Everywhere we turn, there are more nickel and dime, rinky-dink taxes to pay. I get sick and tired of elected officials telling me I don't pay my fair share. Just how much is a fair share?

There must be something sinister at work here. This is about more than just $30 per will. I think I know the real motivation behind this movement. Who benefits if fewer people have wills? Probate court, that's who. Follow the money. If we can trace this will tax scheme back to its origin, I bet someone in the probate court is behind it. Every time someone dies without a will, his or her estate goes through probate. Increasing the cost to prepare a will would discourage proper estate planning, drive more estates into probate - ultimately increasing the revenues and market share of the probate court.

This proposal incited a group of Knoxvillians to gather more than 20 thousand signatures in opposition to the $30 will tax. This is democracy in action. Active citizenry makes for better government. It certainly makes for easier and less costly estate planning.

I would love to see a new downtown library, teacher pay raises, 15 new high schools and free bagels for everyone on Thursdays. But I don't want to see increased obstacles that might place the cost of estate planning out of the reach of some moderate income families or senior citizens.

This will tax is a stupid idea. If the county really needs to raise additional funds and not just bow to the whims of a powerful probate court, it ought to consider taxing something more broad based, like automobiles.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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