“When Congress passed a law that eliminated the estate tax for people who die this calendar year–with plans to bring it back with a vengeance in 2011–the joke among estate planners was that 2010 might go down as the year of ‘Throw Momma From the Train.'”
—The New York Times
I just want you to know that even though it would be financially beneficial for me to do so, I would never throw you from a train, as certain newspapers and personal-finance consultants are hinting I might and suggesting I do. I wouldn’t even do it in any other proverbial way, like by tossing you under a bus or into oncoming traffic. Even throwing you from a really slow-moving train, like the shuttles at Disneyland or those fake retro-locomotives at Civil War battle recreation sites—even that would be essentially “throwing momma from the train,” in its full implication, because I know it would break your hip or crack your collarbone, which can often indirectly but rapidly lead to death among the elderly. And what decent son would want something like that to happen?
I know what you’d be thinking if you could still process new information: Why would I even bring up that horrible thought to begin with? Because I care. I care about you, and since I know that, insofar as you can care about anything, what you most care about at this point is my well-being; by extension that means I truly care about my own well-being. If that makes sense.
I’m not suggesting you commit suicide or something awful like that (and Nurse Williams, if you’re the one reading this to her, I’m certainly not advocating you go Kevorkian on her). (Nurse Raquel, if it’s you reading this, why didn’t you ever get back to me about dinner? I thought we really hit it off on my previous visit last spring.) I’m just saying, Mom, that your quality of life at this point is essentially negligible, and as Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living!” (I wonder what he would have said about the almost entirely befuddled life.) By contrast, I have many potentially fruitful years ahead.
I haven’t given much thought to details yet, but here is how it shakes down according to some quick calculations I did last night: You are worth approximately $5 million. (For some reason, you and Dad were always hesitant to divulge specifics about this sort of thing.) If you die by Dec. 31st of this year, I would not be taxed on any of the $2.5 million I would inherit (assuming you have not, as you should, cut Sandra out of the will, which is a topic for another letter…). However, if you wait just one day longer to pass through the pearly gates to a better place, the estate tax, or “death tax,” would suddenly kick in. I would be taxed at a quasi-Scandinavian 55% rate on that money, reducing my inheritance to $1.125 million. One day, and a difference of nearly $1.5 million! Ridiculous!!! –especially considering the testator in question seldom knows what day it is anyway.
I love you, Mom. When this bill passed, I realized something: that I’ve always loved you. Nurse Williams/Raquel, please tell her that for me. It’s just that I sort of feel by hanging on, you are still punishing me for what you so tactlessly termed the “Orgnut Kart incident.” (I still maintain that mobile organic donut wagons would have been a hit in the right economic climate.) As for Nancy leaving me, well, that’s really just between me and her and Carlos (and Natasha), isn’t it?
In summary, think about it. And remember that I love you now more than ever.
P.S. Happy Birthday!
P.P.S. Enclosed, purely for informational reasons, is a brochure from the Hemlock Society.
Michael Wolman has had humor published in Defenestration and the SN Review. He lives in Brooklyn.