Are ghosts pollutants? Do you need a permit to put arc nuclear power generators in New York City? The blog asks, and answers, these tough questions, and of course, reveals a lot about how lawyers think in the process.
Given that this is Zombie Awareness Month, today's post on Death, Taxes and Zombies might be a good place to start. It begins thusly:
The U.S. stands on the brink of financial disaster, and Congress has done nothing but bicker. Of course, I refer to the coming day when the undead walk the earth, feasting on the living. A zombie apocalypse will create an urgent need for significant government revenues to protect the living, while at the same time rendering a large portion of the taxpaying public dead or undead. The government’s failure to anticipate or plan for this eventuality could cripple its ability to respond effectively. The time to prepare is now, before panic sets in, and it is too late. This post begins this critical task by considering whether someone who becomes a zombie should be considered dead for estate tax purposes.Later on, it gets right to the heart (and brains, brain, brains) of the matter:
the question isn’t whether zombies can be considered alive, but rather whether, if someone’s zombie is alive, the original person can still be considered dead. This hints at the far larger questions of how the law should treat resurrection generally and whether different types of resurrection should be treated differently. For instance, some, like Lazarus, return intact. Others may return as flesh-eating monsters. Shockingly, the tax code is silent on this issue, a silence that is even more surprising when one considers that most of our legislators purport to be devout Christians, for whom resurrection is a core belief.Zombies may be a fairly easy case from a death tax perspective - although if we decide that zombification triggers taxation, we may also have to conclude that people who are substantially zombies in economic substance might also have to be taxed as if they were dead, even if they are not yet formally zombies.
While a zombie apocalypse may turn many property owners into zombies, few of them will have any death tax liability dead or alive, given that the life time reunified transfer tax exemption is currently $5,000,000 per person, per lifetime, and a zombie apoclypse would probably depress the fair market value of all sorts of assets from real estate to the stock market, without causing legislators to rush to adjust the cutoffs during the emergency (although hyperinflation during a zombie apocalypse could counteract a decline in inflation adjusted prices).
On the other hand, the issue is much more salient in the case of vampires, who appear to be much more affluent on average, at least according to many popular literary accounts. Vampires are particularly attractive as a tax source because many accounts relate that they repeatedly fake their own deaths to prevent their existence from being discovered, giving rise to multiple rounds of death taxation in a single undead lifetime.
Trust and estates scholars, furthermore, are already relatively well equipped intellectual to handle these issues. The legal standing of "the dead hand" was hotly debated in trusts and estates scholarship even before the advent of Addams Family television series popularized the concept, and laws students who bemoan irrelevance are already taught zombie control doctrines like the Rule Against Perpetuities, although a few reckless states like Nevada and Alaska have moved to disarm themselves unilaterally from legal tools to fight the zombie menance.
As a recent post by Seth at Enik Rising revealed, however, election law scholars and political scientists are not nearly so prepared and are just starting to consider the ramifications of the undead for the political process.
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