Thursday, April 21, 2016


The other day, we were down at Texas Medical Center and while I waited for my wife to bring the car around I noticed all the plaques and pictures on the wall in the lobby remembering those who'd gone ahead of us and reminding us that they helped create that facility. The buildings have names that enshrine their memory, too. Like Brown, Alkek, Fondren, Dunn, Smith, Scurlock, and Mary Gibbs Jones. And that's just the part at Methodist Hospital. Other areas of the Center have their own memorials.

With Tax Day falling in this month, many have no doubt expressed their disdain for paying taxes. That sense of frustration is understandable. It's quite an eye-opener to see how much money the government gets from our hard-earned income. But this week I've also been thinking about another aspect of the tax system. The Estate Tax and all of those plaques on the wall in the hospital lobby.

Under US law, a federal tax of forty percent is imposed on all estates valued above five million dollars. That's a much higher rate than the federal income tax, but there are ways to legally avoid that tax. One of those ways is by giving everything above the five million dollar limit to a qualifying institution or entity - a charitable cause, your alma mater, the church you attend, or by giving it to a foundation of your own.

As I thought about that and the plaques on the wall in the hospital lobby I realized the federal tax code actually pushes us to give away our wealth. The law forces us to think about our estate in terms of others. To address those needs, issues, and causes that are dear to us. To start or join a work that takes more than a single generation to accomplish.

Texas Medical Center was started by Monroe D. Anderson, a cotton broker who created a foundation to avoid federal taxes on his estate. The money that went to that foundation after Mr. Anderson died bought the land for the Center and helped fund construction of its first hospital. His vision was an inspiration to those who carried out the mission he started and that vision still drives the current generation of leaders who manage the Center today.

Yes, the federal government takes a big chunk of our income. And, yes, the federal government is far more intrusive than our Founders ever imagined. But the Estate Tax is one thing the tax code gets right. It encourages us - forces us - reminds us - to think of others. To build toward a future with dreams and visions bigger than we can accomplish in our lifetime. To join with those who've gone before us. To add our efforts to their's and to remind those coming after us that caring for others is their responsibility, too.

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