TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Tax and Estate Planning Origins of 'Affluenza'

AffluenzaForbes:  Is Affluenza Real? Ask Senator Elizabeth Warren And Other Experts, by Greg McNeal (Pepperdine):

A 16 year old who killed four people while driving drunk after stealing alcohol from WalMart was sentenced to probation after his defense team argued he suffered from “affluenza” -- a malady that affects people who come from affluent families.

Is affluenza real?  To answer that question I decided to research the term, and I found quite a few references to it in legal literature.  The consistent theme in the literature is that affluenza is not a disorder per se, but rather a term used to describe rampant consumerism or materialism (although some authors referred to it as a “disease” or “malady” with quotes to indicate skepticism about the technical nature of the term).  It’s also fascinating to note that most references to the term come from tax lawyers and estate planners. ...

In a tax planning guide, author Patricia M. Annino writes:

Paul Comstock, a noted author in the field of private foundations, coined the phrase: “Affluenza” for a malady common to children of affluent families. This Affluenza is characterized by one or more of the following symptoms: distorted view of money; lack of connection between work and reward; lack of self-discipline; lack of motivation; guilt; low self esteem; and feelings of incompetence.

Joel Dobris, a professor of law at UC Davis School of Law wrote in a law review article:

Merrill Lynch, in particular, would have its customers believe that trusts, with their perceived magic powers, are capable of curing “affluenza.” Affluenza is a “disease” that strikes when the earned millions of middle-class parents turn good bourgeois children into wastrels. ...

All told, the bulk of the legal literature referencing affluenza does so as a means to provide guidance to financial planners and others when dealing with trusts, inheritance and other transfers of wealth.

Tax | Permalink