Where there's a will, there's a way -- to keep George Steinbrenner's millions all in the family.
In his last will and testament, a copy of which was obtained by The Post yesterday, the legendary Yankee owner went to great lengths to keep the taxman at bay.
The Boss' will stipulates that an undisclosed portion of his estimated $1.1 billion sports, shipping and racehorse-breeding fortune will go into a trust for his widow, Joan, 74.
And it assigns Steinbrenner's lawyer, Robert Banker, to decide whether that trust pays federal estate tax for this year, or not until after Joan Steinbrenner dies.
Although there currently is no federal estate tax for 2010, that could change if Congress acts to close the loophole and enacts such a tax retroactively, putting Steinbrenner's estate on the hook for $500 million or more.
But under the law, Banker would have nine months from Steinbrenner's July 13 death to decide if the estate should pay estimated estate tax for a 2010 filing -- or at the rate in effect whenever Joan dies. Banker can take another six months before deciding to make that move permanent. "That would give him maximum flexibility to deal with the estate tax," said Peter Valente, a top estate lawyer at the Blank Rome firm. "They have a lot of time to deal with this."
George Steinbrenner may not be everyone’s idea of a responsible family man. But the New York Yankee owner did his family a solid last month by dying this year. Because 2010 was the year of estate tax jubilee—the oddest legacy of the Bush administration’s tax cuts—not a penny of the estimated $1.15 billion he left behind can be touched by Uncle Sam. Had the Boss departed for the great sky box in the sky just seven months earlier or five months later, his heirs would have collected at least $500 million less.
Depending on how you look at it, Steinbrenner’s clean getaway was either a model of enlightened tax policy or a betrayal of everything the U.S. tax code stands for. That debate goes before Congress right now, as policymakers figure out how to handle the expiration of the previous administration’s tax cuts. That there is a debate at all is a triumph of political salesmanship over enlightened self-interest and of emotion over, well, plain arithmetic.
Stunningly, though, some two-thirds of Americans—including 55 percent of Democrats—say the tax should be repealed, an extraordinary result at a time when the annual deficit is running well over a trillion dollars.