I was skeptical when I first heard the premise of the Fox television program Raising Hope. If I want to see a show about people who have no business bringing up a baby, I'll just rent the Coen brothers movie Raising Arizona.
I'm hooked. Raising Hope is funny, goofy and when you think it's going over the top, it usually stops at the cliff's edge and turns surprisingly touching.
The show's Christmas episode, Toy Story, ran last night. Story lines focusing on a black market toy scheme and competing live nativity scenes kept Raising Hope's crazy Chance family hopping for the full half hour.
But there also was a small running gag based on the estate tax.
Rewrite, please! Of course, as is usually the case when taxes are part of a TV or movie script, the facts were wrong.
The joke was that since there is no federal estate tax this year, if Raising Hope's addled matriarch Maw Maw died by Dec. 31, her hand-to-mouth family would not owe any taxes on what they inherited from her.
In the broadest sense, the no-tax-due dialog was true.
But technically, on the federal level inheritances aren't taxed. Uncle Sam collects not from heirs, but from the estate that is left based on its value.
And that's where the writers really veered off into tax fiction.
Even if Maw Maw, portrayed by award-winning actress Cloris Leachman, makes it into 2011 (and she will since Fox renewed the comedy) and then passes away in season two, the rest of her clan still won't have to worry about the estate tax.
Although the tax is scheduled to reappear in the tax code on Jan. 1, 2011, estates of $1 million or less will be exempt from it. There's no way Maw Maw has assets anywhere near that amount.
And just in case Maw Maw does have some serious money stashed somewhere, a proposal is now before Congress that would raise the estate tax exemption level to $5 million.
Despite the script license with the tax law, I still appreciated the effort. We tax geeks will take any reference in pop culture we can get!
- Bill James, baseball, taxes and The Simpsons
- Mad Men and capital gains taxes
- 'Tax policy decreed by Merry Men in Tights'
- Investigating a new tax-themed TV show
- Tax show adds more cast members
- Shawshank's tax redemption
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