A Thriller of a Decision Upcoming

The Wall Street Journal yesterday highlighted Judge Mark Holmes of the United States Tax Court. Judge Holmes’s opinions are extraordinarily readable even to those who know little about tax law. I’ve noted Judge Holmes’s writings in the past (on the TurboTax defense, on strip clubs and hair bands, on human egg retrieval, and ‘substance over form’); luckily for tax nerds, it’s likely we will be getting lots more opportunities to read Judge Holmes’s writings (he was recently nominated by President Trump for another 15-year term on the Tax Court).

Why did the Journal spotlight Judge Holmes? Because he is the judge dealing with the estate tax case of Michael Jackson. As the Journal noted,

There’s also a biting side to his work. This year, in a dissent, he compared his colleagues on the Tax Court to the tyrannical Roman emperor Caligula and his practice of posting tax laws “in fine print and so high that Romans could not read them.”

“It is our custom to reconsider an issue when a circuit court reverses us. And today we have to choose either a well-reasoned opinion by a highly respected judge in America’s heartland, or Caligula,” Judge Holmes wrote. “We pick Caligula. I gingerly dissent.”

An estate tax return is based on the value of the estate on the date of death. When Mr. Jackson died, he was in financial trouble. True, today there’s a show here in Las Vegas that features his music and his estate is worth a lot of money, but was that the case on the date of death? Judge Holmes will let us know, and almost certainly in a way that will educate and elucidate at the same time. If you’re a Journal subscriber, I strongly recommend this article.

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