Out Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz recently took out a loan against her prized photographs in order to pay off her outstanding mortgage debt. Miss Leibovitz is not alone in suffering from the global economic crisis, but what struck me about her story was that most of her financial woes stemmed from her inheritance of her long time partner, Susan Sontag’s, estate.
As Suze Orman pointed out in her Valentine’s Day wish for gay marriage, same-sex couples do not have the same privileges as straight married couples when it comes to inheritance. If your partner passes away and leaves her estate to you, you have to pay up to 50 percent of the value of your inheritance in taxes. However, if you and your partner were recognized as a married couple, you wouldn’t have to pay a dime. And it is precisely this unjust double standard that got Annie Leibovitz into financial trouble.
When Sontag died in 2004, she bequeathed several properties to Leibovitz, who was forced to pony up half of their value to keep them. Yes, she makes a nice chunk of change from Vanity Fair, and yes, she probably could have just sold the properties when the market was good in 2004, but that’s not really the point. The point is she should never have been in the position of paying or selling to not pay as much in the first place. Her wealth and poor decision-making are incidental.
Susan Sontag shot by Annie Leibovitz
Some snarky commentators have remarked that Leibovitz is getting what she deserves for living beyond her means. In many ways, she probably could have prevented her current crisis, but I wonder how many of these “tough” commentators would feel if they suddenly had to pay half of the value of their homes to the government in order to keep on living there.