Our beloved 101 “acre California farm-my small family’s one asset- has been in my family since 1942, when it was purchased by my great uncle. It has been planted In crops of many kinds, worked first by my uncle and then by my father, who earned a very modest salary as a mechanical engineer in Alameda during the week and worked j(like a dog” on our Sonoma County farm on the weekends and his vacations.
Through his dedicated work and the help of my mother, doing the accounting and saving every penny, they managed to keep it going and improve it bit by bit, eventually planting all wine grapes. But when my father got Parkinson’s Disease and eventually became too ill to manage it, we leased it to a winery (thus we don’t qualify for a “farm exclusion”).
For the next two decades Parkinson’s Disease took over my parents’ lives.
My father eventually became completely immobilized and required round-the-clock care, which took all of my mott1er’s time, energy, and money.
During these years, the price of land in California’s Sonoma County skyrocketed. When my father died in 2002, the land (even if completely unimproved) was now worth a few million dollars. Since we had no other assets even close to this now greatly appreciated farm, we were faced with the prospect of having to sell our farm JUST TO PAY THE ESTATE TAXES.
SELL OUR FARM JUST TO PAY THE TAXES, may I repeat Could this possibly be happening?
I simply could not believe a law this backwards and unjust could be in effect in our country. How dare someone in the government feel they have the right confiscate my family’s 60 years of blood, sweat and tears so they can have
their nearly 50% tax?
I felt like chaining myself to the fence and calling every newspaper and TV crew in the land. But it was really a law. Common sense had completely gone out the window. Since then, my family has spent countless hours meeting with high-priced attorneys, talking with my mother about her death. That is very unpleasant, let me tell you. It sounds like this: “Well, mom, if you die in 2004 the tax is 48%,” but if you die in 2009 …. ” We purchased a life insurance policy that eats up the proceeds from our crops (because even the crops cannot support near what the land is now “worth” if sold) and may or may not be enough to pay the moving target of this tax as land values escalate.
We face parceling our beautiful land, but the minimum land requirements for parceling are tightening up (in parts of adjacent Napa the restriction is already set at 11 0 acres per parcel) and we don’t have much time to decide. Plus, that would ready break my 79-year-old mother’s heart, and mine (her daughter) as well. We are not the Paris Hilton rich! We were pretty average, except for this land. The truly rich have the luxury of other assets, liquid assets~ to sell to balance their land, they can form foundations and engage teams of lawyer’s in legal constructs.
We are the ones caught in the middle: having no assets to balance out the giant tax liability required at my mother’s impending death. More and more Californians will be caught in this trap as the land appreciates–we have no control over this. Please forward our story to the people who don’t understand the deep and painful consequences of this ghastly estate tax that targets people like us, and is cutting my family to the quick.
Thank you, and please keep me Informed of any updates if you can,
Los Angeles, California