Ripped From Which Headline? "The Taxman Cometh"

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
May 11 2010 1:03 PM

Ripped From Which Headline? "The Taxman Cometh"

We all know that Law & Order rips its stories from theheadlines—but which headlines? After each new episode, Brow Beat matches L&O' splot points to the events that inspired them.

May 10, 2010, "The Taxman Cometh"

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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These Are Their Stories
Annie Douglas dies of an overdoseafter a night of clubbing with her cousin Randy Colwyn, who bought the drugs.When the police discover that Randy and Annie are grandchildren of recentlydeceased multi-millionaire Henry Douglas, they wonder if Randy killed Annie toincrease his share of the inheritance.

They find it curious that althoughHenry Douglas had endowed a cancer center at a local hospital, he received hisown treatment for the disease at the Balichek Clinic, which uses experimentaltherapy rather than established protocols. The detectives find that the clinichas recently treated several extremely rich patients and that they all died in2010, a year in which there is no estate tax.

The police then question AmandaGreen, who received a large payment from Henry's daughter Catherine just afterhis death. They learn that the money was a settlement for the breakup of herrelationship with Catherine. Amanda recalls that when her ex-lover returnedfrom a meeting with her accountant, she joked that her father might as well diein 2010. The authorities realize that Catherine's accountant, Bruce Graham, isthe connection between the rich families and the Balichek Clinic.

The prosecutors discover thatCatherine adopted Amanda years earlier, which makes Amanda one of HenryDouglas' grandchildren, and thus one of his heirs. ADA Mike Cutter gets theadoption nullified in family court, but Amanda then reveals that she ispregnant, and that the egg was donated by Catherine, meaning that Catherine isthe unborn child's mother and grandmother. Dr. Balichek implicates Bruce Graham, and Catherine Douglas admitsguilt to protect the baby.

This Is the Real Story
In March 2007, the New York Times reported thatPatricia Spado was suing Olive F. Watson, granddaughter of IBM founder ThomasJ. Watson Sr., for a piece of Olive's mother's estate. Olive had adopted Spado,her lesbian partner of 14 years, in 1991. They broke up a year after theadoption, but Spado claimed she was still technically one of Thomas WatsonSr.'s grandchildren. Watson's lawyers challenged the adoption, and a probatejudge in Maine,where the adoption had occurred, ruled it invalid. In 2009, the Maine SupremeCourt reversed that decision and found that the adoption was legal. (Billionaire Doris Dukealso adopted a female companion. Duke was 40 years older than her adopted "child"; Spado wasslightly older than her adopted mother.)

Other headlines: It is truethat there is no estate tax due in 2010. In May 2001, the New York Times ' Paul Krugman observed ,"If your ailing mother passes away on Dec. 30, 2010, you inherit herestate tax-free. But if she makes it to Jan. 1, 2011, half the estate will be taxedaway." Still, I could find no examples of deaths timed to take advantage ofthese perverse incentives. If you know of any, please tell me about them in thecomments below.