The Law Is A Ass #458: The Human Torch Wants Just The Tax, Ma’am

I’m not an insurance company executive. I don’t even play one on TV. But if I were – or a probate judge or some similarly situated professional – and someone came to me to tell me that a Marvel hero, say Reed Richards, had died, my initial reaction would be, “Reed Richards? It’s an even-numbered week. That mean’s it’s Ben Grimm’s turn to die.”

In 2015, forces beyond their control killed the Fantastic Four. No, not the cosmic forces behind the latest version of Secret Wars. That was just the story where the FF died, not the forces that killed them. Said forces were higher ups at Marvel who decided if Fox wouldn’t give the film rights for the Fantastic Four back to Marvel Studios

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, then Marvel Comics shouldn’t publish a Fantastic Four comic and give free publicity to a competing studio’s movies. So at the end of the Secret Wars story line, Reed (Mr. Fantastic) Richards, Sue (Invisible Woman) Richards, and their children all died.

No, of course they didn’t die. But everyone including Johnny (The Human Torch) Storm and Ben (The Thing) Grimm thought they had died. Someone even had them declared legally dead, because in Uncanny Avengers (2017) #28, a lawyer named Harris Hutchley told Johnny that he had inherited Reed’s $5,196,353,518.41 estate.

Which, like a sleep over camp bed, is pure bunk.

Reed and Sue lived, and Johnny lives, in New York City, so that means the laws of New York would cover Reed’s estate. New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law § 2-1.7 reads, “A person who is absent for a continuous period of three years, during which, after diligent search, he or she has not been seen or heard of or from, and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained shall be presumed, in any action or proceeding involving any property of such person, contractual or property rights contingent upon his or her death or the administration of his or her estate, to have died three years after the date such unexplained absence commenced, or on such earlier date as clear and convincing evidence establishes is the most probable date of death.”

Which means, in simpler terms and with far fewer commas, that after three years of Reed and Sue being missing, a court could declare them dead.

Reed and Sue’s “death” happened in Uncanny Avengers (2015) #4, which came out in January of 2016. Johnny was informed he had inherited the estate in Uncanny Avengers (2017) #28, which came out in October of 2017. Now I may have been bad at math, but I wasn’t so bad that I can’t count to one and one-half years. I was even good enough to know that’s only half of the time the statute requires before a declaration of death should be made. And that’s one and one-half years of our real-world time. One and one-half of our years is probably just a weekend in Marvel time; maybe a Labor Day weekend. But far less time than the statute requires.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must add that the statute also says, “The fact that such person was exposed to a specific peril of death may be a sufficient basis for determining at any time after such exposure that he or she died less than three years after the date his or her absence commenced.” Surely said paragraph would apply to people who tick off Dr. Doom, Annihilus, or even Paste-Pot Pete on a weekly basis. No, I think not.

As I said earlier in this column, if I were an insurance executive or a probate judge in the Marvel Universe and someone came to me to say some Marvel super hero had disappeared and should be declared legally dead, I’d say, “Not so fast.” Let’s face it, “dead” heroes in the Marvel Universe come back so often you’d think Jesus was offering a Lazarus special at a Costco kiosk. Reed Richards himself died in Fantastic Four (1993) #381 only to return in Fantastic Four (1995) #407. And let’s not forget the original “Heroes Reborn” incident. (Yes, let’s all forget that, please. —Ed.)

The point being, legal officials in the Marvel Universe have seen people die and return to life so often, I don’t think any of them would be willing to have a Marvel hero declared legally dead just because someone asked. There’s a lot of paperwork and court hearings involved in declaring a person legally dead. There’s even more of that involved in declaring a person not-dead. After all, a judge who distributed probate assets for some Marvel character who was presumed dead would have to figure out how to get those assets back to the original owner after that character invariably came back in a few issues. At the very least, I think the legal profession would wait the full three years before declaring a Marvel character dead, not a year and a half.

Even if Reed had been declared legally dead, I seriously doubt that his estate, which had to be long and complicated, would have been completely probated in only a year and one-half. It took almost that long for my mother’s estate to be probated, and it was about as complicated as a glass of water.

But in this story, Reed and Sue were declared legally dead faster than Quicksilver can play the Minute Waltz and Johnny inherited. Only to learn that he had to pay something called the “business and opportunity tax.”

The what now?

I’ve heard of the income tax. I’ve heard of the sales tax. I’ve even heard of the marza tax. But I’ve never heard of the business and opportunity tax.

Neither has Google or Wikipedia.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It only means that my quick internet searches didn’t find any taxes with that name. Not in the USA or any of its component states. Moreover

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, the concept of Johnny owing any tax on the money he inherited is dubious at best. After all, if death isn’t certain in the Marvel Universe, why should taxes be?

While some states have what’s called an inheritance tax that require the legatee to pay taxes on what was inherited, New York and the federal government don’t have an inheritance tax. They have an estate tax. With an estate tax, the estate, not the legatee, pays the tax out of the estate proceeds. That means Reed’s estate, not Johnny, would have paid the taxes then Johnny would have inherited whatever was left after the estate tax was paid tax free.

Oh, Johnny will pay income taxes on his personal income from Reed’s various patents and holdings. But those will be due weeks or months down the road

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, not the same day he inherited.

Earlier I said I didn’t know what a business and opportunity tax was. If any of you know what it is, let me know. Not just because, even at this late stage in my life, I like learning new things, but for an even better reason. If the business and opportunity tax actually exists, it’s just one more reason for me to be happy I’m retired.