6

In this well known scene from The Shawshank Redeption (content warning: language), Hadley is complaining because he is getting an inheritance, but he knows that the IRS is going to take a bunch of it in taxes. Andy tells him that if he trusts his wife, then he can keep the full amount by giving it to her. His explanation is that the IRS allows a "one-time only gift to your spouse for up to $60,000", tax free.

This scene never made sense to me. I've heard of gift taxes; and how gift below a certain amount are not taxed. But wouldn't this only mean that there is no additional gift tax that would need to be paid for giving the money to someone? Wouldn't the money he received still be taxed as inherited money; unrelated to what he then chose to do with the money (give it away, spend it, etc)?

Is this simply something made up by the movie (or maybe the book; I don't know if this dialog comes from the book or not)? Or is there some sense to it, such as maybe him being allowed to deduct the money he gave away, similar to if he had given it to a charity?

Is this something where the laws may have been different in the 1940s from today?

  • 2
    I know this question could fit on movies.stackexchange.com, but I think it's a better fit here. – GendoIkari Nov 1 at 21:47
  • 1
    ”That cupcake on the wall? Let's ask her. Maybe she knows. What say there, fuzzy britches? Feel like talking?” – Rocky Nov 1 at 22:13
8

You're correct- the tax advice given in that scene doesn't make any sense, and it might actually make the scene even better if you know that. The advice was bad for three reasons:

  1. Even in 1949 (like today) there would be no tax at all on the inheritence. Estates may pay taxes before the money is distributed (and his brother's estate would have paid taxes), but after that if you're due $35K, you get that $35K tax free. Hadley was misinformed in the first place that he was going to owe tax.
  2. Even if there was tax owed, giving the inherited money to a spouse wouldn't change that fact.
  3. There is no limit to how much money you can give your spouse tax free (not $60K or otherwise). In this case, "Your money" is what you bring to the marriage, and any inheritances and gifts you receive during the marriage.

My assumption is that Andy knew all of this and was just toying with Hadley and capitalizing on an opportunity to get free beer for his friends.

  • 3
    Never underestimate the power of lazy script writing. – SJuan76 Nov 2 at 10:59
  • @SJuan76 hehe, good point. Though as a former avid Stephen King reader I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. – TTT Nov 2 at 13:14
  • 1
    Re "Your money is basically considered your spouse's money...", I don't think that's the case. (Though IANAL, of course.) A lot will depend on the jurisdiction, e.g. community property states vs non-community property ones. For instance, in my state money & property you have before marriage remains yours, as do things such as inheritances, but general income is community property. – jamesqf Nov 3 at 2:49
  • @jamesqf - are you saying in your state you can't give all of the property you had before you got married to your spouse tax free? (Or did you take that sentence differently than I meant it? I just tweaked it in case it wasn't clear.) – TTT Nov 3 at 3:53
  • @TTT: No, just the opposite. I'm saying that it is your property, so the spouse has no legal claim on it, say in the event of a divorce. You could give the property to the spouse, AFAIK without any tax consequences, but there'd have to be some evidence that you did so for the spouse to claim that it's theirs. (Though again, I'm not a lawyer.) It's complicated, which is why divorce & estate lawyers drive BMWs :-( – jamesqf Nov 3 at 17:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.