Annie Leibovitz Financial Straits Fueled by Gay Tax Inequalities?

AfterEllen makes a good point about the recent news of Annie Leibovitz financial troubles. The NYT recently Leibovitz was forced to take out a loan using her life's work as collateral. This may explain part of the reason why. When Leibovitz's partner Susan Sontag died, she inherited properties in her estate. In the case of a straight married couple, this would be no big deal. But in the case of a same-sex couple, the taxes are onerous:

"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

Salon's Nancy Goldstein: "Will this profoundly unfair issue be challenged now that attention's
being drawn to it by the situations of couples like Sontag and
Leibovitz who are far higher-profile than me and my gal?"


  1. E says

    This is an excellent example of one of the many inequalities in our tax system that penalizes gay and lesbian couples. While I hope as much as anyone that this inequality will be remedied, I also hope this case will serve as an example to the commited gay and lesbian couples out there.

    There are methods than can be used to mitigate the harshest effects of our estate tax system. It behooves all committed same-sex couples to be aware of these potential pitfalls and plan properly to deal with them.

  2. says

    Another example of how if you think you DESERVE to pay higher taxes because of whom you love – file your income taxes.

    If you think you may deserve BETTER than being demonized and taxed extra by your government for whom you love – why the F*CK do you comply with the I.R.S.?

    Straight people are shaking their heads wondering “why gays are too passive” (a quote); I think we’re too USED to being shit upon.

  3. crispy says

    If you think you deserve better, then REFUSE to accept tax-supported welfare. Or shut the fuck up!

  4. JP says

    I live in Georgia.

    I know of two instances over the years where friends were forced to buy 1/2 of their own homes back from the families of deceased partners. It was simply the easiest way to avoid a long court battle with their “in laws”. Wills can be contested. That contesting is easier when the law ignores the partnership in question. “Heirs at Law” carry the most weight.

    I hadn’t even considered this kind of tax ramification.

    I hope Ms. Leibovitz’s prominence does point out this kind of blatant inequality to more people.

  5. NewEng says

    It sounds like they needed better advice and /or a more qualified estate/tax attorney and estate planning

  6. tomtop says

    and all this time i thought annie was just frittering her money away on mascara and push up bras

  7. Scott says

    I just took my partner on my health insurance and realized for the first time that I have to pay tax on the amount that my company pays for our family coverage.

  8. CJ says

    At a time when mourning the loss of your loved one should be primary, it is shame laws exist to push minority groups further down the economic scale while taking them to the financial cleaners. Racism/sexism/homophobia are very much alive and well in the U.S.A., they just exist under “discrete” laws and prejudice.

  9. Alan says

    Of course gay married couples should have the same rights and responsibilities as straight married couples.

    But the key word here is “married.”

    Isn’t it a stretch to assume that Sontag and Leibovitz – who were never public about their relationship in any way, who didn’t live together, who weren’t domestic partners – would have been married if only they’d had the opportunity?

  10. Marco says know, this story was being discussed all over the blogosphere LAST WEEK. Salon, Jezebel, NYMag, Gawker, dozens of other mainstream sites. Better late than never I suppose.

  11. Trent says

    I agree with Alan. While not disputing the basic inequality of the tax code, I have a big problem with making Leibovitz the poster child and hers the mediagenic test case of the unfairness of the law. Not only did she and Sontag never acknowledge their relationship publicly during Sontag’s lifetime, but she still doesn’t state the truth flat-out and simply (I understand, for instance, that in Leibovitz’s book which included pictures of the dying Sontag, Sontag is not described as “my partner” or “my lover”).

  12. tina says

    Wait a sec — Annie dumped Susan when Susan got cancer so Annie could run off with a chippie.

    Gay people can easily share property as “joint tenants in common with rights of survivorship,” which means the state doesn’t oversee the title transfer if, God forbid, one partner dies. For whatever reason, Susan didn’t do that.

    That’s not to say marriage rights aren’t worth fighting for, but we can’t be sure that Susan’s intentions aren’t actually being followed in this case.

  13. mark says

    Every gay couple should establish a revocable trust, and convert ownership of all their property, possessions and accounts to the trust. When one dies, there are no taxes to be paid, because the surviving spouse now owns everything in the trust.

    If you don’t do this, you get screwed when one of you dies.

  14. Stan says

    I agree with the posters who said Annie could have taken other steps to prevent this. Sure, she shouldn’t HAVE to but I’m a little suspicious that a woman of her means and who likely has access to competent attorneys wouldn’t have been advised on basic legal matters concerning property and wills.