A Novel Way to Beat Estate Taxes?

The longest recorded human lifespan is 122 years, 164 days. The record is held by Jeanne Calment, who lived in Arles, France. Born in 1875, Jeanne reportedly had an encounter with Vincent Van Gogh at her uncle’s shop.

When Jeanne was 90 years old, she had outlived her daughter and her grandson, and had no other heirs. She agreed to sell her apartment to a lawyer for a small lifetime annuity, retaining the right to live in the property until she died. The lawyer was then 47 years old. The monthly payment was 2,500 francs, about $433.

Unfortunately, the lawyer died of cancer at age 77, while Jeanne was still alive. He never got to occupy the apartment, but his estate did have to keep paying the annuity. The total annuity payments were reportedly double what the apartment was worth.


Doubts have been raised about the authenticity of Jeanne’s age, according to a recent study published by the Smithsonian, which has found several inconsistencies in her life story. For example, a passport issued to Jeanne in the 1930s describes an incorrect eye color and height. In an interview, Jeanne spoke of a maid who had attended school with her. In fact, that maid was ten years younger than Jeanne.

However, Jeanne had a daughter, Yvonne, who died in 1934. After Yvonne’s death, Jeanne moved in with her son-in-law and grandson. The son-in-law never remarried, though he was only 42 when he was widowed.

The researchers believe that Yvonne did not die in 1934, but her mother did. Yvonne then assumed her mother’s identity, becoming Jeanne Calment.


Jeanne and her husband owned a small shop together. When Jeanne died, under French law at that time, her husband would have had to pay a 38% death tax on his wife’s ownership share of the business. However, there would be no tax bill at all if Yvonne died instead of her mother.

Many doubt the researchers’ theory, and there is no conclusive proof. Could an identity switch happen without friends and neighbors noticing? If anyone did notice, could the secret be kept by so many for so long? It was a tumultuous time in France and in the world. The story does have a certain plausibility.


Recently, the threat of death taxes has been greatly reduced for most Americans. The amount exempt from federal estate taxes is $11.4 million per person in 2019. However, the minority of states that continue to have inheritance or estate taxes typically impose them at much lower wealth levels.

Freedom from death tax does not mean freedom from estate planning. Providing a road map for the orderly disposition of one’s property at death is a fundamental financial responsibility.

At The Trust Company of Kansas, we help people. We promise to minimize the burden of wealth management and bestow the freedom to enjoy everything else. Our Certified Trust and Financial Advisors are always willing to discuss your financial goals with you and help you to create a plan that is well-aligned with your wishes. If you have a specific question about tax or estate planning, please contact us and one of our advisors will be happy to assist you.