Alcohol or Marijuana?

by Seattle Soccer Mom

Dr. Aaron Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University who also writes columns for the NY Times Upshot. In the linked article below, he sorts through the dangers of alcohol vs. marijuana for teens. Dr. Carroll argues that alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes (no link for pot); there are alcohol related deaths (e.g. binge drinking deaths) but not pot related deaths; more ER visits due to alcohol than pot; alcohol is more of a danger when driving; and a higher % of users end up dependent on alcohol than on pot.

His conclusion:

When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say “neither.” Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is “marijuana.”

Fellow Totebaggers, which would you rather your teen experimented with – alcohol or marijuana? (and yes, let’s assume the first choice would be “neither.”)

For me personally, since I’ve never smoked pot, I’m more comfortable with the idea of DD experimenting with alcohol. After reading the article though, I’m a little less freaked out about the idea of DD experimenting with pot (my first choice is still “neither.”)

Alcohol or Marijuana? A Pediatrician Faces the Question


73 thoughts on “Alcohol or Marijuana?

  1. What gives me pause is that I know countless highly successful heavy drinkers/alcoholics. The pot heads I know have tended to have achieve much more modest levels of success. That said, my informal anecdotal study is likely high flawed.

  2. Yeah, Rhett, I really think the legality of alcohol makes a big difference. Of course there are always a lot of really successful coke users too.

  3. I think it’s looking at the wrong comparisons. If your only metrics are not contributing to violent crime or DWI, then, by all means, have the joint.

  4. I’ll pick alcohol and would just hope they’re mature enough not to go crazy.. Alcohol is a big part of socializing (whether that’s good or bad), one just needs to learn not to combine it with the wrong things.

  5. “For me personally, since I’ve never smoked pot, I’m more comfortable with the idea of DD experimenting with alcohol.”


  6. From my very limited experience with the people in my life, I have a few people I’ve known most of my life who became visibly stupider when smoking a lot of pot. My friends who were social drinkers seemed better able to continue functioning. So from that perspective, alcohol. But i do think that with excessive consumption, the potential dangers and negative outcomes are greater for alcohol.

  7. I pick pot. I know many recreational users who are quite successful. Alcohol has the potential to be way more destructive.

    Rhett, it may also be that users are more likely to hide that they smoke weed because of the legality/perception of same.

    Milo, NO to cigarettes – I hate them most of all!

  8. Milo – pot can be made into non-carcinogenic forms. Plus while I don’t like the smell of either one, the pot smell is much less objectionable.

  9. I think until we have legal marijuana for a number of years it is hard to take selection bias out of many of these studies. Some people will not choose to use an illegal substance due to their ethical bent or due to drug testing that may be required by their employer.

    My personal experience is that people fall into 3 categories. First, social users, who can take it or leave it and their daily/weekly routine does not revolve around the consumption. Second, routine users, who must routinely use the substance and feel the effects of withdrawl, but whose use does not significantly interfere with good grades, holding a job, rasing a family, etc. Third, abusers, whose lives revolve around their use. The I want a beer after work, turns into I must go to work to pay for that 12 pack I will drink tonight.

    I don’t know what keeps some people at a social user level all their lives vs. those who move quickly into the abuser category. Therefore, I don’t know what my kids’ reactions will be. I believe that there is less tolerance (zero tolerance policies) for teens/early 20s experimentation with anything illegal, so I wonder how that will affect their behavior. My oldest is now in the age range where her exposure to these things is more likely.

  10. L – now that pot is legal here in Washington State, I smell pot downtown much more than I do tobacco smoke. I don’t care for the smell of either one. The pot smells a lot like skunk. And this is how naïve I am – I thought the increased smell of skunk was due to actual skunks. What can I say – I grew up in Vermont where if you smelled skunk, it was because there was an actual skunk. Also, I don’t remember the pot my friends in college smoked smelling like skunk. It had a sweeter smell.

  11. “Tobacco is more addictive and far more dangerous to your health.”

    Are we sure about this? How reliable could the comparison be when pot has been illegal until now?

  12. Given the family history of alcoholism I choose weed. Less addictive, less harm to yourself and others. I would prefer that they eat and not smoke it. This is all assuming it is legal. The negative outcomes for possession of weed are higher than those for possession of alcohol underage.

  13. Does anyone know much about the epigenetic effects of marijuana? The article should have discussed that, IMHO. It seems like if you’re going to smoke it, you should wait until after you’ve had your children. For people with chronic pain, like my mom or FIL who had very painful cancers, my attitude is that if marijuana takes the edge off with fewer side effects than opioids, consume all you want. A good study of negative effects would also control for drug potency, which varies because it’s a natural drug, vs. a synthesized one like methamphetamine. I liked the statistic that 20% of alcohol users become dependent but I would have liked to see more definition of “dependence”- that seems high to me. He also doesn’t discuss whether alcohol or marijuana is likely to be a gateway to harder drugs, and ignores the fact that teens who use one are more likely to use the other.

    We have a family history of both alcoholism and alcohol dependence with no functional impairment. I’m not sure how it compares to that of a “typical” family. It’s probably no worse given frequency in my large family, but we have more than our share of mental illness and neither alcohol/drugs and mental illness mix well with those.

    Another factor that isn’t PC to discuss is vulnerability to alcohol based on ethnicity. Native Americans, for example, seem to be uniquely vulnerable based on genetics, not just environment. This data is also US-specific, and taking a more European attitude towards alcohol (no binge drinking but wine with meals for teenagers on up) seems very reasonable. By looking at US data, his main source of bias is US culture.

    It would be interesting to hear the pediatrician’s take on the family characteristics of teens/young adults who abuse alcohol or drugs vs. don’t.

  14. Agree with Austinmom’s point about selection bias — I think the differences in the legal status/historic social acceptability, together with the causation/correlation thing (a/k/a people choosing to self-medicate), make for a real apples and oranges type of scenario.

    So I agree with Atlanta: “Alcohol is a big part of socializing (whether that’s good or bad)” — my kids live in a world where employers throw happy hours, friends meet at a sports bar to watch football and drink beer, and a bottle of wine is a normal part of a “fancy” dinner. This is part of their culture and is something they will need to learn to deal with, in a way that pot is not (yet). So if I have to choose a particular underage evil, that’s where I’d rather them dip their toes in.

  15. And in a lovely coincidence, I *feel* high today — first day back from our trip, and despite a normal night’s sleep I have spaced out several times on conference calls already. And I just had a total “Bill & Ted” moment a minute ago: looked at the clock to see if it was time for the Monday post and thought, “Whoa, it’s 12:23 already? Duuuude.” (yes, that was Keanu Reeves’ voice in my head, before I even saw what the topic was).

    I shall do my best not to commit malpractice for the rest of the day. . . .

  16. WCE and Axs, I sent CoC a copy of my renovation spreadsheet this morning.

    My kids are small, so not exposed to this issue yet. But I know a neurologist who asserts that regular pot use correlates with visible brain damage on MRIs. If that’s true, I’m planning to ask for some brain scans to show my kids when they are a bit older :)

  17. Bad reactions to marijuana are possible. I always had panic attacks from the stuff, and a friend of mine in college reacted so badly once that he had to leave school. He may well have fallen apart eventually in any case, but it was scary to see him having the reaction after smoking hash for probably the first time (he was a sheltered Cuban boy).

  18. Addiction is addiction is addiction, and if it runs in your family, you are prone to it no matter what the substance. If your dad was an alcoholic, yuo should not only be careful about alcohol but also marijuana, coke, and probably video games :-)

  19. From an addictive standpoint, pot is not in the top ten but alcohol is as is nicotine. I will be telling my children to avoid the most additive illegal drugs and to use the legal ones in a minimally/responsible manner. Here are the top ten addictive drugs, most of which take only a few times to become highly addictive listed from 1 to 10:

    Nicotine – tell you kids not to smoke – legal
    Crack Cocaine – this form of cocaine is the worst but I’ll be telling them to avoid all cocaine
    Ice/Glass – methampetamine
    Crystal meth – methampetamine (this and the above are two ways of making as is crank – avoid meth)
    Oxycoodene – this has become the go to painkiller and is the gateway for kids to go looking for opiods once their prescription runs out or the prescription they’ve been stealing runs out. If you or your child is on this medication, you need to be aware and to step down to the next pain medication as soon as you’re able. legal
    Heroin – this is one of the cheapest drugs available right now and states have gone to supplying Narcaine to cops and emts/paramedics to counter against overdoses. Many people go looking for Heron when their access to Oxy is cut off or because it is less expensive
    Quaaludes – this used to see much more of a problem but it is probably just that heroin and oxy are center stage. Legal
    Seconal – preescribed for insomina and again something that should be monitored if you or your child is on. – Legal
    Alcohol – legal and socially acceptable but one that is abused in many ways.

  20. I don’t think they even make Quaaludes anymore, do they?

    “The rights to Quaalude were held by the JB Roerig & Company division of Pfizer, before the drug was discontinued in the United States in 1985, mainly due to its psychological addictiveness and recreational use.”

  21. I’ve had a few people I went to high school with that have died from heroin overdoses and a few that are admitted recovering opiate users – and we are in our late 30s (too old for that stuff!). I know it’s hit small New England towns quite hard and I’ve seen on my FB feed that cops are carrying Narcan now. It’s so different from when we were growing up – back in the day it was just bad beer, maybe some vodka and pot. So I guess alcohol and pot seem like the least of parents’ worries now.

  22. Heroin has become a huge problem recently. I have two acquaintances who have lost teen children to herion ODs in the past 4 years.

  23. I don’t see caffeine on that list. I had always heard it is highly addictive. Certainly I am addicted. I found it far, far more difficult to quit caffeine when I was pregnant than to give up alcohol. Caffeine is a physical addiction.

  24. I’ve heard that the heroin issue is driven in large part by people becoming addicted to prescription pain meds and then switching to heroin when they can’t get oxy and/or it’s too expensive. So, it seems like the crackdown on oxy has resulted in an even worse heroin problem. I think that’s a pretty common occurrence in terms of drug policy.

    There have been some studies that predicted that highway fatalities in CO would rise post legalization based on the fact that people who are high have a higher rate of accidents. But, in reality, people were substituting weed for booze which impairs driving less so fewer accidents.

    A lot of the studies seem to compare oxy vs. nothing, weed vs. nothing, booze vs. nothing. I don’t think they properly weigh the fact that some people need a little something. If you clamp down on one the demand just spikes in other places.

    I think the reality is a certain % of the population needs something to take the edge off and arbitrarily having some drugs legal and other illegal might not be the best option.

  25. Most of the heroin problems I have heard about involve teens, who are going straight to heroin rather than via prescription painkillers.

  26. I’d prefer alcohol, both because of the legality/part of mainstream culture aspect and concerns about pot having worse effects on the adolescent brain than an older brain (which I read somewhere). Of course I struggle to discern whether an odd-smelling whiff is pot smoke or clove cigarette smoke (agree that if it’s skunky then it’s pot) so that tells you my experience level. Also, more effective than the “Just say no!” campaign, there was a little ditty from my childhood with the chorus running, “Be a lolo, smoke pakalolo, be a lolo, smoke pakalolo” (Dr. Pepper tune).

  27. I think Mooshi nailed the issue – if addiction runs in your family, constant vigilance is required, even for video games and extreme athletics. We don’t have many potential stoners in our family. It is not how we are wired. But we definitely are the sort of people who have to stop when we enter a room and say, this is a one or two or three – you get the idea – drink situation. We don’t have an automatic off switch.

    The sort of functional heavy drinking that WCE mentioned is very common, especially among European origin folks who can process lots of alcohol physically. remember the Millionaire Next Door Guy going on for pages about rich people saving money by drinking cheap hooch? I know there are several regulars who have ancestors or modern close family members who left most of the weekly paycheck at the bar, honky tonk, numbers joint or track. Alcohol does not seem so benign to them.

    Also, you guys are all very straight laced, even those who are not religious or from a tight community of origin. If there are twenty houses with children in your immediate (non legal cannabis state) suburban middle to UMC vicinity, I would guess in 4-5 of them the parents smoke marijuana regularly but moderately and there is at least one raging alcoholic and more than one wine swilling mummy. And when the nbeighborhood kids get to be 15….

  28. I, too, am addicted to caffeine. I don’t need a lot of it–one cup of half-caff coffee or a 1/2 Diet Coke is fine. However, if I don’t have it, I get a bad headache.

  29. I figure experimentation is going to happen. I did it. But, I was allowed access to alcohol in my parents’ home under their strict supervision. It was a glass of wine with dinner kinda thing. And I see myself continuing that. I have more experience with alcohol, but I also have friends who smoke pot occasionally, and I can go to them with questions if the need arises. The one hiccup in my plan is the nanny state we have. Does giving my kids (and ONLY my kids) the chance to experiment under my supervision make me a bad parent? Does that make me a parent who should have her children ripped from her home? Many would think so and call CPS on me. But, does giving my kids a safe place to try things that are potentially dangerous make me proactive? I’ve attended party schools, I know what goes on. I want my kids to be prepared, to know how to be the responsible one in the room. Part of that is recognizing when you’ve had enough for one night.

  30. I used to be addicted to caffeine, but no longer am. (started drinking large amounts of coffee and coca-cola around age 17). Truly massive headaches around 2pm if I didn’t get my fix earlier in the day. Seemed to happen most frequently on weekends. A quick can of coke did the trick.
    Recently, though, on one Monday my schedule was different than normal and I didn’t have any coffee (or anything else caffeinated). No midafternoon headache. I went clear till Friday before I decided to reward myself. Not because of anything physical other than I wanted a the taste. So now I can truly take it or leave it. I love coffee, btw. Maybe after 40 years an addiction just goes away.

  31. Mooshi – I hear you about addiction to caffeine. I missed it terribly while I was pregnant with my first child. And that first cup of coffee I had after DD was born? Simply amazing. It gave me a much greater appreciation for why addicts relapse. Giving up caffeine was so much harder than giving up alcohol when I was pregnant. I didn’t even try giving up caffeine when I was pregnant with my second child.

  32. As I’ve gotten older and have problems sleeping, I have had to significantly decrease my caffeine intake. I’m now down to 3 cups of tea a day.

  33. My caffeine addiction is a morning thing. If I don’t get my coffee, I feel really really bad – kind of disoriented and fogged out. It is a very unpleasant feeling, and bad enough to make me do crazy things like walk out at 4am in Rome to find a 24 hour McDonalds with coffee before I had to go to the airport for a morning flight. My best friend who is similarly addicted once almost burned my house down trying to figure out how to make coffee while in a fogged out state. Now, I always set up everything for her when she visits, so she only has to press one button if she gets up before I do!

  34. Oh yes, the first cup of coffee after giving birth! That was the very first thing I asked my husband to go out and get me. It was wonderful.

  35. Rhode, I think in most states (I could be wrong) but parents are allowed to let THEIR minor children have alcohol in their home.

  36. NEJM June 11, 2104: NEJM Big Marijuana — Lessons from Big Tobacco
    Interesting article. Not set up to provide actual link.

    Fifth, while the acute adverse effects of marijuana are quite
    well known, the effects of repeated exposure, as would occur
    with medical marijuana, need further study. Approximately 1
    in 10 adult users of marijuana develops addiction, and this
    number is even higher among adolescents.
    Tolerance and dependence with accompanying down-regulation and desensitization
    of type 1 cannabinoid receptors occur with repeated
    Based on this profile, marijuana dosing will have
    to be increased over time to achieve the same effect. A distinct
    withdrawal syndrome is also well recognized.
    Editorials represent the opinions of the authors and JAMA
    and not those of the American Medical Association.

    Friends in Colorado keep talking about all of the downsides — lots of stoned kids hanging out at various venues, a State patrol person saying how nothing is in place yet to deal w/ tons and tons of issues that keep coming up – including parents calling them and asking for breathalyzer-type of tests to see how much marijuana their kids have smoked to try to figure out whether small amounts (as claimed by kids) are resulting in observed behaviours

  37. Undecided,

    But, that seems to be looking at one thing vs. looking at the whole situation in totality. More stoners but fewer junkies and drunks might be better overall.

  38. Kind of agree with Rhett. So many assaults and DV incidents are fueled by alcohol. I would think they would be less likely to occur if the person who caused the incident was stoned on pot instead of drunk on alcohol. This would be several years out but I have to think there will be academic research at some point on whether legalizing pot has an effect on crimes like assault.

  39. I actually have become more worried about brain changes with Marijuana over the years. The lack of motivation, the link to psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), etc. I wanted to post an article that shows that marijuana causes schizophrenia, but it seems the link is more tenuous than had been previously stated. It is associated with younger age of onset and more severe course of disease. Because I frequently see absolute uncompensated mental illness, it is a big fear for me (in respect to my kids). Anything I could do to minimize their risks, I would.

    I enjoy alcohol enough to get a flag on my insurance profile (2 glasses of wine, 4 nights a week constitutes high-risk drinking as a woman). In my defense, I do often go a week or more without using alcohol. We have family members who are heavy alcohol users, but never where it interfered with the ability to hold a job or caused legal troubles. I suppose that biases me towards the idea that people who drink can choose to keep it under control if they try (which I realize is not true, but is my experience.)

    I would much rather have neighbors who were daily, heavy marijuana users than daily, heavy alcohol users. Marijuana really has minimal physiologic dependence or withdrawal. No risk of overdose, and minimal risks with intoxication. Rare psychosis, almost non-existent violence. I am a never-user, never-prescriber — even in states where it is legal, the federal risks are too scary to me. My DEA number is one of my most valuable assets – if I were to lose it, I could not practice.

  40. I would think they would be less likely to occur if the person who caused the incident was stoned on pot instead of drunk on alcohol

    Lack of motivation has its upside, I guess.

  41. “I wanted to post an article that shows that marijuana causes schizophrenia, but it seems the link is more tenuous than had been previously stated”
    I wonder if that is what happened to my Cuban friend who had to leave school? I saw his reaction to the hash – not pretty.

  42. In my distant cousin whose drug use was associated with schizophrenia, we suspect that drug use (and who knows what all he tried) brought out underlying tendencies toward psychosis/schizophrenia.

    If we could tell whose life will be improved and whose life will be harmed by recreational drug use, all these questions would be much easier.

    Does this discussion remind anyone else of “soma”?

  43. I have often felt that alcohol saved me. Cigarettes, too, although they will kill me.

    As you all know I like my light beer. Coors or Genny and I am happy. But I WILL NOT drink anything else. Ever. I don’t know what it will do to me.

    I do know what two Coors Lights will do, or three or four, you pick a number. The time elapsed also matters. One scotch, on the other hand, I feel slightly out of control. Hence, nothing ever but light beer.

    MJ has always made me paranoid. I feel horrible and terribly vulnerable. I tried it a few times in college, got scared, and that was it. I tried a few puffs once again in my 40’s– same effect.

    But that was where I think the beer and cigarettes saved me. That was always my saving grace. I wouldn’t do drugs of any kind, or any other kind of booze, but I could outdrink anyone (as long as I kept to beer) and could single-handedly be a source of global warming with my smoke. That has always been bad enough to be cool.

    I guess if Junior has to find his poison it is alcohol I’d want. Preferably beer or wine. He may NOT smoke. Ever. Not even once. He knows how much my father and I regret it, and my grandfather before that. I hate smoking.

  44. I’m with the guy in the OP, mj over alcohol.

    I went to HS with a lot of stoners and drinkers (many did both). A number of them died or were seriously injured in alcohol related car crashes; I am not aware of any such deaths or injury due to mj. Similarly, I’m not aware of any cases where guys smoked dope and became belligerent.

    There was a running joke about the hot cars we’d see at 2am on Saturday driving 20mph near the eatery that stayed open till 3, and getting mellow was pretty much of a synonym for smoking dope.

    My experience suggests someone on mj is much less likely to do harm to someone else.

  45. OTOH, if you want or have a job or career that requires a security clearance, then mj is out.

  46. The stoners I knew in HS with whom I’m still in touch are all responsible, successful taxpayers now. I imagine most of them are moderate mj users now.

  47. Our close friends very talented children were ruined by mental illness or marijuana. Not a fan. I am not saying it is less bad than alcohol. Why not legalize marijuana after alcohol is criminalized?

  48. Random hijack question: My wife received a slip in the mail for an item that has 65 cents postage due. She has no idea what it is. Would you spend the time to go to the post office and pay to pick it up? My feeling is that if it was that important, the sender would have made sure to have the correct postage, and given the difficulty of getting to the PO when they are open, she should let it get sent back and the sender can send it again with enough postage.

  49. DD- put $0.65 in an envelope addressed:
    Post office…for item with postage due. Please deliver tomorrow. Thanks! (Mrs) DD, address, zip.

    That should do the trick.

  50. Would you spend the time to go to the post office and pay to pick it up?

    Yes!!!!!!!! I’m not even you and the suspense is killing me. I bet it’s a check, inheritance, oil and lease, etc.

  51. So on the comments re: marijuana having a bigger effect on teen brains – I’ve read those, too. Does alcohol have the same effect? I was thinking about this recently after a close high school friend died. He was an alcoholic as an adult, as are (what is to me) a surprising number of other people I graduated with. And I’m defining alcoholic as adults who are getting arrested for public intoxication, driving under the influence, repeated stints in rehab, etc. All of these people were drinking a lot and frequently by the time I met them at 14. I have it in my head that the earlier you start the more likely you are to have a problem with it, but that may just be based on my limited anecdata.

  52. I kind of want to create a for DD to get his package. If we all put in just a few pennies, literally, there would be enough money.

    I also thought you could pay for those things with stamps.

  53. I’m on the left coast and I am just catching up with the comments.
    Meme nailed the stats about the parents in my town. I see a whole other side of the parents I know when their kids leave town for camp for 4 – 7 weeks each summer. There is a group of parents that smoke pot all of the time, and it is more obvious at the parties I attend in the summer. The drinking escalates in the summer because so many of the adults have no kids at home, so there is no incentive to stop and go pay the baby-sitter etc. Many people are out every night of the week.

    I went to college when it was still legal to drink beer and wine at 18 in my college town. I didn’t drink much other than beer in HS, and it didn’t take long to figure out the drinking thing in college because new student orientation was sponsored by Budweiser. It’s obviously different now, but I would rather have my DD experiment with alcohol vs. pot. I just hope that it doesn’t start as early for her as for some of the kids in my town – 8th or 9th grade seems to be start of drinking for some of these kids.

  54. What I see here, is all of the Dads holding beer bottles on weekend afternoons/evenings. I don’t know how much is drunk during the weekend and after work on a weekday. The kids are growing up seeing adults with alcoholic beverages. We don’t have the kids going away as Lauren describes so maybe that serves as a barrier to the drinking.
    DH’s granddad died of alcoholism and an affinity for alcohol is there among some members of the family. One of these relatives would just give up drinking for months to show that they had control, but they gradually resumed drinking again and would quit on doctor’s orders. One cousin was spiralling out of control, so he was forced into rehab by the family. No one would talk about drinking in the home country or how people ended up with bad livers. They would say “He is sick”.

  55. Lauren, I need to get in with your summer partier friends. I don’t have local friends like that at all, though I have no doubt that they exist. Probably because my kids and their friends don’t go away to camp, we don’t do that much summer partying. When we have people over, it is usually with kids in tow.

  56. hmm I wouldn’t want DS to experiment with either at a young age (before 15 or 16? ) but I agree with Rhode that I would rather he be exposed to this stuff before going off to college and being on his own for the first time. I agree that alcohol is “more dangerous” as far as driving impaired, addiction, etc. I think both are dangerous for developing brains. But I think there is a stigma from the reefer madness era that is completely untrue of MJ.

  57. Mooshi, I was surprised to see that it happens so openly, but it is a small subset of parents.

  58. Rhode – I think allowing your kids access to alcohol in your home during HS is a much better idea than the way my parents did it (no! never! not even when you are in college and we are on a vacation in another country where the drinking age is 18 and you are 20!). I never got that experience in HS and had to figure out for myself in college how many was too many.

  59. L – since you are around, I just read about the Tom Clancy estate tax dispute/debacle. (Large illiquid asset – Orioles LP interest- makes up most of the estate value, assets go into three trusts, one for four adult kids, one for second wife, one for second wife and new kid (maybe all 5 kids – couldn’t tell), but somehow all of the estate taxes come out of kids’ trust, not one’s where wife is beneficiary. Trap for the unwary??

  60. It’s not the cost of the postage due that’s the problem, it’s the difficulty of getting to the post office when when it’s open. I stuck the slip in am envelope with some change and put it in the mailbox this morning. Hopefully nobody takes it before the mailman comes.

  61. Meme – without seeing the instruments it is hard to tell what the intent was. Could have been poor drafting, especially with the second marriage issue, but OTOH it may have been what he wanted; sometimes people will shortchange their kids from the first marriage on purpose.

    In second marriages I usually have the taxes paid off the top first before making the marital distribution, OR I have the amount allocated to the marital distribution to be equal to 1/3 of the total trust property, or some amount that is quite a bit less than the standard marital trust allocation. In first marriages with no children outside the family, it is more usual to defer all of the estate tax until the death of the second spouse; that means the marital trust gets everything over $1M (divided into two trusts, MA marital is $4.43M and MA and fed marital is everything over that).

  62. L – I think the dispute was over the tax allocation to the combined wife and kid(s) trust. As it was reported after the probate court ruling, 1/3 of the pretax assets go to the 4 adult kids and they will pay 100% of the taxes, leaving each one with about 3M each today out of a raw 85M estate. Even if they get something from the middle trust after 2nd wife dies, that could be a very long time. As you said, could have been his intent – he wasn’t very old when he died. What was interesting is that the lawyer who drafted the tax provision also decided not to follow what appeared to be its literal reading, so the widow sued to have him removed as executor. Not clear whether drafting error was an issue – Body Heat, anyone?

  63. Meme — Estate tax apportionment is a big deal in some cases, and definitely can be a trap for the unwary. For an estate planning lawyer, it’s often not enough to estimate what the estate tax is going to be — you have to figure out how, and from what assets, it will be paid. This can even be an issue in what appears at first glance to be a “standard” UMC estate. Say you have a widow with three adult children who lives in Massachusetts. The only assets are a $1.5M house and a $3M IRA. Widow makes the IRA payable directly to the children, and directs (in a will or trust) that the house be sold at her death, and the proceeds of sale used to pay taxes/expenses, and then the remainder distributed to the children. Due to the level of assets, there will be a MA estate tax payable. But what if the house doesn’t sell within nine months of date of death, when the estate tax is payable? The personal representative (who might be one of the kids) is responsible for making sure the tax gets paid timely. Will each kid be willing to kick in money from his/her IRA inheritance to cover his/her fair share of the taxes? Or will the two kids who aren’t the PR going to say that paying the tax just isn’t their problem, leaving the kid who is the PR in the lurch? Even if the kids are willing to pay their proportional fair share from IRA distributions, taking a large IRA withdrawal will trigger significant income taxes for them, so they’ll have to withdraw enough not only to cover Mom’s estate tax obligation, but also their own income tax obligation. It can get tricky pretty quickly.

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