The IRS hates him!
Of course, Nike founder Phil Knight isn't the first person to figure out a few technically legal loopholes that allow him to skirt estate taxes and save billions but he is one of the recent most visible examples of generational wealth hoarding, as Bloomberg reports.
American estate taxes are as complicated as anything in the country's legal system but, basically, when someone dies and leaves a certain amount money to their family or heirs, Uncle Sam will come to collect a portion, if the total reaches over a certain threshold.
Safe to say, us regular folk mostly don't have to worry about this and, even if we do, a fraction of a couple million bucks is still several million bucks.
Worth about $60 billion at age 83, Knight has much more wealth to protect.
Thus, he has followed in the footsteps of other monied individuals and tapped into the power of grantor-retained annuity trusts or GRATs, which was only revealed because Knight and his son, Travis, are both on the board of Nike, a publicly traded company.
Knight has ridden inflated Nike stock to massive gains, billions of dollars of which has been wound through a chain of trusts that skirt tax laws and ensure that his family receives giant chunks of untaxed cash. The way this chain is set up guarantees Knights' heirs untold wealth and long-term control of Nike.
When money of this magnitude is gifted, it's usually taxed and counts towards the estate tax threshold: anyone who leaves over $11.7 million to their next of kin unlocks a 40% federal tax. GRATS circumvent this fee entirely.
These transactions cloak a persons' net worth, making it look like they have almost nothing because they're trading (not gifting) their wealth for a promissory note that essentially says that the trust will repay the gift over time.
The report outlines Knight's other tricks of the trade but the core story is that the Knight — and other uber-wealthy folks — have the dosh to put up for wealth advisors capable of slipping their fortunes through America's wealth loopholes veritably unscathed and with complete legality.
Evading estate taxes remains a popular subject for the deep-pocketed but, the thing is, the tax helps cut down wealth inequity by partially funding understaffed agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency (and, well, the IRS).
It's not light reading but, then again, this stuff matters. The point is, America is a nation of hoarded wealth, and it only makes life harder for those without.
If you'd prefer a more casual primer, John Oliver's 2014 segment on the subject still rings pretty true.