That thing about death and taxes

Wise Ben Franklin’s remarks don’t really cover the situation where doing the tax return might actually be the thing that kills you.

You don’t need to hear about the troubles with our tax system from me — everyone agrees it’s too complicated, has too many loopholes, requires too many people to administer, is subject to fraud, and on and on. (My two cents? Two words: Flat. Tax.) But all the reasons to rail on the tax system took on a new dimension yesterday when I found myself feeling physically ill about having to open up the tax organizer from my mother’s CPA so that I could work on my mother’s taxes, even though she passed away more than a year and a half ago.

OK, technically, it’s “the estate” taxes I have to work on — estate being a relative term when you consider my parents’ modest income and lifestyle and “holdings” over their life (my mother’s hoarding tendencies notwithstanding). That I still have to stress about the taxes resulting from the death of a 93-year-old woman of humble means — and that I’ll have to do it again next year because of a few measly shares of stock that remain to be sold because the process for selling a deceased person’s decades-old shares of stock is a cluster f**k — is something I can’t believe more people don’t specifically call out as a big problem with the tax system.

Oh, and can I also mention that “settling the estate” also required the services of an attorney (at quite a cost, even though ours kindly gave us a break) as well as a CPA? And that the process and hoop-jumping flummoxed (and continues to flummox) otherwise intelligent, educated professionals (i.e., my sister and me)? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered how poor or uneducated people manage all this, and how greatly they must be taken advantage of along the way.

I also wonder what the heck is going to happen when Mike and I pass on with no direct heirs. No doubt we’ll have to appoint someone as executor/executrix (or maybe we did? — we have wills but I honestly don’t remember anything about this). I’m already sorry to burden that person with this baloney, having gone through it myself. It’s appalling that the government profits from someone’s death, after having already profited during that person’s entire life. And it’s appalling that the survivors, above having to deal with the grief of a loved one’s passing, are also burdened with making sure the government gets its cut before the rightful heirs get anything.

But I digress. I swallowed my nausea yesterday and spent a couple hours cobbling together the information for my mom’s accountant as best I can. Once I get a few remaining bank statements, I’ll send the whole mess to her and let her tell me what’s missing. And then — oh boy! — I get to start on Mike’s and my taxes — complicated, as always, by the fact that I’m self-employed, and requiring the services of yet another CPA to figure them all out.

I’m feeling a little sick again. And I notice I’m clenching my jaw. Time to go think happy thoughts…maybe over a glass of happy wine (subject to federal excise tax ranging from $1.07 to $3.40 per gallon, additional complicated state excise tax, and PA state tax averaging 6.4%).

Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems
to promise it will be durable; but, in this world,
nothing is certain 
except death and taxes.
~ Benjamin Franklin
letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 13 November 1789

translated from French

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