Death And Taxes


There are two sure things, it is said – death and taxes.  This observation is attributed to Benjamin Franklin and it remains true.  Only this week the order seems to be reversed.

This has been a challenging week.  Taxes were due on Monday the fifteenth.  And, of course, I was working on them up until the last day.  I don’t always procrastinate, but when I do it tends to be on things in my personal life.  But a deadline is a deadline and must be met.

I have always done my own taxes.  Friends have told me that I am crazy, that it is so much easier to send them to an accountant.  I, however, am a dedicated do-it-yourselfer.  Where is the fun, challenge and excitement in dropping a shoebox full of receipts and such at someone else’s office?  OK, maybe just challenge and excitement.

I will admit that the process gets more frustrating every year – even with the bit of software I buy that makes the process so much nicer than the old days of paper forms that always seemed to require two sets – a first draft requiring a pencil with a good eraser followed by a final copy done in ink.

As a lawyer who studied economics before studying law, the tax code is a confounding thing.  It seems that our government cannot decide the tax code’s real purpose.  Is it for raising revenue to buy all of those submarines and jet airplanes?  Or is it a big behavior modification method that nudges us all to live the way that good little boys and girls should?

Lawyer-me is not naive enough to believe that there can ever be such a thing as a postcard-sized tax return.  Oops, I just used an example that is completely worthless with anyone under the age of thirty-five.

The holy grail of a simple one-page return comes up every few years but in my day job I know that simplicity almost always comes at the expense of precision and clarity.  I once heard someone describe the ideal tax return as one that asked “How much did you make and how much did it cost you to make it?  Take the last number and multiply it by X%.”

Each of those first two questions comes packed with a freight train’s worth of – well, let’s just call them “interpretation issues.”  Gee, my income was all eaten up by my expenses because I desperately needed an expensive car and lots of new suits to practice law.  This is why there are tax courts and pages and pages of court opinions and IRS interpretive bulletins to separate what is a legitimate expense and what is not.

Court and IRS rulings aside, it is the tax code itself that seems to have gone way past the point of sensible.  Those who get a simple W-2 form for wages may grouse about doing their taxes but those of us who are older and with more complex lives bear the brunt of the endless amendments to the tax code that all start off with “Gee, we ought to encourage [insert good idea here].  Why not offer a deduction or a credit to nudge people to do this?”

One or two or fifteen of these are not a problem.  But pretty soon you end up with something that looks like – well, our tax code.  I remember taking an income tax class in law school.  Then (the first half of the 1980’s) we were working with the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.  With amendments, of course.  This was a really thick paperback book.  That was useless the following year because there were more amendments after it was printed.  There are always more amendments.

Oh well, it is done for the year.  Just in time to go to a funeral for a dear family member.  She was a sweet lady who lived a good life but who battled health problems for the last several years.  There were no second thoughts about going to the out-of-town funeral to say our goodbyes.  She will be missed.

I must say that I have never had death and taxes come so close together.  I think I prefer the taxes.


Photo Credit: Circa 1785 portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffrein Duplessis.  The painting is in the public domain.  The original hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

10 thoughts on “Death And Taxes

  1. Agreed on all points.

    There is a third element that must be added as a constant to death and taxes. That element is change as everything, such as the tax code, is always changing. That third element always seems to be nipping at the heels of the first two.

    My condolences on the loss of your family member.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A good point about the change. The taxes are done, we are home from the funeral, and last evening our 18 year old built-in microwave oven opted for retirement. Not terrible as deaths go and new ones are reasonably priced so the tax angle isn’t bad either.

      Thanks for your good thoughts. The funeral was for an aunt who was one of those people the world needs more of, not less.


  2. Agreed JP, both are inevitable.
    As for the do it yourself part, I always do my own and that of several family members. Just for fun while at the mall the other day I stopped by a well reputed tax prep firm’s kiosk and asked about what it would cost for them to do my return. I have several income sources, several deductions, some retirement contributions, etc. It was going to be in the $250 range. OK fair enough I thought.
    Then I asked about that of a family member who has two – exactly two government forms to input. Doing that return takes like 3 minutes. Tops. Again it was going to be in the $200 range. That’s when I said thanks very much, more firmly convinced than ever that doing it myself is the only right answer.
    I am not an accountant by any means, and if that means I have to read the tax guide more closely, or call the good folks at the revenue agency, so be it. Most of my questions can be answered within the tax software anyway.
    Having said all that, I have the next 11 days to get my act together. I should install that durn CD I bought weeks and weeks ago methinks.


    • So I guess you Canadians have more time? Perhaps if I get in a time crunch next year I may be able to get Canadian citizenship at the last minute? 😀


  3. I’ll take taxes for sure. Unfortunately even death will not free you from taxes, my dad will still have to file for mom next spring.

    My taxes are very simple. Don’t have my own business, only one source of income. I make X, I pay Y. Our tax code seems to be relatively simple and stable, which helps. Mrs DougD and I do our taxes together, online. We have found it helps a lot to have a glass of wine while doing so.

    Every year I try to put the refund into my old car / motorcycle / guitar embezzlement fund, but somehow that never works 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so sorry about your lovely family member, J.P. Given a choice between death and taxes, I would choose the latter too — although there have been a couple of times I’ve thought otherwise. In any case, it’s reassuring to know that even an attorney wrestles with the blasted tax laws and forms.

    Liked by 1 person

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