Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Last Days in Documents (Estate Taxes)

For everyone out there preparing an estate tax return, let us commiserate together.

I'm not sure that anything can spark fresh pain like taxes. I mean, taxes are a pain enough as it is, but the anal side of me sort of likes the year end tabulation of what I did and how I did it and how much it all cost. An estate return is a different mater. For here I am, tabulating just how much each attorney has cost me. I learned today, for example, that one attorney (whom I have since fired) charged me $50 for the phone call in which I called to let him know my father had passed away. That was $50 for him to be in shock, for me to calm him down and to give as many details as I could before getting sick and upset and needing to hang up. He charged me $250 for the house call he paid in his SUV and suit, while he walked around the premises and gave my mother her condolences.

Wait. Let that sink in. He charged ME fifty dollars to absorb the shock of learning that my father had died. I had to pay HIM money for him to "work" on the phone to learn that my Dad was dead. I call that greed.

For you see, even in the midst of grieving, we sad, sad people are just a way to make the predators money. This I have learned.

All day long, I'm sifting, sifting, arranging documents. There's the bill for the car I rented from SF to Monterey, on the desperate day I tried to get here to say goodbye to my father in person. The woman behind the United ticket counter wouldn't change my ticket to allow me to ditch the last leg of my flight so I could rent a car, and I told her I would happily get down on my knees in the middle of the airport to beg her to help me. Grief and shock have no pride. How did I make that drive? And here are the repeated photocopying bills for the copies I made of the unwieldy trust which I sent attorneys and bankers. There is the packet I had to send to Mesa, Arizona when a banker called and barked to me that my father's death meant we had to reconfigure the mortgage on a business property. Well, okay. But was the barking necessary?

I found a receipt for 40 thank you cards, when I wrote--numbly--to thank people for their sympathy. And then there was the receipt for the stamps.

And who can forget these documents? Six pages of unending medical procedures intended to keep my father "alive," for a total of over $80,000. Thank God he had Medi-Care.

There are more bills and documents from different, highly unpleasant phases of last summer, with characters I can't go into on a blog post. But I get to revisit the sting of it all, while sorting, arranging by date and by amount. It's a certain kind of adulthood, I think, that makes it possible for any of us to do this tedious, depressing, anti-scrapbook-keeping work. Please, God (though I don't believe in you), make me numb tomorrow.

OK, I'm a tax lawyer (taxpayer side, usually fighting gov attempts to take more than what they are owed, slap on extra penalties and make life miserable - and stick "innocent spouses" with the debts for nefarious former spouses, always a popular action) and I have to say that charging for the death call and housecall are signs of being a major dick. Not cool at all, and not the way it should be done. I sit next to a kindly, granfatherly estate tax lawyer who does what he says - acts like a counselor and help to the families. He talks through things and only charges when he is actually 'working' (i.e., with treaties, forms and calculator in hand).

I wish we could clone him throughout the profession. And since he just had a horrible loss in his family (of a child, to a long term illness) I've realized how limited my counseling skills are, and how little at the end of the day our technical knowledge amounts too. Life is not fair. I won't argue with that. And it sure can stink.

Hang in there. It is a dumb thing to say, but what else can someone say?
As is the case with so many things, just being heard by someone makes all the difference.

Thanks for confirming for me that this guy and his behavior are jerky.

And now, I will endeavour to put the paperwork behind me and get on with life.

Thanks, Marla.
Any time. And Facebook is kinda evil (just got on, sorta want off already) so don't give it a second thought.
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