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Death and Taxes

“. . . in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin

This year I helped my mom file her taxes. It was something that my father always used to do. Dad had a system. He kept receipts and pay stubs. One drawer in an old filing cabinet in his workshop had copies of his tax returns going back well over a decade: each form, each worksheet and the documentation to go with them, clipped together with old-fashioned binder clips. These would be attached to the 1040 forms, completed in neat script in the way his accountant father had taught him to do it. Most years, there would be paper tape from his calculator, tabulating the amounts to be entered on the rows in the form. He could do the arithmetic in his head, but he always had a backup. Long after he switched from a typewriter to using a computer, and began paying most bills online, he continued to file his taxes on paper - and keeping a copy in that file drawer. Sometimes when I was home for a visit, he would remind me of those files, and others financial records that he kept in old file cabinets, and a few that he had stored in a war-surplus ammo box. “In case you need the information,” he said.

Dad passed away last summer. So as the filing deadline approached, I told mom I would help with her taxes. It made sense; I knew where to look.

So, on a recent afternoon I sat down at Dad’s old desk and started working on the taxes. Using last year’s filing as a guide, I assembled the tax forms and bank records and started on their 1040 form.

Unlike my father, I don’t fill out my tax forms by hand. Anyone who has ever tried to read my handwriting can tell you why. I took advantage of the e-file resources that are available, using the paperwork from 2023 and Dad’s meticulous notes from prior years to fill out the online questionnaires that populate the forms. It did not take long to complete the task. I filed their federal and state returns, saved an electronic copy, and replaced the old notes to the cabinet.

Sitting there at his computer, reading through notes in his familiar handwriting, it was like being there with him. It was not the first time we had talked about finances, or taxes. It brought back memories of other times sitting at his desk. Filling out my own tax forms for the first time, applying for college or learning to balance a checkbook. Earlier, I sat at the desk doing algebra homework, or wrestling with his old manual Royal typewriter learning how to do footnotes for a research paper.  There are big events in life to remember, but some of the most surprising are the connections to mundane activities. I miss him in ordinary moments, in ways that can surprise me.

Experts on grief tell us that there is no one way to grieve. We all experience loss in different ways. In her book, Floating in the Deep End, Pattie Davis wrote “. . . I had to let grief move at its own pace. As familiar as grief becomes in our lives, each occurrence seems unique.” The things that trigger a sense of grief or loss, and the time required to process, will vary from person to person, and time to time.

An article in World Psychiatry by Sidney Zisook and Katherine Shear addressed grief and bereavement from a clinical perspective. They wrote, “…grief is not a topic of in-depth discussion at most medical schools.” Healthcare professionals may be ill-prepared in identifying or responding to grief. What is the difference between “normal,” uncomplicated grief and more debilitating grief or depression?

Zisook and Shear wrote, “…grief is not a state, but rather a process.” The spectrum of grief is broad and varied. Grief is not only about pain. Positive feelings and happy remembrances are part of the process, too. Grief is not something you “finish” or “get over.” Part of the process is finding new and meaningful ways of continuing the relationship with the deceased.” That may include holding onto a cherished keepsake, visiting a cemetery or sharing a memory. I never met my wife’s grandmother Ida, but stories told by the family keep her memory present, giving depth of meaning to the old photographs in the den. For others, it is continuing a practice or an activity you once did together, even if that happened to be the inevitable chore of filing taxes.

Learn more about coping strategies for grief by visiting our website.

There are resources available for those who may be overwhelmed by the grieving process. If you, or someone you know is struggling with the loss of a loved one, counseling, therapy and treatment can help. Ask your physician, your faith leader or your counselor for guidance. If you are not sure where to turn, dial 2-1-1 for information on local resources. And if you are in a crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8.

But this blog post is about death and taxes. The due date for filing this year is April 18, instead of April 15, because of the weekend and the District of Columbia's Emancipation Day holiday, which falls on Monday, April 17. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Monday, October 16, 2024, to file. Individuals aged 65 and older who earned more than $14,050 in 2023 need to file a federal tax return. The threshold is higher for married couples.

There are multiple resources available for information and assistance for older adults to aid in filing their taxes.