February 26, 2013

Death and Taxes

Deuth,-Dave-colorBy David W. Deuth, CFSP
President, Weerts Funeral Home

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

This now iconic phrase is said to have been penned by none other than Benjamin Franklin, as found in the re-printed work, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, in 1817. Some 200 years later, I probably hear this phrase reconstituted, in one form or another, more frequently than most, I imagine. And, some 200 years later, it appears that little has changed in our corner of the world that might persuade us to render Franklin’s statement any differently in our time.

Indeed, one need not be an expert on tax matters to realize that taxes deemed to be owed are obliged to be paid. And, one need not be an expert on matters relating to death or funerals to attest to this stark reality that has forever been the least common denominator of the human experience: 10 out of 10 people die.

And so, here we are in “tax season.” Everyone knows what April 15 means. And, everyone is madly shuffling about their various papers and forms, their receipts and their invoices…adding, subtracting, recalculating and creating spreadsheets as they try to figure it all out. Many are making their annual pilgrimage to their tax accountant, proverbial shoebox of documentation, in whatever form, in hand. After all, taxpayers know that there are penalties for late filing and under-payment; thus everyone knows the importance of getting it done right and on time.

And, when the tax return is finalized, whether signed, sealed and delivered the now-old-fashioned-paper-way or e-filed by clicking the good old “submit” button, Americans everywhere breathe a sigh of relief when their taxes are filed. Done ‘til next year.

Peculiar, isn’t it, that there is a declared “season” for the annual preparation of taxes, compelling the greatest percentage of all Americans everywhere to annually record, report and file their earnings and exemptions, their dividends and deductions…and nothing save conscience to foster one’s preparedness for the “other” certainty of this world, according to Franklin?

Tax season is a great time to review and assess your Plan, with a capital P. Not necessarily your funeral plan, mind you, but your overall Plan, which should include your funeral plan. This big picture Plan should include reviewing your Will, Power of Attorney/Heath Care Power of Attorney, Living Will/Advance Directives, Life Insurance and Funeral Preferences. I have long advocated reviewing your Plan every five years, or anytime birth, death, marriage or divorce affects your immediate family. Even my own recommendation here favors tax
planning by 5 to 1!

Just as we’ve been conditioned to replace the batteries in our smoke detectors when we change our clocks for daylight savings time, so we can use Uncle Sam’s tax season as a prompt to review these most critical elements of our Plans. Many have heard me say, “…if your Plan doesn’t do what you NEED it to do, when you NEED it to do what you GOT it to do…it’s about like having no Plan at all.”

Not withstanding Franklin’s insight, which is as true today as it was 200 years ago, there is perhaps one critical difference worth noting between death and taxes in this regard: the penalty for poor planning – or no planning at all – capital P – does not result in penalty to you, “the taxpayer,” if you will. The penalty is promptly assessed upon the people you care the most about – the ones you leave behind to sort through your shoebox full of good intentions.

Something to think about while you’re getting your tax details together this year. And next…

Remember Well.