Friday, March 19, 2010

"Nothing is certain but..."

My big task last weekend was tackling income taxes. Despite the fact that TurboTax has significantly lightened the load, paying Uncle Sam remains an undesirable task. It hadn’t occurred to me that income taxes would become an exercise in grief. Little did I know. No more than a few questions into the 2010 version of this annual ritual I am asked, “Tell us what changed in 2009. We’ll tell you how we’ll handle it on your tax return”. Pit in my stomach, lump in my throat. “You’ll tell me how to handle it?,” I think to myself. I try to gauge my questioner’s interest level.

Me: Wow. Actually, it was a really hard year.

TurboTax: Select all that apply – My marital situation has changed; this includes getting married, divorced, or becoming widowed. My family life changed; this includes having a baby or supporting a family member. My home ownership changed; this includes…

I am already staggered by the pragmatic, emotionless software running on my MacBook. I gather that it doesn’t want to hear our story. I miss the rest of the list, my mind racing ahead to the conversation that TurboTax and I will inevitably have. These conversations are always hard and clumsy.

Me: Yes. Yes, my family life changed for 2009. [click]

TurboTax: We’ll Get Your Taxes Done Right – Have a baby? Congratulations! We’ll help you get all the deductions and credits you deserve.

Awkward silence. I am dumbfounded by its ignorant chipperness. I do not want to be ungrateful.

Me: Er, thanks. Continue. [click]

TurboTax: Let’s Review Your Personal Info

We’ve moved on… but only for a couple minutes.

TurboTax: About Your Dependents – Caleb C Apinis – Son, Joel M Apinis – Son. Edit?

Me: Yes, but no. I was trying to tell you we had a son last year. But he died.

More silence.

Me: Edit. [click]

TurboTax: Children and Other Dependents Summary – Here’s what we have so far. You can add, edit (change), or delete dependents.

Me: No you can’t. Edit? Delete? These are my children that you are talking about. I know that they’re just 1’s and 0’s to you, but they are my sons... and you’re missing one. I tried to tell you that earlier.

TurboTax lists Caleb and Joel and some pertinent info about each of them, and then proudly informs me of the tax benefits available to me for each of the “dependents” that I am able to list.

TurboTax: Add another dependent? Supporting children and other family members can be expensive. We’ll help you get some of that money back by taking up to a $3,650 deduction for each dependent you claim.

His cold focus is unrelenting.

Me: His name is…

Or is it “was”? I never know what verb tense to use there.

Me: …Samuel, but you didn’t ask that. He died…but you didn’t ask that either. Yes, I will claim him as a dependent. [click]

I know that it is not reasonable to be upset at a software program, but TurboTax is being particularly insensitive at this point.

TurboTax: First Name? Middle Initial? Last Name? Birth Date?

With a bit of resignation I answer quickly.

Me: Samuel. E.

I think of my brother, sad that he had only one night with his namesake.

Me: Apinis. 08/01/2009.

TurboTax: Social Security Number?

I am stumped. Did we ever even get one of those? Did we, Kathryn? If we did, I know where it is. I go upstairs and pull out the folder labeled “Personal Documents – Samuel”. I was not prepared for this. Contents: A copy of the rules and regulations of Sawnee View Gardens (the cemetery where my son’s body is laid); a birth certificate order form; two birth certificates (I think to myself: We’ll never need these.) and the receipt from their purchase; social security card (I pull it out and keep rifling.); four death certificates (Why on earth do we have four of them? Why do we have any? Why is Samuel dead?); purchase agreement and cemetery deed for a tiny plot of land at Sawnee View Gardens. For several minutes I am frozen as grief sweeps over me. I wonder at the thought that this is real, that this is our story, that this folder with these documents exists… in our home. Samuel. I go back downstairs.

Me: xxx-xx-2210 [click]

TurboTax had been waiting patiently and is unphased by my delayed return.

TurboTax: Relationship?

Me: Son [click]

TurboTax: Dependent Type? Your options: your child living with you,…

If only.

TurboTax: …your child away at college, your child living with someone else…

Yes! But, not in a way that the IRS cares about.

TurboTax: Other dependent, Nondependent – used for EIC dependent care only, Not a dependent this year.

Why is this so difficult? Is there ever a simple answer? Death is never clean, is it?

Me: My child living with me, I guess. [click] [then, forgetting TurboTax’s disinterest in perceived extraneous details] But Samuel doesn’t live with us anymore. In fact, he never actually lived in our home. He never left the hospital.

TurboTax: Months Lived with You?

Me: Finally. This is what I’ve been trying to explain to you.

TurboTax: All of the year, part or the year, or none of the year?

Me: Part of the year [click], but as I was saying he never…

TurboTax: [interrupting] Citizenship status?

TurboTax has moved on.

Me: [sighs] U.S. citizen or resident. [click]

TurboTax: Disabled Dependent?

Me: I don’t know. Yea, I think so. What do you mean?

TurboTax: Permanently and Totally Disabled – The definition of "permanently and totally disabled" for tax purposes is strict. First, a doctor MUST certify that your condition has lasted, or is expected to last, for a year or more, or your condition is expected to lead to your death. Get the certification in writing and keep it with your permanent paperwork.

Me: Have you not been listening to me? Ugh. Give me a second.

I switch over to email and type a message to Samuel’s pediatric cardiologist. I feel really uncomfortable as I write a letter about my dead son to his wonderful doctor for tax purposes. He, of course, is gracious.

Me: Yes. [click]

I get a break from the tactless barrage. We complete the painfully impersonal process of updating my personal info, and move on to my federal taxes: first income and wages, and then deductions and credits.

TurboTax: Earned Income Credit – Revised for 2009! The Earned Income Credit has been expanded this year as part of the government’s plan to stimulate the economy. Let’s make sure you’re eligible for the EIC.

Me: Okay.

I quickly answer several questions.

TurboTax: Now we need to know more about Samuel.

Me: Is everything on your time?

Here we go again.

TurboTax: How many months did Samuel live with you in the United States during 2009? If Samuel was a full time student, and would have lived with you if not away at school, count the time that…

Me: Are you serious?

TurboTax: …Samuel was away as if Samuel lived at home with you. So if Samuel lived with you for 5 months, then lived away at school for 5 months, choose “Partial year”, then 10 months from the list below. The whole year or partial year?

Me: [exasperated, ready for this to be over] You’re kidding right? Full time student!?! He lived 30 days. Partial year. [click]

TurboTax: 11 months, 10 months, 9 months, 8 months, 7 months…

Counting down has never felt so laborious.

TurboTax: …6 months or less, born during the current year, died during the current year.

Me: Finally, you’re listening. Born during the current year [click] and died during the current year. [click]

As soon as I select the “Died during the current year” option, the “Born during the current year” option is deselected.

Me: You understand what I am telling you, don’t you? If this is difficult for you to understand, just imagine how hard it is for me. Samuel was born on August 1st. He lived 30 days and died on August 31st. He was born AND he died in the same year. [All the while alternately clicking “Born during the current year” and “Died during the current year” fully expectant that, one of these times, TurboTax will allow both to be selected at the same time.]

Me: [defeated] Died during the current year. [click]

TurboTax: Living Arrangements for 2009 – Samuel may be a qualifying child for more than one person if either of these situations apply: Samuel lived with someone else during the year, or you lived with someone else while you were caring for Samuel. Did either of these situations occur during 2009?

Me: Does living for 9 days at Egleston Children’s Hospital count? [a weak attempt at irritated humor… which never goes over well]

TurboTax, of course, doesn’t laugh.

Me: No. [click]

TurboTax: If you have no other qualifying children, select done.

At this point, it seems as though TurboTax is as tired of navigating this conversation as I am. We move quickly through a few final confirmations, and it never brings up Samuel again. Little did I know when I popped the disc into my laptop that I was sitting down to discuss death and taxes.

1 comment:

  1. So sorry, Bryan. I know that must have been super tough to do! Yall continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. Love you!