13 March 2017

Death and taxes: what I have learned so far

This morning I finally felt able, thanks to a good night's sleep and waking up to sunshine, to tackle Tony's long-overdue self-assessment tax return. He had left his files in a good state - years of bills neatly organised, correctly labelled - but many of his accounts were online-only, including his bank accounts.

1. Once the banks etc are informed of a death, the accounts are closed and online access to the data is no longer possible.

Tony died shortly after the end of the tax year I'm dealing with (and a return must be made for the few days of the next tax year), and who thinks of immediately checking online accounts? Add to which, when the emails to friends were finally all done, and for some reason someone had shut down the computer, we could no longer log in for some reason (to do with "key chain"; is that what it's called...) - which made for lots of other problems.

2. Do not shut off someone else's computer.

Even if you were able to deal with "it" immediately, what do you need to do? It would have been helpful to have statements of net interest from all bank accounts, and statements of earnings from pension providers (as a teacher who had formerly worked in Germany, he had several pensions). Plus there was "investment income" of unspecified sorts.

3. Now - this minute, or this weekend, but no later - compile a complete list of your sources of income for those who have to deal with your estate - name of institution, account or reference number, type of account - or have enough identifiable paperwork, nicely filed if possible, so they can work it out. Do it now, "just in case". (And - do you have a will?)

4. Also compile, and leave for your executors, an up to date list for logins. Many people write their passwords etc in a little book. I keep mine in the desk drawer, handily and dangerously [we are told] near the computer,  and after 10 years of increasing mess in the old one as ever-more-complex passwords have to be chosen, I have started a new one: each site that requires a login gets written down, so that eventually all the sites in use will be noted and the old book can be disposed of.

One of the problems in doing the tax return was that he hadn't printed out the returns for previous years - that would have been so useful as a model to follow. I'm still trying to figure out where certain bits of income go. Knowing I'd have to do this figuring out is one of the things that helped me procrastinate doing the job.

5. If you file income tax online, leave a printout in the file.

The big problem was that, on being informed of his death, the tax office (of course) closed the account. They sent me a set of forms, which should have been a big hint for what to do next, ie file before 31 October as stated on the covering letter - but was I reading carefully, was I taking hints? No, I was organising a memorial event, struggling with a eulogy, getting through the days.

6. If you are an executor, or a widow/er, have an expanding file for correspondence on "things that need dealing with" - and keep it under review. Do not ignore correspondence. It would have helped me to read the tax letter carefully and put a sensible Do By date at the top. 

Not strictly tax, but a problem nonetheless: the bills had been paid online ... but which of the suppliers supplied what? Tony's accounts were shut down and I had to set up new ones for council tax, gas, electricity, water, phone, broadband/tv.

7. Keep a list of outgoings, with account numbers/references, and logins; the occasional printout is useful. I've been getting annual summaries from some suppliers, which is helpful not just for seeing expenditure but for having these sorts of details to hand.

The tax deadline having passed, I needed a new access code for doing it online. Phoning the tax office's automated number was a matter of listening to a long blurb (each time), making an endless series of choices, and using "a short phrase" to tell the robot was your call was about. Er, how would you explain something so confusing in a succinct way? I found that "bereavement" got the call quickly to a Real Person - and they were very helpful.

But first time I applied for a new access code I didn't really take in what I needed to know. Acting on someone else's behalf makes you wonder whether it's your details are needed, or theirs. Once the code arrived, I got hopelessly lost in trying to get the access ... and by the time I plucked up courage and tried again, the code had expired - back to square one and getting another code, but at least by this time I could listen better - and knew what to ask.

8. When making phone calls, write down, in detail, what you are told that you need to do. Ask to have it repeated. Do not delude yourself that you will remember, or be able to figure it out. 

9. Do not lose the bit of paper on which you've written down what you need to do. Use a big piece of paper, and keep it in the right compartment in your regularly-reviewed file. 

Now I'm waiting for statements from various places so that I can fill in the UK interest worksheet, which is about halfway through filling in the tax return online. A glass half full! What had been a brick wall is now ... what? a scree slope? a rocky path? an open horizon? ... not so scary, at least. The aim of getting The Tax done is simply to get it off my plate, off my mind.

Here's another thing to consider, whether you're bereaved or not, an executor or not:

10. If you have various "devices", use an online calendar that can be accessed on all of them. Put everything into the calendar - eg, the weekly review of the expanding file. Possibly also the dates bills were paid, that sort of thing. Get into the habit of checking the calendar regularly. It's been a godsend for me; the number of double-bookings and missed deadlines has declined steadily...

Today feels like the first day of spring. The tulips that Sylvia brought along are basking in the sunshine, and I have almost two hours to make some fabric pots for dipping at ceramics class tonight.


Sandy said...

Oh Margaret!
And I haven't a clue about half the stuff you even mentioned.
Hope the rest comes a bit easier.
Big Hugs,

Stitchinscience said...

Thank you for that list Margaret. I am going to print it out and work through it. We are still sorting out my mother in law's estate, and although she was very organised, the missing banks passwords have been a real problem.

Hope the dipping goes well.

patty a. said...

What I have learned from taking care of an estate - get involved before the person passes especially if there is a bully in the group that wants to take over and make all the decisions. More than likely they are in it for themselves.

Charlton Stitcher said...

A very hard time made harder by modern technology ... where have I heard that before? I hope it soon gets easier for you.

PS enjoy the 'time off' with your pots. I look forward to seeing them.