Death & Taxes: Filing Alone After My Husband's Death

grief and taxes

As the saying goes, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes." I've discovered there's another certainty, "Once there is death, there are still taxes and doing taxes while grieving is horrible!" I've been very clear in the eight months since my husband's sudden death that grieving is a huge amount of work. It's like riding a roller-coaster in the fog with sudden unexpected twists and turns that keep coming when I feel least able to cope with them. It's absolutely exhausting.

And one of those unexpected turns is tax time. One of the many, many things I loved about my husband Tony was his talent as a financial wiz. He could do complicated math problems in his head. He knew the balance of every one of our accounts by memory. And, not only did he do our taxes every year, he did this for family members and friends too.

On our third date, I was telling Tony how I'd been working on "banking" stuff that day. Tony asked, "How often do you check your bank account online?"

I proudly said, "Once a month when I balance my checkbook." Personally, I thought this was a perfect amount of time because I knew lots of people who checked their accounts about every three months.

Tony looked horrified, so I asked him, "How often do you check your bank account?"

He told me, "Every day."

And it was my turn to look horrified. I thought to myself, "Well, that seems a little obsessive and paranoid." I started wondering to myself if this was going to be what online dating coaches call a "red flag."

After a few more dates with Tony, I learned that accounting came easily for him and that checking all of his accounts daily was relaxing to him (that's definitely not the way I feel about my accounts). I realized that this trait of Tony's could be beneficial for me. My identity would never be stolen. No bank error would go unnoticed for more than a few hours. No unauthorized charges would be made without his knowledge.

After having quite a few conversations to sort out the different ways in which we thought about money, we worked out a comfortable way of handling finances that worked for both of us, each using our own strengths. Once we were married, I was very happy to relax into the pattern of him watching over our finances.

And now it's tax time, and he's not here to do them. 

It's good that I stayed fully aware of our finances during our marriage. I know that many widows (and some widowers) are completely in the dark about their finances when their spouse dies. And given how much work I've gone through to complete the necessary forms, transfers and phone conversations since Tony's death, I can only imagine how much worse it could have been if I hadn't already known so much.

These days, I'm doing finances on my own — definitely not my strongest skill. I can stumble my way through financial statements, slowly and carefully create spreadsheets, laboriously reconcile bank statements and schedule bill payments.

On those days when I'm feeling at my worst — sad, frustrated, unenergetic — the financial tasks are still there waiting for me. Truly, I'd rather just stay in bed and pull the covers over my head.

So, back to the dreaded taxes.

I called my husband the "Mad Shredder." Pay a bill, shred it. Reconcile a bank statement, shred it. Reconcile a credit card statement (you guessed it), shred it. I completely understood his reasoning. He'd confirmed everything was accurate (no surprise since he checked them every day) and he could look at the same information anytime on the computer. So why keep all that paper?

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I'm the "Mad Filer." I keep everything. Every receipt, every statement, every record — because if I want to check something, I prefer the physical paper.

While getting everything ready for the accountant this year, I apologized to the many trees who gave their lives for the reams of paper I used to print out all the previous records. The accountant finally finished the tax preparation yesterday, and today I'm feeling melancholy. What a surprise! I'd been so careful to prepare for all the dreaded "firsts."

I made it through the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter. For each one, I had friends and family in place to spend time with. I thought about how I might feel as the holiday approached, wrote down my thoughts, talked to friends and family, made plans ahead of time, etc. And even with all this preparation I still felt pretty horrible.

The last thing on my mind was the need to be prepared for grieving around the "first" tax preparation.

So, today I'm feeling weary, a bit lost, a little off. I'm learning that these feelings are normal and will continue as long as they need to, and that surprises like these are yet another part of the grieving process.