By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Well, here we are again. The week between Easter and taxes. I trust that you all enjoyed your holiday, whether it was Easter or Passover. As our dad used to say, “I hope the Easter bunny leaves all his eggs in a Ramos gin fizz.” I’m on a diet this week so I’m hoarding all my chocolate bunnies until I lose these last three pounds. Then I will dive into them like a six-year-old on crack, regain the three pounds, and the cycle will begin again. Those three pounds are as inevitable as next week’s “holiday” – Tax Day.
I’d feel a whole lot better about writing that check if I felt that my money was being managed by people who understood their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. A couple of years ago a book was published about tax waste which did nothing to bolster my confidence that public servants are shepherding our monies in any sort of rational way. Here’s just a few examples:
$30 million to help Pakistani Mango farmers: This was part of a four-year, $90 million effort to boost hiring and sales among Pakistani businesses. During a time, by the way, in which millions of American businesses were going under due to the recession.
$765,828 for pancakes: Generally, I’m all for ANYTHING to do with pancakes but in this instance federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corp to build an International House of Pancake franchise (and train its workers) in an “underserved community.” The underserved community, however, turned out to the a toney area of Washington D.C. – Columbia Heights, which is termed “one of Washington’s more desirable neighborhoods.”
$10 million for Pakistani “Sesame Street”: Again, giving money to Pakistan, where we have trouble distinguishing the good guys from the bad and a country that somehow missed the fact that Osama bin Laden was living within spitting distance of a Pakistani military base for years. Because, after funding the Pakistani Mango farmers, the government felt it needed to spend $10 million of our money remaking big bird and the other Sesame Street characters into a show called “SimSim Humara” for the Pakistani market.
So, you can see why I might be a bit wary about turning my money over to people who make drunken sailors look like pillars of the community. This confluence of bureaucratic incompetence and taxes came to the forefront for me this week. As you faithful readers will recall, my best friend from childhood, Leslie Sherman, died last November. Unfortunately, she died in San Francisco, which, as it turns out, is the worst place in America to die. Her family has been waiting more than FOUR months for the results of the autopsy. If you think that seems an excessively long time, you’re right. The average time it takes to complete an autopsy and secure a final Death Certificate in major U.S. cities is 60 days. Ellen Huet of Forbes did an expose on the Medical Examiners office in S.F. which uncovered the fact that they were operating under “provisional accreditation”. In other words, they’re totally inept. As a result, the city has hired a new ME who hopefully can provide answers to the untold number of families awaiting autopsy results.
To compound matters, Leslie died without a will or other important documents in place. When we were kids she never cracked a book or crammed for an exam and still got straight “A’s”, graduating from high school and college with honors. Unfortunately, however, financial planning was not her strong suit. So her family is struggling to sell her two homes, close out bank accounts, and take care of all other financial issues without either a will or a completed Death Certificate.
So, why am I bringing this up today, on this bright Spring morning? Because there are some lessons to be learned from all this and really, as a public service, I’m going to point them out for you.
1. Do NOT, under any circumstances, die in San Francisco.
2. Get your financial house in order. Write your will or trust. I know, it’s hard to think about a world without you in it, but believe me, it’s the best gift you can give your heirs. Do whatever your personal situation dictates, especially if you’re single, whether it’s ensuring your bank accounts have a Payable on Death provision to your beneficiaries or that you complete Transfer on Death documents for your investments.
If you don’t do these things the government is more than willing to step in and claim your hard-earned cash. In which case, don’t blame me if your money ends up going to Pakistani mango farmers rather than your kids.