Tag Archives: taxes

A Widowed Mother Who Lost Her Wealth (And a Grieving Daughter Trying to Help)

My family was never wealthy, but for my entire life we’ve been more than comfortable–comfortable enough to not pay close attention to our spending. While we never took lavish vacations (unless paid for by points acquired through my father’s work), we didn’t budget. We should have.

As an adult with my own job and an understanding of the value of a dollar (and my motto – no matter how much you make, every cent counts), I’ve managed to build up a networth of over $650k, give or take, at age 35. I want to be proud of that. I want to enjoy this as some sort of accomplishment. But I can’t. I can’t because I feel incredibly guilty and lost when it comes to helping my mother out of the financial mess she is in right now.

Some may look at her situation and say it’s not that bad. I guess it isn’t, but it will be soon if she doesn’t plug up the holes in her sinking ship. Not all of the holes are her fault–but she’s just so delusional and has no ability to stop spending. It is impossible for me to advise her beyond subtle suggestion that she cease spending when my parents paid for my college education, a nice wedding, and an overall nice life. Part of me feels like I ought to help her out and provide the funds to plug up some of those holes. And–most of me knows that even if I were to give her my entire $650k, she’d still find a way to burn through it.

This is a long story… a very long story… and one that is keeping me up at 2am with a newborn who is sleeping so I really ought to be sleeping. I can’t sleep. I can’t do anything but let my mind spin on this giant dilemma, trying to find some sort of solution to the puzzle. There isn’t one that’s pretty or that my mother will agree to. But, after sitting back and letting my recently-deceased father make a mess of the finances in his last years of life (not that I had much say in that, but I could have maybe done something… more on that in a minute)… I feel like NOW I have the opportunity to stop this sinking ship before it reaches the bottom of the ocean.

The picture was looking rather unfortunate on the first go-round of budget vs income that I quickly ran after my father passed away this summer and my mother had to make some decisions about her social security survivor’s benefits (which are confusing as hell, yet to be fully understood, and the subject of another post I’ll write one day.)

As we did more digging, we uncovered that in 2014 there was $1M in an IRA. By 2017, only $400k remained. During that time, there was the purchase of a second home which cost, including renovations, about $100k (or maybe more because my parents seemed to always underestimate the cost of their renovations and not keep tab.) There was my wedding, which, at $50k, was a lovely affair and something that made my dying father beam with joy, but was an event that never should have happened given the financial situation my father either somehow didn’t understand or hid from me and the family. He said, over and over again, he had $50k set aside for my wedding and $50k for my sister’s. He said many things. I’ll never know if he was delusional due to the cancer drugs, unrelated mental illness, old age, or maybe just a serial liar–to not only us but himself.

When he was working he was bringing in good money, at least for a middle class household. Ironically the man who left his family without a stable retirement spent his life’s work as an actuary–planning pensions for companies and accessing risk of running out of money to fund those pensions. I try to find humor in this.

But then, and I guess I didn’t realize this since I was already away at college, he stopped working around age 55 due to his obesity and mobility issues, and then shortly after that began collecting disability. His work paid out nicely for a few years, and also offered a good pension, but the reality was (and where I was blind sighted is) that the amount coming in did not cover the amount spent. I don’t know the exact gap, but it was substantial, and ignored.

Although the wedding was a big expense and the second home purchase wasn’t for pennies,  what really did them in, based on my research into the last 10 years of spending, was their crazy high expenses. My mother, ever in denial, would say she doesn’t spend like rich people do, then come home with piles of clothes “on sale” from Chicos or some “non luxury” store, not to mention a pile of face creams on auto-purchase from QVC and who knows what else. Then, there was the dining out bills, and the $600-a-month house cleaning services (I’ve convinced her to drop that to 2x at $300 a month.)

I’m not one to judge how they spent their money — they had a right to spend it any way they wanted. And I understand my father, facing certain death, wanted to enjoy his limited wealth in his final years. It was just the perfect storm of financial chaos. Even his long term care policy, dutifully paid into for many years, likely costing over $20,000, ended up going unused because he refused to admit he was dying–or, perhaps because he realized that the policy didn’t actually cover enough to not require dipping further into the shrinking retirement savings left.

With this, I’m left to wonder if my father, as ill as he was, didn’t go to doctors outside of his cancer doctor because he hated going to the doctor–or, if part of this was because he couldn’t afford the treatment. In the end it wasn’t the cancer that killed him, but issues with his heart and blood pressure–perhaps related to his cancer treatments, but undoubtedly something he could have had treated better over his life and especially those final years… but he chose to only focus on his cancer. If his goal was to die of something other than cancer, then he succeeded. I’m pretty sure his goal was to live forever and he couldn’t think of the world any other way. I get that, no one wants to admit they’re dying–but when you are facing a terminal illness and are told you have 2 years to live (and then you manage to live more than 10) at the very least you can pick out a funeral plot and prepay for a burial, not leaving your wife to run around to cemeteries the day after you die to pay the highest possible amount for both of your graves (yes, this happened. Yes, I was out-of-my-mind with a one-week-old at this time, trying to provide advice.)

But now–now the biggest issue, and the one I find saddest–is that we’ve uncovered a horrible situation regarding taxes. Taxes unfiled and unpaid. All of the numbers I’ve been running to try to save her primary home in the northeast–which, while worth $500k, has a $200k home equity loan out on it, by the way–were thrown out the window. And I threw my hands in the air. I give up. This is looking bleak. Sure, she can cut all of her spending. She can stop the house cleaning services and limit work on the house to only vital fixes for a while… nothing cosmetic. But even then, she starts dipping into that small $400k IRA immediately–which shrinks to almost nothing after the taxes are paid, and she has nothing left to pay the home equity that comes due in 2020 and flips to principle and interest at 3x what she’s currently paying.

In short, the only real answer is to sell one of the properties, and sooner than either of us would like. I’ve told her clearly that the northeast home, while a place that holds all of my memories as a child, and one I’d love to keep, is a complete money suck and sadly I think it needs to go. She agrees, but wants years to clean it out (she’s a hoarder and my attempts to help her get rid of things on my last visit, outside of taking care of a 3 month old, did not make a lot of progress.) I selfishly want the house to stick around for a while too–although it won’t be the home for my “dream” visits with my family… holiday visits to grandma and grandma — long summer nights with my kid(s) playing in the backyard through the sprinklers, running after fireflies like I did as a child–I thought maybe a smidgen of this could exist.

I know a house is just home and a home is just a house. I’ve lived enough places since leaving that house now… gasp… 18 years ago. I mean, I knew, deep down, we couldn’t hold on to it forever. Mom would move out when dad died at some point. But either time went by too fast or I didn’t think it would be this soon. She clearly wants to stay there… but it’s not possible, especially not with the vacation home as well.

She could potentially sell the vacation home, which would pay off some of the home equity. But she doesn’t want to do that, and I think it wouldn’t be wise anyway–they invested quite a bit in renovating that property and, while it’s small, it is a good place for her to live in her “young” old age. Even though some of her friends still live in our development in the northeast, many are moving away, and few still go to the social gatherings she goes to–whereas the 55+ community with the vacation home is filled with active seniors, at least in the winter months. I’m worried about how she’ll like it there in the summer when it gets extremely hot with violent storms and most of the residents leave to the north–but maybe she’ll be ok. She seems to find people to talk to wherever she goes (or talk “at”, but to her there’s no difference and she’s pleased either way.) So, the financial planner in me says — get her out of the northeast home as fast as possible. Like, yesterday fast.

But she’s committed to not moving until at least 2020, and she still thinks she can make it there much longer. She keeps asking me how long she can stay and I try to explain to her that there’s no exact number because the question becomes how much she needs left in her IRA to grow to afford her lifestyle–AND what is going to happen to her later in life if she needs long term care (since my father cancelled her long term care policy years ago saying it was too expensive.)

Now, she does have an after-tax income of $60k+ per year once she gets full social security benefits. That’s pretty darned good. If she had one home, especially one home that doesn’t cost as much as one with a lot of property and an aging architecture, then maybe she’ll be fine. She can sell the house, pay off the home equity, take the remaining $250k or so to pay off the taxes (est $80k) and family loan ($30k), and then take the remaining $150k and, ideally, invest that somewhere safe, while slowly drawing down the IRA and minimizing tax damage in the future.

She could, alternately, sell the vacation condo and put that money into the northeast home, but the costs are just too high there and she’ll still run out of money. I think with the vacation home she can actually live on her income, even if she wants to travel to visit her grandson or spend some time in NY.

The problem is, the longer she stays in the NJ home, the harder it is to ensure her life when she moves is financially ok. What I don’t want to happen is that she burns through her IRA in a few years because of credit card bills and loans and having to pay this ridiculous amount of taxes that sadly are just so high because of penalties due to my father not filing (yes, getting to that in a minute)…

So the taxes… I really don’t know what happened. My father always, ALWAYS paid the right amount each year. He didn’t always file on time–but if you pay the right amount and don’t file the IRS doesn’t actually care. Somehow, whether on purpose or by massive mistake, he was short about $23k one year and $18k the next. The $42k in taxes owed is crappy, but the penalties on that because it was never fixed are what is extraordinarily sad. For that money, not only did he take too much out of the IRA in two years to cause such high taxes owed, but he ALSO then didn’t pay those taxes or file or anything. I want to ask him WHY? But I can’t. Because, you know, he died. And I’m still dealing with processing that and all these feelings I have around wanting to empathize with him for being such a sad, sick man but also then being angry and grateful and who knows what else–is why I can’t sleep.

I’m now looking at any tax relief available to my mother, but it seems unlikely she will get any help from the IRS. Innocent Spouse theoretically applies to her–my father was abusive to her for years and refused to let her partake in household finances, even when she offered, and later, begged–especially regarding the taxes. He would yell at her and occasionally become violent. There are even police records of this (though not in the years the taxes are owed.) But “innocent spouse,” as far as I can tell, is for partners who lied on their returns. Well, he didn’t file a return, so there’s not much innocent spouse we can claim…

Now there is an abatement of penalty clause where, if you were in good standing the 3 years before the year you failed to file, you can get the penalties waived for that one year. But you only get to do this once. Not only was my father failing to file year after year (always having paid the full amount on time except apparently in 2011 when he had a small payment plan), it’s impossible to know if he already requested this one time penalty abatement. There are no records. He did all of his own taxes. My mother is perplexed–after going through all the of the papers… she says to me, it doesn’t make sense–where are all the taxes? The papers from the IRS?

My theory is he, either strategically or in a rage or in a fit of paranoia, threw them all out one day. Maybe he just straight up lost his mind and got rid of a box of important things by accident. Maybe he realized he did that and was so ashamed he just gave up on ever doing the taxes. Who knows.

One thing is for sure – he refused help–even from his few close friends and his family. And, for a man who said he wanted to leave his family with wealth and ensure his wife was financially ok for the rest of her life (which never made sense to me given how emotionally abusive to her on a daily basis) he sure made quite the mess. He just couldn’t admit he was struggling. He had way too much pride. And, in his final years, he didn’t want to accept his mortality. He told my mother she was overspending, but then he’d overspend himself. He once asked my mother how much my aunt and uncle gave me for my wedding — $500. He immediately wrote out a check to their daughter for $600! It wasn’t about generosity with him, though he’d like you to think it was. It was always about showing off how generous he was.

Even during the year of my wedding–I offered to pay for more of the wedding up front, even if he wanted to pay, so he wouldn’t have to withdraw so much out of his IRA that year. I knew the taxes would be high. No, he said. He was offended by the suggestion. He had the money and he wanted to spend it. Yes, I have guilt for spending it, but I didn’t know how bad things looked. Last I heard there was still $1M in the bank and a home that was paid off. I failed to dig in too much–but as blind as I was with eyes shut to the downfall of the great American dream, my mother seemed to have clawed her eyes out in order to be incapable of looking.

So now what? I have my own life to sort out here. I’m doing well, but have a long way to go. My first batch of RSUs vest in a few weeks… and with that I should have a $50k bonus after tax (should the stock market not completely disintegrate before Christmas) and I could say, you know what, mom, you guys paid for my college and wedding, and now I’m gifting you $50k (or, $15k in 2018 and $15k in 2019 and so on.) But what good would that really do? She needs to understand the value of money. I think I’m starting to get through to her a little bit. I paid for dinner the other night and she actually said thank you. It’s not that I want her to have to thank me – it’s that I want her to realize the value of a dollar. It may be too late to fix this mess… but maybe it isn’t. Maybe I can gift her a happy next however many years she has… for as narcissistic and childish as my mother is, I still think she’s been beaten down by an emotionally abusive mother then an emotionally and physically abusive husband, and she deserves the right to happiness in her old age. She has to throw out the clutter and really be wiling to simplify… and that would be good for all of us.

I just don’t know if I can convince her of this in time, and also let go from my crazy ideas to “save” my childhood home by either purchasing it or providing enough money in gift form to pay off the home equity or… plenty of bad ideas that not only wouldn’t help stop the bleeding, but also could financially ruin me as well. So I hope we can all make the right decisions and fast enough to stabilize and move on from this challenging period of our lives.

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GOP Tax Plan: Tax Brackets for Married Couples

More details of the GOP tax plan have leaked, and the new tax brackets look enticing (other than that we won’t have the funds to support infrastructure needs in the country) — on an individual level, even with the marriage penalty on the SALT deduction ($10k can be deducted per individual OR $10k per married couple), the actual brackets are promising in removing the marriage penalty for everyone except those who make over $600k as married filers. Continue reading

Holy Sh… Estimated Taxes… WTF… as a Married Couple

Getting married is wonderful for so many reasons. Taxes is not one of them. Besides the horrific marriage fine levied by our tax lords if you happen to want to be an independent woman and continue working post tying the not, there’s also a whole host of tax intricacies which suddenly make TurboTax no longer a viable option and accountants your new BFF.

My husband is an independent contractor.  He usually makes anywhere between $80k and $110k per year, depending on how business is going. As a single person, he was able to take advantage of safe harbors designed to protect self-employed folks from overpaying taxes to avoid fines for coming short on estimated tax payments.

Safe harbors for estimated taxes for single, self-employed folks basically say that you can either pay 90% of your current year’s eventual tax bill OR 100% of your prior year’s tax bill. As a single person, this is pretty easy to figure out — even if it’s hard to guess what 90% of this year’s tax bill will be, you can pay 100% of your prior year’s tax bill and know you’re safe from fines, even if you end up owing more at the end of the year. If business isn’t going quite as well this year, you’ll get a refund, and you’ll give uncle sam a loan for a while, but it won’t be that bad.

Of course, getting married makes this all sorts of more complicated, requiring expensive accounting help to make sense of this mess.

Estimated tax safe harbor for higher income taxpayers. If your 2016 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 if you are married filing a separate return), you must pay the smaller of 90% of your expected tax for 2017 or 110% of the tax shown on your 2016 return to avoid an estimated tax penalty.

Thank you IRS for an explanation that is not clear at all. It sounds like if your AGI is over $150k as a single OR married person you are considered a higher income taxpayer. This means Mr. HECC would not have been considered a high income taxpayer as a single person, but now that we’re married we’re well over $150k and he can no longer use the safe harbors for his estimated taxes.

Instead, we have to pay 110% of our 2016 taxes (including my taxes) in order to not get penalized this year. Suddenly, my W2 withholdings are no longer an annoyance of over or underpayment to the government, but they can result in substantial penalties.

So – we need an accountant, stat. I consider myself fairly financially literate and the IRS explanation of all of this is the most confusing thing I’ve ever read.

Are any of you married with one partner earning W2 income and the other self employed? How do you manage your estimated tax payments?

Our Marriage Tax Penalty: How It Played Out

There is a lot of misinformation about the marriage tax penalty. While it’s true if one spouse doesn’t work and the other makes any amount of income, the couple will get a “marriage bonus,” once both partners are working and making enough income to live, esp in a high-cost-of-living area, the tax penalty is going to kick in.

The worst marriage penalties are seen when you have kids and lose deductions based on income, but I’m going to share in simple terms why we received a marriage penalty this year – this beautiful first year of our marriage – due tour income.

Federal Taxes Only (State marriage penalty not included below)

Mrs. HECC
Income: $195,000
Single Filer Tax: $47,749.25

Mr. HECC
Income: $105,000
Single Filer Tax:  $22381.75

  • Total Couple “Single” Federal Tax: $70131
  • Married Filing Jointly Tax: $74,217

And, just in case you’re wondering, it is not better to “file separately” as a married couple — this is not the same as filing single (which you can’t do when you’re married.)

Married Filing Separately:

Mrs. HECC

Income: $195,000
Single Filer Tax: $51,958.50

Mr. HECC
Income: $105,000
Single Filer Tax:  $22981.25

Total Married Filing Separately:  $74939.75 

As you can see, if you have somewhat higher incomes, the marriage tax penalty will be quite notifiable.

If we never got married… $70,131 in taxes
Marriage Fine (Filing Jointly)  +$4086
or, Marriage Fine (Filing Separately) +$4808.75

This plays out similarly in state taxes.

Yes, we’re fortunate enough to be high-income earners – but we also cannot afford a house. So there’s that.

 

Thoughts on the Marriage Tax Penalty, Now that I’m Married

Unlike many unsuspecting newlyweds, I was well aware of the marriage tax penalty long before I got married. It seemed like a cruel joke that the tax brackets were different for married couples than singles, and that once married you no longer could file as a “single person.” There’s plenty of publicity around the “marriage bonus” but this only applies if you have one working person in the household. If both partners work and make about the same amount of money, you end up screwed.

I got married anyway.

The marriage penalty impacts different classes in different ways. The worst impact is on lower income couples who end up phasing out of tax credits and other benefits such as healthcare allowances if both partners work, even if together the couple is still together earning at poverty levels. For middle income couples in high-cost-of-living areas, the $1k-$10k+ that has to be paid to the government just for the privilege of being married is significant. Is love worth that much? Continue reading

Marriage Is the Worst Financial Decision of My Life – And I Don’t Regret It

The marriage tax penalty is real and it is painful if you live and work in a region of the country that tops the “highest cost of living” lists. While you can make the argument that this is a “choice” and that incomes tend to be higher in that region versus the rest of the country (if you work in a high-paying field), it still doesn’t balance out. I’m glad that I knew going into marriage it was the worst financial decision of my life (my husband says the wedding was, but actually the cost of the wedding was pennies versus what I’ll personally lose over my lifetime, financially speaking.)

There are numerous benefits to marriage, and above all else I’m a sap who believes in love and cares more about stability and security than wealth. I’m happy to be married. Happier than I thought I’d be (at least a month in) as it shockingly feels very different from being single. I didn’t expect it to feel different at all, especially after dating over a decade and co-habiting for the last two years. The only difference, I thought, would be that I can’t just walk out the door without repercussions, and neither could he.

Continue reading

Fun with Tax Loss Harvesting When the Stock Market Goes South

What’s a girl to do when her short term and long term “gains” are actually bright red losses?

Sell! Sell! Sell!

Now, before you berate me for selling when the market is down, let me explain, I am not selling to get out of the market.

My Vanguard shares were down significantly enough that I wanted to take action. Investing in index funds, I don’t have a strong opinion on one or the other. I had a dividend appreciation fund and a small-cap fund that today were mutually down about $500. That’s a $500 loss I can take against any gains made this year. I could wait for it to go down even more (it probably will) or, I could just pull out the money now and plop it straight into another “different” investment to reap the potential gains (or further losses) of being in the stock market this year.

I pulled out a good $23k from these two investments, and moved them into my Vanguard Healthcare fund which I’m slowly but surely plugging away at the $50k minimum for the Admiral version (I love me a good low-fee admiral fund.) So now my healthcare fund is at about $34k and I’ll have $500 in losses to write off come tax time next year. Not so shabby.

Note I’m not a tax professional and I don’t actually know what I’m doing, so get some real advice before you take any of mine. 🙂

My Parents, My Aunt’s New House, and Taxes

If my father were to find out that I hadn’t filed taxes for four years, I would never hear the end of it. He would basically tell me I’m a horrible, disorganized person who is so irresponsible. I hear his voice now, sighing my name in judgement-filled disappointment. And that judgement would kick me straight in the stomach yet again, because I’d believe that there is something truly wrong with me, and that I’ll never be able to resolve my deep-rooted mess of a self.

But when it’s my own father who hasn’t filed the taxes, well, then the world is out to get him. He is being kind of enough to co-sign a loan for my divorced aunt who is attempting to purchase a house, and in order to do this they’ve asked for two years worth of back taxes documentation. Well, he doesn’t have that because while he’s paid what he believes he owes, he’s never actually filed for 2011-2013.

The reality of the situation is that both of my parents could be in very big trouble for not filing taxes. It sounds like he has actually paid the amount owed, but he can’t know for sure because he hasn’t actually filed and filled out the paperwork. My mother is concerned about this, of course, but whenever she brings it up with him he will go off on her and call her a jerk. He really likes to call her a jerk.

It’s so unfortunate for her to be in this spot where she has absolutely no control over the finances. If they were to be audited they could both be thrown in jail. Now, you could say that she should be more pro-active in ensuring her own taxes are filed on time, but my father keeps all of the financial information in boxes that even he isn’t able to find easily. He’s been procrastinating on filing taxes because everything is a giant mess. I wonder where I get this being a mess thing from, hmm.

To be “fair” to my father, he does have terminal prostate cancer, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend his remaining days doing taxes. Maybe in his mind, since the doctors told him he would die five years ago, he was putting it off so that he’d never actually have to deal with it. Who knows. It’s hard to task a dying man with filing paperwork to the IRS, but he’s lived much longer than the doctors have thought and he typically spends his days not schlepping up to Sloan Kettering in NYC watching television or napping.

I’m concerned about my parents, but there really isn’t anything I can do. My dad is so ridiculously stubborn and he won’t change that. He spent a good ten minutes yelling (over the phone) at my aunt’s loan officer because he thought that he only had to show two years of taxes for 2013 and 2014, and in fact they need 2012 and 2013. Well, he just loves to yell. He’s just so angry and I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more anger in his heart – no empathy at all for other people just trying to do their job – no concern for his own wife who he could be setting up for jail time. No, he’ll just spend all his time screaming at everyone else, because the whole world is against him, clearly.

What is a grown adult daughter to do in these situations? My mother is dealing with her own mother’s finances and taxes, which is quite ironic given she doesn’t have a handle on her own. My mother doesn’t get sad, ever – as the daughter of a narcissist herself she was not allowed to have emotions – but she is clearly frustrated by my father’s failure to just pay the taxes. She laughs it off with her nervous laugh, because her only emotion as far as I can tell is “anxious.” There is nothing I can do, but it upsets me that my father, even after all of these years, even after he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, even after his children have grown up and removed that stress from him, is still as bitter, selfish, and full of rage as he ever was. I’d like for there to be a day when he finally realizes that the world isn’t out to get him, that criticism can be constructive, that people deserve to be treated with respect. But that will never happen. I only get to hope that my parents do not end up in jail and my dad finally files the taxes.