the gRumpcAst

Not for the mearly gloomy or the slightly crabby, the gRumpcAst is for the professional grumps. We feature rants, raves, dreams and some amazing music to provide a yang to the yin.

Archive for the 'dwtd' Category

Bicycles and Death

Ghost bike image from flickr user ( kurtz ) and is covered by a creative commons license.

Ghost Bike

I just received word that a young friend and neighbor was killed this evening in a accident while riding his bicycle. In my city, and most of the US, there is not a whole lot of transportation planning that focuses on bicycles. Instead, it’s all about the cars and trucks.

I was already pretty pissed off about how bikes are treated in my local transportation system. I have a brother and a son who commute on their bicycles every day. I commute on mine every now and then.

The death of this boy is a tragedy in my community and in my city. It’s a tragedy for his family and friends. We all handle grief in our own way. I’m planning to channel mine into being a pain-in-the-ass to the politicians and bureaucrats who claim they work for me on the issue of bicycle infrastructure in our transit system.

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Death and taxes.

Alpha Omega Tax Service
Creative Commons Attribution Licensed image by rachaelvoorhes via flickr

When someone dies, there are taxes to be paid. The estate pays taxes and individuals who receive assets from the estate pay taxes too. There are ways to “minimize” taxes and the current bunch running things in Washington would like to eliminate what they call “death” taxes.

Actually, from where I sit, taxes are not an evil thing. I try to look at the other side of the equation; what I receive for what I pay. The closer I get to my home, in terms of governments, the better deal I get.

My county taxes provide fire and police protection, environmental management, trash disposal, and excellent schools. I don’t mind paying my county taxes at all. In my state, the state revenue comes mostly from our version of the V.A.T., the state sales tax. I’m a little less happy with how my state government spends money. They seem to waste a lot more of my tax money than the county does.

Don’t get me started about my federal income taxes and how they are spent. Geesh.

Then, along come this new “run the country like a business” and “cut taxes, downsize government” crowd. These guys really piss me off. They get their money from folks who make their money through their investments and pay a much much much smaller share of their earnings in taxes than working people do.

Of course, they’re not doing much cutting of federal taxes here in the U.S. Instead, they’re spending money that they don’t have and putting our great great great great grandchildren in debt. They’re spending on big defense projects that put a lot of money back in the pockets of the rich folks investment club. Meanwhile, the services to working people; the folks who get most of their money from their paychecks are being eliminated.

Don’t even start on health care. They used to fool us by pointing to long wait times for medical services in countries with single-payer government-run health systems. Now, with “managed” care, it’s not a bit different. What is different in the US is that a large number of hard working Americans don’t have any health coverage.

We spend way too much of our national health care budget on paying for useless insurance infrastructure, not to mention the obscene profits being made by the “investors” in the scheme who make more money by not providing services to insured sick people.

It’s disgusting.

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Dead Letter Box

When you die, your body systems stop but the mail continues. The first time I opened my friends mailbox, it was jammed and I seriously considered sending the post office a “died – left no forwarding address” notice. As nice as that would be, you really can’t do that because there are bills that have to be paid, accounts that have to be closed and tax matters to attend to.

Catalogs and fund raising appeals were the bulk of the mail. At first, I just put them into the recycling bin but then a new hero emerged. A friend said that he’d like to take a run at getting the junk stopped. He started calling the catalog merchants and fund raisers to tell them that my friend had died and would they please save a tree and stop sending their stuff. It took several months but eventually the torrent of junk turned into a trickle.

Bills were another issue. In U.S. folk history, there’s a persistent story of a bible salesman who shows up at the widow/widower’s house a day or two after the death with an expensive bible saying that the deceased had ordered it several months before as a gift and that the salesman was there to deliver it. Of course, the story goes, the grieving widow/widower would pay for the bible even if money was short.

We had our own version of the bible salesman. Most of the bills were what you’d expect; utilities, insurance, credit cards, etc. One was from a small private hospital in a city far from where my friend lived. They were convinced that she had been a patient there several months before and owed a considerable sum of money. We checked pretty throughly and didn’t find any indication that my friend had been out of town during that time. We wrote the hospital asking for more information. They didn’t respond except to continue to send the statements.

We finally decided that it was either an error or that the hospital had a habit of sending bills to the dead for imaginary services.

When a person dies, the estate has several duties including doing an accounting of the assets and liabilities of the deceased. My friend, a single person with no children, was financially better off than some people. She had a lot of accounts in a lot of different institutions. While her notebook gave details on most of her accounts, there were surprises. One day, one of those “privacy policy disclosure letters came from an out-of-state bank that I had never seen a reference or a statement. We wrote the bank and found an account that we had no idea existed.

The most difficult letters were those from friends. They typically started out, “Dear _____, We’ve been trying to call you but your phone is out-of-service, and we’re worried. Please let us know you’re OK.” . At Christmas time, there were cards from friends who hadn’t been notified.

My friend died in the summer (2007). It’s now March and mail, although less of it, is still coming in. Just last week, a late year end tax statement arrived. The estate is almost closed and I haven’t decided what to do about the mail. Telling the post office to stop delivering it somehow makes my friend’s passing seem final.

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Dancing with the dead – Finding the assets.

I was at the hospital when my friend died.  With her lawyer’s blessing, I took custody of her purse and went to my friends  home to read the notebook.  There was a little confusion about her will.  Several people remembered comments about her having hidden her will in a variety of strange places.  We searched pretty throughly and finally found it in her file cabinet in a folder labeled “Last Will and Testament”.

I attended a parochial school until 6th grade.  I remember the Roman Catholic priest who taught my religion class very well.  During one class he shared what he thought the origin of the word “testament” was.  According to the priest, it came from ancient Greece where when a man wanted to swear that something was true, he would point to his testicles and say “cut them off if I’m lying.  I remember the priest pointing to his crotch as he told the story.

That first day, we collected the will, the notebook, and some of my friends financial records.   Over the next few days, we collected and secured the most valuable assets.  Jewelry and small things went to a safe deposit box rented by the estate.  Big things like fancy china were packed and stored at neighbors houses.

We had the locks changed but one day, found that someone had gotten in the house.  We found what appeared to be the remains of a coin collection on the kitchen table.  None of those of us who were caring for the house had seen it before and I had the only key.  The cops were called and a nice deputy came out.  He noticed that one side of a pair of locked French doors could be opened by shaking the doorknob.

According to the deputy, burglary of the homes of the newly deceased is quite common in our part of the planet and I suspect, around the world.

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Dancing with the dead.

Last summer, my friend died. She had a heart condition and had beaten the odds for several years. She died riding on her exercise bike. I’m not blaming the bike. My friend, given her heart problems, had way outlived her statistical probability. I think that the bike and her general positive attitude toward life kept her going.But this story is not about my friend or about death, it’s about the practical side of death for those left behind. A few years ago, my friend, during a visit at her house, showed me a notebook that she kept in her bookshelf. “When I die”, my friend said, “come and get this book and do what it says.”

When she died, I picked up her personal effects from the hospital and along with her lawyer, went to her home and read the notebook.

My friend was smart and organized. In the notebook was a list of people to notify, the location of her legal documents, and a list of her financial assets.

This is the beginning of a longer piece I’m writing. I’ll be posting additions to this piece with the category code of “dwtd” (dancing with the dead). I welcome comments, corrections, suggestions and encouragement.

More to come

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