By Hardy Jackson
Before I get started, let me say that my Mama, a long-time employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, taught me that to be a good citizen I had to follow the rules set down by the elected representatives in Washington and the agencies that act on their behalf. That is what she did and so should I.
Considering her strict adherence to the letter of the law, I am certain that she would have been as taken aback as I was at a letter she received from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) shortly after she died.
The letter informed her that even though she was dead, she nevertheless owed the government of these United States $15.88.
Now, I know what you are thinking – the IRS did not know she had left the trials of this earth behind, trials that include being harassed by the IRS.
Well, you would be wrong.
The IRS knew.
The letter was addressed to Elizabeth W. Jackson DECD (which means deceased).
Didn’t matter to them.
Dead or not, she was expected to pay $15.88.
Now to soften the blow, the IRS explained that it wasn’t doing this because it wanted to. The agency was ‘required by law’ to do so.
Yes, our Congress told the IRS to send a letter to a dead woman telling her to come up with the princely sum of $15.88.
So, the IRS did.
Still, I think the IRS may have even gone beyond what Congress intended when it went off and threaten my dead Mama that if she didn’t pay the $15.88 by August 25, 2014, “interest will increase and additional penalties may apply.”
“May!” The word reeks intimidation.
None of that ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ for the IRS.
But look at it another way.
Here is a federal agency that gets things done. Following the law passed by Congress and signed by the President of the United States, the IRS engaged in a lengthy and expensive inquiry to discover that my Mother went to her rest owing the United States, a country she dearly loved, $15.88.
If only other federal agencies were so efficient.
Like the Office of Personnel Management.
Recall, Mama worked for the federal government.
After the funeral I did what the sole heir of a federal employee should do. I notified the Office of Personnel Management of her passing. A few weeks later I was informed that she had one more check coming, and in the letter was a host of forms to fill out and submit to get what was she was due.
Being a good American, I did what I was told.
Weeks passed and nothing happened.
So, I called the 1-888 number provided and after numerous conversations with pleasant young women I was finally informed that it might be 10-12 months until Mama’s last payday.
Yep, it took the IRS less than a month after we filed my mother’s last tax return to discover she owed the government $15.88 and demand she pay it.
It was going to take the Office of Personnel Management around a year to get her the money the government owed her.
See the problem here? Of course you do.
Meanwhile, after thinking this through, I concluded that as a dutiful son I should contribute the $15.88 to the IRS in her memory. Maybe this can help cover the cost of the investigation and save other taxpayers a little money.
So, I wrote the check.
Then I noticed that the form the IRS provided asked for any change in address.
My first thought was to advise the IRS that future letters should be sent to her at the Grove Hill Municipal Cemetery, but my wife pointed out that Heaven would be a more accurate location. So, I advised the IRS that future correspondence should go to:
Elizabeth W. Jackson
Street of Gold.
Just inside the Pearly Gate
Ask St. Peter for directions.
She will be the one with all the stars in her crown.
With that, the record was set straight.
Mama’s books will be balanced.
At least with the IRS.
As for what the IRS owes her, I was told ‘the check’s in the mail’.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson III is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.