Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Gay Tax
The Joys of Tax Time!
Originally uploaded by M1khaela
You have a choice today. You can take my word, and know that this is going to be one fucking angry post, and quickly log off, or consider yourself warned, strap on your seat belt, and go along for the ride.
I have not mentioned this to many, but did have a lengthy conversation with Matt at Camp Widow about this very subject. The Gay Tax.
Normally when you hear the term "gay tax" it is used to describe the extra amount of money we pay in order to have our committed relationships. Since Michael and I were legally married in California, we were able to file jointly on our state taxes, but not on our federal taxes. This meant that we had to pay a higher rate of taxes as two separate individuals. Also, when Michael was first diagnosed with cancer, we feared that he may lose his job, and health insurance. After all, Michael was just finishing up his first year of probation as a Budget Analyst, and had not yet completed the evaluation process when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now tell me that wouldn't scare the shit out of you. He needed his brain power to do his job, and he was having short term memory issues, lack of focus, and focal seizures. Because of this I needed to add him to the medical plan at my job.
The City of San Francisco allows for domestic partners to use their partner's health insurance, but the added benefit is seen as added income to be taxed by the federal government. So I, as an individual, was paying more for this benefit than my heterosexual friends.
When most people lose a spouse they receive a one time cash benefit from social security. Not people like me. Because the federal government doesn't recognize our relationship, I did not qualify for this benefit. I remember the dear man at the funeral home where Michael's body was being cremated. He was going over all the documents, and telling me where he would send each form. He listed items such as social security, and wanted to be sure that I knew of these benefits. I appreciated his naivete, and didn't have the heart to tell him that as a gay man, those funds would not be dispersed.
After Michael died I was a complete mess. Sound familiar? Anyway, it took me a month before I got the clarity of mind to begin all the filing of documents to settle his estate. Everyone wanted copies of the death certificate, copies of our state approved domestic partnership, and a copy of our marriage certificate. Even with these, there were many questions about why I was handling some of these things as opposed to his mother. When Michael had first started his job we had only been dating for a short time. We discussed the implications of his benefits, and decided to list his mother until we were sure that we were going to enter into a committed relationship. After Michael got sick, he secured the services of an attorney, who drew up all the necessary documents giving me power of attorney, and listing me as the beneficiary of his estate. We then made several trips to his employer to change the initial documents. Unfortunately, they kept losing the forms, but kept telling us everything was current in the computer. Well, these were lies.
After Michael's death is when I learned that the employer had never changed the records. So they questioned once again, why I was filing for these benefits rather than his mother. I reminded them that we were legally married, and that by nature of our marriage, all prior beneficiaries were null and void. I supplied them with their own benefits manual which clearly stated this. They responded by sending all the documents to "Legal" to make the ultimate decision. Many weeks when by, and they would not return my calls. Finally, I was able to get someone on the phone who told me that everything came back concluding that yes, I was the legal beneficiary. Her response to me was this; "If you want the money, then send a letter telling us you want it." Her tone was quite rude, making me feel as though I was trying to steal money from my husband's poor mother.
I was so angered by all of this. First of all, it was none of their business. Second of all, Michael had already made prior arrangements, and gave his mother a cash gift prior to his death. With the remaining funds, he arranged for a trust to be set up, whereby I would provide financially for the needs of his brother, nephew, and two nieces. The remaining funds were for the kids and I. The funds that were set aside for me, were those of his retirement from the state and his current job.
Back to my conversation with Matt. I was sharing with him all that I had to go through to secure the life insurance and other cash benefits, which in all took about four to five months. Of course not counted in this description was Michael's retirement funds from his most recent job, of which I still haven't received. As Matt listened to my account of this process he looked dumbfounded. He turned to me and said, "Dan, do you know how long it took me to receive all monetary benefits when my wife died? 8 days." Eight days?! Matt explained that he didn't really have to do anything. It all just sort of came together when word got out about his loss. Unbelievable!
I was explaining to Matt that I was still battling with the retirement office from Michael's employers, Marin County Employees Retirement Association. I had started the process in October 2009, but all my calls were being ignored. I was told that this person was in charge, but she was on vacation, and would call me next Thursday when she returned. It never happened. Eventually I gave up. Then in February 2010 I got the stamina to try again. After a month of phone calls, they decided to send everything to their legal department. It took two more months before I got a decision. After being served with the nasty response about my wanting the money, so write them a letter, I got so angry, and unfortunately turned it inward.
I began to question my own motives. Was I needing to be financially compensated for Michael's death? I had lost almost half of my wages for the two years he was sick, as I had burned through all my sick leave and vacation time. I ended up on state disability so that I could care for Michael. By April 2010 I was so distraught by all of this, that, well, many of you know, I became suicidal. Just prior to my deciding to quit my job and move my family to San Diego, I was sitting in our bathroom with all of Michael's medication in my hands, trying to decide which was the best way out.
Needless to day, I was able to get through the night without harming myself, and made the decision to live. In making this decision I knew that I had to completely change the direction of my life. That meant quit the job, sell the house, pack up the kids and move to San Diego. While planning the move I remembered that I still hadn't sent off that letter to the retirement office formally requesting the funds due to me. So, early in May 2010, I finally got it done.
At that point I started once again trying to reach anyone in that office to find out what the next step was. I still didn't even know how much the funds were, and how they would be calculated. The only person who had that information was the one who refused to return my call. In late June I was able to reach the program manager, to tell him I was moving in two weeks, and would at least like to know they had my new address so when they saw fit to help me, they could at least reach me. He apologized profusely, and guaranteed me that I was receive a call in the next week, and that I would have a check before I left. Well, it never happened.
After arriving here in San Diego, I began my futile attempts to once again reach someone willing to help me. After two more weeks of being ignored, I reach the new replacement for the program manager. Once again he gave me many apologies, and was very upset to learn of my situation. He went directly to the desk of the person who was ignoring me, and found my file sitting at her desk. None of the work had been done. He told me I would have an answer by the next day. I explained that I mainly needed to give them my new address, and needed to know how they would calculate the benefits. I told him that the prior program manager intimated that it wouldn't be very much money, and that they would disperse it quickly.
Well, today was a week since I had spoken to the new program manager. He had never called me back like he had promised. When I did reach him today he was clearly shocked that once again the worker had not returned my calls. He stated that the person was clearly told to calculate the benefits, and call me with this information. I once again explained that I was completely powerless in this process, and needed someone to give me an answer. He was quite embarrassed that he had relied on that person to handle this, and angered that she clearly had not. He asked if he could call me back. About an hour went by and he did get back to me. He stated that he had looked over the documents, and that I was due all of Michael's contributions, plus a one time death benefit from the retirement association. The amount that he told me was far more than the other manager had stated. I was once again in shock. "Wait a minute, you mean that nobody was giving me this type of information because of the amount? Did they not want me to know how much I was eligible to receive? Again, he didn't know what to say. Then the big axe came down. "There is another problem, which may not be able to be resolved at this point.?" What? Apparently, because Michael worked for the county and the state, his benefits calculation should have been tabulated by combining all the years, and funds included. He asked if I had received any funds from Cal Pers. Yes, of course. They responded within a reasonable time, and sent me a check about six months ago. He then said he was afraid that since they already sent me the funds, that I may lose out of the higher rate of benefits.
I am now feeling postal! It was at this point that I really lost it. You mean to tell me that because your workers chose to ignore me, and missed the timeline, I will now be losing some of my husband's benefits? I told him that I have not heard of any of my straight widowed friends having to go through any of this, and asked if he thought this might be because our marriage was initially questioned. He was silent. He asked if he could look further into this before I get too far ahead of myself. I let him know that I had recently discussed this matter with a new friend, who had then offered to connect me with a family member who was an attorney in San Francisco. I told him that I had chosen to give it one more try, but that it looked like I may need to secure the services of a good attorney, and that I may need to sue their office, and the worker who caused this situation. The poor guy didn't know what to say.
Well, I imagine he is having a careful conversation with their legal department right about now. I would also hope that the person, who shall remain nameless, who failed to respond to me, is getting written up right now as well. I am out for blood!
Okay, I'm not out for blood, but I do love a good vampire story.
Originally uploaded by Donna_ yeye
He said he would call me before leaving the office, and I'm sure he is worried that I am currently on the phone with my attorney. Little does he realize that instead of an attorney, I can gather up a couple hundred angry widows, and send them all in his direction! I can see the headlines. "Multitudes of angry widows stormed the Marin County Employees Retirement Association today demanding that a cash settlement be secured for one soft spoken, and long winded, gay widower. We are being told that hostages have been taken, and that one employee in particular has been singled out and strung up by the rafters. More at Eleven."
Let me tell you. If I do have to secure the help of an attorney. She will be the biggest, butchest, militant lesbian around.