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Married Filing Joint
by Rod Bartchy

The call starts out innocently enough. I’m a customer service representative with the IRS, and Bill Jones calls in to ask about the status of his mother’s tax return. Seems Nilda Jones died last year and son Bill says that he is the executor of the estate. I put him through the usual third degree to establish his identity, including his mother’s high school prom date, her favorite tuna casserole recipe, and an excerpt of her 1979 fan letter to William Shatner. (We have everything on file about you just as you always suspected).

Ok, just kidding about the letter and prom date, but I made the casserole later. It rocked. Bill checks out as the executor.

Then I ask him the usual questions about the tax return itself. Names, filing status, birth date, etc. He has all the answers. Now we can talk.

Bill’s mom is deceased but the tax return has a married filing joint status. No problem. It’s perfectly legal in the year of death for the widower to file with the deceased.

I notice that the widower on the return has the same last name as the son. They’re both named Bill Jones. Ok, I guess the son doesn’t use Junior in his name. Who knows maybe being called Junior got him teased mercilessly as a child. He’s a good son, though, to be helping out his grieving dad with these tax issues.

I take a deep dive into the infinite sea of the IRS data base. Sad to say the refund is frozen which means we have it but we’re not going to give it to you. There are lots of reasons for this. So many that the IRS established has 52 freeze codes. For example, Bill could have an “F minus freeze” for filing a frivolous return.

But that’s not the code on Nilda’s return, so I do more research and find a cryptic reference to a duplicate filing TIN. That’s IRS speak for using the same Social Security number twice. The IRS frowns on that. Matter of fact we frown on a lot of things, hence freeze codes on you if you make the slightest mistake.

I’m supposed to put Bill on hold while I research his case, but I like keeping the fish on the line while I mutter things like “…mmm that’s not good” or let a dispirited sigh ghost the line. Sometimes the guilty ones get nervous and cough up a clue. Sure enough, Bill Jones mentions that his tax return with his wife seems to be on hold too. Bingo!

That gives me all the information I need to reach the inevitable but still startling conclusion.

There is no grieving widower. Bill Jones has filed a Married Filing Joint return with his deceased mother Nilda. Not only that, he has gone a step further and also filed a tax return with his wife Loama, who I can hear ranting incoherently in the background.

One taxpayer. Two different Joint returns for the same year. Freeze time!

Of course it could be that Bill thinks he’s actually married both his mother and his wife. Modern pharmaceuticals have unintended cognitive side effects. So I take it slow. I counsel Bill on the philosophical underpinnings behind the Joint filing status. First, that one has to actually be married, not just related, to file jointly. Second, that however popular polygamy may be in his locale, the IRS does ask that you pick one wife for filing purposes.

Bill takes it well. He immediately blames it on the lawyers for the estate. They told him to file it that way, he insists. Those bastards, we both agree. But what to do, now that he filed two conflicting returns.

Why, duck the issue of course!

After due consideration there is only one option… …a transfer to Advanced Accounts! That’s code for Customer Service Reps who, unlike me, are fully trained to deal with this type of morass.

Bill seems pleased. Advanced Accounts. He’ll get to talk to the real pros. I’m pleased too. I can get rid of the call, take on something more prosaic next, maybe a screamer with three barking Dobermans, two eviction notices, one frozen refund, and a partridge in a non-deductible pear tree.

Advanced Accounts. They’ll just love Bill. They may just slap a couple more freeze codes on him.

Bill will not love them. But? Not my problem.

The phone rings.

“Two aliens landed in my back yard last year and I’d like to claim them as dependents”

Here we go again.