The high cost of dying

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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of the United States, popularized the quote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

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It was an excerpt in a letter Franklin wrote to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy in November 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin in 1817.

That was 226 years ago, but it remains relevant to our situation today.

Everyone pays taxes. Nobody on this earth is immortal. When taxes and the cost of dying go together, the combination can cause another death due to the stress one has to deal with. Both taxes and the cost of dying are quite high, almost unaffordable to ordinary mortals. But these are things we have to live and die with.

Even after death, those left behind have taxes to settle with government, especially if the deceased had acquired properties or stocks, or had saved money in the bank. The long list of requirements to get the property transferred, or to withdraw the money is too complicated.

Didn’t the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) tell Congress a couple of years ago that it was eyeing to collect more taxes from the heirs of people who die? Under pressure to increase collections, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares said her agency has been monitoring people who die through the National Statistics Office (NSO) and the obituary and society pages of newspapers.

She wanted to make sure that heirs pay estate taxes before ownership of assets are transferred. If the properties are transferred without payment of taxes and if it is found that the heirs do not have sufficient income to acquire them, the properties would be considered as donated assets and subject to donor’s tax.

It appears there is no escaping the payment of taxes, unless you have extra money to do some magic for someone who can cut short the process.

Dying, like taxes, is also certainly costly. A simple burial can set you back several thousands of pesos.

After extremely high medical care costs, more taxes and funeral services are sure to drain an ordinary family’s pocket nowadays.

The cost of dying can range from several thousand pesos up to more than a million, depending on the package inclusions and arrangements one can afford.

The rates for funeral services range from a low P8,000 to a high P1 million, depending on the kind and design of the casket and chapel (viewing room).

The rental fee for a viewing room with a sitting capacity of 150 is as high as P50,000 per night in a memorial chapel in Quezon City.

When we were choosing a casket for my sister who died of cancer two years ago, we were shown a casket worth P500,000 and P1 million. An urn can cost from a low of P2,500 (marble) to as high as P50,000 (metal).

Most funeral parlors have put together different service packages, some of which already include the processing for sanitary permit and death certificate from city hall, and cremation.

There are packages for viewing and cremation, which is becoming popular because it is more practical and relatively cheaper in the long run than to buy a memorial lot.

We don’t usually discuss the cost of dying because most of us find it insensitive to consider death as an expense. So, most of the time, we find ourselves unprepared for it financially when death comes in the family. That’s the reason we often come across families soliciting financial help to give a decent burial to a departed relative.

As if losing a loved one is not painful enough, it even hurts more to be left with the burden to pay the bills and taxes due on assets the deceased had worked hard for and left behind.

I hope the BIR is as aggressive in collecting taxes on all these skyrocketing funeral service fees as it is from the heirs of the deceased.

It may not be surprising if one day the BIR will tax Halloween participants to please the Catholic Church that frowns at the way we Filipinos observe “Undas.”

Bishops and priests disapprove of the Halloween celebration where the young and old dress up as ghosts, witches, vampires or anything that would make them look bloodied, ugly and scary.

Costumes of fairies and princesses, animals and movie characters are becoming popular though. It is not as if Halloween is observed like this only in the Philippines because it is the same in other parts of the world

In my neighborhood though, I noticed that fewer households are participating as years go by, compared to five or 10 years ago. But the number of children going around in costumes and heavy makeup are just about the same.

To some of the children I asked on Saturday night, Halloween meant fun, having candies and chocolates, and wearing costumes. I did not hear anything about commemorating the death of loved ones. To them, it simply means “trick or treat.”

The Church is also dismayed at how families hold picnics or party-like reunions in cemeteries.

We have grown accustomed to these kinds of practices and they will not go away just because Church leaders have expressed their displeasure.

One day we will all die, and we will probably not want our loved ones to just light candles and be quiet, or to not visit our graves because it was too boring to do so. It is a unique Filipino tradition that we have to respect.

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1 Comment

  1. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    01 November 2015

    Yes, well-off Filipinos with assets of all kinds to leave their heirs when they die, which is certain, will saddle those heirs with all kinds of taxes which normally should be a big bite off their inheritance. [That’s the penalty they have to pay for being wealthy.]

    The 30 million or so Filipinos who now are stuck in the quagmire of widespread and chronic poverty will not have this problem of the wealthy class; simply more likely than not they have nothing in terms of the kind of assets which, when they die, they can leave their descendants as inheritance. [What good is a “barong barong” made of cardboard and a few sheets of used plywood as inheritance? Not much!]

    This will not be the worry of my good wife and I. We have already transferred title to our modest apartment here to our two daughters and also a good portion of our bank accounts.

    And when I “go”–which is the way of all flesh, which may not be farther away than 12 years from now–a funeral home here will collect my carcass, take it directly to a crematorium where it will be reduced to the periodic elements. [That service has been prepaid: $2,289.00].

    My ashes will then be put in a $5 cardboard box [my choice among a more expensive metal, plastic or wooden box] which my good wife may put under our kitchen sink, if she thinks that’s the best place for it. I can’t complain, can I?

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com