Back in the day when her kids were pre-schoolers, Enid did their taxes--her parents had set up education trust funds for each of them. She kept on doing their taxes for as long as they lived in her house and while they were in college. Now, the funds are spent, the kids are working, own homes, have investments and their own bank accounts. But old habits die hard: they still come home for help in filling out their taxes. "My goal," Enid says now, "is to get all my children to do their own taxes."
She's closer to that goal than most of us would be. She may have "done" their taxes while they came of age, but they had to be at the dining room table with all their papers organized while she loaded Turbo Tax onto the laptop and plugged in the numbers. "I made them sit there with me, and we did it together."
Now that they are on their own, they still come home for help with their taxes. But they come home prepared. "They know what stuff to bring," Enid says. "They know what to collect. They organize it. They really don't need me anymore."
And yet they do. Independent though she would like them to be, she likes to review their final filing. "Everyone needs somebody--a friend or parent--to check that you haven't missed anything."
This year, she recommended that one of her children take his tax form to the next level: to an accountant. The reason: The son bought a condo, sold stocks and had some other complicated financial dealings. "I told him to get an accountant but to sit down with the person and let him walk you through things so you can do it yourself next time."
I can only sit in awe of the way Enid's children have been prepared for their tax futures. I had no such help as a young adult, and I am embarrassed to admit, neither I nor paterfamilias gave our children such guidance--though we did offer the services of our accountant. They chose to muddle through with Turbo Tax.
All I can do now is share with them (and anyone else out there who wants to guide their young adult children through their first few tax seasons) a piece of tax advice Enid swears by. It comes from her father. "If you really work on an issue in your tax form and it's still not clear, decide on a common sense way to deal with it--and then write an accompanying letter that says, in effect, 'I found this hard to understand so let me tell you what I did.' What you don't want to be accused of is fraud. if you come across as straightforward and tell the IRS what you did and why, you can't be accused of fraud."