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01.13.2011 0

The Evil Death Tax Rears Its Ugly Head

This story is terribly sad. A young family in King County, Washington loses their one-hour old child and shortly thereafter, the government is at their side ready to collect the ‘death tax’…


Olivia Clark lived for only one hour. Doctors didn’t even expect her to survive birth.  Now her family has a hard time understanding why the King County Medical Examiner has to review her death and charge $50.

“With Olivia, there was so much love in that room and we knew it was going to be such a short time,” says her grandmother, Diana Clark. “That was probably the most joyous hour that I’ve experienced.”

Her grandparents say Olivia was polycystic and, as a result, her lungs never developed. So, her short life was a miracle.

“We were thrilled that she lived long enough that we could meet her alive and talk about her and see her while she was still alive,” says Larry Clark, her grandfather.

Although her parents were from Yakima, they came to the University of Washington Medical Center for her delivery. As a result, Olivia died in King county. Her family soon learned the impact that would have when they received the funeral bill.

“There was a little line on there near the bottom of the bill that said ‘King county death tax: $50.’ And we looked at that, and looked at that and looked at each other and said ‘what is that?’ Couldn’t believe that a little girl that lived for an hour has to pay a $50 tax,” said Larry.

King County now requires a review of every death. The medical examiner instituted the $50 fee for cremations three years ago. This year, it included the fee for burials as well.

“The reason we do that is to make sure no one goes to the crematorium or to their grave without society and the family knowing exactly how their loved one died,” says Gareth Johnson, King County Prevention Division Manager.

About 13,000 people die in King County every year. Over the last three years, the medical examiner’s office discovered the cause of death in 347 cases were wrong and required further investigation, including two homicides. In half of those deaths, treatment was a contributing factor.

The Clarks understand some deaths need to be investigated. But in their opinion, not Olivia’s.

“Every time I turn around the county appears to be nickel and diming us, putting a tax on this and a tax on that. Where does it end?” said Larry.

King County is the only county in the state that requires a review of every death. But a spokesperson for King County Public Health says other counties and jurisdictions are shifting toward this process.

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