The Complexity of Headstone Taxation in Wisconsin

September 19, 2011

Do you need to pay sales tax on the purchase of a cemetery headstone in Wisconsin? The answer is apparently complex enough that the state has issued an eight-column pamphlet on the subject (PDF).

The state publication gives a number of different scenarios. Purchasing a pre-installed headstone? Not taxable:

A monument dealer sells a monument for $1,500 to a customer. This $1,500 includes installing the monument to the cement foundation at the cemetery. Is this $1,500 sale taxable?

Answer: No. The sale of real property is not taxable.

Purchasing a headstone and then installing it? The purchase is taxable and the installation is not:

A customer buys a monument for $1,500 from Company A (no installation involved). Company B is then hired by the customer to install the monument at the cemetery for $300.

Is the $1,500 sale of the monument by Company A to the customer taxable?

Answer: Yes. This transaction is a sale of tangible personal property.

Is the installation charge of $300 by Company B taxable?

Answer: No. The installation of the monument is a real property improvement, the sale of which is not taxable.

And so on.

And don’t forget local sales taxes and “stadium taxes,” the publication helpfully reminds the reader.

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A tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities.

A sales tax is levied on retail sales of goods and services and, ideally, should apply to all final consumption with few exemptions. Many governments exempt goods like groceries; base broadening, such as including groceries, could keep rates lower. A sales tax should exempt business-to-business transactions which, when taxed, cause tax pyramiding.