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  • Archive for December, 2011

    Don’t Forget the Final (And Crucial) Step to Setting Up Your Trust

    Friday, December 30th, 2011

    Once you’ve worked with your attorney to create the perfect trust to protect your family, you’ll need to re-title any assets you’d like to be protected into to name of your trust. This is called Funding. Funding a trust is not difficult at all, but when you don’t know where to start it can seem daunting. The result is that even the best of us may be tempted to procrastinate, sometimes to the point of negligence.

    Here are a few tips to get you started on the process. Each trust will be different, but the following suggestions are a foundation to begin funding just about every revocable trust:

    * Bank Accounts: For this you will need your Certification of Trust. This is the document your bank will require to put your account(s) in the name of your trust. With this document it’s a quick matter to stop by the bank some afternoon and ask them to make your trust the owner of your accounts. NOTE: You should NOT be required to change the name on your checks or bank cards!

    * Real Property: Check your records to make sure your home is in the name of your trust. Even if you know you transferred your home into your revocable trust, refinancing will often result in your home being taken out of it. If your home is not owned by the trust, contact your attorney to have it put back in.

    * Stocks and Investments: Contact your broker, financial advisor, or transfer agent to change the title of the investment accounts to the name of the trust. For stocks owned outside of an investment account, ask for the certificate to be re-issued in the name of your trust.

    * Personal Property: Tangible personal property such as antiques or artwork often cannot be titled in the name of a trust. But you can tell your attorney you’d like to sign an Assignment of Personal Property, sometimes called a Comprehensive Transfer Document. This states your intention to hold all of your tangible property in the name of, and for the benefit of, your revocable trust.

    Don’t let your trust turn into an empty shell. The funding process is much easier than you think. Once you get started you’ll gather momentum quickly. Before you know it your assets and your family will all be safely protected, and you can truly heave that big sigh of relief.

    3 Steps to Help Protect Your Family and Your Future in 2012

    Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

    We all want to ensure our loved ones are protected and provided for, but sometimes the process of doing so can appear overwhelming, and prevent you from even taking the first steps. When it comes to protecting your family and your future with an estate plan, the process can actually be as easy as 1… 2… 3…

    1. Assessment. The first step to creating a plan that can protect your family, your future, and your family’s future begins with simply taking stock of what you have and where you are. Begin by making a list of all your assets, including your house, stocks, investments, bank accounts and personal property. Next consider your responsibilities and goals: what are your plans for the future or for retirement? Who do you wish to provide for in your will? Do you have a spouse or children who might benefit from a trust?

    2. Implementation. Now it’s time to put all that information you gathered in step one into play. The particulars of your estate will have a great impact on how you build your estate plan: A small estate and straightforward inheritance plan may require only a well-drafted will, while a larger estate may benefit from the asset protections found with a trust. Your goals for the future and your wishes for your family will have an equally large impact on your choice of estate planning strategies as well, including whether to include an education trust for young students, a pet trust for your furry family members, or a retirement trust to protect your own investments. An estate planning attorney can help you understand your options and implement the strategy you feel works best for your family.

    3. Follow-Through. Once your estate plan is drafted, signed, and tucked safely away you’ll want to ensure that it continues working as you intend it to. The best way to do this is to review your plan with your estate planning attorney every 2 or 3 years. Your family and financial situation is likely to change over the years—estate taxes and laws change as well—and all the hard work you put into creating your plan can be undone if you don’t keep up with the changes.

    New Year’s Resolutions: Protecting Your Minor Children

    Friday, December 23rd, 2011

    Parents of young children always seem to be busy, and we know that it can be difficult to find the time to think about something that you hope will never happen. With all the “To Do’s” and distractions out there, too many parents simply avoid thinking about a will, trust, or guardianship for their children; hoping that it will never be needed. But your children deserve more than good luck and crossed fingers, and we recommend making 2012 the year that you take the (sometimes difficult) steps necessary to ensure that your minor children are protected no matter what the future may bring.

    1. Create a nomination of guardians for your children. The single-most important step you can take to ensure the well-being of your children is to execute a nomination of guardians. This is the document that names who you believe are the best and most loving people to parent your children if something should happen to you. This document is your children’s best protection against unqualified guardians or the foster care system.

    2. Talk to your attorney about protecting your children’s inheritance (and in some cases protecting your children from receiving an inheritance too soon) with a trust. With a trust you can ensure that your children will be provided for financially until they reach adulthood, as well as leave a legacy for your children which includes your financial, philanthropic, and educational values.

    3. Invest in your child’s higher education. Education is more important than ever in our current economic situation, and parents can resolve in 2012 to secure their child’s education by setting up a 529 education savings plan. This is something that parents can contribute to regularly, as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles, and more. A 529 plan that you set up today will be there even if you can’t be. After all, protecting your child’s future doesn’t stop when they reach 18.

    If you have other questions or concerns about how to protect your minor children please contact our office today. We can help ensure your children will be provided for—and that you will have the peace of mind you deserve.

    New Year’s Resolutions: Taking Control of Your Health in 2012

    Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

    Without a doubt the most frequent and popular New Year’s Resolutions made each year have to do with health. People resolve to exercise more, to lose weight, to eat better, etc. But far too few people are aware that in addition being healthy in body and mind, there are steps you can (and should) take to protect your medical future and privacy as well.

    1. Think about your medical future and put your wishes into writing. How would you like to be cared for in the event that you are incapacitated? How long (and by what measures) would you like to be kept alive if you were to be irrevocably injured or diagnosed with a terminal illness? Who would you like making these decisions for you if you were unable to make them for yourself? These are the issues addressed in an advanced healthcare directive or a living will—documents every adult should have not only for their own peace of mind, but for the peace of mind of their family and loved ones as well.

    2. Execute a HIPAA to help protect your medical privacy. A HIPAA Authorization is the document that lets your doctors and other health care providers know who may receive information about your medical status and treatment. Not only does this protect your privacy, but it ensures that the people who should be informed about your medical status will have access to the information they need.

    3. Consider your eventual long-term care needs and look into long-term care insurance as a safety net. There is no way to know for sure which of us will need long-term care, but as life-expectancy increases the chances that any of us will need long-term care increase along with it. You can plan for this eventuality and protect yourself and your family from being hit too hard by the expenses of long-term care by investing in long-term care insurance. There are a few options available for long-term care insurance, and our office can help you choose which plan might be best for you.

    New Year’s Resolutions: Achieving Your Financial Goals for 2012 and Beyond

    Monday, December 19th, 2011

    As the old year draws to a close and the new year approaches, many people are taking the time to reflect on 2011 and look forward to 2012, making the traditional New Year’s Resolutions for the year ahead. Many of these resolutions will be very personal—having to do with exercise, work, or personal habits, but there will be some resolutions that can be made which will benefit not just an individual, but their family and loved ones as well. The focus of our blog this week will be on which resolutions you can make to benefit your family and loved ones in 2012, and how we can help.

    Times have been tough financially for a lot of people over the past few years, and although things are finally beginning to look up, many people will still be making New Year’s resolutions that focus on fiscal responsibility and financial security. Below are three financial resolutions that can help your family in 2012:

    1. Take stock of your current financial situation. Being well-informed and keeping good records of your income, expenses, investments and assets is absolutely essential for good financial health. If something happened to you tomorrow would your spouse or family know what to do and have access to the documents or information needed to protect or pass on your estate? Make a list of all your assets and investments, including account numbers and contact information and keep it in a safe place where your financial agent (or someone else you trust) can find it if and when necessary.

    2. Make an investment plan for the future. As with anything in life, it’s important to be prepared for what the future may hold. Having a five year, ten year, and fifty year plan for your financial future is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. When making your plans take into account your current situation, your future goals, and your wildest hopes and dreams for the years ahead. Consult with a knowledgeable financial advisor who can help you plan for and achieve these goals.

    3. Protect your assets. We live in a litigious and uncertain world and protecting the assets you have is of the utmost importance. Our firm can help you evaluate and implement the many options available to you to protect your assets. The asset protection strategies you choose will depend on the nature of your assets, the situation of your family, and your goals for the future.

    Taking the right steps in 2012 can mean a strong financial base now, as well as a bright and secure future in the years ahead for you and your family. Our firm would like to help protect that future. Call us today.

    Who Will Be Making Your Difficult Healthcare Decisions?

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

    A recent article in the LA Times reminds us of just how important it is to have some kind of living will or advanced healthcare directive, and that it is absolutely necessary to talk about these things with your loved ones. If you have not done these things it is your loved ones who will be left to make the painful and terrible decisions about your medical treatment and possibly even the heart-wrenching DNR determination.

    The author writes of his father—chronically ill, stroke survivor, suffering from mild but advancing dementia—who is currently staying in a nursing home, “where they’ve put him on a diet of pureed foods and thickened liquids, but he often refuses to eat, demanding to be taken home and fed the home cooking he’s always loved. It’s hard to tell him that may never happen, and that his options are increasingly grim. If my dad can’t eat, a feeding tube will be his only choice. Other than giving up the fight.”

    The family is now struggling to decide if a feeding tube is the right course of action, what their father would (or does) want, and how involved he should be in the decision considering his current state of mental health. “We worry… that with mild but advancing dementia, my father won’t be able to fully comprehend the implications of being fed through a tube implanted in his gut. And if he declines it, is he competent to make that decision?” These are the heart-breaking decisions that can leave loved ones asking themselves for years after, “Did we do the right thing?”

    We often shy away from talking about these issues with our family members and loved ones. We think that they are too sad, too depressing, or too far into the future to worry about yet. The only thing that can make these decisions even the tiniest bit easier, however, is knowing for certain what your loved one would want; and the only way to know for certain is to talk about your feelings with your family, and to put your wishes in writing with a living will or healthcare directive. Our office can help you do this.

    More often than not the best that can be hoped for in a situation like the one discussed above is that some measure of peace is attained. We wish this for the author of the article and his family, and we wish this for any of our readers involved in similarly difficult and painful circumstances.

    Friendly Reminder to Take Advantage of Tax Deductions Before Year’s End

    Monday, December 12th, 2011

    As 2011 draws to a close just about everybody has their minds on vacation, travel, and gift-buying, so we just wanted to take a moment to remind all of our readers to take advantage of your tax deductions and allowances before the year is over. These may include sending a check to your favorite charity, giving a generous cash gift to children or grandchildren, or selling securities that have lost money this year.

    This isn’t all you can do to wrap up your 2011 tax package. This article in the New York Times explains that the next two years of tax policy are likely to be a bit rocky, and that “beyond the usual recommendations… you should use this year to get your affairs in order for what promises to be an uncertain two years of tax policy.”

    If you’re not sure which deductions might apply to you, our office (along with the article mentioned above) has come up with a list of tax breaks to consider:

    1. Charitable gifts to most non-profit organizations are tax deductible; and while you can’t deduct any time you spend volunteering, you can deduct any out-of-pocket expenses incurred while volunteering.

    2. You can give monetary gifts of up to $13,000 to as many individuals as you would like without incurring the gift tax.

    3. The 30% energy tax credits of 2010 expired at the end of last year, but new (albeit lower) credits were passed for 2011. Check the energy star website for information if you made any energy-efficient improvements to your home this year.

    4. If you are over 70½ you are currently allowed “to directly donate the required minimum withdrawal from [your] retirement account to charity.” (This is something that may disappear with new tax laws in 2012.)

    5. Teachers are allowed to deduct up to $250 spent on classroom expenses.

    6. A significant tax loophole set to end this year is one that “allows people whose marginal tax bracket is under 15 percent to pay no capital gains tax when selling securities held for more than a year.”

    These are only a few of the tax strategies you may want to consider before the end of the year. For more tax-saving strategies please talk to your financial advisor.

    Long Term Care Insurance Is Tax Deductible for Business Owners

    Friday, December 9th, 2011

    By now most people, when planning for their “Golden Years”, know that they need to consider the possibility that they may need long-term care at some point in time, and that long-term care insurance is a logical option for this purpose. What most people don’t know is that if you are self-employed or own your own business the cost of your insurance premiums could be tax deductible.

    A recent article in Forbes reveals that “self-employed folks with business income that passes through onto their personal returns… can deduct 100% of the premiums paid for themselves (and spouse) as a business expense, just like health insurance. These folks are still subject to the age-related premium limits, but that doesn’t necessarily limit [their] deduction.”

    This could be a HUGE incentive for self-employed business owners who tend to lag behind their traditionally-employed counterparts in saving for future retirement expenses. It’s not that business owners are less concerned about their futures than their peers, but that as entrepreneurs struggle to get their small business off the ground in the early years they are more likely to put any extra income back into their business, rather than investing it for retirement. This tax-deduction for long-term care insurance can be just what entrepreneurs need to put them back on equal footing.

    In today’s economy traditional employees and entrepreneurs alike need all the help they can get saving for the future and protecting the assets they have. To find out more about this, or other strategies to prepare yourself and your family for what we hope will be a long and prosperous retirement, please contact our office.

    Could A Trust Be Good For Your Family?

    Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

    The answer to the title question is that just about every family can benefit from a trust. The rich and famous tend to utilize trusts because of the privacy they provide, the long-term asset protection, the tax benefits, and their flexibility; but each and every family, regardless of fame or income, can reap the exact same benefits making a trust a part of their estate plan.

    According to this article on the CNN Money website, you can benefit from a trust “if you have a net worth of at least $100,000 and meet one of the following conditions…

    • “A sizable amount of your assets is in real estate, a business or an art collection;
    • You want to leave your estate to your heirs in a way that is not directly and immediately payable to them upon your death. For example, you may want to stipulate that they receive their inheritance in three parts, or upon certain conditions being met, such as graduating from college;
    • You want to support your surviving spouse, but also want to ensure that the principal or remainder of your estate goes to your chosen heirs (e.g., your children from a first marriage) after your spouse dies;
    • You and your spouse want to maximize your estate-tax exemptions;
    • You have a disabled relative whom you would like to provide for without disqualifying him or her from Medicaid or other government assistance.”

    The article goes on to explain that depending on your assets, your family, and your goals you may have a number of different trust options to choose from. The article gives very helpful explanation of the various types of trusts you may have available to you, and will give an idea of just how powerful and flexible a trust can be.

    What the article doesn’t mention is that some of these trusts can be used in conjunction with each other, to provide layers of protection and control of your assets. The world of trusts is complex, but full of potential. Please contact our office (or your own local estate planner) to learn more about trusts, and determine how a trust might be good for your family.

    Nursing Home Etiquette to Remember During Holiday Visits

    Monday, December 5th, 2011

    Nursing homes during the holiday season tend to see a little more activity than they do during the rest of the year, whether because of families coming to visit loved ones, or local groups or individuals bringing holiday cheer to residents who may not have family living nearby. Taking time to visit with nursing home residents during this time of year can be an immensely rewarding experience for all involved, especially if new or infrequent visitors keep a few simple rules of etiquette in mind:

    1. Call the nursing home staff ahead of time to schedule your visit. This not only ensures that you won’t be interrupting any previously scheduled mealtimes or activities, it also gives the residents something to look forward to (and prepare for, if necessary.)

    2. Be aware of what to expect. Some will have physical disabilities such as trouble with their hearing, eyesight, or ability to move freely. Some residents may have Alzheimer’s or dementia and may have trouble remembering people or conversations. If you aren’t sure how to respond in certain situations you can ask a member of the nursing staff for advice.

    3. Knock before you enter a room. The residents’ rooms are their homes and should be treated as their personal and private space. It is polite to ask permission before entering a room or before handling personal objects on display, but residents will likely welcome queries or questions about photos or personal objects, and this is an excellent way to get a conversation started.

    4. Be a good listener. Elderly residents have a lot of history and experience to share, and providing a friendly and attentive ear will be gratifying not only to your elderly friend or relative, but will likely be a fascinating experience for you as well.

    5. Be aware of your host’s energy level. Nursing home residents can often tire quickly and 20-30 minutes may be a tiring visit for them. (On the other hand, if you and your host are in the middle of a conversation or game there is no need to rush through to stick to an arbitrary schedule.)

    6. Bring photos, cards, or board games with you. Conversation will not always flow easily and freely, and having a back-up plan such as a deck of cards can dispel awkward silences. You may also consider offering to write or read letters for residents who may have trouble with these activities.

    7. Don’t promise to visit again unless you truly intend to follow through and can even put it on your calendar right then and there. Nursing home residents may not get many visitors, breaking an appointment can be a heavy disappointment for your friend or relative.