(BPT) - What's the state of your estate? Robert Fishbein, a vice president and corporate counsel in Prudential Financial's Tax Department, says now's a good time to find out.
Changes in federal estate tax law have significantly increased the amount at which federal estate tax is triggered, says Fishbein. The individual exemption is $5.49 million (2017 amount, indexed for inflation) so a couple can accumulate almost $11 million dollars of assets without federal estate tax depleting the value.
The $5.49 million will increase over time. As a result, most individuals no longer need an estate plan to minimize federal estate tax.
That said, Fishbein adds, there are compelling reasons for having an estate plan, and three core documents you'll need to create one: a power of attorney, a living will or health care proxy, and a will. In this article, Fishbein describes these core documents and how you can use them.
Power of attorney
A power of attorney is the document designating someone to make financial decisions for you, whether you're out of the country for a long period, have a physical injury preventing you from conducting business in person, or are mentally incapacitated.
A power of attorney can be "springing" - going into effect upon your incapacity - or "durable," meaning it goes into effect immediately. The challenge with a springing power of attorney is it can be subject to disagreement and dispute between the holder of the power and another family member. One solution is to require the incapacity be certified by a physician, although even those findings can be disputed.
With the durable power of attorney, there's no basis for contesting whether the holder of the power can act. The risk is the holder has the immediate right and ability to access and take action with respect to the financial assets subject to the power. One possible strategy? Limit the power to specific assets. This won't help if the grantor if the power is totally incapacitated and the holder may need access to all of the grantor's assets.
A durable power of attorney is arguably less problematic, provided you are comfortable with the person you're choosing. The holder of the power has a legal obligation, as a fiduciary of the grantor, to act in the best interests of the grantor and not in his or her interests.
It makes sense to have a power of attorney so you know your financial affairs will be attended to. The alternative could be a costly judicial process and court appointment of someone to manage your assets while you are living and unable to do so yourself.
Living will and health care proxy
A "living will" ensures your health care wishes are acted upon if you are unable to make such decisions. It lets you describe the types of treatment you do or don't want under specific circumstances. For example, if you have a terminal illness, you may not want extraordinary measures taken to save your life. The challenge is it's almost impossible to anticipate all possible scenarios to indicate what health care treatment you'll want.
An alternative to a pure living will is a "living will and health care proxy," wherein you designate an individual to make health care choices for you. The living will portion describes in general terms your health care philosophy, and the health care proxy allows you to name an individual to make health care choices for you consistent with that philosophy. The choice of such an individual is important, and you should make sure you are comfortable he or she understands and will act consistent with your wishes.
You should have a living will drawn up as part of your basic estate planning. Again, the alternative is a costly legal process for someone - maybe not of your choice - to get appointed as your proxy to make health care decisions on your behalf.
Last will and testament
A "last will and testament" serves several important purposes, including determining how your assets are distributed, who'll care for your minor children and who'll invest and distribute property held in trust for your children, grandchildren or other beneficiaries. The basic function of a last will and testament is to ensure your assets are distributed as you'd want. Absent a will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with applicable state law.
You'll also designate the legal guardian, and possible successors, for any minor children who survive you and your spouse. This is one of the most important and difficult decisions for parents - so difficult that it sometimes can hold up the entire estate plan. But agreement by the parents is important and avoids the possibility of someone else being court-appointed who may or may not share your child-rearing views.
With the increase of the federal estate tax exemption and an individual's ability to use the exemption of a deceased spouse, trusts for federal estate tax planning have been made largely irrelevant for most individuals. However, if you have minor children who could take property if both you and your spouse die, or grandchildren who could take property if a child of yours dies and leaves children, you'll probably need trusts to hold property for those beneficiaries. Such trusts will enable you to determine who'll invest the trust property, how it'll be used for the child's benefit and at what age the beneficiary will receive the remaining property.
Think you don't have a large enough estate to warrant setting up trusts for your beneficiaries? Consider even the most basic estate when you own a house, have retirement assets and maybe additional investments or property. Given the total value of these assets, you'd probably want to hold them in trust for minor heirs. If there's life insurance, a trust for younger beneficiaries will almost certainly make sense.
Although federal estate tax is no longer a significant consideration for most individuals, you may want to consider the cost of state estate tax. The state exemption is sometimes less than the federal exemption, and state estate tax can take a meaningful bite out of what you expect to leave to your beneficiaries.
Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and its financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax and legal advisors for advice concerning your particular circumstances.
The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.
(BPT) - It's probably safe to say handing cash to Uncle Sam does not top the list of your favorite things. When it comes to filing taxes, making a small mistake can mean paying more taxes than you need to or forking over cash to cover penalties.
Fortunately, there's an easy way to make sure your tax return is mistake-free: just take a little extra time to double check your work. Here's a closer look at the six most common tax-filing errors and tips to help you avoid making them.
1. Mistake: Not reporting all income. Reporting your income is easy if your employer sends you a wage statement (called Form W-2) documenting what you made throughout the year. But what about the money you earned from any freelance work? Unfortunately, many people forget to report extra income from side jobs such as photography shoots, design projects and Etsy shops.
How to avoid the error: Depending on how much you earned, you may receive an "information return" called Form 1099 from the institution that paid you. There are numerous 1099 forms that report different types of income earned during the year, but in some cases you may not receive the document. For example, if you earn less than $600 as a freelance writer, the institution is not required to send you Form 1099-MISC. However, you still need to include the amount earned in your total annual income so it's important to keep your own records of each transaction.
"To help accurately report your income, review last year's return and match your income sources item by item," says TaxAct Director of tax development, Mark Jaeger. "If you discover you haven't received a 1099 for your work, last year's return will serve as a reminder to ask about it. Keep in mind, all freelance or side-gig income is reported on Schedule C as part of your Form 1040."
2. Mistake: Mistyping bank accounts and personal information. Believe it or not, incorrect bank account numbers or personal information - like Social Security Numbers - is one of the main reasons tax returns are rejected. Using a nickname or a shortened version of your legal name also lands near the top of the list.
How to avoid the error: Double - or triple - check any personal or bank account information before you submit your completed tax return. "If you need help figuring out account information, don't be afraid to ask your bank for assistance," Jaeger says.
3. Mistake: Paying too much to file your taxes. Whether you tap a tax professional or choose a DIY tax provider that charges an arm and a leg for their product, paying too much to file your return is a mistake.
How to avoid the error: Fortunately, filers have more affordable options to choose from. When looking for DIY options, do some comparison shopping. The leading tax preparation software providers offer similar features and benefits, but the price points can widely vary. In many cases, prices increase as the filing deadline nears. Look for a provider like TaxAct that not only offers a low price, but also guarantees your price won't increase if you start your online return but wait to file later.
4. Mistake: Not e-filing. While 91 percent of tax returns were e-filed in 2016, there are still filers who file a paper return. Going the pencil and paper route often means longer tax return processing times.
How to avoid the error: Electronic filing (e-filing) is the quickest and most accurate way to file your tax return. In fact, the IRS typically processes e-filed returns within 48 hours. If you're due a refund, you'll get it quicker if you e-file and choose direct deposit.
5. Mistake: Incorrect calculations. When the IRS receives your tax return, one of the first steps the agency takes is to check the figures to make sure they add up. Unfortunately, it's easy to miscalculate numbers - especially if you're in a rush or aren't sure what to add or subtract.
How to avoid the error: First, take your time and double check all numbers. Second, consider using DIY tax software so you don't have to do the math on your own.
6. Mistake: Using the wrong filing status. Choosing the wrong filing status, like Head of Household instead of Single, can have a great impact on your tax rates, the number of personal exemptions you can claim, your qualifications for certain tax deductions, credits and more.
How to avoid the error: Before starting your return, review the five different filing statuses to help you select the one most appropriate for your tax situation. Carefully selecting the right one will help you feel confident you're taking the right steps to maximize your tax outcome.
(BPT) - It's almost that time of year again - you prepare for the holidays and start thinking about what you want your New Year's resolution to be.
According to research from Nielsen, one quarter of Americans want to spend less and save more money in the New Year. If you're one of these people, follow these five easy tips to stay on track financially in 2017.
Automate payments into your savings account.
When payday rolls around, it can be tempting to pocket every last dollar. But realistically, it's difficult to save money that's right in front if you. Instead, automate payments into your savings account before it makes it to your checking account. This way, you won't miss it from your budget, and you'll be on the road to staying true to your New Year's resolution all year.
Everyone knows eating out is more expensive than dining in, but you might not even realize how often you're doing it. When you're on the go, buying lunch or ordering take-out, costs quickly add up. Pre-planning and preparing meals for the week ahead will not only save money but help you eat healthier at the same time.
Rethink your wireless plan.
Do you feel like you're paying too much for your data? In 2017, set yourself free from your overpriced wireless plan. For only $40 a month, Net10 Wireless' no contract cell service makes this easy. You'll get nationwide coverage on one of America's top four networks and the first 3 GB of data at high speeds, then at 2G*. Plus, you can make the switch while keeping your current phone and number with the Net10 Wireless Bring Your Own Phone program. "Ringing" in the New Year is all about making changes for the better, and switching your plan could save you lots in the long run.
Bring the gym home.
Exercising is important, but monthly gym membership fees can make a huge dent in your savings. Instead, try working out at home for a few months by following exercise videos, running outside (weather permitting) or modifying your favorite utilizing home items. If that's not enough, try pay-per-class offerings coupled with your own exercise outside of the gym.
Cut out your cable bill.
Similar to spending too much on a cell data contract, your monthly cable bills could also be hindering your financial goals. How often do you really watch specialty channels anyway? Opting for monthly streaming services can cost you as low as $7.99 per month while offering the same programs and movies you love. Meanwhile, the average cable bill is $99 per month. Making the switch could save you more than $1,000 per year, which just goes to show how sticking to your New Year's resolution can pay off.
*At 2G speeds, the functionality of some data applications, such as streaming audio or video may be affected. Please refer always to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at NET10wireless.com.
Tips for Easy Holiday Shipping
“We know a lot of care goes into finding the perfect gift during the holiday season and our Certified Packing Experts take the same level of care in packing and shipping each gift so you don’t have to,” said Judy Milner, vice president of operations at The UPS Store. “We take care of the details to make your holidays easy and hassle-free.”
Here are five ways you can keep the holidays merry and bright, and experience the excitement of making (and receiving) special deliveries this holiday season.
For domestic delivery for Christmas by Friday, Dec. 23, ship:
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The UPS Store
5 Smart Strategies to Settle an Estate
(Family Features) When a parent passes away, it’s usually left to their offspring to manage and disperse the remaining estate. In the wake of such a loss, emotions can run high, and the sheer amount of paperwork can quickly become overwhelming.
If you’re in the throes of settling an estate, whether by yourself or with the assistance of your siblings, consider these tips to help chart a smoother course.
Get organized. Keep a seemingly endless to-do list manageable by writing everything down. Create a system for prioritizing each task and if there are others who are willing to help, delegate what you can. Establish categories such as bills to pay and other outstanding debts, accounts to close, agencies and organizations that need to be notified of the death and so on.
Know your limits. Some estates are simple and straightforward: There’s a basic will, few assets, known heirs, and it’s easy to grasp what happens next. Others are far more complicated. If you find yourself in over your head, seek help from an expert such as an estate attorney who can guide you through the legalities and paperwork.
Focus on solutions. Remember that even the most seemingly hopeless situations can turn out well if you remain open to exploring solutions. When Karen Jones’ mother passed away, she and her four siblings were left with a house that needed a lot of repairs none of them could afford before it could be sold. Jones learned about HomeVestors from a sister and the two scheduled a free consultation with a local independently owned and operated franchise.
Within 24 hours, Aaron Katz with WinWin Properties presented an offer not only to Jones, but individually to all of her siblings who were not able to meet at the same time. Jones credits Katz’s professionalism, kindness and sensitivity during a difficult time for her family.
An option such as HomeVestors, the largest professional house buying franchise in the nation, offers cash payments and quick closing, which can be helpful in settling an estate. In many cases, homes can also be sold as-is with no repairs and with unwanted contents still inside.
Expect the unexpected. It may come in the form of a change in the will or old letters stashed in a closet, but it’s a safe bet that in settling the estate, you’ll come across something you weren’t expecting. Add this to the emotional simmer you’ve been holding steady and this may be the tipping point to boil you over. Simply put the new information on the back burner for now and return to it later, when you can deal with it more rationally and avoid letting a surprise stain your memories.
Take a break. In the aftermath of a loss, many survivors switch to autopilot, not only to distract their minds from the loss but to regain some sense of control in a situation that can feel helpless. While this coping mechanism may answer a short-term need, be sure to allow yourself time to properly grieve and avoid taking on so much that you neglect your own physical needs, such as food and sleep.
Settling a loved one’s estate isn’t likely to be easy, but taking it all one step at a time will help you take care of business while you make sure you’re still taking care of yourself.
For more information, visit homevestors.com.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
3 Ways Seniors Can Control Prescription Costs
Even if you did nothing to alter your coverage, some features of your plan may have changed for 2017. Getting a handle on Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage is important to your health as well as your pocketbook.
“A survey by Walgreens showed that in order to manage prescription drug costs, some people have delayed filling a current prescription or occasionally skipped prescribed doses to stretch medication,” said John Lee, senior director of Medicare at Walgreens. “This is a real concern as it can pose significant health risks, so it’s vital to evaluate your medical situation, have a plan that best fits your needs and then understand how to get the most value from your plan and pharmacy.”
The survey shows that even though prescription drug costs are among the top concerns for Medicare beneficiaries, approximately one out of every five beneficiaries lacks a good understanding of their insurance plan. Roughly the same percentage falsely believes that all pharmacies charge the same copay and one-third of respondents didn’t know they can switch pharmacies at any time, including outside of the annual enrollment period. The survey reinforced the need to educate beneficiaries about how plans and coverage can and do change from year to year. To make the most of your benefits and find potential cost savings for your prescription medications under your Part D coverage, here are three easy steps to get started:
Use a less expensive brand or generic. The brand-name drug your doctor prescribed can do wonders for your symptoms but be worrisome for your budget. Many brand-name drugs have generic or other brand substitutes. First, make sure your doctor considers generic options. If those options aren’t available, there may be lower-cost brand-name drugs used to treat the same condition. Ask your pharmacist if you have that option then talk with your doctor to see if switching brands makes sense in your situation. Finally, whatever your prescription may be, a 90-day supply from your pharmacy can be less expensive out of pocket than refilling every 30 days.
Verify whether your plan has a preferred pharmacy network. Many prescription drug plans have a preferred pharmacy (preferred cost share) network where you can pay a lower out-of-pocket copay for the exact same drug. Walgreens is in the preferred pharmacy network for many of the largest Medicare sponsors and, effective January 2017, offers copays as low as $0 on generic medications for select plans. Filling a generic medication at a non-preferred pharmacy could cost you $3, $5 or even $10 for the same drug.
Seek Medicare’s Extra Help program and other ways to save. Medicare offers an Extra Help program to help people with limited income and resources pay Medicare prescription drug program costs, like premiums, deductibles and coinsurance. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of your insurance coverage, which may cover non-prescription items, like vaccinations and certain over-the-counter medications.
Medicare beneficiaries seeking help navigating prescription drug costs can find additional resources and a list of Medicare plan sponsors at walgreens.com/medicare.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
(BPT) - There is great unrest in the financial universe. The next disturbance in The Force is anyone's guess. Like the rebels in the forthcoming Star Wars film Rogue One, you seek a new hope. Fear not and reach for a promising investment future.
I. Look to the setting suns.
In Episode IV: A New Hope, a moisture farmer named Luke Skywalker contemplates his future as two suns set. Great challenges loom ahead. Preparations are critical. The same is true of your financial future. Do you have an emergency fund? Are you on track for retirement?
TIP: You must be looking now to see what can happen later.
II. The Force will be with you, always.
The keys to investing success lie inside you-though you shouldn't go it alone. Envision what you'll encounter. Create a strategy to meet those demands. Ask yourself:
* How much can I contribute
* In which areas?
* What does victory look like?
* When will objectives be met?
When fear for the future emerges, seek advice. In Star Wars, Jedi knights guide apprentices. All lean on master Yoda.
TIP: Navigate challenging times with an advisor or representative at your financial institution.
Before dangerous missions in Star Wars, the rebels convene. Strategy is detailed. Difficult questions are asked. Consensus is reached. Regarding your investment plan, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your budget and increase monthly contributions to your portfolio.
"Schedule time on a quarterly basis to review your portfolio's performance," says Kevin Driscoll, vice president of advisory services at Navy Federal Financial Group. "It's a great idea to involve your financial advisor in this process. A second opinion can provide perspective and help you identify areas for improvement."TIP: Plans tend to impact others, so be sure to communicate and collaborate.
IV. Diversify your attack.
An effective strategy in battle employs multiple fronts. In Star Wars, missions combine air and ground tactics. Investing also incorporates "divide and conquer." Experts recommend investing in diverse assets: stocks, bonds, certificates, real estate and more.
TIP: To diversify your portfolio, invest in stocks and bonds across a variety of business sectors.
V. Stay in formation.
Your portfolio will be tested. Be mindful. In Star Wars, Jedi are trained to draw close to each other when threatened. Remember no matter how poorly an investment is performing, history shows the market corrects with time.
"When the market dips, purchase more shares with the same dollar amount. When the market spikes, your owned shares increase in value," Driscoll explains. This investing method is called dollar-cost averaging. It lowers the average cost of shares over time.
TIP: Avoid watching the market too closely. Resist the urge to bail on an asset. Invest consistently, with the long view in mind.
VI. Don't go rogue.
In Star Wars, The Empire has built a vast portfolio of assets on Darth Vader's watch. He offers enticing rewards to bounty hunters who support his regime. Your mission in financial planning is to resist the ever-present temptation to go rogue. Don't be seduced by others' success. Don't jump when a friend asks you to invest in his can't-miss venture (unless his goals align with yours).
TIP: Record your investment plan in writing, which firms up the details. When tested, fall back on the document.
VII. The saga will have many episodes.
Despite your best intentions, some investments will succumb to the dark side of market forces. Remember investing takes patience and fortitude. Like most journeys, the story of your portfolio won't be told in a single chapter.
TIP: Avoid making an investment decision when your emotions run hot or cold.
If there's an example in Star Wars of what not to do in investing, it's Han Solo. He didn't believe in market forces (at first). At times, he struggled to manage obstacles. As we saw in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (and as early as Episode IV: A New Hope), Han didn't take debt seriously. Collectors were after him at every turn. In Episode VI: The Empire Strikes Back, his assets were frozen. Your destiny can be simpler. You don't have to be a swash-buckling smuggler. A moisture farmer from a remote desert outpost can make sound financial decisions toward prosperity.
Face Your Financial Fears
Take action to save for retirement
(Family Features) Retirement is supposed to be a reward for decades of hard work, but if you haven’t planned well, the milestone may be a dark cloud on your horizon. In fact, new data shows that nearly 50 percent of Americans are most afraid of outliving their income or the inability to maintain their current lifestyle, and nearly 20 percent are worried about having enough money to cover health care expenses.
The research, released by the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council (IALC), also found that despite these very real fears, Americans are failing to take action to address them. For example, a quarter of Baby Boomers, the age group closest to retirement, have less than $5,000 saved for retirement and nearly one in five Americans have no idea how much they’ve saved.
The findings indicate that Americans are afraid of the unknown when it comes to managing their money and retirement. While you can budget for leisure and travel, health care expenses and life expectancy are unpredictable.
“Americans are living longer than ever, so it’s no surprise that the No. 1 retirement fear is that they’ll run out of money in their final years,” said Jim Poolman, executive director of the IALC. “Thankfully, there are strategies and products out there that can help you create sufficient retirement income to last throughout your lifetime, which can help with this crippling fear.”
To take control of the uncertainty and create peace of mind when it comes to retirement, here are some simple steps you can follow:
Make a budget.
Balance is key.
Plan to adjust.
Monitor the balance.
Small changes count.
Make it automatic.
Understanding Fixed Indexed Annuities
According to the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council’s research, 45 percent of Americans are interested in retirement products, such as Fixed Indexed Annuities, that offer steady lifetime income and protect your principal even if the stock market goes down.
Find more tips and tools to guide your retirement planning at FIAinsights.org.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
Indexed Annuity Leadership Council
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