From My Family to Yours!

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!  We made a whole spread from scratch and everything was amazing!  By far the big winner was my new stuffing recipe and I thought I’d share the recipe!  It was so good, I will be bringing it to literally every holiday party this year!

A shot of our dinner!

A shot of our dinner!

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds of sourdough bread
8 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 diced yellow onion
2 stalks diced celery
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and diced
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp  kosher salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spicy sausage
1 cup turkey stock
1 cup dried cranberries

To actually make the stuffing, you should rip up all your bread into smallish pieces and lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake them for about 7 minutes at 300 degrees.

While you’re baking the bread, melt the butter in a pan and add the onions, celery, apples, parsley, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables are softened. By now your kitchen will smell so good!  Throw the mixture in with your baked bread crumbs and start mixing them into a bowl.

Next, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned and cooked through and add it into the bread mixture with the stock and cranberries, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle and you’re done!

This recipe is somewhat modified from the original found here.

Dementia and the Holidays

Are you celebrating the holidays with someone who suffers from some sort of dementia? Last weekend, I picked up some super helpful tips from the Alzheimer’s Association that I think are worth sharing with you:

1. Bring copies of important estate planning documents, such as Financial Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directives if you are traveling.

2. Take care of yourself!  By managing your own stress, you may also lessen your loved one’s stress.  Make commitments to holiday parties and events on a tentative basis dependent on how you and your loved one are faring at the time.

3. Maintain your daily routines.

4.  Wear nametags at events, such as dinner parties. holiday celebration!  Your loved one will appreciate that they are not forced to recall everyone’s names.

5.  Avoid confusing decorations, such as plastic foods, and overstimulating decorations, like too many lights, blinking lights, and candles.

Above all, remember to have a good time!  Finding ways to include your loved one in the festivities and obtain some time for yourself are essential to a great

Image courtesy of arztsamui at Freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at Freedigitalphotos.net

Is it Time to Review My Trust?

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Estate planning is a process, just like other aspects of your financial planning.  As a result, you should review your trust regularly to keep up with the changing times and your changing circumstances.  But, how often should you review your estate plan?

Annual Review

I recommend reviewing your trust and other estate planning documents on your own each year.  Doing so ensures that you are keeping your guardian, executor, trustee, and POAs updated, and that your distribution plan is still what you want.  In most cases, you can get by reviewing only these sections since they are typically the most customized portions of your estate plan.  Your annual review also makes it more likely that you will catch any errors that were made before it’s too late.  Pick a time of year that you can remember and make a date to get out your estate planning portfolio!

Life-changing Review

Anyone who has a name in your trust may change your trust.  You may soften against a disinherited child or decide to leave more to your grandchildren.  You may sell a home or purchase a rental property.  You may inherit substantial property yourself!  People may be born, get married, get divorced, and die.  Whatever the case, when something life-changing happens, make sure that you have not created unintended consequences in your estate plan, such as leaving a substantial amount to your child’s ex-spouse or former step-children!

Regular Review

For those keeping count, we have seen 6 changes in the estate tax level since 2000, a year of no estate tax, and now annual inflation adjustments.  Additionally, the thresholds for filing a probate in California were increased, meaning fewer individuals must specifically plan for probate avoidance.  We have seen the invention of “portability,” a unique estate tax feature that allows spouse’s to use each other’s exclusion amounts. Old Health Care Directives may even have expired!  For these reasons, the overall structure of your estate plan may be more burdensome than you need; for example, many A-B trusts are not necessary for tax planning purposes!  Reviewing your estate plan with your attorney every 3-5 years will ensure that your estate plan has kept pace with the law!

So, if your estate plan portfolio has gathered a layer of dust, get it out, clean it up, and look at it!  You may be surprised by what you see!

Protecting Your Kiddos!

Having a child is a huge step in your life.  You are responsible for the care and well-being
of your children, which can seriously impact your estate plan.  Whether your goal is to preserve assets for their adulthood, provide for their guardian, or encourage positive behaviors, estate planning is necessary!

Image Courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Spouses spend a lot of time together and, as a result, are more likely to die together. In the event of an unfortunate accident, it is important to have a plan for guardianship. Failure to name a guardian often leads to intense court battles between two sides of the family, which can confuse and traumatize the children. Some issues to consider when choosing a guardian include:
● Willingness to Act as Guardian
● Religion and Values
● Location and School District
● Finances
Considering and planning for each of these issues is vital to successfully placing your children with an appropriate caregiver. You can’t control whether you may leave your minor children, but you can control their transition if you do!

Happy Halloween!

mage Courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Change Your Life? Change Your Plan!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone is aflutter over the Powerball as the state rakes in money on ticket sales while millions of people around the country pray for a big break to the tune of $425 million.  What gets people excited about the lottery is usually fantasizing about the fancy cars and the big house your new-found wealth can provide you.  One of my favorite fantasies comes from a friend who would like to “travel with an entourage!”  But, as they say, easy come, easy go.  So what should you really know if you strike it big tonight?

You do not play anonymously

Your name, hometown, and place where you purchased the ticket will become public information as soon as you claim your prize.  However, for the Powerball, you have up to one year to make your claim.  After your win, you may be solicited by various financial professionals and hounded by the media.This gives you some time before you claim your prize to decide how you want to handle your winnings and who you want to hire to help you manage the winnings.  You can also get advice about whether to do a press conference or how to handle the media.

The Tax Man Cometh

The state of California does not tax lottery winnings, making it one of vary few tax free transactions in California!  The IRS, on the other hand, does tax winnings.  It is important to get competent advice about whether you should take the periodic payout or lump sum, and what taxes will be withheld under what circumstances.

Estate Planning

Perhaps the most important challenge will be good estate planning advice.  High net worth individuals have particular estate planning needs.  Depending on your net worth before winning, your current estate plan may not take into consideration such things as the estate tax, which will certainly be a consideration now!  Finding good financial and estate planning professionals (who are different from each other!) is a key part of laying the foundation for financial well-being in the long term.

Once you have carefully considered all of these issues that come along with winning a large lottery payout….maybe you can go ahead and get that car!

Should I Use An Online Provider for my Estate Plan?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am, of course, not frequently asked this question directly, but I am nevertheless confronted with the reality that the low price of online estate planning is a tempting alternative for many individuals.  However, the belief that you are buying “the same thing,” for a lower price may not be true.

Online estate planning cannot do certain things that good legal counsel can do.  It cannot give you advice or help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages between different types of documents.  One of the primary benefits of hiring an attorney to help with your documents is for advice.  Your attorney can help alert you to potential problems that exist in your situation already or that you may be creating in your plan.  Your attorney will help you decide who to appoint into positions of power, such as trustee or power of attorney and how to determine what powers may be exercised and when and by whom.

Online estate planning cannot follow up with you.  When the law changes in a manner that affects your estate plan, you can always contact your attorney to review your documents or discuss whether the changing laws affect you.  Your attorney may, similarly, follow up with you.  Similarly, your attorney can help ensure that your assets are properly funded into your trust.  Failure to properly fund your trust can completely negate everything you were trying to accomplish with your estate plan!

Online estate planning cannot testify.  In the event of challenge to your estate plan for any reason: ambiguity in the language, incapacity, undue influence, or other issues, the circumstances of your plan’s execution and your intent may be called into question.  In these instances, your estate planning attorney may be called to testify on behalf of their work.  However, in the case of online estate planning, there may not be anyone who can speak on your behalf.

These are the services you receive from a competent attorney. The real question is not whether it is worth it for you to pay an attorney to help you with your estate plan; instead it is whether the attorney you are paying is providing you with forms or with service.

Putting the “Trust” in Trustee

For many who are putting off estate planning, one of their primary concerns is who will take care of everything once they are not able to do so. This could happen while you are alive if, for example, you are in a coma or suffer from Alzheimer’s, or it may happen after you are deceased. Contemplating who will step into your shoes, pay your bills, manage your assets, and maybe even raise your children is a daunting task indeed! However, it is a decision that you should control!

Image courtesy of  arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Without any sort of estate plan, the court makes all the decisions for you: if you are alive, a conservator may be appointed. Your children may have a guardian appointed. After death, your assets will be controlled by a court-appointed executor and distributed according to the statutory preferences to certain family members. As it happens, if you really can’t come up with anyone to step into these roles, you may still allow the court to appoint someone while directing the rest of your estate.

However, chances are good that there is someone in your life you trust for each of these capacities. Perhaps a sibling will take in your children or one of your adult children will be appointed as your executor (or trustee in the case of a trust). Failing to appoint someone can cause chaos and resentment among the individuals jockeying for that power. If you don’t trust anyone you know well enough to appoint them, there are still other options! You could appoint a private professional fiduciary to handle your affairs; by taking control of your own plan, you can interview several and choose the fiduciaries you find most capable. Similarly, you could use a corporate trustee, although their fees are generally higher. In short, if your primary concern is that you don’t know who to trust, speaking with your attorney about your options can help!

Wedding Planning

Image courtesy of Timeless Photography at  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Timeless Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had a fantastic opportunity to network with people in the Wedding Planning industry earlier this week. In the room filled with photographers, personal trainers, event coordinators, and more many asked “What are you doing here?” Perhaps rightfully so, no one expected to meet an attorney at the event, but one of my very good friends makes invitations and stationary and we decided to attend together. Throughout the evening, I raised awareness about estate planning, particularly for people who are planning to marry.

If you are planning to marry, consider some of the following common issues in my next coming articles and how you will handle them if they apply to you. Then, consider whether it is time to seek legal advice and put pen to paper for an estate plan customized to your particular needs. In today’s article…

You are young and broke and don’t need a lawyer.

Think again! A common misconception is that if estate planning is only for people who are rich, elderly, or both. However, an estate plan is not merely to manage finances in creative ways to avoid issues like the estate tax. Instead, estate planning gives you the chance to determine what happens if something unexpected happens. Throughout my young adulthood, my mother was constantly telling me to get health insurance: “What if you get in a car accident?!” she would exclaim. And what if, indeed. Who would pay my bills? Who would manage my care? Who would make decisions on my behalf even temporarily? At a minimum, each of my parents would have had an equal claim to be in charge; now, my husband is in the mix. Thankfully, with some basic (read: inexpensive) planning, I am in control of deciding who does what and, to a limited extent, what they do.

When I speak to young couples about estate planning, I often remind them of the Terri Schiavo case. For nearly a decade, a battle raged between her husband and her parents regarding important healthcare decisions and who should decide them. She was 26 when she suffered cardiac arrest that landed her in a “persistent vegetative state.” Due to a lack of planning, courts got involved, her medical privacy was obliterated, and her plight became a national issue. The entire circumstance was avoidable with a small amount of planning.

Get Your What Together?

NPR recently hosted a special guest, Chanel Reynolds, a woman from Seattle who lost her husband in an accident. She was in her 30s when her husband died and she suddenly realized their lack of planning was making her life exceptionally difficult. She created a website, called Get Your S*** Together, which reminds people to do just that, financially. I like her bluntness.

However, she also reminds people that estate planning is not just about deciding who gets what when you die. In many estates, that’s the easy part. It’s about what happens when you’re dying, how people remember you, where your important “things” are like vital documents and old photographs. With the publicity, her story is what Terri Schiavo’s story was 10 years ago: a reminder that you are never too young for estate planning. Some level of estate planning at 18 is not just for rich kids. Instead, POAs should be created once parental control is no longer legally mandated. Wills, trusts, and other aspects of estate planning may be considered in due time, as assets are accumulated and marriages are made. However, keeping a pulse (pun intended) on your plan is one of the main aspects of financial planning. Arguably, it is more important than retirement planning! So take her advice, and get your “stuff” together.

What’s Happening To My Taxes? Part 2

If you are high income, you will find that this year, your tax bill is likely to be higher. The Bush Era Tax cuts have expired with respect to certain taxpayers. However, it isn’t all bad news!

Helpful

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) has (finally!) been indexed to inflation! If you have been subject to the AMT in the past, you are aware that it is essentially a parallel system of taxation. In this alternate tax universe “high income” individuals are required to pay a minimum amount of tax, even when otherwise legitimate tax deductions would allow you a lower rate. However, when first created, the AMT regime applied to high income individuals. Over time, the definition of high income became antiquated with rising incomes and inflation levels so that increasing numbers of people were subject to it. Each year, Congress would “patch” the AMT in an attempt to prevent middle class families from being subject to the AMT without resolving the issue.

Additionally, if your high income has made you wealthy, your estate plan will be happy. Each individual has a $5.25 million exclusion amount from estate taxes in 2013. This amount has also been indexed for inflation so the longer you live, higher it should go. This means married individuals can pass on an estate of $10.5 million to their heirs with proper planning without paying any estate tax!

Hurtful

Immediately, however, you may feel a pinch in your tax bill. The highest marginal tax rate has increased to 39.6%, which is the highest marginal tax rate that existed under President Clinton. Additionally, capital gains tax rates have increased to 20% for filers in the top tax bracket. For all other filers, rates remain 0% or 15% depending on your tax bracket. There is also a brand new tax, part of Obamacare, of 3.8% on investment income if your Adjusted Gross Income is over $200,000 ($250,000 if married). If you generate substantial investment income, it would be wise to plan ahead for your tax liability throughout 2013.