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Your Finances: What You Need To Do First When Your Spouse Dies

Your Finances: What You Need To Do First When Your Spouse Dies

 

It’s common for the surviving spouse to feel a bit lost upon the death of their partner. You may not have immediate access to all the household assets or know what information you need to put together for the estate.

This time can be very confusing, so it’s essential to feel that you can enlist your financial team. Your financial advisor, CPA, and attorney should work together to help you manage the transition.

Here are the steps you should take to make the process easier for you as you navigate your new phase of life. You can delegate some of these to a trusted relative or friend to give yourself more time to grieve.

1. Death Certificate: Request multiple copies

For many of these steps, you’ll need a death certificate. Make sure you request multiple copies. Some companies may require an actual certificate and not a copy, so ask what they want when contacting them.

These are not necessarily in the exact order you’ll end up taking them, but the more urgent suggestions are listed first.  

 

2. Locate the will

Hopefully, you and your spouse have both made wills and know where they’re located. If you’re not sure, check where your spouse kept important papers. It could be in a file cabinet or a safe deposit box.

If you’re having difficulty, your estate planning attorney will likely be able to help you since they should have a copy on file.

3. Talk to your estate planning attorney

Every state has different probate requirements, so your lawyer can guide you through the process. “Proving” the will is often the first step taken by the probate court. They’ll also be able to help you with reading the will and settling the estate.

It may take some time for the estate to finally be distributed, depending on how the attorney has set up the estate planning documents. At some point, you may want to revisit your own will, but that doesn’t need to be taken care of right away unless you have an urgent reason for doing so.

If you don’t already have an estate planning attorney, consider asking your financial advisor for a recommendation.

 

4. Talk to your financial advisor

It would be best if you alerted your advisor about the death as soon as possible. They’ll be able to get the paperwork ready to make the necessary changes. You can discuss with them if they have any recommendations for you regarding your budget, financial plan, or investments. 

They most likely have experience in dealing with widows and widowers, so they can help guide you through some of your decisions.

 

5. Call the Social Security Administration

 

You will need to call or visit your local office in person. You may qualify for survivor’s benefits, whether or not your spouse had already begun collecting Social Security retirement payments.

Most likely, you’ll need your spouse’s Social Security number for this, so have it handy when you call or visit.

 

Are you on track for retirement?

Making sure you will be ready for retirement can be overwhelming. Funding your retirement accounts over the years is just one part of your journey to the retirement of your dreams. A Certified Financial PlannerTM can help you navigate the complexities of financial planning. Talk to a Financial Planner>

6. Call the Veterans Administration if your spouse served in the US armed forces

Similarly, you may be able to claim benefits from the VA, depending on the length of service. There may be some funding that you were not previously aware of, so it’s always a good idea to check with them when you have a military spouse.

 

7. Collect documents

 

You’ll find it’s much easier to gather all the necessary items before you begin contacting people. In addition to the will and Social Security information, you’ll want birth, marriage, divorce (if applicable), and death certificates. In addition, find tax returns, banking, credit card, investment account, retirement account, pension plan, and loan statements (including mortgage) as applicable.

It will also help have your house deed, car titles, insurance statements, and bills in one spot.

 

8. Let employers know

There may be benefits that you can receive as the spouse of a deceased employee. Often you can start your search with the Human Resources department. They’ll be able to advise you if there’s a different number you should call. 

There are several employers you should call, not just the current or most recent company.

Your spouse’s current/most recent employer if retired

Find out what benefits may be available to beneficiaries, as well as the details of the retirement plan or pension. If your family is covered through your spouse’s health insurance, contact them as well to make sure you can continue coverage.

Your employer

Frequently, a spouse’s death is considered a “life event” that may allow you to claim some benefits. Check with your HR to determine whether you are eligible for any additional aid.

Your spouse’s previous employers

You may have access to a pension, retirement account, insurance payout, or other benefit you or your spouse may not have been aware of.

 

10. Notify insurance companies

It does take some time for life insurance and health insurance companies to process death claims, so you want to do this sooner rather than later. They will likely send you paperwork to fill out. Ask for instructions because the forms aren’t always clear.

For your property and casualty insurance, you’ll need to remove your spouse’s name to put everything in your name. Check policies for auto, homeowners, umbrella, etc.

11. Change titles and beneficiaries on jointly-held property

You’ll need to change everything into your name only, whether it’s the house, banking accounts, credit card accounts, or investment accounts. Your financial advisor can prepare and expedite the paperwork for the accounts that they manage for you.

For accounts in your name, such as pensions and retirement accounts, you may want to change beneficiaries if your spouse is the sole beneficiary with no contingent beneficiaries listed. If you already have contingent beneficiaries designated, this is not an immediate need.

12. Send a letter to the three credit bureaus

You’ll want to get the credit reports for your spouse so that you’re aware of all the credit liabilities. You should advise the bureaus to add the notification that your spouse is deceased so no one can attempt to take credit out in their name. This helps protect you from fraud.

13. Let your tax advisor know

They’ll need to file taxes for your spouse for the year in which s/he died and have the taxes paid. Depending on your situation, this can get tricky, so let them advise you. Because the taxes aren’t due right away, this isn’t an immediate need, but it still should be done in a timely fashion, so they’re not late in filing.

14. Call the financial aid office if you have a student in college

Your child may be eligible for more financial aid or other assistance, so let them know.

 

15. Cancel your spouse’s subscriptions and memberships

 

Any gym or club memberships in your spouse’s name should be canceled, so you don’t continue to pay those bills. If you have a joint membership, at some point, you’ll want to investigate what other options are available to you.

 

16. If your spouse had business interests, let their business attorney know

 

The lawyer can take charge of any processes that your spouse put in place for this contingency.

Do you need help dealing with the financial issues surrounding the death of your spouse? Please give us a call at 619.255.9554 or email us to set up an appointment.

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.

The Secrets of 401(k)s

The Secrets of 401(k)s

 

The 401K, a widely used retirement vehicle offered by employers, is well known. But there are a few facts that you might not already be aware of.

History and a brief overview of 401(k) plans

Now the prime retirement account vehicle for full-time employed workers whose companies offer the benefit, the 401(k) was not originally designed to be the retirement account for the masses.

It was created as a way for executives and others to avoid taxes on their deferred compensation. Later, a benefits consultant wanted to find a way for employees to save while receiving an employer match, and in 1981 the IRS allowed employers to fund these accounts through payroll deductions. That kicked off the account’s popularity.

A 401K eligible employee can set aside up to $19,500 in 2020 into the plan. If over 50, they can also add a “catch-up” up to $6,500. Some firms provide a matching contribution up to a certain percentage or dollar amount, free money to the employee, and tax-deductible to the employer.

The match is always pre-tax, but if the option exists in the plan, the employee can choose whether their contribution is pre-tax, known as Traditional, or after-tax as a Roth. Typically, the plan sponsor (usually an investment services company) provides a menu of conservative to aggressive options so each employee can invest according to their particular strategy.

Because they are employer plans, 401(k)s are strictly regulated. A third-party administrator or TPA usually oversees the plans, so the employer has no influence over an employee’s account and can’t monitor it. Requests for withdrawals and rollovers are generally sent to the TPA to take care of. 

 

401(k) Overall defined contribution plan limit

Many people tend to think of the $19,500 (or $26,000 for those 50 or older) to be the limit. You can add to that the employer’s matching contribution for the total investment for the year.

Investors can also set aside $6,000 in an IRA, plus $1,000 catch-up for the 50+ crowd. (This money may or may not be tax-deductible, depending on the investor’s income, but it can tax-deferred even if you can’t take a deduction for it.)

That’s $25,600 or $33,000 to be set aside tax-deferred, depending on your age. But is that the maximum allowable? Not necessarily.

As they used to say on the informercials: But wait, there’s more!

The IRS caps the total amount of defined contribution plan limits at $57,000. The missing component, after the employee’s 401(k) contribution and the employer’s match, if any, is an after-tax contribution to the plan. Not all plans allow for this, but some do. This is the limit for solo 401(k)s and SEP IRAs as well.

Imagine that you’ve contributed $19,500 to your plan. Your employer match has kicked in $6,000, bringing the total to $25,500. For the $57,000 plan limit, the catch-up contributions don’t count.

Therefore, you can add to that $31,500 after-tax to reach the upper limit of $57,000. Why would you add in additional funds that are not tax-deductible? You may not get the current year tax deduction, but it will grow tax-deferred until it’s time to take the money out.

 

401(k) fees and retirement withdrawals

It’s essential to consider the fees in your plan and the options. If your plan sponsor is an insurance company, you may be paying an additional “separate account” charge that may go by the name Variable Account Charge or Mortality & Expense (M&E).

Plan sponsors, whether insurance companies or not, may charge the employer additional fees as well, which may or may not be passed down to you. They may offer other services such as “advice” for an additional cost, but you can most likely find similar advice more cheaply by asking your financial advisor.

When choosing your funds, look at the expense ratios and the share class (if you’re investing in mutual funds.) Those with high expense ratios and share classes that are not labeled “institutional” or “load-waived” aren’t good for your bottom line.

Also, read your plan documents to see what kinds of withdrawals are allowed once you’ve reached age 59 ½ and can withdraw without penalty. Some plans don’t allow you to withdraw monthly, and may restrict you to annual or quarterly withdrawals.

 

Are you on track for retirement?

Making sure you will be ready for retirement can be overwhelming. Funding your retirement accounts over the years is just one part of your journey to the retirement of your dreams. A Certified Financial PlannerTM can help you navigate the complexities of financial planning. Talk to a Financial Planner>

401(k) Rollovers

In some of our previous articles, we’ve mentioned that you should consolidate your like-kind retirement accounts, i.e. Traditional with Traditional and Roth with Roth, rather than having a number of accounts from previous employers sitting in old 401(k)s.

Some 401(k) plans allow for rollovers into the plan itself. This might not be a bad idea if you’ve investigated the plan in detail and know that the fees are low. And that you can withdraw funds whenever you want after you’ve reached 59 1/2.

Another option is to roll all your 401(k) plans into an IRA once you leave the companies that sponsor them. Typically IRAs have lower fees, fewer restrictions, and a bigger menu of investment options than employer 401(k)s.

Either way, you’ll probably have some paperwork to fill out. The best way to roll funds into or out of a plan is to perform a direct rollover, where the funds go directly from one service provider to another. Many can do this transfer electronically, which is safer than having checks mailed out. Sometimes, the check will be mailed to your address but made out to the new financial company, FBO (for the benefit of) your name.

In an indirect rollover, the funds come to you instead. You have 60 days to deposit all the money back into a retirement account. If you don’t, it will be considered a withdrawal, and you’ll owe taxes and perhaps a penalty if you’re under 59 ½. If you only invest a portion of the money back in, the remainder is also considered a withdrawal and taxed and potentially penalized.

 

Stay in the game

You likely already know that staying invested is the name of the game, so we can’t call this one a secret.

However, it can be difficult when the market is volatile. And even when the market is relatively calm!

The key to staying invested is to have a diversified portfolio with enough aggressive funds (stocks) to reap the gains when the market is rising. And enough conservative or noncorrelated money (bonds) so that you can sleep at night when the market is dropping.
Since no one has a crystal ball, it’s important to diversify at an investment level: international and US, small, large and medium-sized companies, government and corporate bonds.

Do you need some assistance with your 401(k)? Or are you thinking about opening one up for your own business, whether you’re self-employed or have some staff? Give us a call at 619.255.9554 or email us to set up an appointment.

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.

Is Your Estate Planning Up-to-Date?

Is Your Estate Planning Up-to-Date?

It’s no secret that many Americans put off creating a will — even those who need it most. But one milestone event often triggers a shift in mindset: the arrival of a child or grandchild. Usually, it hits people right before they get on a plane for the first time following the child’s birth: “If the plane crashes, what happens to our children, and how do we make sure they’re taken care of after we’re gone?”

If you have not put your estate plan into place, the answer to that question is that state law dictates who gets your assets, and a court decides who will act as guardian of your minor children. Picture in-laws fighting over custody of your children, assets being misappropriated and mismanaged, and a spendthrift child 18 years in the future, riding off into the sunset in a shiny, new Lamborghini.

A thoughtful and well-constructed estate plan can make all of these worries obsolete. If you put an estate plan in place years ago, it may be time to revisit the documents and revise where needed. If your estate plan was created before the significant tax law changes of 2018, it should be reviewed by an attorney. Here are four essential questions you should be able to answer about your estate plan.

Are estate-planning documents in place and up to date?

For most people, “basic” estate-planning documents include the following:

Will, Revocable Living Trust, Financial Power of Attorney, Health care directives and a living will.

 

Will

This primary estate-planning document dictates how a your property will be distributed at death. A will also names the individual in charge of managing the property’s distribution — the executor — and includes a nomination of a guardian for any minor children.

 

Revocable living trust

In many cases, it’s important to have a revocable living trust in addition to a will. For example, in states where probate is unusually expensive or burdensome, a properly funded living trust avoids the expense and delay of a probate proceeding. The living trust becomes the primary estate-planning document, dictating how an individual or couple’s property is distributed upon death and who manages the process (in this case, a trustee).

 

Financial power of attorney

In a financial power of attorney, an individual names an agent to act on her behalf with respect to her financial matters. The powers granted under a financial power of attorney range from very narrow (i.e., granting the agent power to act on behalf of the individual with respect to a specific transaction) to very broad (i.e., giving the agent the authority to take virtually any action with respect to the individual’s financial matters).

 

Health care directive and living will

In this document, which has many different names and comes in many different forms, the individual appoints an agent to make health care decisions if she is unable to do so and makes known her end-of-life wishes.

Who should be trustee? Executor? Guardian? Do your clients understand the roles and the differences between them?

 

These terms can be confusing, but here’s a simple distinction: the trustee/executor is in charge of the “stuff,” and the guardian is in charge of the children. There will be many intersections of the two roles, but each requires a different skillset, meaning different individuals may be needed:

Gaurdian

Charged with raising the children if you are unable to do so, caring for the children daily.

 

Trustee/executor

In charge of overseeing the gathering of your assets, the payment of taxes and any other final expenses, and then the distribution of the assets to the clients’ beneficiaries. If your estate-planning documents provide for continuing trusts for the children, the trustee will handle the ongoing management and investment of the assets.They will also oversee the distribution of the assets to the children and their guardians.

Some common questions you may have about the two roles are:

Should the trustee/executor and guardian be the same person?

 

It depends on the client’s situation. The roles require two very different skill sets, but if you have a go-to person you trust to serve in both roles, it may make sense to name the same person. The checks and balances and diversity of perspectives afforded by two different individuals serving in the roles can be beneficial. If you decide to name two different individuals, they’ll need to work together.

Should the trustee/executor and guardian be a family member?

 

Again, this depends on your situation and relationships. Some things you should keep in mind are the age of the individual you’re considering, as well as where the individual lives (i.e., does the individual live in the same city where the clients are raising their children, or across the country), the individual’s own family composition (i.e., is the individual married, does the individual have his or her own children) and the individual’s personal financial situation.

Is the guardian appointed in the will guaranteed to be the children’s guardian?

 

No, it is merely a suggestion. The supervising court must officially appoint the guardian but is usually deferential to the parents’ wishes, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

In any case, whether trustee, executor or guardian, it is important to get permission from the person being appointed prior to naming them in the plan.

What if my children can’t handle money?

If the children are minors, an outright disposition of your assets is not appropriate. This means that after your death, continuing trusts will likely be put in place for the children’s benefit, and you need to decide what these trusts will look like. Although estate-planning attorneys will likely have helpful recommendations on how to structure the ongoing trusts for children, some factors you must consider include:

  • The standard of distribution (How does the trustee determine if a distribution is appropriate?)
  • The term of the trusts (Are there mandatory distributions at certain ages, or do the trusts continue for the children’s lifetimes?)
  • The identity of the trustee

 

Do you have sufficient life insurance?

If the children are minors, an outright disposition of your assets is not appropriate. This means that after your death, continuing trusts will likely be put in place for the children’s benefit, and you need to decide what these trusts will look like. Although estate-planning attorneys will likely have helpful recommendations on how to structure the ongoing trusts for children, some factors you must consider include:

Because of the high cost of raising children today, new parents need to consider purchasing life insurance. There are two basic types:

  • Term insurance – provides coverage for a term of years and pays out a death benefit if the insured dies during the term.

  • Permanent insurance – includes an investment component and is usually structured to pay a death benefit no matter when the insured dies.

One of the primary benefits of insurance is that beneficiaries receive the proceeds free of income tax. Further, if you have substantial net worth and purchase an insurance policy with a significant death benefit, it may make sense to hold the policy in an irrevocable life insurance trust. If structured properly, an irrevocable life insurance trust ensures that any insurance proceeds received by the trust are sheltered from the estate tax.

If you are young and healthy, term insurance is a relatively cheap and effective way to provide an income-tax-free pool of money to provide for surviving children in the case of your premature death.

 

Start the conversation

A new child or grandchild is a beautiful joy. The new addition to the family usually means an adjustment to estate planning. By working through the four questions above, you’ll take an important step in thinking about your estate plan — and you may rest easier knowing everything is in place.

Are you on track for retirement?

Making sure you will be ready for retirement can be overwhelming. Funding your retirement accounts over the years is just one part of your journey to the retirement of your dreams. A Certified Financial PlannerTM can help you navigate the complexities of financial planning. Talk to a Financial Planner>

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.

Why it’s Smart to Start a 529 Education Savings Plan

Why it’s Smart to Start a 529 Education Savings Plan

Saving for your child’s future education costs can be one of the most important decisions for parents. The price of tuition alone is staggering, with new increases each year. Imagine being a new parent and what education costs will be in eighteen years when your child would potentially be in their first semester of higher education. The good news is that there are different options you can implement with strategic financial planning

How retirement planning with a financial advisor can help

Over the past twenty years, tuition costs have doubled, taking into account fees, room, and board. Average costs for educational institutions for 2020 are as follows:

• Private School (nonprofit): $49,879
• Public 4-year institution: $21,950
• Out of State: $38,330

Saving for education can be just as important as saving for retirement. There are many options to help you save for your child’s education and prepare for rising costs. There are qualified tax-advantaged plans geared toward each financial situation, and not all options will be appropriate. A good financial planner can help you sort through the choices and select the strategy that is right for your family.

 

The 529 prepaid tuition plan

One of the many qualified state tuition plans is the 529 savings plan. There are two kinds of 529 plans, a prepaid tuition plan, and an education savings plan. Both plans would be considered an asset of the parent, which means you have full control of your child’s education savings.

The most significant advantage of prepaid tuition plans is the ability to permanently “lock” tuition at current rates by purchasing college credits. To do this, you must buy the college credits from a state school. So if you are in California, your child could only attend a California State University (CSU) and not a University of California (UC). The funds in the account will appreciate based on the inflation of tuition costs.

If the account holder wishes to close the account, he/she receives only the principal amount they originally paid. The prepaid tuition plan only covers future tuition costs and does not include other associated education costs.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Credits appreciate by the rate of inflation. One potential downside to prepaid tuition is anticipating the students’ needs in college.
  • The student could receive a scholarship to the university negating the prepaid tuition, which would then be returned interest-free to the account holder.
  • The university may also not have the student’s field of study. The prepaid tuition can only be applied on a per university basis, forcing your child to choose a different major.

The 529 education savings plan

The most common 529 savings plan is the education savings plan. The earnings of this plan grow tax-free so long as you apply the funds for qualifying education expenses (e.g. tuition, books, supplies, room, and board). For the earnings to be tax-free, the student must also be enrolled at least half-time. If these requirements are not met, there is a 10% penalty on the earnings.

 

Anyone can contribute to the plan, regardless of income. Individuals can contribute up to $75,000 a year, and couples who elect gift splitting can contribute up to $150,000. There are no tax consequences associated with these contributions. The plan also allows for annual distributions up to $10,000 to pay for enrollment in elementary or secondary schooling.

 

In 2019, the SECURE Act allowed for a lifetime aggregate distribution of up to $10,000 to pay for student loans. The SECURE Act also allows for annual qualified distributions for apprenticeships registered and certified with Secretary Labor National Apprenticeship Act also up to $10,000.

 

 

Education Planning with Platt Wealth Management

It can feel intimidating, almost impossible, to plan for all of the moving parts within a comprehensive financial plan. Don’t worry — we can help! 

If you are searching for a certified financial planner that you can trust to help plan the next stage in your life, please give us a call. At Platt Wealth Management, our financial advisors put your needs first and provide completely transparent services to best prepare you for all financial milestones. 

Are you ready to take control of your retirement plans? Give us a call at (619) 255-9554 to set up a complimentary review or email us here

 

Estate Planning: Probate and Trusts

Estate Planning: Probate and Trusts

In our last article on estate planning, we explained why estate planning is essential and discussed the basics of wills and powers of attorney. You probably know you want to avoid probate, but you might not know precisely why.. 

Probate

This process proves a decedent’s in court as legal and determines whether the decedent’s intentions have been carried out. Wills can be contested during this process since the probate court is public. The estate of someone who dies intestate (without a will) goes through probate to determine how to handle the assets.

It can take months to years to settle probate, depending on the estate’s size and other issues.

Once someone dies, all their assets (that aren’t jointly owned) are considered part of their estate. Financial assets that have named beneficiaries, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, and accounts with a transfer-on-death/payable-on-death designation are exempted from probate, as are trusts.

In California, if set up correctly, houses can be transferred on death, as can vehicles. Bear in mind that the law on transferring houses sunsets 1/1/21.

The will is legally verified by the judge, showing that the decedent signed the will in the presence of two witnesses. Then an executor or court-appointed administrator sets out to execute the terms of the will.

Executors get the death certificates to show the decedent is in fact, deceased. They find all the assets and have them appraised and notify creditors. (Note the beneficiaries don’t owe any money as long as they weren’t joint signers on any debt.)

The executor also needs to pay taxes, including income and estate tax, from the estate and make any payments like homeowners’ insurance and utility bills. They notify the beneficiaries named in the will.

After paying all the liabilities and taxes, the remainder or residue is distributed to the beneficiaries. The executor or administrator gets compensated for performing all these duties.
If you have a spouse, on first death, there’s no probate. Your spouse can claim the assets. But the will of the second to die must be probated. Almost all states have a “small estate” exemption, and if the total estate is less than the limit, the will doesn’t need to be probated. In California, the limit is $166,250.

Why you want to avoid probate

There are several reasons why you might want to avoid probate, or at least have as much of your assets bypass the “probate estate” as possible. Trusts are commonly used for any property that doesn’t have a beneficiary or payable-on-death designation, especially in California.

Public

Court records, except in some instances, are available to the public. Anything that’s in the will can be discovered by anyone willing to do the research. The will can be contested in court. If you’re a private person or there are some skeletons in the closet that your family wouldn’t want to be made public, you want to avoid probate as much as you can.
Assets that don’t pass through probate, such as trust and retirement accounts, don’t have these issues.

Length of time

The entire process can easily take years. Some courts are severely backlogged, or there may be provisions in the will that could be difficult to execute. For example, the testator (decedent) might have left small bequests to people whose addresses the executor doesn’t have. However, they must still notify the beneficiaries and distribute the assets.
In California probate takes a minimum of 7-8 months (when there’s no pandemic on) and can go for up to two years.

 

Cost

As noted earlier, this varies by state. Some states have a less lengthy probate process that costs less than others. However, if you live in California, the executor’s fee starts at $4,000 for a $100,000 estate. It reaches $23,000 for $1mm estate up to $163,000 for a $20mm estate.

It’s important to note that for these purposes, the debts don’t reduce the value of the property. For example, if the house is worth $1,500,000 and it has a $1,250,000 mortgage, it’s still valued at $1.5 million.

Also, filing fees range from $60 to several hundred dollars for probate petitions and fees for copies of the death certificate. Notice of the probate hearing must be published in a newspaper, and that can cost $200.

However, there is one instance where it might be preferable to allow the assets to go through probate. That’s if there are a lot of lawsuits or liabilities against the property. 

After the creditor has been notified, there’s a small window – typically six months – where creditors must notify the estate that they’ll file a claim against it. If they don’t make the notification within the window, their claim expires.

Trusts

For probate to be reduced to the minimum possible, people often use trusts to hold their property. Upon death, the assets go by the language of the trust and sit outside the probate estate.

However, it’s not enough to have a trust; the assets must be placed into it. For example, if you want to put your house in a trust (almost always a good idea in California), then the house’s title must name the trust as owner. It’s not enough to write it into the trust.

Most people use a “living” trust to hold their assets. You can put real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, artwork, and other assets into a living trust. It doesn’t make sense to put retirement accounts or transfer-on-death assets into a trust, because they already operate outside probate.

You will be the trustee of the living trust, naming a successor trustee who takes over when you’re gone. Your successor trustee can also act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. They distribute the property as spelled out in the trust once you’re gone, without involving the courts.

These living trusts are usually also revocable so that you can make changes to them during your lifetime. (An irrevocable trust is set in stone.)

Trusts require you to deal with some paperwork while you’re setting them up, and the attorney’s fees to handle it. Yes, there are DIY trust documents out there, but you want to make sure that your trust is air-tight, so it’s worth having a professional do the work for you.

There’s not much ongoing record keeping required, except when you transfer property in or out of the trust. You do need to keep written records of those transfers.

As always, there’s no free lunch. You will pay to have the trust created and assets re-titled. It’s sometimes more challenging to refinance a property that’s held in a trust. If you can’t get over the hurdle by finding another lender who understands trust property, you could always transfer it back to yourself as owner for the refinance. Then transfer it back in afterward.
Creditors can sue the trust because there’s no creditor cutoff window like there is in probate.

 

Do you want to talk to us about your estate plan or need a recommendation for a good attorney? Give us a call at 619.255.9554 or send us an email and we’ll be glad to set up an appointment.

Are you on track for retirement?

Making sure you will be ready for retirement can be overwhelming. Funding your retirement accounts over the years is just one part of your journey to the retirement of your dreams. A Certified Financial PlannerTM can help you navigate the complexities of financial planning. Talk to a Financial Planner>

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.

4 Ways to Simplify Your Business and Finances

4 Ways to Simplify Your Business and Finances

It seems like so many of us tend to over complicate things, whether in finances or life or business. As we move through life, we accumulate more, and we get entrenched in routines that no longer serve us. However, keeping things simple is essential at any stage of life.

 

Having less to keep track of is freeing! In honor of National Simplify Your Life Week, which is celebrated the first week in August, let’s take some steps to simplify our business and finances.

Simplify your business: Do the big rocks first

At this point, you probably automatically prioritize your workday routine. Taking care of the top three priorities that move the needle every day is an effective way to make sure you get the essential things done. 

One way to think of it is the “Big Rocks” theory from Stephen Covey. Suppose you have a certain amount of sand and a certain amount of big rocks to put in a bucket. When you fill the bucket first with sand, none of the big rocks will fit in the bucket. 

But if you start with the big rocks first, the sand fills in around them. With limited time in the day, it’s important to fill the hours first with the big rocks, which are your top priorities, and allow the smaller tasks to fill in around it.

Simplify your business: The Eisenhower decision matrix

 

Too bad it’s not possible to know how any company will perform in the future, especially a start-up! All founders and employees of newly launched companies assume that the stock will be more valuable in the future, otherwise they wouldn’t be working there. Your financial planner can talk you through this election, so you can make an informed decision.

Another way that those in business determine their most important tasks is to consider a 2x2 matrix with one axis being urgent and the other important. You might also know it as the Eisenhower decision matrix after President Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

You can sort all your daily tasks into one of the four boxes. Urgent tasks are what you need to do right now, and people typically react to them. Important tasks are the ones that lead to success, and people are responsive to them. 

The main problem is that people often tend to confuse urgent for important.

  • Not important and not urgent

These tasks should be removed immediately from an executive’s list. Delegate these is you want them done or deleted them completely.

 

  • Not important and urgent

They may demand attention, but ultimately these tasks don’t help achieve any goals and should be delegated or eliminated. 

Phone calls and texts often fall into this category. They may be relevant to others, but not to you, and so you should limit your time in this quadrant.

 

  • Urgent and important

Crises and problems fall in here. Perhaps counter intuitively, you should also try not to spend too much time here! Develop solutions that prevent the crisis from happening. Planning and organizing are good ways to reduce the tasks that fall into this quadrant.

 

  • Not urgent and important

Here’s where you want to spend your time. Not reacting to crises, so these tasks are not urgent. However, they help you achieve your goals and mission. 

Are you on track for retirement?

Making sure you will be ready for retirement can be overwhelming. Funding your retirement accounts over the years is just one part of your journey to the retirement of your dreams. A Certified Financial PlannerTM can help you navigate the complexities of financial planning. Talk to a Financial Planner>

Simplify Your Finances

Needlessly complicating your financial life usually involves paying more in fees as well. You have even more motivation to streamline here. When index funds solve your need for diversification, there’s no reason to add in other types of investments, for example

Simplify Your Finances: Consolidate

 

It’s also helpful to consolidate your accounts with one financial advisor where possible. The exception possibly is your 401(k), which typically needs to stay with the management company until you leave the firm.

Your financial planner should be able to view all your accounts so they can properly diversify it. When you split your funds among different advisors, none of them have an overall picture, so you’re not getting the diversification you need.

It also helps to consolidate your traditional (as in, non-Roth) retirement accounts into one. Many investors who have worked at several firms maintain one traditional IRA account. They roll all their 401(k)s into it with no tax consequences when they leave each firm. All their pretax retirement money is in the same pool, making life much easier when it comes time to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) at the age of 72.

The IRS considers all your pretax accounts when calculating RMDs. If you have several traditional retirement accounts and you lose track, you could accidentally underpay your RMD.
Underpayment will result in a 50% penalty on the amount that you should have taken out but didn’t. It is much easier to have everything in one place and receive one notice from the custodian of the amount you need to take out.

Similarly, you can consolidate your checking and savings accounts. Pick the highest interest rate savings account net-of-fees to put all your money in, and the cheapest or no-fee checking account.

You don’t need more than one credit card for your personal life, and probably only one for your business. When there’s no reason to maintain multiple cards and accounts, consolidate down to one.

Simplify Your Finances: Revisit retirement goals

If you haven’t revisited your financial goals in a while, now might be a great time to do it. You may want to adjust your retirement goal and drill down to the goals that need focus. The fewer major goals that you have to focus on, the easier it will be to achieve them.

 

If you want to talk to us about simplifying your financial life, please give us a call at 619.255.9554 or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.

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