March 12, 2010
10 Questions to Ask Your Accountant at Tax Time
One of the most common reasons people fail to get legal, financial, and tax advice is concern about the cost. However, many Americans already have an accountant that helps prepare their taxes. These tax professionals can be a great source of information for estate and financial planning.
Some tax accountants are more knowledgeable than others on these issues, but the only way to find out if your tax professional can provide you some pointers is to ask. If you are talking with your tax preparer about filing your tax return anyway, you might as well use the time effectively. It is quite possible that by opening up a discussion about your estate or financial planning, your tax advisor may give you some advice that saves you or your family quite a bit of money in the future.
When preparing to talk with your tax advisor, make a list of your questions about issues such as estate taxes, gifts, charitable giving, inheritances, IRA's, 401k's, annuities, and life insurance. If you are just beginning to learn about these issues, here is a list of 10 questions you may want to ask your tax advisor:
(1) Should I be making gifts to my children or grandchildren to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion?
(2) Should I invest in a tax-deferred annuity for retirement?
(3) Am I doing my charitable giving in the most tax-efficient manner?
(4) What are the advantages of converting some of my other retirement accounts to a Roth IRA?
(5) What is the most tax-efficient way to handle my highly appreciated stock, real estate or other highly appreciated assets in my estate plan?
(6) Do you recommend I use an A-B Living Trust or marital bypass trust in my estate plan?
(7) Based upon the size of my estate, are federal or state estate taxes likely to reduce the amount of wealth I transfer to my heirs?
(8) What type of tax deduction would I receive if I purchased long-term care insurance? (9) Do you have any suggestions regarding my estate plan?
(10) What should I be doing differently to save for retirement and long-term care?
Of course, not all of these questions will apply to your situation. If you are able to ask your accountant 3 or 4 questions about your estate or financial plan, you are off to a good start.
If the person that prepares your taxes is unable to assist you with your estate and financial planning needs, ask for a referral. Much more free information is available throughout the pages of our estate planning website.
March 2, 2010
Why Every Pet Owner Should Make an Estate Plan
Many people think of estate planning as something for grandparents, seniors or the elderly. If you are young, in good health, and have a busy schedule, estate planning may be at the very bottom of your list of priorities. But if you come home every day to a dog or cat or if you have horses, birds or other animals, chances are they rank much higher on your list of priorities. These animals rely on you completely for their survival. What happens to them in your absence is totally dependent on the plans you made, or failed to make, for their care.
Many people are simply uninterested in making a will or pre-planning for final arrangements such as funeral services, burial or cremation. They have the attitude that someone else will take care of it or whatever happens doesnít matter. For some people, it is easier to let someone else deal with it. While most of us donít want to be the person who is left to deal with it when someone else fails to make an estate plan, the law does at least provide a system to address some of the issues humans face after a relativeís death or incapacity. Animals are not so lucky.
When it comes to our spouses, children, and other heirs, in most cases the law makes some provisions regarding the amount of money or financial support a dependent will receive if we fail to make a will or trust. However, animals donít receive a statutory share of our estate and a court wonít step in to appoint a guardian for them, no matter how important they were to you. If you fail to make an estate plan, there is no protection under the law for your pets and it is very likely they will be dropped off at an overcrowded animal shelter. If your dog or cat is not accepted for adoption by a new owner in a few short days, its life will come to an abrupt end. To see a video about how cruel that end can be, go to our Unwanted Pets page. For animals that require a different level of care, such as horses, birds, rabbits, and reptiles, finding a new home is even more precarious.
What is most unfortunate about the fate of animals whose owners die is that estate planning arrangements could have been made for them with only a small amount of effort. Several different estate planning methods are now available to protect pets. While some of these methods provide greater security to your pets than others, taking any step to include your animals in your estate plan is better than doing nothing. Some of the options available include establishing a pet trust, making arrangements with a pet caregiver, no-kill animal shelter, or pet retirement home, and adding properly drafted provisions to your current will or living trust. Irrespective of your financial situation, one of these options is likely to be affordable. See Pet Owners Estate Plan.
There are many online resources to assist you in making your animals part of your estate plan. Several animal charities offer information to help pet owners create a plan. Many estate planning attorneys also have experience including pets in estate planning documents. Making your estate plan may not seem urgent today. However, when you understand the facts about what will happen to your pets if you suddenly disappear, you will realize taking the time to make a few arrangements for them isnít much trouble after all.