It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About Retirement

Every parent wants to teach their children fiscal responsibility, but it’s not always easy to impress upon live-for-the-now youngsters the concept of saving for a rainy day. Certainly teaching by example is one tried and true method; another is practice. But can a 15 to 21 year old really practice saving for retirement? Of course they can! And according to this article in the Washington Post, they can reap incredible benefits.

“Setting up a Roth individual retirement account for your teenager can be a smart and rewarding move to consider at tax time… It makes good sense to set aside money that can grow many times over by the time it is put to use. And establishing an IRA with a teenager’s own cash — perhaps supplemented by the parents or grandparents — can convey a powerful financial message that no pep talk could match.”

If you show your child or grandchild that setting up a Roth IRA is just another milestone—similar to graduation, getting a driver’s license, or getting a first part time job—the lesson comes through loud and clear that saving for the future is a natural and normal part of adulthood. In fact, the attainment of a first job can be the perfect instigating factor for setting up an account because “A Roth IRA can be opened only if the child has income from a job – and allowances don’t count.”

A Roth IRA can be a nice thing for a child to have for another reason… parents or grandparents can support and supplement the child’s investment with their own contributions as well. A retirement account may not be the most traditional of gifts, but it’s never too early to learn the value—and necessity—of saving for the future.

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The Not Quite Empty Nest Syndrome

It’s that time of year when many high school seniors are starting to prepare for graduation and eventually to head off to college; these seniors are close to turning—or in some cases have already turned—eighteen. It’s almost time to spread their wings, leave the nest, and be on their own…

… Except that most 18 year old college freshmen aren’t actually ready to be on their own. They still rely on their parents for financial support, emotional support, credit card payments, physical transportation… even clean laundry! And just about all of them still rely on their parents’ medical insurance when they need health care. You would think, then, that you as parents would be able to make medical and financial decisions for these fresh 18 year olds when they need help… except you can’t.

Once your child is 18 you as a parent are no longer their legal guardian. No longer will you be able to easily call the shots in the hospital or doctor’s office. You may pay the credit card bill, but you may not always get a representative to talk to you if there is a problem with that credit card. Likewise you may not make decisions regarding their bank account, or have legal dealings on their behalf with their landlord. Not unless your child gives you permission, that is—written permission in the form of a durable power of attorney and/or a healthcare directive.

By naming you as his agent in a durable power of attorney and/or a healthcare directive, your brand new 18 year old is giving you the power to keep doing what you’ve been doing all along… be his loving parent and help with the tough decisions; or—heaven forbid—step in to take charge in case of an emergency.

Durable powers of attorney and health care directives are documents that can be easily executed by our office or your own trusted attorney. Creating one of these documents for the first time is a good opportunity to discuss responsibility with your child, and encourage him or her to begin thinking of these decisions that you have helped them make all these years as their own. We know, however, that this isn’t always an easy subject to discuss with your young adult. If your child is resistant to discussing this with you, perhaps he or she will be willing to discuss it with your family estate planning attorney instead. This is an important subject, not only for you as a parent, but also for your young adult’s safety and well being.

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10 Tips for Potential (or Existing) Trustees

The creation of a trust and estate plan includes spending a certain amount of time choosing the people who will be your fiduciaries—the people who will carry out your wishes. One of the most important fiduciaries is your trustee, who is involved in just about every aspect of the administration of your trust. Most people choose someone close to them to serve as trustee: a best friend, son or daughter, brother or sister. Choosing someone who knows you and your family to serve in this role can be beneficial in many ways, but if that person doesn’t have a financial or legal background the responsibilities can be overwhelming!

If you want to give your trustee a head start (or if you’ve been nominated as a trustee and need a little help yourself) this article from the Elder Law Answers website shares “9 Do’s and 1 Don’t” of being a trustee. These suggestions will help a potential or new trustee better understand their responsibilities and the scope of the job to come. Advice such as #1, “Do read the trust document”; or #3, “Do keep the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind at all times” may seem obvious now, but it’s not always so clear when you’re beset by insistent and emotional relatives. The more technical tips such as #2, “Do create a checking account for the trust”; and #9, “Do file income tax returns for the trust” are invaluable starter-steps for someone who has never done this before.

But the most important tip to remember is the one don’t: #10, “Don’t fly solo. Get professional advice to make sure you are correctly fulfilling your role.” If you or the people you’ve chosen as your trustee are ever in doubt, please don’t hesitate to call our office for help.

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News and Updates About the Estate Tax

A month and a half into 2010 and Congress’ failure to stop the lapse in estate tax is still making waves. These two trusted news sources explain why having “no estate tax” this year should worry you.

One of the first reasons you should be worried, as revealed by this article in the Wall Street Journal, is that a larger base of estates will actually end up paying more this year rather than less; “Under last year’s law, estates up to $3.5 million, or $7 million for married couples, were exempt from federal tax. This year that law has been replaced by a fiendishly complex levy raising taxes on the assets of those with little as $1.3 million. It will affect the heirs of at least 50,000 U.S. taxpayers who die this year, whereas the old law affected only about 15,000 estates a year.”

Another main cause of worry, explains the New York Times, is the possible reinstatement of the estate tax by congress, effective retroactively; “The general view is that Congress wants to, and should, re-enact the estate tax retroactive to the beginning of this year,” [says tax specialist Ian Shane] “In January, February or March that’s easy, but as the year goes on it becomes more difficult.”

Of course the biggest worry estate planners have is the effect this year-long lapse will have on existing plans. Couples who already have an existing estate plan are advised to get their documents reviewed—and possibly revised—to prevent “standard clauses” from having unanticipated effects. As Joanne Johnson, head of the American wealth advisory service of J. P. Morgan explained to the NY Times, “It’s common to find language like ‘I hereby fund this trust to the maximum amount I can shelter from federal estate tax.’ The rest can then pass tax-free to the spouse. Such wording is risky as long as the estate tax is off the books… because there is no maximum.” What ends up happening is that everything goes into the trust for the kids, leaving the spouse with nothing.

What is the lesson here? The lapse in the estate tax may not be the boon it first appears to be. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out how the new laws may affect your family.

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