Q&A: How to cut back after spending a windfall

Dear Liz: I inherited a substantial amount of money when a relative died. I put most of it in retirement funds, but as a few stray accounts were found, sometimes I just deposited them in my bank account and lived comfortably on $1,000 to $2,000 over my normal income. I have no debt, but I’ve grown accustomed to this extra cash. What’s the best way to reel back into a lifestyle I can afford on my $62,000 annual salary?

Answer: Those windfalls represented a substantial increase to your regular income, so cutting back may be painful. It’s so much easier to ramp up our lifestyles than to crank them back.

Start by tracking your spending. Once you understand your patterns, you can figure out where to cut back.

Don’t automatically assume that the luxuries you were able to buy with the extra money are now off limits. If you traveled more and enjoyed it, for example, that should still have a place in your budget. You could cut elsewhere to make sure travel is part of your life. If some of your spending didn’t bring you much joy, though, pay attention to that as well. You may have started eating out more only to find your health suffered, or you didn’t enjoy it that much, and you’d be fine doing that less often.

Your goal with any spending plan should be identifying which expenditures are important to you and which aren’t — then reducing the latter so you can have more of the former.

When your parents die broke

Blogger John Schmoll’s father left a financial mess when he died: a house that was worth far less than the mortgage, credit card bills in excess of $20,000_and debt collector s who insisted the son was legally obligated to pay what his father owed.

Fortunately, Schmoll knew better.

“I’ve been working in financial services for two decades,” says Schmoll, an Omaha, Nebraska, resident who was a stockbroker before starting his site, Frugal Rules. “I knew that I wasn’t responsible.”

Baby boomers are expected to transfer trillions to their heirs in coming years. But many people will inherit little more than a pile of bills. In my latest for the Associated Press, what to do when your parents leave behind debt.

Q&A: Adding daughter to home could create a tax burden

Dear Liz: My wife and I are both 80 and we are contemplating adding our 56-year-old daughter as a co-owner and borrower to our home. The house is now valued at $600,000 and our mortgage balance is $196,000.

If it is advisable, and I am able to do this, will it prevent the house going into probate when my wife and I have passed on? Because my daughter will be the sole beneficiary of our assets, is a will or living trust required?

Answer: Please don’t do this without consulting an estate planning attorney — who will most likely tell you not to do this.

You can’t add your daughter to the mortgage without refinancing the loan. Adding your daughter to the deed means she would lose the valuable “step up” in tax basis that would otherwise happen after your deaths.

If she’s made a co-owner, she could be subject to capital gains taxes on all the appreciation that happened on her share. That tax burden essentially would disappear if she were to inherit the home instead.

How you should bequeath the home to her depends on where you live. In most states, probate — the court process that typically follows a death — isn’t that bad.

However, in some states, such as California or Florida, probate can be lengthy, expensive and worth avoiding. It can be worth investing in an attorney to draw up a living trust.

Another option in many states, including California, is a “transfer-on-death” or beneficiary deed, which allows you to sign and record a deed now that doesn’t transfer until your death. You can revoke the deed or sell the property at any time.

Florida doesn’t have transfer-on-death deeds, according to self-help site Nolo.com, but the state offers something similar called an “enhanced life estate” or “Lady Bird” deed.

But again, discuss this with a qualified estate planning attorney before proceeding.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to responsibly handle an inheritance. Also in the news: 7 questions to ask before selling a stock, how to create your own pension, and why 35% of college seniors don’t know what their student loan repayments will be.

How to Responsibly Handle an Inheritance
Don’t run out and buy a sports car just yet.

Selling a Stock? Ask 7 Questions First
What you need to know.

How to Create Your Own Pension
Filling in the gap.

35% of college seniors don’t know what their student loan repayments will be
That’s an alarming number.

Q&A: Good reasons why one spouse’s inheritance doesn’t belong to the other

Dear Liz: You recently told a husband who wanted to spend his wife’s expected inheritance that the money would be her separate property. Is that true of all states or just community property states like California? Even if it can be kept legally separate, should it be? Isn’t it better for couples to share their money?

Answer: Inheritances and gifts are considered separate property in every state. Where community property and equitable distribution states differ is in how other assets and debts acquired during marriage are treated.

For inheritances and gifts to remain separate property, though, a recipient must be careful not to commingle them with joint funds. Recipients would need to keep such windfalls in separate bank or brokerage accounts in their names alone, for example, rather than storing the money in jointly held accounts, using it to improve a jointly owned asset such as a home or paying down a joint obligation such as a mortgage.

Why would people want to keep funds separate? There are good reasons, even in marriages where all other money is shared. The couple may divorce, or the wife could die before her husband. If she commingles her inheritance with joint funds, the money her mother intended her to have could ultimately get spent by her husband’s next wife.

The wife may well decide to share some or all of her windfall with her husband. But she shouldn’t be pressured or bullied into doing so, especially with the notion that it’s the “right” thing to do. She would be smart to talk — alone — to a fee-only financial planner who pledges to put her interests first before she makes any decisions about the money.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: The 13 key numbers to understanding your finances. Also in the news: How to save on taxes, what to do with an unexpected inheritance, and the financial lies we tell ourselves.

These 13 Numbers Are the Keys to Understanding Your Finances
Understanding your potential.

Three Moves In December To Save Taxes Next April
Act now, save later.

5 Things to Do With an Unexpected Inheritance
Choose wisely.

12 Financial Lies We Tell Ourselves
Time for the truth.

New startup aims to ‘Trim’ the fat from your monthly spending
Eliminating recurring payments.

Q&A: Calculating capital gains and losses

Dear Liz: With my father’s recent passing, I received a substantial inheritance, much of it in the form of stocks and mutual funds. If I sell these assets, do I calculate the capital gains and losses based on the date I took possession of the assets? Or do I use their value on the date of his death?

Answer: Typically you’d use the date of his death. If your father’s estate was very large and owed estate taxes, however, the executor may have chosen an alternative valuation date six months from the date of death. This option is available if the value of the estate would have been lower on the later date.

There is a circumstance in which your basis would be the value on the date the assets were turned over to you, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting U.S. If the executor elected the alternate valuation date, but the assets were actually distributed to you before that date, then the basis is the fair market value on the date of distribution, Luscombe said.

Inherited assets usually get a “step up” in basis when someone dies, so there’s no tax owed on any of the growth in those assets that occurred while the person was alive. Inheritors have to pay taxes only on the growth that occurs between the date of death (or the alternate evaluation or distribution date) and when the assets are sold.

The assets would get long-term capital gains treatment regardless of how long you’d owned them, which is another helpful tax break.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Image9Today’s top story: How to manage your money right from your smartphone. Also in the news: How that smartphone could cost more than you realize, how to save money on college text books, and what happens to a loved one’s debt after they die.

7 Personal Finance Apps to Manage your Money
Money management right at your fingertips.

Why Your Smartphone Costs More Than You Realize
Especially if you’re clumsy.

How to Save Money on College Textbooks
The most expensive books you’ll barely read.

Could I Inherit My Loved One’s Debt?
What happens to debt after death?

To Become Financially Independent, Embrace These Five Habits
The road to independence.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

605x340xdollar-bills-2015-Dollarphotoclub_67129525.jpg.pagespeed.ic.0DZosyt27WToday’s top story: 3 financial changes you need to know about for 2015. Also in the news: What not to do if you inherit money, how to cash in on uncommon tax breaks, and how visualization can help you manage your finances.

3 Changes That Could Affect Your Financial Life in 2015
Changes to Social Security and retirement savings are on the way.

5 Things Not to Do If You Inherit Money
Don’t quit your day job.

Cash in on uncommon charitable tax breaks
Deductions you may not know about.

How Motivational Images Can Boost Your Finances
Using visualization can keep you in check.

Create Your Budget with Long-Term Life Goals in Mind
Focus on the bigger picture.

Q&A: Transferring property from a deceased relative

Dear Liz: My mother passed away unexpectedly in late 2008. She had a mortgage, and the house was under her name only. She didn’t leave a will. My family is still paying the loan, and the company does not know my mother passed away. We don’t have a lot of money and we need advice on how to get the house under my sister’s name (she has good credit). We need to get the loan modified since the monthly payment is almost $1,000 and only about $70 goes toward the principal.

Answer: Your mother may not have created a will, but your state has laws that determine what was supposed to happen after her death. Lying to the mortgage lender is not one of the legal options.

Federal law allows mortgages to be transferred to heirs. (Without a will, those heirs usually would include a surviving spouse and the dead person’s children.) Transfers because of death typically are exempt from the due-on-sale or acceleration clauses that otherwise would allow the lender to demand full payment.

To get the mortgage transferred, however, you usually need to have started the probate process.

At this point, you should consult a mortgage broker about the likelihood of getting a refinance or a loan modification. If the home is deeply underwater, it may not be possible or worth the effort. If foreclosure is likely, it would be better not to transfer the mortgage as the heirs’ credit would suffer significant damage.
If your plan is feasible, however, then you’ll need to consult a probate attorney. You may not have a lot of money, but you need to pool what you have to hire someone who can dig you out of this mess.