Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: A credit check-up for new grads. Also in the news: How couples can marry clashing investment styles, how your credit history can impact your life insurance rate, and ten steps to writing a will.

New Grads, Unlock Your Future With a Credit Check-Up
Your new world requires good credit.

How Couples Can Marry Clashing Investment Styles
Finding a happy medium.

Your Credit History’s Role in Your Life Insurance Rate
It’s all about reliability.

10 Steps to Writing a Will
Making your intentions known.

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: Why setting up a living trust may be wise, especially in California

Dear Liz: Is there a minimum amount of assets required before a revocable living trust is advisable? I am retired but my wife is still working. If we do not include our 401(k) plans, our total liquid assets (my wife’s monthly salary, my monthly Social Security benefit and my pension check) are below $100,000. We do not own a house or other real estate and do not have any major outstanding loans. We own our only car, a 2009 non-luxury vehicle.

Assuming we need a trust, do we still need to make out a will? If so, can we use a state-specific form online or just make out a handwritten will? Lastly, can a will be “until further notice” or do we have to update it each year? It should be obvious that we are trying to save expenses where we can.

Answer: Living trusts allow estates to avoid probate, the court process that otherwise oversees the paying of creditors and distribution of someone’s assets. (The sources of income you listed aren’t considered assets, by the way, since those will cease upon your deaths and can’t be transferred to other heirs.) Living trusts offer privacy, because probate is a public process, and can make it easier for a designated person to take over for you if you should become incapacitated.

There’s no specific dollar amount of assets for which a living trust becomes a good idea. In many states, probate isn’t a big deal, while in others — including California — probate is expensive enough that the cost of setting up a living trust can be worthwhile. Even in California, smaller estates (those under $150,000) can avoid probate or qualify for a streamlined process that can make living trusts unnecessary.

Those with larger estates may be able to avoid probate using other methods.

The money in your 401(k)s, for example, will pass directly to the beneficiaries you name. In many states, you also can name a beneficiary for a vehicle right on the registration form so your car could avoid probate. Some states also offer this “transfer on death” option for real estate.

“Plan Your Estate,” an excellent primer from self-help legal publisher Nolo, details your options.

Living trusts typically replace the need for a will, although a lawyer likely would recommend creating a “pour-over” will to include any assets accidentally left out of the trust. If you don’t have a living trust, you’ll definitely need wills to outline how you want your property distributed.

You also should create powers of attorney for healthcare and for finances, so that someone you name can make decisions for you should you become incapacitated. These documents are probably more important than a will because they can determine your quality of life at the end of your days rather than just what happens to your stuff when you’re beyond caring.

Do-it-yourself options are fine if your estate is small, simple and unlikely to be challenged by contentious heirs. Each state has specific requirements for making a legal will, which will be detailed in the software or online forms you use. You don’t have to update a will yearly but it’s a good idea to at least review your estate documents annually to see if any changes might be needed.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Probate, and how to avoid it. Also in the news: A Class of 2016 Postgrad student loan checklist, how to haggle down your rent by offering to do your own maintenance, and a few things to consider before moving to Canada.

Probate, and How to Avoid It
Learn the three common ways.

Class of 2016 Postgrad Student Loan Checklist
Get ready to start paying back those loans.

Haggle Down Your Rent By Offering to Do Your Own Maintenance
All they can say is no.

6 reasons to think twice before moving to Canada
Some things to consider.

Q&A: Clash over the state of their mother’s estate

Dear Liz: My husband’s mother passed away in January. His younger sister was executor of the estate. His mother had investments of close to $1 million prior to 2008. She supposedly lost half her investments with the downturn. When she passed away, my husband’s sister said that there was nothing left in the estate. What documents can he ask to see in order to make sure the estate is totally depleted? There wasn’t even a will shown to him.

Answer: If your mother-in-law had a will, or if she died “intestate” — without any estate planning documents — the sister would be required to open a probate case to settle the estate. Probate proceedings are public so your husband would be able to see an accounting of what’s left.

If your mother-in-law had a living trust, the sister wouldn’t have to open a probate case but she may be required to provide trust documents and an accounting of the estate to beneficiaries and heirs. The exact rules depend on the state where your mother-in-law died.

If the sister balks at providing this information, your husband may need to take her to court. He’d be smart to consult an attorney familiar with the relevant state’s laws.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Checking your credit doesn’t hurt your scores. Also in the news: Personal finance tips from NerdWallet moms, why you should prepare now for the death of a spouse, and the benefits of easing into a new savings budget.

Checking Your Credit Doesn’t Hurt Your Scores
Not checking your scores could hurt much more.

NerdWallet Moms Share Their Personal Finance Tips
Sharing lessons learned.

Why You Should Prepare Now for the Death of a Spouse
Making things easier down the road.

Boost Your Savings By 1% At a Time to Slowly Adjust to a New Budget
Easing into a new budget spares you from a shock to the system.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Wills-in-TexasToday’s top story: Ranking the cheapest cars to insure. Also in the news: Why you need to have a will, the financial perks of downsizing, and how much money you need to save monthly to reach your retirement goal.

Ranking the Cheapest Cars to Insure
Being a smart shopper.

Prince Had No Will, Reports Say — But You Should
Don’t let the government inherit your estate.

The Financial Perks of Downsizing
Going small can mean a bigger bank balance.

This Retirement Calculator Tells You How Much to Save Monthly to Reach Your Goal
How close are you?

Q&A: Creating a will

Dear Liz: I’m a 58-year-old man. I want to make a will just in case something happens to me. I have about $500,000 in stock and cash. I have a life partner and her son. I would like to split my assets between her and my sister. Any suggestions on how to go about this?

Answer: Just in case you turn out not to be immortal, having a will is a very good idea. Otherwise, your assets would be distributed according to state law, which means your lady friend probably would get nothing.

You also may want to consider probate, the court process that typically follows death. While probate is fairly simple in most states, in others — including California — it can be expensive and slow, making a living trust a worthwhile option.

You can prepare a will or living trust using do-it-yourself online legal sites and software such as Quicken WillMaker. If your relatives are likely to contest your will or your situation is otherwise complicated, you should consult with an estate planning attorney for help.

You could provide additional protections and advantages to your partner by getting married. As your wife, she could receive spousal and survivor benefits from Social Security based on your work record. You both would have visitation rights if the other were hospitalized and be empowered to make financial and health decisions if the other were incapacitated.

Marriage can have many other legal, financial and tax benefits as well. If you opt to remain unmarried, please talk to an attorney about available ways you can protect each other’s rights.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Wills-in-TexasToday’s top story: Tips for writing your will. Also in the news: The most important thing to ask your financial advisor, how to spend the rest of your FSA money, and how to calculate your tax refund by checking out your pay stubs.

5 Tips for Writing Your Will
An unpleasant but absolutely necessary task.

The Most Important Question To Ask Your Financial Advisor
No, it’s not “can you make me rich?”

3 Tips to Use Remaining Health Flexible Spending Account Money
Don’t let your FSA money go to waste.

3 Ways to Calculate Your Tax Refund Using Your Pay Stub
Get a preview of next year’s bounty.

How to Stop Making Excuses and Finally Get Your Finances in Order
Excuses are for wimps.