Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Regardless of how diligent one may be, anybody can become a victim of Identity Theft. Prompt response will minimize the damage, and our Identity Theft Repair Kit can help guide you through the process. Complete it online or print it out to jot down notes as they arise. Some may want to fill out contact information ahead of time to have that information at hand should you need it. Find it here.
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Are Your Heirs Aware?
Nobody wants to think about their own death. It's a hard subject to broach, even with those you love the most. Yet it's for their sake that you prepare for that day. It will happen to each and every one of us, ready or not.
Those that are prepared leave a lasting legacy. Those that aren't leave a lingering ordeal.
It isn't enough to merely create the proper documents. Your heirs need to know where they can find them.
Your heirs can't file a claim for property they don't know exists. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets. After a designated amount of time, different by state, that money becomes the property of the state.
It's a good idea to create a file listing documents, bank accounts, insurance policies and brokerage accounts that your family can refer to in case of emergency. GCF has a Document Locator on our website that can help you get this information organized.
The documents can be filed with your attorney, locked in a safe-deposit box or kept at home in a fireproof safe. Make sure someone else knows the combination or location of the key.
You must have an original will on file. Copies can be disputed in probate. Include a letter of instruction so that your executor has names and contact information for your lawyer, accountant and financial adviser along with instructions on funeral arrangements.
You'll also need to provide your heirs with a durable financial power-of-attorney so they can make financial decisions on your behalf in case of an emergency.
Proof of ownership for all of your assets should be included in your document file. Real estate records, cemetery plots, vehicle titles, stock certificates, savings bonds, and a list of brokerage and escrow mortgage accounts are all items your heirs need to know about.
Make a list of loans you made to others as well as any debts you owe. At least three years worth of tax returns should be available so your heirs can file a final return on your behalf.
Your heirs will need a list of all bank accounts and online login information so they can notify the bank of your death. They also need to know of your safe-deposit box. If they're not listed on the registration document, they'll need a court order to retrieve the contents.
Your family may need to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. A durable healthcare power-of-attorney assures they have the authority to make decisions should you become incapacitated. A living will assures they will comply with your wishes.
Copies of life insurance policies are important for your family to have. Include any policy your employer offered at retirement. A list of pensions, annuities, IRAs and 401(k)s must be included as well. If no withdrawal has been made by age 70-1/2, an IRA is considered dormant. An estimated tens of millions of dollars lay in unclaimed IRAs every year.
Marriage and divorce papers should be kept nearby also. You may have to provide proof, even 30 years later when finding the proper documents can be extremely difficult.
You've spent your lifetime acquiring these assets. Make sure your heirs can claim their rightful ownership when the time comes for them to do so.
Just My Opinion
As the debt ceiling debate continues to swirl, I can't help but think both sides are so far off target that a real solution will never be reached. Allow me to offer my own thoughts here, which in no way reflect the opinions of GCF Bank, its management, directors or employees.
We hear the same rhetoric each and every time the subject is discussed. The same two options are the only ones offered: Do we raise taxes or cut spending? Do we punish the wealthy or push grandpa out of his wheelchair through Medicare cuts?
No amount of increased taxes would be sufficient to offset our budget shortfall. We're not talking about trying to catch up on a few measly million dollars here. Our budget deficit is nearly $1.4 trillion. We can't begin to stop accruing debt until our budget is more closely balanced.
Just how much can you gain by raising taxes? We can nickel-and-dime ordinary citizens like the fellow who caught Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit ball. The 23-year-old fan did the morally right thing in returning the ball to the Yankees. He could have sold it on e-Bay in hopes of raising enough money to put a dent in his $100,000 student loan debt. But he didn't. In return, the Yankees gifted him with luxury suite tickets, autographed bats, balls and jerseys, and other assorted team trinkets.
Trinkets the IRS has valued at about $50,000. And he could face a $14,000 tax liability for merely being a good guy who did the right thing.
Or we can tax the wealthy. But the top 10 percent of wage earners currently pay 70 percent of our collected Federal Income taxes. Let's pass a collection plate around and see if they want to toss in another $1.4 trillion.
Any business facing a shortfall knows they have to tighten their belts to continue operating. Yet our government continues to grow at an alarming pace.
Businesses have cut back. The proof is in our high unemployment rate. People are not working. Therefore, they do not collect a paycheck from which to assess taxes.
Maybe creating jobs is a better solution than raising taxes. A working citizenship forms a larger tax base.
How does one create jobs? Balancing the trade deficit would be a good start. A global economy can only prosper when imports/exports transact on a level playing field.
So instead we look to budget cuts as a way to decrease the deficit. Where do opponents hold the most leverage? By threatening cuts in popular social programs. Public outcry will shift the blame to those who even suggest such cuts.
There's no question that Social Security and Medicare both need substantial reform to continue to serve the needs of the American people. We've discussed this in previous issues of GCFlash, no need to rehash it again here. For now, we can focus on eliminating fraud as a means to control spending in these essential programs. It would be a step in the right direction.
Rather than continue asking the American people to bailout a government run amuck, perhaps it's time that our elected officials take a good, hard look at themselves.
Let's start with earmarks, those little pet projects promised to a legislator by bill sponsors in return for their vote. Craft a bill worthy of passage and we wouldn't be footing a few extra million to build a bridge to nowhere or subsidize farmers not to grow crops.
Focus on future initiatives for the good of the public. Propaganda advertising does not make us want or need a product that causes more harm than good. Yet millions of dollars are spent trying to convince us of nonexistent benefits.
I'm talking ethanol fuels here that destroy marine and small engines as just one example. While automobiles run fine with the product, they still get less mileage than traditional gasoline. And ethanol production itself creates higher emissions than running cars on good ole' gasoline. It's also contributed to the global food crisis. Not really one of our better ideas.
Or the "low energy" compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) that emits less light as it's used over time, spews dangerous mercury when it breaks, and costs the consumer more. Do we really need legislation to dictate which type of light bulb we use?
These are just two examples of government-sponsored projects that cost more to research, develop, distribute and defend than any benefit derived. Countless more land on lawmaker's desks everyday. Nobody asks how they'll be paid for, or if they're worth the cost, until it's too late.
I would love to see Congress follow the example set by Lee Iacocca and hundreds of other CEOs trying to save a struggling company. Grant themselves a salary of only $1 until they can solve our liquidity problems once and for all. They'll get by just fine on benefits and bonuses.
Every member of Congress receives the same salary of $174,000. Those appointed to leadership positions, such as Speaker of the House, earn more. But for the sake of simple math, we'll forego such variances. And we won't include members of their staff.
With 435 members of the House of Representatives and 50 Senate members, our annual Congressional payroll equals $84,390,000. This simple sign of good faith by our lawmakers would show they're truly interested in solving this problem.
We can make great strides in reducing the deficit by looking at a couple areas of wasteful spending alone. We don't need to take away grandpa's wheelchair.
This is just one writer's opinion. If you would like to share yours, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The big news last week was that the employment situation in the U.S. is not improving at the moment. The unemployment rate increased to 9.2 percent in May from 9.1 percent the prior month. Non-farm payrolls increased by 18,000 compared to 25,000 the prior month. This came nowhere near expectations of 65,000 to 160,000. Private payroll additions also dropped from 73,000 to 57,000 in June.
The total number of jobs reportedly available since the drop in 2007 has gone down by 7 million. Some sectors have show increases in the past year including food service, tech and manufacturing. Evaluating industry's future potential may direct where to invest in job re-education.
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