Tuesday, July 17, 2012
You've diligently prepared all of your documents to protect your loved ones after your death. But they serve no purpose if they can't be found. Use our Document Locator to keep them all together.
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Making Your Will
None of us want to consider our own mortality. Yet as Benjamin Franklin noted: "The only things certain in life are death and taxes."
You would be well-served to prepare for both instances.
A recent survey from RocketLawyer.com found that 50 percent of Americans with children do not have a will. Worse yet, 41 percent of those age 55 - 64 don't either.
It's easy to keep pushing this chore to the bottom of your to-do list. After all, a young and healthy individual doesn't need a will just yet.
This is one task that can't be put off until you need it. Life can change in an instant.
Your loved ones will be left haggling with the state if you die intestate - without a will. And the state may well decide your spouse should be your sole beneficiary. After they take a chunk of your estate for their time and effort in making this momentous discovery.
Cost is one factor people cite in their delay to make will. But those with limited resources can generally find a basic form online for free. You only need to fill in the blanks and have it witnessed by two individuals. It doesn't even have to be notarized, but doing so will safeguard against claims that your will is invalid. You won't need more than that unless you have a large amount of assets to protect, in which case your lawyer likely has this task in hand already.
What needs to be included in your will? The digital era has changed this list significantly. So we'll start with covering the traditional needs.
Make a list of your significant assets. Be sure to include information on your financial adviser, your retirement plan, divorce papers, premarital agreements or any other document that may be useful.
Pull together employment benefit statements, life insurance policies, deeds to real estate, titles to vehicles, business agreements and your last two years of income tax returns. Anything that validates ownership of your assets should be included.
Who will inherit your property? Choose an alternate beneficiary too, in case your first choice happens to be at your side when the freight train rams your car. Unlikely scenario no doubt, more likely one spouse may still be grieving and not yet change their own will when their time comes. Yes, each spouse has to make a separate will.
Choose an executor wisely. This person will be in charge of settling your estate and assuring your wishes are adhered to. Be sure to let them know so it doesn't come as a complete surprise.
If your children are under 18, decide who will raise them if neither you nor your spouse are able. Make sure someone has authority to manage their property as well.
There are situations where a parent will not leave equal shares of their estate to all of their children. Perhaps one child is unemployed or handicapped and the others quite successful. Maybe one child provided more towards the parent's needs while alive and it's their form of repayment. Be clear why this choice was made to avoid conflict among the siblings later.
Don't forget your digital assets. Do you have photos, videos or personal records online? They hold value, also. Your family will cherish these memories when you're no longer there to create new ones with them.
Each website has its own rules as to the handling of a deceased person's account. But someone has to have legal authorization to manage your online accounts. Name a digital executor and provide them with a list of your online accounts and wishes for each. This supersedes any protocol a website has established.
Include any online bank accounts, email accounts, iPod music and photos, YouTube, eBay, PayPal, data backups or anywhere else you may have information stored in addition to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Pinterest.
The death of a loved one is always difficult. More so when they're left making arrangements and struggling to put your financial house in order. Your greatest act of kindness towards them may just be rearranging your to-do list. Make your will without delay to help them through this difficult time.
Where Dream Come True
Imagination. What thoughts do the very word conjure up?
The more cerebral of you may think of the famous Einstein quote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
But I'm betting far more of you will picture the Happiest Place on Earth. The place where adults become children once more. The Magic Kingdom.
Walt Disney transformed entertainment into what we know it as today. His amusement parks, cartoons and technology captivate even those obsessed by video games. And his animation even laid the groundwork for those video games.
Disney lived in Marceline, Missouri for most of his childhood. He displayed an interest in art and drawing at a young age. He sold small sketches and drawings to neighbors at the age of seven. He doodled pictures of animals and nature instead of doing school work.
A summer job with the railroad nurtured his love for trains. He strove to recapture the freedom he felt aboard a train.
Disney tried to enlist for military service in 1918, but was rejected because of his age. He was only 16 years old at the time.
Undaunted, he joined the Red Cross where he spent a year driving an ambulance and chauffeuring Red Cross officials in France. And he was easy to spot. Disney painted his ambulance stem to stern with his cartoons.
After returning home, he pursued a career in commercial art and began experimenting in animation. He began producing short animated films for local businesses.
Disney's first creation, "The Alice Comedies," was about a real girl in an animated world. But he quickly ran out of money and was bankrupt at the ripe young age of 21.
Walt Disney never feared failure. He never gave up. Instead, he headed out west to California where his brother, Roy, was already established. The two pooled their resources and setup shop in their uncle's garage. It wasn't long before the first order came in for their featurette "Alice in Cartoonland."
Walt Disney was on the brink of bankruptcy several times in his life. But his enthusiasm and faith in himself, and those around him, launched his success.
In 1925, Disney created a character that became a dynasty. Mickey Mouse first appeared in a silent cartoon called "Plane Crazy." But before its release, sound was introduced in the motion picture industry. So Mickey's debut was stalled until the 1928 release of "Steamboat Willie" - the world's first synchronized sound cartoon.
Disney next introduced Technicolor. He held the patent to it for two years, making him the only one to create color cartoons.
Then came full-length animated features. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was released in 1937 during the depth of the Depression. It's cost of $1,499,000 was unheard of at the time, but it's still considered one of the great feats of the motion picture industry.
Over the next five years, Disney went on to produce four more timeless classics: "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."
He found success mixing live action with cartoon animation with such hits as "The Three Caballeros," "Song of the South," and "Mary Poppins."
Disney wasn't satisfied by merely entertaining. He loved history and nature and strove to make this world a better place. His award-winning True-Life Adventure series of films gave insight into the world of wild animals and taught the importance of nature conservation.
The amusement parks came next. They, too, blended entertainment with education. He was certain that the solutions to the problems of our cities did not lie in curing the old ills, but in building a community that will become a prototype for the future.
Hence was born the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) in Florida. Disney personally directed the design, planned as a living showcase for the creativity of American industry.
But he never got to see it to fruition. One year after his death from lung cancer in 1966, construction began on the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, including the EPCOT Center. Not even death could halt the vision of Walter Elias Disney.
The markets moved lower today, disappointed in Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Semi Annual Monetary Policy Report before the Senate where he failed to solidify any Fed plans for further monetary easing. At their regular meeting in June, the Fed made clear that they stood willing and able to provide further monetary accommodation to help spur what has been at first a slow, and now sputtering recovery. The "able" part has markets suspicious, since there is an unprecedented amount of monetary accommodation already in the system. Short term interest rates remain near zero, the Fed's balance sheet is enormous, and operation twist (the lengthening of maturities on the Fed Balance sheet) remains in progress. Many economists believe the Fed is out of firepower, although Bernanke, in the past, has said there is more the Fed can do.
One could extract more gloom from the Chairman's comments, where an economic picture was painted that was not pretty. The "treacherous situation" in Europe is a significant headwind to the U.S. economy, coupled by a host of other negative indicators. In short, the Chairman sees little likelihood of improved growth or lower unemployment for the foreseeable future. It is no wonder the markets moved lower.
Much has been said about tax policy and its effect on growth. Usually, the issue is the top marginal tax rate. Fact: The top 1 percent of earners (this includes about a million small businesses) pay about 40 percent of all income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent pay none. Those on the right correctly state that the vast majority of the private sector jobs are created by individuals and businesses subject to this top rate. The burden, they explain, is so onerous that it stifles job creation.
On the other hand, the left points to greater disparities in income distribution as evidence "the rich are not paying their fair share." Although the latter argument certainly has appeal to the more modestly compensated, some argue that it is counterproductive since very few jobs are actually created by those in the bottom half. Sliding the scale further just reduces the ranks of the creators and increases the ranks of those who would most benefit from more jobs.
So do higher marginal tax rates stymie job growth? Or do reduced top marginal rates actually spur job growth? You will have to decide for yourself.
Below is a table of top marginal tax rates worldwide courtesy of electoral-vote.com. The U.S. actually ranks 40th in the world.
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