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While the fiscal cliff tax deal cut by Congress last month targeted primarily higher wage earners, every American worker is feeling the effects of the payroll tax hike that went into effect on January 1, raising the Social Security payroll tax from 4.2% to 6.2%. Many of my clients experienced sticker shock after receiving their paycheck. Unlike a one time purchase it continues making it feel like shock and awe.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the average employee will feel an annual pinch of about $700 due to this increase.  Families with an annual household income of $100,000 face an income loss of approximately $2,000 a year.

A recent post on CNBC.com provides some tips on what we can all do to help offset this loss in income:

Adjust withholding.  Love getting that big fat IRS refund check every April?  Well, you’re not doing yourself any favors.  By banking with Uncle Sam, you are shorting yourself on funds you can use for your daily expenses.  Be sure you are taking the maximum number of withholding allowances to put that money back in your hands; you can check using the IRS Withholding Calculator.

Shop your insurance.  Financial experts advise consumers to shop around for car and home insurance every year, as rates are constantly changing.  You may be able to qualify for a number of discounts that will lower your rates as well.

Max out 401(k) contributions.  You can reduce your taxable income by contributing the maximum amount to your 401(k).  In 2013, you can contribute up to $17,500; if you’re over the age of 50, you can add another $5,500 in “catch-up contributions” for a total of $23,000.

Mortgage refinancing.  Mortgage rates are at an all-time low and you may be able to significantly reduce your monthly mortgage payment by refinancing now. 

Cut monthly fees.  Check all those auto-pay fees and be sure you still need those services you signed up for that take a chunk out of your take-home pay every month.  If your credit score is good, you should be able to qualify for low-rate credit cards as well.

If you’d like to learn more about preserving your assets, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 today and mention this post.

To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness

Attorney Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA


 
 
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Are You Sabotaging Your Divorce Recovery?
 If you’re like 99% of divorcing people, you ARE:

* Making important short-range divorce decisions, but aren’t aware which ones support you vs. sabotage your long-range divorce recovery …
* Succumbing to “emergency borrowing and/or spending” just to keep your household financially afloat…
* Feeling overwhelmed, stressed, angry, confused, frustrated, bitter, hurt, or depressed which is a “downward spiral” that can cause yourself and your children to still be struggling legally, financially and emotionally with the aftermath of divorce MANY YEARS LATER…

Facts show that 99% of men and women struggle through their divorce recovery … but they didn’t know that most of their divorce struggle was OPTIONAL. They could have taken simple steps that would avoid a painful and prolonged recovery process, and that would also help them to THRIVE (not just survive) their divorce.

You Deserve Better


To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness

Attorney Walter H. Bentley III, JD,MBA

 
 
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In this article I will explain the difference between a Will-based plan and a Trust-based plan so you can make an educated decision for your family about what is best for you and, ultimately, for them.

A Will-based plan is an estate plan that does not include a Living Trust to hold title to your assets.  If you work with us and choose our Family Plan, which is a will-based plan, your legal documents will include a Health Care Directive, Power of Attorney, a Will and, if you have minor children, a Kids Protection Plan®.

A Trust-based plan is an estate plan that does include a Living Trust to hold title to your assets during your lifetime and to provide for ease of transfer of those assets in the event of your incapacity or death.  If you work with us and choose our Trust Plan or Wealth Plan, your legal documents will include all of the documents included in the Family Plan PLUS one or more Living Trusts.

So, what’s the practical difference?

The difference between a Will-based plan and a Trust-based plan  is that without a Trust in place your family would have to go to Court to get access to your assets in the event of your incapacity or death.


Your Will indicates WHO you want to have access to those assets and how you want them distributed, but it does not keep your family out of the Court process.  Going through probate (or guardianship in the event of incapacity) is expensive, time-consuming, totally public and unnecessary.  And that’s what happens when you have only a Will in place and not a Trust.

When you have a Trust in place, there is a bit more work for you to do upfront because you need to make sure that all of your assets are owned in the Trust throughout your lifetime (or insurance assets are beneficiary designated to the Trust), but we help you with that or even do it for you.

And, with our regular review process or membership plan, we continue to make sure your assets are owned the right way throughout your lifetime, while also ensuring your plan stays up to date as your life changes, your assets change and even the law changes.

During your Family Wealth Planning Session™, we will walk you through an assessment of whether a Will-Based Plan or Trust-Based Plan is right for you based on the specifics of your family circumstances, what you own now and where you are going in the future.  One thing you can be sure of is that we will help you make the right decisions every step of the way. Call 248-429-9550 right now or visit www.wbentleylaw.com

To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness!

Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA

Attorney at Law


 
 
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Politics aside, understanding how the law that passed affects you is important to ensure you make the best decisions for you and your family.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 that Congress passed on New Year's Day extended the Bush era tax cuts, but the benefits of those cuts for most American taxpayers will be offset by a 2% increase in payroll tax.

According to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington research group, less than 1% of American households will see an increase in income taxes this year. Here are the specifics of what the bill that President Obama signed into law on January 2 entails:


Income tax

The Bush era tax cuts were extended permanently for individuals making less than $400,000 annually and married couples earning less than $450,000 annually. Those making over these amounts will see the top tax rate increase from 35% to 39.6%.

The personal exemption phase-out (PEP) and itemized deduction limits (Pease) were extended, with a cap of $250,000 for individuals and $300,000 for married couples.

Tax rates for capital gains and dividends increased 20% for individuals earning more than $400,000 per year and married couples with annual income of $450,000.

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption increases to $50,600 for individuals and $78,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly, and is permanently adjusted for inflation.

The charitable IRA rollover has been extended for one year. This means that those over the age of 70 1/2 with traditional IRAs can funnel their required minimum distributions to an IRS-approved charity. Those who waited until December 2012 to take their required minimum distribution have until the end of January to transfer those funds to a charity for 2012, but cannot make the contribution directly. You must contact the financial institution holding your IRA and request the donation.

Several individual tax credits – including those for college tuition, child tax credit and earned income tax credit – have been extended for five years.

Estate and gift tax

Good news here. The individual federal estate tax exemption stays at $5 million per individual, adjusted for inflation. Over that, a top tax rate of 40% applies.  The annual gift tax exclusion limit is $14,000 for 2013, with a lifetime gift tax exclusion of $5 million.

Payroll tax

As expected, payroll taxes will increase 2% in 2013. The rate goes from 4.2% to 6.2% on the employee portion of Social Security contributions.

If you’d like to learn more about how the new tax laws will affect you, call our office today at 248-429-9550 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

To Your Health, Wealth and Happiness

Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA
Attorney at Law


 
 
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The holidays are traditionally the time for family gatherings, where generations come together and perform holiday rituals that have been passed down through the years.  Part of those rituals includes material possessions – a well-worn set of silver at the holiday table, grandmother’s china or treasured tree ornaments from childhood.

The holidays have passed but I am sure there was one conversation that probably did not occur. When we sit down to that holiday meal, rarely do we contemplate Keisha and Stephanie engaged in a bitter fight over the sterling butter knives.  But it happens.  A lot.

To ensure that family memories are kept in a good place, your estate plan needs to include the orderly disposition of your material possessions.  Unbeknownst to a lot of us, these possessions can hold special meaning to younger generations, and a family feud that could be in the offing can be avoided by advance planning.

As part of your comprehensive estate plan, you may want to consider distributing some material possessions to your heirs prior to your death.  If not, then you need to be sure you specify exactly who you want to get what by:

·       Listing in detail each item and the name of the intended recipient

·       Sharing this list with your estate executor as well as with your family

·       Including the list within your last will and testament or other estate planning documents

If you’d like to learn more about estate planning strategies for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session™, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 today and mention this post.

To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness

Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA
Attorney at Law


 
 
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Estate planning rarely comes up in the course of regular conversation and if it does, it is usually involves what has happened to a celebrity’s fortune after his or her death.  The distance is safe, so the conversation can take place.

But what if you need to discuss estate planning with a loved one – either your own estate plan or the one they have (or should have)?  Because no one likes to talk about the death of someone close to them, we rarely have this critical conversation.  But we all should.

So how do you talk to a loved one about estate planning?  A recent Forbes.com article provides some good tips:

Pick the right time.  If it is too difficult to schedule a time for this conversation, have it when you’re doing something else, like taking a walk.

Start with a story.  Use a story as an opener to the conversation, like the death of a celebrity and the havoc that failure to plan is wreaking on his or her estate or how you created your own estate plan.

Talk separately.  It may be easier for parents with more than one child to have separate conversations with each child rather than talking to a group.

Use a team approach.  If you are having difficulty getting your spouse to focus on estate planning issues, communicate your concerns as a couple.  Talk about how aging means making mature decisions and how you need to protect children with estate planning.

Ask for feedback.  After discussing your estate plan with your children, ask them individually how they feel about what you have explained.  It may not change what you are doing, but it will let them feel they have a voice.

Explain why.  Explain to your children the principles that guided your decision about how your estate is being divided.  This lessens the chance of conflict among siblings.

If you’d like to learn more about estate planning strategies for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session™, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 today or and mention this article.

 
 
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The holidays are a traditional time for multiple generations to gather together, and are also a perfect opportunity for adult children to perform a reality check on how their aging parents are doing health-wise as well as assess financial and medical planning issues.

The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance provides these tips:

Check your elderly relatives’ home for potential fall hazards.  If there is unopened mail and unpaid bills laying around, it may be a sign they are having difficulty coping with everyday living.

Check the pantry and refrigerator to ensure it is well stocked.  If a parent has lost weight or there is spoiled food around, this is a sign that they may need some additional help around the house.

Make a list of all your parents’ medications and get the phone numbers of their primary care physicians. 

Be sure you have the license numbers of all vehicles in case one is stolen or your parent goes missing.

Talk to your parents about advance health care directives.  If they don’t have one, help them find a Personal Family Lawyer® to talk to about creating these and other important estate planning documents. 

If you’d like to learn more about wills, living wills, advance health care directives, power of attorney for health care designations or any other aspects of estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $650 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space this holiday season who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 or visit www.wbentleylaw.com today and mention this article.

 
 
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With longer life spans comes the necessity to be sure your money is around at least as long as you are.  A little known type of insurance is Longevity insurance. You pay a certain sum to an insurer when you’re in your 60s in exchange for monthly payments 20 or more years down the road – is a lesser known insurance product that is growing in popularity, especially considering potential cuts to Social Security benefits and the absence of pension plans in corporate America these days.

According to the Society of Actuaries, for a relatively healthy 65-year-old couple, chances are 63 percent that one of them will live until the age of 90 and 36 percent that one will make it to 95.  Some financial advisors consider longevity insurance to be a good way to manage the risk of living to a ripe old age.

Longevity insurance is an annuity with a fixed income that kicks in at a specified future age, usually 85.  For example, a “maximum income” version of MetLife’s longevity insurance with a lump sum investment of $100,000 at age 65 would pay a woman a little over $59,000 annually once she reached the age of 85.  A man would receive more – just under $74,000 a year – because men have shorter life spans than women.

Under many longevity insurance policies, if you die before payments begin, your heirs are out of luck.  However, there are alternate versions that guarantee some death benefits to heirs, but they are usually more expensive at the outset.

If you’d like to learn more about long-term care and other estate planning strategies, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk with a Personal Family Lawyer®. We normally charge $650 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 today and mention this article or visit www.wbentleylaw.com.

To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness

Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA
Attorney at Law

 
 
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According to a recent study by the Investor Protection Trust and Investor Protection Institute, the top three ways that the elderly could be financially exploited are:

·        Theft of funds or property by family members

·        Theft of funds or property by caregivers

·        Financial scams by strangers

It is estimated that one in nine seniors has been a victim of financial abuse in the past year. As a former Prosecuting Attorney I saw senior citizens being victimized in many ways including financial by their loved ones.  Many prosecutor offices have special units to help stop this elder abuse.  However, they have limited resources and are overwhelmed by the volume.  So what can you do to protect elderly parents from financial fraud?  Here are some tips:

Seek out a financial abuse prevention seminar in your local area.  Many senior centers and organizations provide these programs, so choose one and go with your parent(s) as an opportunity to do something social with them.

Put your parents’ finances on auto-pilot by enrolling them in direct deposit for Social Security, pension, retirement and investment income.  Set up automatic bill pay for as many bills as possible, and help them pay their bills online.

Check in with them frequently and ask them directly if they have been solicited by anyone who visited or called.  If you live nearby, visit in person.

Some experts advise those with elderly parents who become incapable of handling investments to invest a portion of their retirement income into a low-cost, immediate-fixed or inflation-adjusted annuity from a reputable insurance company.  This will provide a guaranteed lifetime income that cannot be lost to fraud or abuse.

If a parent’s savings are still in their former employer’s 401(k) plan, consider keeping it there.  These plans are strictly regulated for the exclusive benefit of employees, and may yield the best investment deal possible.

If you’d like to learn more about estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  We normally charge $650 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next three people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 today and mention this article. 

To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness

Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA
Attorney at Law

 
 
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While most parents have the inclination to treat all their children equally when it comes to an inheritance, Personal Family Lawyers® know that this is not always the wise choice.  As a parent, I know these decisions are not always easy, but you raised them. You know what is best.  Here are some scenarios when an unequal distribution may be better:

Children of unequal wealth – If you have one child that is a successful entrepreneur and another that is a social worker, you might want to leave more to the less financially advantaged child.  If that’s the case, be sure to either explain it to them beforehand or write a letter to be opened upon your death explaining your reasoning.  Most children equate money with love, so don’t leave hard feelings behind.

Poor money manager – if you have a child who is poor at managing money and always in debt, you have an alternative to leaving an inheritance outright: a spendthrift trust.  Setting up a trust to disburse certain amounts at predetermined ages, or allocating funds for medical or educational expenses, can protect the inheritance throughout your child’s lifetime.  In this case, it is best to name a trustee who is not a family member.

Bad relationships – if you have a child who has one or more divorces or a string of bad relationships, you should probably consider establishing a trust in this case as well to shield assets from divorce.

Special needs child – a child with special needs should be provided for through a special needs trust, which can be established in a way that protects his or her ability to receive necessary governmental assistance. 

Child with long-term care needs – if you have a child who has a chronic illness and needs expensive medical treatment, you might want to consider purchasing additional life insurance naming that child as beneficiary.  If the child is a minor, you will need to set up a trust as beneficiary of the policy.

Pre-existing loans – if you have made substantial loans to one child and not the others, you may wish to count those as an early inheritance and take them into account before estate assets are distributed. 

Estranged children – in some cases, parents want to disinherit a child.  If you do decide to take this path, you need to be clear that you are intentionally disinheriting the child and not just simply leave them out of your estate plan. 

If you’d like to learn more about creating a personal estate plan, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next three people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 248-429-9550 today and mention this article.

To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness

Walter H. Bentley III, JD, MBA
Attorney at Law