Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Estate Planning Seminars

I have posted my 2009 estate planning seminar schedule on my firm's web site. Topics that will be covered include doing your own will, wills and other important documents, and charitable giving. I am certain to add more presentations as the year passes, so be sure to check back if a day/time does not work with your schedule.

And, if you have an idea of a seminar or your organization is looking for a speaker on estate planning, please let me know.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tax Changes in 2009

January 1st, 2009, brings two important changes to the tax arena surround estate planning:

  • First, the annual gift exclusion will increase from $12,000 to $13,000 per person per year. This means that an individual can give any one person a gift without triggering the gift tax if it is $13,000 or less in 2009. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Ask a tax accountant or lawyer for advice on your specific situation.
  • Second, the applicable exclusion amount will increase from $2 million to $3.5 million per estate. This means that if a person dies and his or her estate's net worth (assets minus liabilities) is BELOW the exemtion no FEDERAL estate tax is owed. It is essential that surviving family and friends seek counsel a probate attorney to determine if the tax is owed; often times families will overlook assets that should be included in the calculation, such as life insurance proceeds.
Best wishes for 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Odd News Story - Buried With a Cell Phone

Sometimes it is nice to post a blurb that is on the humorous side, which is not all that easy to do when you write about illness, death, and taxes. But I came across this article on trends with burials.....more people are choosing to be buried with their cell phones. From an anthropological view point it is not odd for people to be buried with mementos. The headline just caught my attention.

As I've blogged about before, if you have specific burial wishes it is recommended that you coordinate with friends and loved ones now. In Wisconsin you can complete an Authorization For Final Disposition form where you nominate someone to be in charge of your funeral and you can leave specific instructions.

Book: Alive and Kicking: Legal Advice for Boomers!

With short, concise chapters on a variety of issues, Alive and Kicking: Legal Advice for Boomers By Kenney F. Hegland & Robert B. Fleming (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2007) is worth a read for anyone who works with Baby Boomers or is a Boomer themselves. Chapters address issues ranging from estate planning to identity theft to Social Security to divorce and remarriage. Written for boomers, instead of attorneys, the book offers straightforward insight into the issues faced as people age.

My complete review of the book can be read in The Wisconsin Lawyer, a magazine published by the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rating Nursing Homes

The WSJ reported last week that the Federal government has designed a system to rate the nation's nursing homes through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The system gives an overall rating as well as on health inspections, staffing, and quality measures. According to the article, the nursing home industry asserts that the system is too simplistic. One thing the nursing home industry and the government do agree on is that it is best for families to make in-person visits and do their homework before selecting a facility.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Being Charitable with an IRA

As the end of the year approaches, many people may be considering charitable donations. If you are 70.5 years old, or manage the finances of someone that age, you may want to read more about donation options. The Financial Rescue Package passed by Congress in October 2008 (known as Public Law 110-343) included a two-year extension of an IRA rollover provision, which means taxpayers may transfer gifts directly from their IRA to a charity – without including it as income and without paying taxes on the total amount of the gifts. A nice summary is posted on this United Way web site.

As always, it is best to consult your tax or legal counsel before taking any action. This post is not intended to serve as legal advice, it is a commentary on news related to estate planning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Keeping the Farm a Farm

If your family owns a piece of land that you hope remains untouched in the future, take some inspiration from Ben Logan's recent decision to place "Seldom Seen Farm" into a conservancy agreement with the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. The farm, which was at the heart of his book "The Land Remembers" is described as a Wisconsin jewel, and now will remain so forever. The Wisconsin State Journal ran a niece story on the agreement in today's paper.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Possible Changes to Wisconsin's Power of Attorney for Finance

The front page of the Wisconsin State Journal ran a somber story on its front page about elder abuse; reports of elder abuse rose to all-time highs in Wisconsin last year. Cases of both self-neglect and financial abuse have risen steadily. Along with the increase in report abuses comes a movement from elder advocates for improvement to Wisconsin's power of attorney for finance. The article mentions that in the next legislative session advocates hope to protect the elderly from financial exploitation.

What, if any, implications this may have for people with existing powers of attorney is unknown. I'll post updates as the legislation advances.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Charitable Giving in 2008

As the end of 2008 approaches people may be considering making charitable contributions. If you are considering making a charitable gift, but are a little uncertain about how to go about it, I recommend reading the 10 Tips at Network For Good's web site.

And it might be wise to take a look at the American Bar Association's web site, which has some nice tax tips to keep in mind. And as the site points out, it is also advisable to contact your tax professional when you have questions or are unclear on IRS rules.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Return of the Wisconsin Estate Tax???

The front page of the WSJ yesterday ran a story about how the State may fill the $5.4 billion deficit. And the return of the Wisconsin estate tax is mentioned, along with a sales tax on funerals. I will post updates as this issue works its way through the Legislature.