Thursday, November 19, 2009

Burglars Target Homes Based on Obituary

One of the "to-do" items on my list when we were preparing for my father's visitation and funeral was to ask a neighbor of my parents to keep an eye our their home while we were at the funeral. Some thought I was a bit too skeptical, but based on recent local news, I'm glad I did. Turns out the local thieves are using obituary listings to determine when people will be away from the home, and break in. A summary of the events is available on NBC 15's web site. Publishing the day and time of a funeral is a basic element of an obituary. My recommendation, make sure there is someone, a neighbor or friend, who can keep an eye on the home during the event.

Madison, Wisconsin Tops List of Charitable Cities

Yes, once again my home town sits atop a best of list, this time of charitable cities. This pleasant news came to my attention in the Wisconsin State Journal. As the end of the year approaches, many people consider making donations, motivated both by goodwill, and tax deductions. A prior post on my site, To Give or Not to Give, offers advice on selecting a worthy charity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musing about the Federal Estate Tax

As the end of the calendar year draws near, there is more and more speculation about when Congress might take action to address the federal estate tax. Today the Wisconsin Law Journal ran an article on the federal estate tax. Laws on the books call for the tax to end in 2010, and then resume in 2011 at $1 million. That means, in 2011 if an estate was valued at $1 million or more, the federal estate tax would apply. The current exemption level is $3.5 million, meaning estates below $3.5 are exempt from the federal tax.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are a farmer or small business owner it makes estate planning a bit tricky....we're not certain what the new exemption level will be. There are several bills floating around DC, and the prevailing thought is the higher the exemption level, the better.

Why is the estate tax so troublesome? Well, it applies on liquid and illiquid assets. Horror stories about of small business owners or farmers dying, leaving behind an estate worth more than the exemption, but little cash to pay the IRS...often leading to a fire sale to generate cash quickly.

As the year ticks to an end, keep your eyes on Washington for movement on this issue.

Delay and Blended Families

I came across this article about Peter Seller's estate. Apparently he died before signing a divorce settlement. As a result, the settlement was never enforced. His soon-to-be ex-wife inherited his entire estate, who then died leaving it to her daughter. Seller's three children from prior marriages were left 750 pounds each!

This is a Hollywood story, but carries important lessons for all. First, legal papers are not binding until they are signed. This is true for estate plans, not until they are signed to the carry and legal don't delay in putting your date and signature on the forms. Second, if you have a blended family you really, really need to give some thought to what will happen to the assets when the first spouse dies. If you don't, State statutes will control and may differ from what you would have wanted.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thoughts on Writing an Obituary

With my father's death, I faced the hardest writing assignment I'd ever had.....writing his obituary. When grief is washing over you, penning a final tribute to a loved family member is not easy. If you are stuck and not sure what to do, take it one element at a time, include the decedent's:
  • full name,
  • age,
  • date of birth,
  • date of death,
  • residence,
  • place of birth (if different),
  • relationship status (married, partnered, widowed),
  • name of surviving family (parents, spouse/partner, children, etc.),
  • preceded in death by (list family who has died),
  • educational and vocational background,
  • memorial or funeral service date, time, and location,
  • whether there is a public burial,
  • organization if "in lieu of flowers" is being used, and
  • a personal touch (nickname, family memory, adjectives, poem, spiritual verse).
Start with the formula, and sprinkle in bits that bring out the unique life of the person you are paying tribute to.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Facebook Memorials

Yes, even the social networking site Facebook has a policy for handling a person's death. Interested in learning more? Click here for a link to a blog post on how FB handles this type of situation.