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The Importance of Estate Planning

Paraphrasing a quote by Benjamin Franklin, nothing is certain but death and taxes. And it’s these certainties that provide a strong argument for a sound estate plan.

Many people devote more time planning a vacation, deciding which car to buy or choosing a dinner spot than they do to estate planning. Although acknowledging your own mortality and planning what happens to everything you’ve worked so hard for after you die isn’t as fun to think about as booking your next trip or checking out who has the best restaurant reviews, developing an estate plan is vitally important, especially for your loved ones.   

By definition, an estate plan is a collection of legal documents that protects your assets and personal property (your “estate”) and sets forth who will inherit your assets after you’re gone or how you want your health and financial decisions handled if you’re unable to do so for yourself during your lifetime.

Many people assume that estate planning is only for the rich. This is not the case. You don’t have to have a mansion and millions of dollars in the bank to warrant an estate plan. In fact, not having an estate plan can have a long-lasting, costly impact on your loved ones after you die. The following are reasons you should consider an estate plan:

An Estate Plan Protects Beneficiaries

Estate planning was once considered something only individuals with high net worth needed. Today, however, many middle-class families need to have a plan in place in case something happens to the family’s breadwinner or breadwinners.Whether it’s a second home or a stock portfolio, an estate plan designates who you want to receive what. Without this, the courts will often decide who gets your assets. This process can take years, rack up hefty legal fees and get ugly.

An Estate Plan Protects Young Children

Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best. Nobody contemplates dying young, but if you have young children, you need to prepare for the unthinkable. In the event you and your spouse both die, you’ll want to ensure your children are cared for in the manner of which you both approve until they are 18. A will names these guardians and keeps the courts from stepping in to decide who will raise your minor children.

An Estate Plan Protects Heirs from a Hefty Tax Burden

Creating the smallest tax burden when assets are transferred to heirs is an essential part of estate planning. Estate planning can enable couples to reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes and state inheritance taxes. Without a plan, your beneficiaries could end up owing Uncle Sam a lot of money.

An Estate Plan Eliminates Family Messes

We’ve all heard the saying, “Money brings out the worst in people.” Unfortunately, when someone with money/assets dies, it can bring out traits and behaviors in family members never expected. Squabbling over who deserves what or who should be in charge can get ugly and end up in court with family members pitted against each other. An estate plan will stop these fights before they start. You will choose who controls your finances and assets if you become mentally incapacitated or after you die in the manner you’ve intended. It can also help you make individual plans, if necessary, if, for example, you need to make arrangements for a child with health problems.

Thoughtful planning now can help minimize taxes and probate fees, and ensure your loved ones will be taken care of and the legacy you leave behind is the one you want.

Talk to a financial professional to learn more about the importance of estate planning and partner with other professionals to help you develop a plan. Once your estate plan is in place, remember to periodically review and update your existing plan to account for law changes and life changes such as marriage, divorce or the birth or death of a family member.

Creating a Memorable Staycation

Who’s ready for a vacation? After the past several months, the better question is, who isn’t? Many families, however, are putting their travel plans on hold until the coronavirus outbreak subsides and their financial situations stabilize. But, you can still take a break from the stress and tension of everything going on around you and recharge and rejuvenate, all while creating lasting memories with your family, with an affordable staycation.

The key to the perfect staycation is to research, plan and prepare for it like you would for your traditional, out-of-town vacation.

Here are few research ideas and planning ahead tips to help you make the most of your staycation:

  1. First and foremost, your staycation, like a traditional vacation, requires you to take the time off work, blocking off your schedule just like you would if you were leaving town.

  • Make a list of your favorite local restaurants that deliver and plan a few staycation, take out dinners.

  • Load up your DVR or WatchList queue – Catch up on a series you’ve wanted to watch or download a marathon of your favorite movies. Have them teed up in your watch list for easy access and don’t forget to have plenty of popcorn and candy on hand!

  • Check out books at your local library or download a good read on your Kindle or Nook.  Your staycation is the perfect time to relax on the couch or in the backyard hammock and immerse yourself in a great novel.

  • Download some recipes you’ve been interested in trying out and add the necessary ingredients to your staycation, grocery shopping list.

  • Set up an area in the backyard for a bonfire. Make sure to have a generous supply of seasoned wood and kindling on hand, and don’t forget to add graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars to your shopping list for those yummy, campfire s’mores.

  • Pull out your favorite board games and a deck of playing cards. Add your favorite snacks and drinks to the grocery list and be ready for a marathon board or card game tournament night. Get your competitive family spirit going by keeping score and offering the winner a gift card to his or her favorite store for the prize.

  • Visit the websites of places of interest and see what they have to offer virtually. Numerous museums, art galleries, zoos and parks offer very inexpensive or free ways to take virtual tours. In addition, sites like Google Arts & Culture offer the opportunity to explore cultural institutions across the globe like the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York City for free.

  • Get the supplies needed for a water park in your backyard. Sprinklers, slip and slides and buckets of water balloons will create some great hot weather fun for the whole family. Buy or build your own cornhole board game for some additional backyard fun.

  1. Plan to truly unplug and disconnect. Your staycation is for you and your family so do your part to make it a real vacation. Set up an out-of-office email response, silence your phone, turn off your computer and let your colleagues know not to bother you unless it’s extremely urgent.

  1. Get the chores done before you begin your staycation. Pay your bills and do the laundry, house cleaning and lawn work, and stock up on the groceries and essentials for your staycation activities.

  1.  Build excitement for your staycation. Like a traditional vacation, put the dates on the calendar and begin counting down to your staycation. Print out a staycation calendar and as you and your family decide on your plans/activities, mark them on your calendar.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Get your family together and add your own creative, out-of-the-box activities to make this is a fun and memorable family staycation!

The History of New Year’s

Now that you’ve rung in 2020 with a glass or two of the bubbly and are most likely already rehashing the long list of resolutions you’ve made, and probably not kept, over the last decade, vowing to make a better effort this year, I thought I’d share some New Year’s history facts you probably don’t know. I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, that there’s a fascinating and lengthy history behind this widely celebrated holiday.

Many countries around the world celebrate the beginning of the new year. However, celebrating New Year’s is not new. Celebrations of the new calendar year have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Babylon in 2,000 B.C. The Mesopotamians marked the beginning of the new year by the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which took place sometime in late March. This was celebrated with a huge 11-day festival called Akitu. The festival involved a different ritual every day, celebrating the mythical victory of the sky god Marduk over the sea goddess Tiamat. This celebration also included the crowning of a new king or allowing the current ruler to continue his reign. According to the history books, this was the festival of all festivals and would put our present day New Year’s celebration to shame.

The Roman’s celebration of the new year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. Their early calendar, which according to tradition, was created in the eighth century B.C. by Romulus, the founder of Rome, consisted of 10 months (304 days), with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. However, over the centuries, this calendar fell out of synch with the sun. Consequently, in 46 B.C., with the consultation of the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of the time, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. This was a solar-based calendar, instituting January 1st as the first day of the year. Caesar chose this day to honor the month’s namesake Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings. This calendar resembles the modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

By the middle ages, medieval Europe considered the January 1st celebrations of the new year pagan and unchristian-like. Consequently, in 567 A.D. the Council of Tours replaced the January 1st date with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th or March 25th.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XII re-established January 1st as New Year’s Day, after the reform of the Gregorian calendar. Interestingly, although most Catholic countries immediately adopted this calendar, Protestant countries, like Britain and their American colonies, continued celebrating their new year in March until 1752.

So, now that I’ve astonished you with all these fascinating tidbits of New Year’s history, it’s time to begin or get back to the task at hand – formulating this year’s new and improved (LOL) list of New Year’s resolutions!

From our Intracoastal family to yours, here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020…and sticking to your resolutions!

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