The 3 must haves of estate planning

Financial-Estate-Planner-Raleigh-NC-300x300Everyone needs an estate plan. I don’t care how old you are, how young you are, how rich or how poor you are. You need to protect yourself and your family. Do you want your family to be on the news like Terry Schiavo? Without some form of protection, decisions made after you’re gone or incapacitated can tear families apart.

Each of the following documents protect you in some form or another. Each one can be as equally as important. You do not have to have $10 million to find value in a couple pieces of paper. Ask yourself this, “what happens when I die or become incapacitated?” Where do your children go? Who decides whether you should remain on life support or not? Who gets the house or that prized base ball collection? Do you want your private life made public by the state?

Lets examine the 3 must haves:

Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is a document that directs where you want your assets to go and who gets to oversee the disposition of assets. A will can be as simple as a “I leave everything to so and so” to as complex as setting up various trusts.

Wills help you avoid making your private life public. If you die without a will, you are considered intestate. This means that the things you own or control at the time of death are examined and distributed by the probate court. Which also means that everything you own is made public for the world to see. There are those out there who will prey on people who just inherited a lot of money. They just look up the latest probate cases. Lets me also mention that probate court can be expensive and time consuming.< Do you want your heirs fighting over who gets what? I’ve seen it destroy families.

Living Will
A living will is a will that you use when you are living. Simple enough, right? The living will issues orders to doctors or caregivers in the event that you become incapacitated. For example, you get in a car accident and go into a coma. Now, what if you’re brain dead? Doctors have an obligation to keep you alive, do you want to live and suffer or die quickly?

The living will details specifically what doctors should do in a situation like this. Instead of letting your family quarrel over whether or not you should live, you made the decision already. It is a touchy subject, especially asking yourself if you want to live or die, but it is necessary.

Health Care Power of Attorney
The HCPOA for short appoints someone to make decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated. This person can decide the level of health care as well as, depending on the provisions, take care of your obligations such as bills. The person you appoint can make the decision whether you should live or die based on what you have in your living will or have said in the past. If Terry Schiavo’s husband had a HCPOA, he could have stopped all that legal fiasco, he would have had the power to remove her feeding tube.

There you have 3 simple documents that will protect you and your family. There are a lot of issues to consider when developing your estate plan, there are a lot of hard questions that must be answered. In the end, do you want to control your fate, or do you want the state or doctors decide it for you?

7 tips to saving more on apartments

Ah, moving season again. It seems like every year I’m moving into a new apartment. As an avid apartment dweller since 2002 I have seen many apartments – some good, some utterly horrible. Here’s some advice on how to save some money when looking for an apartment and just some general thoughts on the issue.

  • Get your discount off of the rent. If you work for a major company (whether or not its a retail job or corporate job) any respectable apartment complex will offer a discount off your monthly rent. My fiance works for a major hospital and having told that to our new apartment managers, we’ll be getting about 5% off our monthly rent there, or about $34 per month. On top of that, we pay no deposit and no application fee – an automatic $200 savings.
  • Read the reviews that other people leave about various apartment complexes. Granted, most people who bother to write reviews are disgruntled, you can at least get some idea of what’s going on. If I had read some reviews about my last apartment, I would have figured out a.) insulation is horrible and b.) carpenter bees are everywhere. If I had known this, I could have saved myself the $200 per month I was spending on gas heat – that’s for a one bedroom apartment (average around here is about $60 per month in the winter). Two sites I like to check out before renting are or both of which have a good list of apartments in your area.
  • Newer is sometimes better, but not always. Newer complexes are generally better on the construction and the overall cost of utilities. They generally feature more energy efficient windows and appliances which can save you money on those monthly utility bills. However, not all new apartments are great. Some have very shoddy construction, poor insulation (between units mostly) and settling problems. If you visit those sites I listed above, people generally will mention something about it. Some older apartments I’ve been in were built in the days when quality was stressed over quantity – ah the good old days. Just keep your eye open when you go to look – look for cracks in the wall, baseboards that have exposed gaps (usually a sign of warped walls), bubbles in the laminate flooring, bugs (if they’re there now, they’ll be there when you move in), etc.
  • You have to spend more to get more. If you go for the bargain, expect to be living with other people who can only afford that little rent. If you move into a complex that caters to college students, expect noisy neighbors. If you move to section 8 housing, expect your car to be broken into. If you want little to no problems, you have to spend more. I have generally found that people who spend more are usually more well behaved and courteous to their neighbors. All apartments have noise problems, but you can lessen it by going with something that has better construction and courteous neighbors.
  • Look for an apartment with a decent fitness center. If you pay to go to a gym, an apartment with a fitness center is a big plus. Having it included in your rent basically saves you that monthly gym bill. Granted gyms are usually a lot better equipped than apartment fitness centers, you can still get your basic workout done. Think of the savings as another discount on your rent.
  • Mind the Sun. If you’re in the south where it’s generally warmer in the winter months, chose an apartment that faces the northeast. If you’re in the north and have predominately colder weather, choosing a southwest or south-facing apartment is better. Why? A north-facing apartment gets less sun, therefore if you’re in the south, you’ll spend less on cooling. A south-facing apartment gets more sun so it heats up better which is good if you live in a cooler climate and want to save on that heating bill.
  • Find out what utilities are before you move. Some utility companies will disclose the average utility costs for the unit or apartment complex you’re thinking of moving into. Give your local company a call and see if they can give you average rates – this helps with your budgeting for your new place.

That’s all the tips I can think of right now. I hope this has helped and I hope you save yourself some money and problems the next time you move.