As ever, your watchdogs, Bennett and Diedre Braverman were glued to the national scene when President Obama gave his State of the Union address in case anything of value fell out for us to tell you about.

This won’t be of interest to many of you, I’ll admit right up front. It’s a niche blog post. But I couldn’t ignore it because for those of you who own businesses or have children launching into the workforce, this could be great news!

If you don’t offer a traditional retirement plan, until now, you’ve been at a loss, without tools to help your lowest-wage earners with retirement.

F Forbes recently shared its list of 7 Major Errors in Estate Planning. I’d like to share them, one at a time, with comments, and then add a couple they missed. Rather than swamp you with a treatise, here’s one that I really feel passionate about.

There are so many easy ways to screw up your estate plan – which can damage family relationships for life in many cases – and so few ways to make sure it’s right. I’ll share how our clients get peace of mind that their plan’s going to provide what they need and bring their family closer, not the opposite.

Not Having a Plan

When people think of technology, they think of a fast-paced, growing field. When they think of the law, they tend to think of stagnant printed volumes of laws stacked together in a library. The difference between the pace of technological development in space technology and estate planning technology is not as great as many imagine.

I visited the eye doctor today. My vision has changed a lot since I got my prescription lenses only 6 months ago. I think of optometry as a pretty unchanging area of medicine (“Is it better with one? Or two? One? Or two?”). I was surprised that they had two new tests for me today: to check the health of my areas of my eye deeper than my retina.

Your regular (annual to no-more-than-every-three-years) legal planning check up is similar to your annual eye exam. You and your attorney are searching for the changes that are particular to you (like the testing of your eye’s vision – your prescription). And you’re also looking for changes that apply to most or all patients: the new exam technologies.

First, let me share the fabulous news about “Retirement Accounts” then the bad news that I have to tell all the people who ask me about investment choices in a Retirement Account.

Tax-free Versus Tax-deferred

Retirement Accounts – 401(k)s, (403(b)s, IRAs and others – have wonderful tax advantages. Some allow you to put pre-tax money into an account, which then grows tax-free for years or evendecades until you withdraw it. When you withdraw it, you pay tax on the withdrawal. So they aren’t “tax-free”, they’re “tax-deferred.”

It’s that time of year again. No matter what your religion or traditions, you may be planning to use time off from work to visit with family including your parents. Some children will notice their parents slipping – unable to process things the way they used to. Other parents will appear just fine but you’ll still worry about the what-ifs.

AgingParents.com did an article listing “5 Things You Need To Do After A Holiday Visit With Aging Parents.” Depending upon how prepared your parents are, you could go through these five keys in five minutes or, at the other end of the spectrum, you may need to schedule a family meeting and another visit.

First, find out what legal planning documents your parents have. If they have not been reviewed in the last three years or if your parents don’t have any, help your folks find an estate planning attorney in their state who can help them make sure they have an effective plan in place. Because every family is unique, I won’t attempt to list every legal document they might need, but here are some of the most frequently necessary:

The Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Greene covered a Congressional proposal to end this attractive opportunity earlier this year.

Right now, if you inherit an IRA or other tax-advantaged retirement account, you are allowed to stretch out the withdrawals, and therefore the income tax, over the course of your own life expectancy.

Estate planning attorneys have found a way to wrap asset protection around that inherited IRA by putting it into a special tax-advantaged trust.

CONGRESS MAY IMPOSE RETROACTIVE ESTATE TAX

There is currently no tax on the estates of those dying during 2010. Although Congress may reinstate the tax retroactively in 2010, perhaps as part of broader tax reform, this is by no means a certainty.

If Congress fails to act, a few thousand very wealthy families will have reason to celebrate, while tens of thousands of taxpayers of more modest means will pay capital gains on inherited assets – and executors will face additional and confusing administrative burdens. And if Congress does change the law retroactively, extensive litigation over inheritances is almost guaranteed.

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