Your Digital Footprint: How to Protect your Virtual Footprint

The new digital age has seen the onset of countless new conveniences whether through online shopping, banking, entertainment, or social networking. We can now order food and have it delivered to our door, transfer money at the push of a button, and video chat with friends and family that are halfway around the world. Through all these advancements, however, one thing stays the same, the necessity of virtual security. With all these new apps and websites to use comes the addition of endless different passwords to ensure the safety of personal information, with some sites even forcing you to make a new password every x months as an extra layer of security. All in all, this builds up quite the “portfolio” of digital “assets” that can sometimes get confusing. Now, it may not be a comfortable topic, but in the case of the death or incapacity of the owner of these digital accounts, add another layer of complication, as family members now have to weed through various accounts to consolidate their estate.

The good news is that the same advancements in technology that brought around all these security features, questions, passwords, etc. are the same ones that provide a solution here. Available widely on the web are numerous different password vaults and managers that will allow users to store all of this information in one spot. Applications such as LastPass, True Key, Zoho Vault, 1Password and many others all can accomplish this purpose of simplifying this complicated web of components down to something that is easily manageable. Any new website or service you use can easily add log-in information or notes so that if you ever need to log-in and can’t remember your information, the application will do it for you!

These applications also offer the option to designate “digital heirs” that in the case something happens to the user, these vaults can be passed along and not locked permanently! In this manner, those handling the estate can easily gain access to all the accounts necessary all in one place.

In the case that you’d prefer to simply write down all of your log-in information and other important online details in a notebook or binder, which is sufficient, just make sure to let someone know where that “book” is and how to access it! We at DWM have actually put together a document that can help to organize this all in one written location including other important estate information such as the location of trust documents, powers of attorney, etc. Please feel free to use it if you’d prefer the traditional paper copy!

One additional step beyond providing access to your accounts to your digital “executor” is actually letting them know what to do with the accounts. For instance, if you’d prefer your Facebook to be set to “memorialized” which will effectively make the account inactive, but allow family and friends to continue to post memories and stories on the page versus closing it out entirely. Also actively selecting if you’d like certain digital assets to go to certain heirs, for example if you would want your grandson to receive your illustrious Fortnite account or your daughter to receive the log-in for your online knitting chat group, you can designate those wishes either in the password manager app or in your notebook. That way there will be no confusion or argument over who gets what when the time comes to distribute those assets.

As an added layer of protection, the right to digital assets can be specified in a trust document drawn up by an estate planning attorney for those with more complicated situations that need specific direction. These specifications usually outline the power of the successor trustees to access, view, modify or make use of any electronic accounts including those financial sites that are used.

To summarize, from Uber to Schwab to Amazon to Facebook and many, many more, the necessity to build a plan to preserve our digital legacy for when “the time comes” is imperative. Using these plans can ease the transition for your loved ones to get their arms around your digital assets and secure your legacy properly. At DWM, we would encourage you to get these items in order to make things easier on you and your loved ones in the future, hopefully a long time down the road.

When Your Plan Ends…

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As our clients know, we use MoneyGuidePro (MGP) as our financial planning software tool and we generally review our clients’ particular plan with updates when we meet. This allows us the opportunity to discuss any changes in their lives, perhaps an upcoming life event, like retirement, or a new goal, like starting a 529 for a grandchild. We help to analyze all of the “known” factors and make some assumptions about the future, including when your time on earth may end. MGP euphemistically refers to this as the “plan end”, or in other words, the time when these variables, assets and concerns will no longer be yours!

Here is where good estate planning comes into play. At DWM, we think it is important to help you with the preparation for the end of your life, as well as your legacy after. We aren’t lawyers, but we work with some trusted estate attorneys and can use experienced insights and knowledge of your financial world to make sure that all of your wishes are properly addressed. We have helped many of our clients in this way, as well as many of their extended family members. We offer to carefully review your existing wills or trust in an effort to make sure your asset distributions and beneficiary designations are how you want them. We like to provide our own CliffsNotes version in a summarized Estate Flow for your convenience.   If things need updating, we can make some recommendations on how and also on who can help you with the legal paperwork and advice.

We also review all of your estate plan ancillary documents that discuss your end-of-life plan. These include the Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA), which designates an agent to represent you on health care decisions, the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), which designates a financial, legal and business representative on your behalf and the Living Will, which essentially outlines your care wishes in the event of incapacitation or when you can’t speak for yourself. Many of our clients come in not understanding how vitally important these documents can be for you and your family to have in place BEFORE there is a reason to need them! These documents are also state-specific and must be updated or kept current for where you spend time, either in a primary or secondary residence. Every situation is different – a terminal diagnosis may give you time to determine the answers for these questions and to generally get your affairs in order. However, a sudden, unexpected incident, especially for a younger person, can leave the people you love with decisions and demands that may be overwhelming.

An article in the WSJ recently talked about this issue of “Preparing for a good end of life”. Planning ahead and talking to your loved ones is important for everyone’s peace of mind. There are some fundamental pieces that should be considered to have a good plan ready. As the WSJ writer recommends, “Imagine what it would take to die in peace and work back from there.” This might include where you want to be and how you will manage the financial and physical obligation of your end-of-life. Would you want to be at home and perhaps have in-home care? Would you rather allow for in-patient hospice treatment so there is less demand on your family? The WSJ references a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study that suggests most people care much more about the burden on their families, both financially and emotionally, than about extending their own life.

The Living Will and HCPOA allow you to specify what kind of medical attention you want during a serious medical event or terminal situation. Will you want to be kept alive artificially while being treated so you can live as long as possible? These documents allow you to determine who will be your representative on these matters and what decisions for your care that you make ahead of time or ask that your representative decide for you. In some cases, the right choice might be someone more neutral than a close family member, as their judgement may be emotionally clouded. Either way, it allows you to make decisions now that will offer a guideline to follow for those who love you. Having these conversations ahead of time about who will make decisions and how you wish to be cared for will hopefully bring solace to your loved ones, as well as relieve any stress for you by knowing that this is in order.

It is also important to ensure that all of your legal affairs are in order. Make sure that all of your bequests to others and the timing for them to receive them are kept up to date. It is also important to make sure deeds and the beneficiary designations on other assets are current and titled the way you want them, whether in a trust to avoid probate or with named beneficiaries to make your wishes clear. Make sure to keep life insurance policy information in a safe place and the beneficiary designations current. Also, safely store a list of all important financial documents and social media passwords in at least one place to make it easier for your personal representative(s) to tie up your affairs. Prepare a business succession plan and keep all the documents current. Don’t put off assigning items of sentimental or financial value to those you want to receive them. Many people are now even planning their own memorial services and writing their own obituaries to lessen the obligation and make sure everything is how you would like it. We are happy to help you store some of these financial documents in our secure “vault” in our DWM cloud.

We may have all experienced or know about situations where no planning was in place or updates to wills, titles and/or beneficiary designations were missing or outdated. Your family and friends will be dealing with tremendous grief during this time, so making these preparations ahead of time will allow both you and them some comfort when it’s time. While it may be hard to have these conversations and make these decisions, it will certainly make it easier for everyone in the long run.

Please let us know if we can help you get these affairs in order. At DWM, we are always happy to help bring peace of mind to our clients and their families.

It’s beginning to “cost” a lot like Christmas!

 

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It’s beginning to “cost” a lot like Christmas! It’s a fun play on the popular holiday song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, originally written by Meredith Wilson in 1951. Though times have certainly changed since the 1950s, the spirit of gifting and giving during the holidays has always remained the same. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American spends an average of $1,000 during the holiday season!

It’s not uncommon, as we approach the holiday season, that you might find yourself feeling grateful, compassionate and more charitable than any other time of the year. Now is the time people eagerly give to their loved ones and generously give back to those in need. Here’s a look into new and exciting ways people are giving and gifting in 2018:

529 College Savings Plans

As the total student loan debt in the U.S. approaches the $1.5 trillion mark, 529 college saving plans have grown in popularity. Unlike ordinary gift checks, a 529 savings plan can an act as an investment in a child’s future that has the ability to grow, tax-free, for the use of qualified educational expenses (K-12 tuition included under the new tax law). While college savings may not be the most riveting gift for a young child to receive at the time, the potential to alleviate the future burden of student loans, all or in part, will be one gift they won’t soon forget.

Custodial Investment Accounts

There are two main forms of custodial investment accounts, UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act) and UTMA (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) accounts. They are virtually identical aside from the ability of UTMA accounts to hold real estate. Custodial accounts can be a great way to teach children about investments while limiting their access to investment funds. Depending on your state, access to custodial accounts is limited to minors until the child has obtained ages 18-21.

In 2018, individual gifts are limited to the annual $15,000 gift-tax-exemption limit ($30,000 for married couples). Family and friends can contribute directly to custodial accounts of another person. If these accounts are properly titled as retirement accounts, such as a Custodial Roth Account, contributions must be made indirectly, limited to $5,500 for 2018, and the donee must have earned an income equal to or greater than the contribution made.

Charitable Gifts

Did you know you can complete charitable gifts in the name of a friend or family member and still capture the tax deduction? Assuming you itemize, funds given to charity can come from any taxable account (or qualified, see below) of your choosing and may list a donor of your choosing. For example, one can give to St. Judes Children’s Hospital using their own personal funds, receive a tax deduction for doing so, and list the donor as someone other than themselves, like a grandson or other relative. So long as you can prove the funds used came from you, i.e. your name is listed on the account used, you should receive a deduction for these forms of charitable contributions.

There are several ways to give back to charity, one of the more tax efficient ways is by way of Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs). This is an alternative to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) that you are required to take from your IRA upon obtaining age 70 1/2. A QCD allows you to give a portion or all of the amount that you otherwise would be required to take from your IRA to charity. The benefit of doing so is to exclude these funds from your taxable income. This process can be especially beneficial if, under the new tax reform, you will be using the new increased standard deduction, $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married filing jointly, as opposed to itemizing.

There are many forms of giving. Integrating both charitable giving and family giving can be an intricate part of your overall plan, and it doesn’t always have to “cost you an arm and a leg.” Ensuring your gestures are both sustainable and tax-efficient are good questions to ask. At DWM we are always looking for new ways to give back to our clients and friends by assisting in these areas. Please, never hesitate to reach out to us in regards to new ways to give back to your family, friends and charitable organizations.

Now’s the time to plan your 529!

Summmerrrtttime!  Every day in the summer at our office here in Charleston, we are regaled with the carriage tour drivers’ versions of this famous song from Porgy & Bess.  We end up having that song stuck in our head a lot of the time!  Already the ads for back to school sales are appearing and it reminds us that, while the “livin’ is easy” right now, the hustle of getting kids ready to head back to school isn’t far away.  We hate to interrupt your summer fun, but it is a good idea to get ready for college tuition payments no matter what age those students are!

We wanted to highlight the particular advantages of using 529 plans for funding your education purposes, as it is the most cost-effective way to manage the expenses of higher education.  Enacted in 1996, Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code allows an account owner to establish a plan to pay for a beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses using two types of plans – a pre-paid tuition program or the more popular, state-administered college savings plan.  The beneficiary can be a family member or friend or an owner can set up a 529 account for their own benefit.  Anyone can then donate to the account, regardless of the owner or beneficiary.  Funds can be deposited and used almost immediately (need to wait 10 days) or can be invested and grown until needed.  Surprisingly, according to a Wall Street Journal article recently, only 14% of Americans plan to use 529s to pay for college.

Although there is no allowable federal tax deduction for 529 contributions, the income and gain in the account are not taxable, as long as they are used for qualified education expenses.  These qualified expenses include tuition, room & board, books and, in a 2015 legislative change, payments for many technological expenses like a computer, printer or internet access, even if not specifically required by the educational institution.  The costs for off-campus housing can also qualify, as long as the amount used matches the average cost of resident-living at your university.  Many states, like SC and IL, also allow a tax deduction for 529 contributions to in-state plans.  Another recent legislative change allows for an increase from one to two annual investment selection changes per year, unless there is a rollover and then a change can be made at that time.  This gives the 529 owner a little more benefit, flexibility and control over their accounts.

When funding 529 accounts, we recommend that our clients not fund more than 50% of the total cost of estimated expenses for the education of their student before the student selects and starts college.  One nice feature about 529 plans is that they are transferrable to a sibling or other close family member, if a student doesn’t use or exhaust their entire 529 account.    However, you don’t want to overfund an account and then have some leftover.  Only the gains in the account are taxed, but there is a 10% penalty on the account if the funds are withdrawn and not used for qualified education expenses.  Another reason for not overfunding is that there are many scholarships available – you may have an accomplished science whiz or an amazing athlete that earns scholarship money.  Once final amounts of tuition requirements are determined, 529 account owners can make necessary additional contributions to take advantage of tax benefits.

There are many scholarship opportunities available for those who take the time to look and apply.  Checking with the high school guidance counselor, local civic groups or community organizations about scholarships or awards opportunities can give your high school student some hands on involvement in paying for their own education!  All high school seniors should also fill out the annual FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  There are many opportunities for earning money for college and nothing should be ruled out.

We know that using 529 accounts is the least expensive way to pay for college.  Research shows that the most expensive way to pay is by taking out student loans or paying out of pocket as the student needs it.  At DWM, we want to help you strategize how to save for and pay for any education expenses that you may have before you, no matter when those costs are expected.  We can help you evaluate the various state plans and the investment options in the 529s and calculate an appropriate annual or lump sum amount of savings.  We will be glad to help make your summertime livin’ easy and carefree!  Okay, now back to summer fun…already in progress!

What Will Be Your Legacy?

Family fourth of JulyMoney or family values? Hopefully, both.

A 2012 study by Allianz found that 86% of baby boomers and their parents agreed that family stories and values were more important life legacies than financial assets. This echoed findings in 2005 when a similar study was conducted and 77% felt that memories, stories, life lessons, family traditions and values were 10 times more important than money.

We’re seeing more multi-generational planning in our business these days. Our clients are families and in some cases include three generations; grandparents, parents and children. Multi-generational planning has become an extremely important and growing part of our business.

There are a number of reasons:

  1. People are living longer. The older generations are more actively involved with the younger generations and the younger generations may become caregivers for the older generation for a longer time.
  2. There is more communication in the family. We’re not seeing the traditional patriarchal model as often these days. Males and females of all generations have a voice in family matters and with the internet and social media there’s lots of communication.
  3. Families seem to have more assets than the past. The Great Generation and Silent Generation have made a substantial amount of money and not spent it. Despite the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the current slow economic recovery, America has been a wonderful place to live and make money for decades.
  4. Minimizing estate taxes is no longer the primary objective of family wealth management. Back in 2001, the lifetime exemption for federal estate tax purposes was only $675,000 per person. Today it is $5,250,000. Hence, if planned properly, a couple could transfer $10,500,000 or more to beneficiaries without estate taxes. Furthermore, many states no longer have estate or inheritances taxes or have high thresholds before such taxes start. Hence, taxes still need consideration, but they are not necessarily the focal point of planning.

Today, some families create 100 year family plans. They believe that the assets of the family are the human capital of its individual members. They communicate their family history and culture and pass it down through generations. They discuss shared values and develop family mission statements. They focus on each family member’s individual pursuit of happiness. Some families hold regular meetings and make a major commitment toward financial education. Many share philanthropic initiatives. Alan Alda said it well, “I’ve come to believe that giving feels good, but I think giving strategically feels terrific.”

Of course, successful families also consider their wealth objectives and dealing with strategic issues or risks that may stand in the way. They discuss preparation for major life events such as birth, death, divorce, marriage, illness, sale of a business, etc. Communication of intentions is critical in these areas. Research shows that wealth transfer is best accomplished when heirs are aware, informed and prepared. Lack of information can lead to misunderstandings about intentions and values. Some of our families are mentoring beneficiaries, and, of course, paying special attention to the long-term selection of trustees and advisors.

We now see three steps of planning: 1) Financial planning is often described as preparing, planning, protecting and growing your assets during your lifetime. 2) Estate planning prepares your assets for your family. 3) Multi-generational planning prepares your family to receive their inheritance in both money and family values.

Regardless of your age, if you would like to talk about multi-generational planning, please give us a call. We’d like to talk with you and we’re passionate about helping families to create and pass along legacies- of all types.