As promised in the last column, here are some additional items that I have had on my review lists over the years when I have done my own annual financial review during April. Remember that when I use the term “you”, it is intended to refer to an individual, a couple, and dependent children, depending on the household.
$ IS MY ESTATE PLAN CURRENT?
Do you have a will and an estate plan that reflect your current wishes? Those wishes will often change as your wealth significantly increases over time, and/or your family’s circumstances change over time. For example, your children and grandchildren may be fully educated and financially independent, or estranged, so are there others or charities that could use your help?
Have you and your attorney looked at all of the applicable taxes and possible trusts that you may need to set up in order to fully implement your wishes, and have you revisited all of the items on the attorney’s checklist?
As examples, have you made sure that certain special things go to certain people or organizations that will really appreciate them? Do you have all beneficiary designations, health care proxies, powers of attorney, trustees and executors updated where necessary? Does your family and those with your health care proxy really understand your particular wishes when it comes to living a “life with dignity”? Do you have a file set up and updated annually or more often, with all of your current estate plan information, such as a current statement for each of your savings and investment accounts, and information on your insurance policies?
$ HAVE YOU CALCULATED YOUR CURRENT NET WORTH?
You will need this to update your current estate plan, but there will be years when that won’t be necessary, so it is still a good exercise. It is, of course, your assets less your liabilities, and it will provide you with some idea of how financially successful you have been in life, and in how well you have managed your money.
Unfortunately, more and more we seem to be living in a “cash flow, debt is OK” world, so we don’t always look at our net worth the way prior generations did when carrying other than mortgage or car loan debt was not so OK. It seems to me that Americans tend to look more at whether they can have or do the things that they want or think they have to do, and if they can service any debt that they have to incur in order to accomplish that, they determine that they can “afford” it.
If your net worth has increased or decreased, why? Was it to accomplish one of your financial goals, like to pay to educate your children; was there a wedding that you planned and paid for; did you go on that life-long dream vacation; was the stock market up or down; did interest rates on your savings go up or down; did the value of your home increase; or did your investments under- or over-perform, and need to be rebalanced? On the other hand, did you perhaps overspend and go into more credit card debt or home equity debt, something that was not a part of your financial plan? The point is to know
why there has been a change, and whether you need to take some appropriate action.
$ IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN OR GRANDCHILDREN HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING THEM ABOUT PERSONAL FINANCES?
We have discussed this often in this column. What have you done about this in the last year, and what are your plans for their financial education going forward? Do they know and believe that money is about hard work, so they will always want to get the best value for it, or that it comes from smart investing? Do they know about unit prices? Have you talked and modeled to them about sometimes waiting for sales, using coupons, looking at equivalent store brands, shopping for some things at discount stores, paying for quality and name brands only when you really need to, comparative shopping at different stores to get the best price at that time, needs vs. wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences, and the importance of building good spending habits?
Have you showed them and explained to them your checking account, savings account and retirement account statements, and how those accounts work, the family budget, and any other relevant financial information that they need to understand for their own financial futures? Are you having that monthly family dinner where you spend a part of it discussing an issue of personal finances, including, if they are going off to college someday, the impact on them and the family of student loan debt, if incurring that is going to be a reality?
$ HAVE YOU DONE EVERYTHING LEGALLY PERMISSABLE TO MINIMIZE YOUR TAXES, AND NOT TO OVERWITHOLD ON YOUR INCOME TAXES?
I think that, except for Warren Buffet and a few other notables, most of us don’t want to pay more taxes than we are legally liable for, so the idea is to work with your accountant/tax preparer to insure that that is what you are doing. For the most part, when it comes to your income taxes, that will be about what deductions you can properly take and when to take them, the timing of some income items, and perhaps maximizing your contributions to your tax deferred retirement and possible educational accounts.
Another thing that you can look at, if you think that your real estate may be over assessed, is to obtain a current market evaluation in order to see if you could reasonably protest your assessment and lower your real estate taxes, and whether overall, it would make economic sense, given any associated costs.
Another thing to consider is whether you are and want to over withhold for your income taxes. Personally, I want to use as
much of my money during the year to meet my financial goals, rather than have the governments use it, so I am not interested in these big refunds that many look forward to. It is up to each individual, but the point is to look at the issue, and decide what will best help you to meet you financial goals and stick to your realistic budget.
In the next column we will finish up with our annual financial review checklist items.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo