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Money May 2015

Dollar Sense

April Potpourri: Staying Out of the Legal and Identity-Revealing Swamps, Plus Some More Freebies

By Teresa Ambord

I have a close relative who has kept boxes and boxes of utility bills dating back 34 years, from a house she no longer owns. The paperwork is useless, space-consuming, and a fire hazard. And someday, we survivors will have to sort through them to find what we do need. By putting it off, the legal swamp she’s creating could suffocate us.

5 Legal Documents You Need to Have Now if Not Sooner

Are you someone who says, “I really need to get my legal affairs in order,” but then you don’t? If you’re like most of us, the mere idea of it makes you tired. You feel like you’ve got plenty of time. Tomorrow is soon enough. Of course, if something happens before you get your paperwork together, you could leave an unthinkable mess for your survivors. Before you say, “why would I care, I won’t be here anyway,” ask yourself, would you want to be on the receiving end of a mess like that?

I have a close relative who has kept boxes and boxes of utility bills dating back 34 years, from a house she no longer owns. The paperwork is useless, space-consuming, and a fire hazard. And someday, we survivors will have to sort through them to find what we do need. By putting it off, the legal swamp she’s creating could suffocate us.

What should you do? Jim Miller is a regular on the “Today Show,” the author of a book called The Savvy Senior, and writes a column called “Savvy Living.” Maybe you don’t have the energy to go through decades of utility bills. But according to Miller, there are five legal documents that are essential for you to get together while you are able.

They protect both you and your family. Without them, your end-of-life wishes and plans may go by the wayside and result in conflict among your family and doctors.

Here’s what Miller recommends:

  1. A will, to direct the distribution of your assets to friends, family, or a charity of your choice. Your will should include the appointment of an executor to handle your wishes, and a guardian if you have dependent children.
  2. A revocable living trust, if you own real estate and or considerable assets. This acts similar to a will but avoids the time and expense of probate, and keeps your estate private. Remember, probate is public.
  3. Durable power of attorney, lets you designate someone you trust make financial, tax, and legal decisions if you are not able to make those decisions (for example, if you suffered a debilitating stroke).
  4. and 5. Advance health care directives. This includes two documents that specify what your wishes are regarding end-of-life treatment. The first document is a living will, which instructs your doctor what kind of care you wish to have if you are incapacitated. The second is a health care power of attorney, which authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Miller says you can do an advance health care directive for free, by logging onto caringinfo.org or call 800-658-8898; alternatively, for $5 the Five Wishes document (agingwithdignity.org or call 888-594-7437). This is available in 42 states and you’ll get help creating this important document.

If your finances are complex – for example if you have a great many assets or are part of a blended family – Miller recommends that you should have an attorney help you. Depending on where you live, Millers says to expect costs of between $200 and $1,000 for a will, and $1,200 to $5,000 for a living trust. To find an attorney go to one of these two websites:

  • actec.org (that’s the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel).
  • or naela.org (the Elder Law Attorneys).

Finally, says Miller, if money is a problem, check with your state's bar association (see findlegalhelp.org) to find low-cost legal help in your area or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for a referral.

 

Who’s Tracking Where You Go on the Computer?

There’s big money in violating your privacy. Companies will pay a bundle to learn about you, what you might buy. Here’s an example: You look at barbecues online, just browsing. Very soon, you just happen to get an email message displaying… what else? Barbecues. It’s probably not a coincidence. More likely than not, you’re being followed.

The operator of a website called Lifehacker.com worked for a business that designs programs to collect information from you. It offers coupons or discounts, if you’d just be so kind as to fill out an online form.

Some of them want a great many details: What do you eat? What kind of deodorant do you prefer? What is your income? How many people live in your house, and what are their ages? And more. For providing all that, they give you a $1 off coupon, and what do they get? They now have valuable marketing information which they sell to third parties. And the solicitations begin.

The tech pro from Lifehacker.com said if you are going to take the bait, remember you are in charge of what information you provide. If a site asks for your phone number, change one digit. If they ask your birthday, do the same. I have often entered my birthday one digit up on the month, day, and year. For example, if my birth month is June 1, I say July 2. Same with the year. Unless it’s an official site where you are legally bound to provide accurate information, it’s up to you.

NOTE: Also, when you leave a site, don’t merely exit and go to another site. Instead, use the “log off” key up in the corner. Whether or not that helps your security is uncertain, but it seems like a small step to take to close a door you don’t want left open.

 

More Birthday Freebies, and Some Freebies for Signing Up!

Every month I post a few birthday freebies. But you can view the whole list here: http://www.heyitsfree.net/birthday-freebies/.    

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep these freebies updated. But just to be sure you don’t waste a trip, you might want to check with the restaurant before you go to make sure the deal is still offered. Many of these require that you print a coupon. Just think… if you have a ton of friends or a slew of grandkids, you can treat each one to a freebie on his or her birthday.

Not Your Average Joe’shttp://www.notyouraveragejoes.com/email-club/. Signup Freebie: unspecified welcome gift. Birthday Freebie: a free entrée and dessert!

Orange Julius. http://www.heyitsfree.net/orange-julius-birthday-freebie/. Birthday Freebie: Free BOGO 20 oz. Julius or premium fruit smoothie.

Papa Murphy’s Pizza. Papa Murphy’s.  http://www.heyitsfree.net/papa-murphys-birthday-freebie/. Signup Freebie: 50% off your second pizza. Birthday Freebie: Free cookie dough with the purchase of any pizza.

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa