I’ll Start Monday

Guest post by Laverne H. Bardy whose humorous, often irreverent, slant on life in general, and aging in particular, draws a large readership. She has been syndicated with Senior Wire News Service since 2004 and you can find her columns on the Huffington Post. Her book, How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? was released in January, 2012, and is a compilation of the best of her columns.

LaverneMy heart goes out to Oprah. She has gained weight again. This woman is structured, committed and disciplined in every aspect of her life and she can’t conquer her eating addiction, so how can I be expected to? Other than showing up for meals on time, I don’t know what structured, committed or disciplined means.

I’ve been on countless diets. I once spent a fortune on one that required me to eat their pre-packaged food. Only after they had all my money did I realize that what they were feeding me was dog food.

I tried to eat it. I really did. But I couldn’t swallow what they were passing off as tasty. After two weeks and forty-two repeated attempts at swallowing their nauseating meals, I put the food out for my neighborhood feral cats who sniffed it, and walked away. Mind you, it was the middle of winter, when mice, birds and gophers were scarce, but the cats opted to starve rather than eat what I’d left them. Come to think of it, that may have been how I was expected to lose weight.

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Another popular diet I attempted came in book form and discouraged eating highly processed carbohydrates. Everyone but me was losing weight on this diet. Then I read the last page disclaimer that basically said hypoglycemic people will not be successful on this diet. I’m hypoglycemic. I had wasted a whole month on that damn diet so I rewarded myself with a hot fudge sundae, walnuts in syrup and sky-high whipped cream. No cherry. A cherry would have put me into the next month’s calories.

Remember the Drinking Man’s Diet? In 1964 it was the original no carb diet. You drank all the booze you wanted along with endless heaps of fatty meats, sauces and cheeses. I rather enjoyed that diet until I read reports of dieters dropping dead in front of deli counters.

Another diet I was on included support meetings,  once-a-week. I attended every single meeting for two solid weeks in a row. Then I quit, convinced I could do it on my own. I made their meatless meatloaf, and flour free, sugar free, oil free, milk free, taste free cake. At one of the meetings I was told that mustard on a lettuce leaf tastes exactly like a bologna sandwich. Honest. The two weeks my head was into it, I was convinced I was eating a bologna sandwich. Only on the fifteenth day when my motivation waned, did I realize that mustard on a lettuce leaf tastes exactly like mustard on a lettuce leaf. And, that’s not bologna.

It’s evident that there continues to be more of me than necessary so I’m trying, for the trillionth time, to lose weight. I know I need to have crunchy foods to keep me happy. I’m hoping carrots and cabbage will satisfy that need, although it never has before. I found myself in front of my refrigerator, yesterday, desperately searching for something sweet. I ended up downing a swig of gherkin pickle juice and, yes, it actually satisfied my craving – for the moment. I’ve raised my water intake to several quarts a day, which fills my stomach,  but sloshes when I walk, and keeps me housebound.

After a week on this no-nutrition diet I felt thinner, so I rummaged through my closet, where sizes range from Those Were The Days, to I Can’t Friggin’ Breathe, to You’re Kidding, Right? I tried on everything, toward a goal of keeping what fit, and giving the rest to Good Will. I was ruthless as I yanked each piece of apparel from its dusty, rusty hanger, some of which have hung there for decades, others with price tags still hanging, in hopes of one day coming out into the sunlight, wrapped around my body.

I had to face the sad reality that even if I fit into those clothes one day, they would no longer be in style; like the stunning navy blue sack dress, the black sheath, the June Cleaver shirtwaist, several pairs of culottes, bell bottom slacks, and a lovely beige suit with Mommy Dearest shoulder pads.

Maybe….just maybe….this will be the decade I lose the weight and treat myself to a new, updated wardrobe.

Maybe….just maybe….that last sentence is another example of bologna.

Other posts by this author

Dancing Through the Pain

Men and Women Throughout History

I Don’t See Well Anymore

Giddy Yup

Stop Telling Me I’m Old

Growing Up Dangerously

Watching Real Beauty

Hell, Not on the Map, but I Was There

Cellulite: A Rite of Passage

Camping: Not for Sissies

Don’t Count Me Out

Aging, Not All Fun and Games

Challenging My Legacy

Behind Closed Doors

Battle of the Bulge

How the Home Shopping Network Turned Me into a Zebra

Posted in Guest Blog Posts, Humor | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

FATCA – Practical Guide

Guest post by John Ohe, IRS Enrolled Agent and chartered Financial Analyst.

John Ohe 1There are over 100 countries around the world that are now “FATCA-compliant.” This means that banks located in those countries will be sending to the IRS specific information regarding accounts held by U.S. persons. In this article, we’ll discuss how FATCA is affecting the average U.S. expat or dual citizen (including business owners), and the options for dealing with the requirements.

My bank is asking me to complete a W-9 form. What should I do?

In the United States, the W-9 is a basic form that people fill out when they start a new job or open a new bank account. The critical information captured on the W-9 is the Social Security Number. When foreign banks send over to the IRS your account balance and earned interest information, it will be attached to your name and Social Security Number. The IRS computers will be able to cross-reference the information sent by your bank against your U.S. income tax return and FBAR filing. Discrepancies will be red-flagged, although any action by the IRS will likely take several years. Keep in mind that penalties and interest accrue in the meantime.

Retire on $22,000 yr. Travel the World. FREE Report Click here

When the bank asks you to complete a W-9, you have 3 options:

  • Refuse – your bank will likely close your account for non-compliance
  • Delay – take the form home with you, and hope the bank doesn’t ask again. Depending on the country and bank, this may work (will not be the case in most developed countries)
  • Fill it out – you are being compliant with U.S. tax laws. It will be important that you are also compliant with your tax return and FBAR (foreign bank account) filing requirements.

Dual citizens have an additional option. If the bank inquires about their U.S. citizenship, they can deny having dual citizenship status. Of course, that would be an act not compliant with U.S. tax laws, and carries risks.

I have a business account at the bank. Should I be worried?

It’s unclear whether foreign banks will report business account information (foreign corporations owned by U.S. expats) to the IRS. The consequences would be severe. That is because there many Americans do not report their foreign businesses although it is required. Most report only the wage they pay themselves.

Each FATCA-compliant country and foreign banks are taking their own approach in dealing with U.S. expat customers. Recently, a client of Hola Expat in the Cayman Islands was told by her bank to provide proof of her Form 5471 (report on foreign corporation) and FBAR filings. Another client (in Mexico) was asked by his bank to complete a W-8 Ben-E. This form is used by U.S. companies that do business with foreign entities, so that they can withhold taxes correctly. In most case, the bank is incorrect in asking U.S. expats to complete a W-8 ben-E form. However, if the bank insists, make sure you check off “Active NFFE” on page 1 of the form.

The world is getting smaller, and privacy is increasingly hard to maintain. For U.S. expats, FATCA is a true “thorn-in-the-side,” one that is probably better to deal with earlier than later.

Other articles by this Author

Free Money From the IRS – Child Tax Credit

U.S. Expat Taxes – An Introduction

Buying and Selling Real Estate (Foreign or Domestic) from a Tax Perspective

This article was written by John Ohe (IRS Enrolled Agent and Chartered Financial Analyst). John is a partner at Hola Expat, which specializes in preparing tax returns for U.S. expats. If you would like to submit a tax-related question, email: info@holaexpat.com.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this article are for general information, and should not be construed as personal tax advice. Tax laws and regulations change frequently, and their application can vary widely based on the specific facts and circumstances involved.

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How Is Retirement Defined?

As usual, I prize your newsletters. But as I scanned and read, in particular the article “8 Secrets of Success From Early Retirees“, I was struck by the modern usage of the word “retirement”.

Webster’s tells us something along the lines of withdrawal from position, occupation or from active working life. Please know that most people see retirement as just that, no more money from your labors. Thus the fear.

People who do this and that to make extra are not retired, and cannot write authoritatively about the ease of living in retirement. Most of the financial gurus I read always object to complete retirement, or retirement as it truly means, and encourage second careers, part-time work, etc. Genuine retirement, complete withdrawal from working, does terrify the working woman or man. The word, as it was defined, that is.

Best Wishes,


Retire on $22,000 yr. Travel the World. FREE Report Click here

Hi Paul,

Thank you for taking the time to write and for your kind words regarding our newsletters. We’re really glad you enjoy them!

You are not the first to write and question the word “retirement” and what it means in modern society. Boomers seem to be changing the concept of retirement and want to do more with their lives away from the conventional working world. They don’t want to sit in a rocking chair and watch the world go by. They want to utilize their talents in many different ways, and they want the freedom to be able to do this, whether or not they get paid to do it or by volunteering or mentoring.

Actually, we know very few people who do “nothing” in their retirement. “Complete withdrawal from work”? What if you do house repairs? or work in your garden? or babysit the grandkids? or manage some properties to finance your retirement? or manage your financial portfolio? or help a neighbor out by driving her around and she gives you $20? Or dog sit a friend’s pet and he pays you for your time and gas? I mean, the lines get blurry pretty quickly. We believe that “work” is part of being alive, part of any healthy lifestyle. Just because someone is no longer receiving a regular paycheck does not mean they can no longer be productive, paid or not.

Opportunities abound when one does not have to work, and a person can take advantage of these opportunities or not. To be sure, we have turned down countless possibilities during what we consider to be our “retirement” because we didn’t want to work that hard anymore, or because these opportunities didn’t suit us.

When we first left our jobs to live off our investments (and we did this for 15 years before we wrote our first book or had our website), there was no real word for what we were doing. Had we even thought about the words “financial independence” we would have selected those words to describe us (and our website). But mostly, those words described multi-millionaires, sports stars, Bill Gates, movie stars and such. It was not a word that was brought down to usage by the regular folk, whom we consider ourselves to be.

You might want to take a look at a piece we  wrote some time back called Our Money Our Lives which goes into this topic a little bit more.

Ultimately, we aren’t concerned with what label someone places on our lifestyle, and we don’t worry about fitting into a description by Webster’s Dictionary. We felt we had valuable information to share with others on how to save for their lifestyle outside of working for a living and how to manage their spending after they quit their jobs. This information has merit whether or not we are considered to be “retired” or “financially independent” and we felt moved to share it.

Thank you again for writing, Paul. You bring up a popular question and we are grateful to be able to respond to it from our perspective.

Wishing you all the best,

Akaisha and Billy

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Car Free Is the Way to Go

I read your article about living car free, and about two years ago after living in Costa Rica for 9 years decided to move to Chile, and sold my car there in CR. I have lived now in Central, South, and North America, Europe in a number of countries, Vietnam, and in two months am heading to Thailand to live permanently.

I find that what you have discovered is easily proven by anyone who loves to travel such as us, and anyone who wants to be real about being retired on less money.

I looked at the overall expense of owning a vehicle and decided that even using a taxi when I needed to get around was far less expensive than ownership of a car for the very reason of all the expenses involved with ownership. You can even find some really good rental deals on a short time basis if needed, and it is still far less than annual expenses of ownership.

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.

It has been interesting to read your site and compare my notes with your experiences. We do not always agree on places good to live but the general concept is great.

My research indicates that Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of the least expensive places in the world to live a high quality life, and I would recommend it to any of your readers for quality of life, great medical treatment for 20-55% less than the USA, and security and a great place to experience another culture while still having a strong expat community to support you. And who can complain about the Thai food? Right?

So anyway, I just wanted to reinforce your ideas about living car free…it is a challenge at first figuring out what to do about transportation wherever you live, but once that perception is overcome, then the rest if smooth sailing.

By the way, the figure of about $2000-$2500 resonates with me well because I have found that I can live for around $12-$1500 nearly everywhere I go now, and have some left over for the travel that I love…some areas are little more and some are a little less but what a great life!

I teach English classes online for a little supplemental income and can do that from anywhere in the world on my own schedule, so that is another suggestion for your readers to consider…It brings me from $400-$1500 per month working only a few hours per week from home or anywhere I have high speed internet access, even living in Thailand in a hotel for less than $500 per month total….

Best Regards,


Retire on $22,000 yr. Travel the World. FREE Report Click here

Hi Robert,

Thank you for your thoughtful email with all your observations about car ownership or the lack thereof. We are all on the same page on this topic! And your spending figures seem right on target also.

Your idea of teaching English online is an excellent one – We have recommended this option to people before, and the fact that you are doing it and it is supplementing your income so well just shows how great it works.

Thank you so much again for taking the time to write and we hope you stay in touch.

Be well,


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Comments on Getting Out of the Rat Race


I am a 44 year old Australian women who has recently discovered your e-book, newsletter & blog and I have to say it has inspired me. I have started using your spreadsheet and documenting all of our spending. We have no children and love travel so are looking at ways to decrease the time we spend at work and increase our travel.

I was particularly moved by a letter written on your site by Peter a 61 year old (also Australian) wondering why he feels the need to escape the rat race and if other people feel like that too. Peter – I would say most readers of  Billy and Akaisha’s website probably feel the same. I also regularly think about quitting my job, sell everything and just escape the rat race. However I know that one day the money will run out so can’t afford to do this (not yet anyway!!!). My husband & I don’t earn big money and already lead a pretty simple life but I am now looking at ways to simplify more.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

Like Peter, I also struggle with why I feel this way – why do I want to just escape it all when others seem very happy to work 5 days a week and just have their 4 weeks annual leave. We are constantly reminded in Australia how we should feel lucky for our 40 hour weeks (however I know few people who work only 40 hours) and our 4 weeks annual leave. BUT – that is not enough for me. As Peter said in his letter I don’t want to wait until some life changing event such as major illness to realize this. I also wonder at times why do I feel this way – is there something wrong with me – why can’t I just be content with my friends, family, nice job, reliable car, and reasonable home??

Peter maybe there is nothing wrong with us – maybe we are the normal ones realizing there is more to life and having a never ending curiosity to see and experience the world. I work as a Social Worker and my husband a nurse – we meet many people who either never make it to retirement or once they reach it, they are too unwell to enjoy it. That is my biggest fear. Peter – just do it. Sounds like you are financially safe and at 61 I think it is more than reasonable to want leave the rat race behind. Convince your wife life is short – get out there & I look forward to meeting you out there in some far flung corner of the world.


Hi Maree,

Thank you for taking the time to write and to let us know how you like our website, book and newsletter. It is wonderful that you are already using the spreadsheet and that it is working for you! Excellent.

I thought your response to Peter was also really good – Not everyone wants to work all their lives and take a 4 week vacation. This might work well if you are raising children and want that sort of stability, but even so, we have seen many traveling families. The children are very flexible, have great self-confidence and speak several languages due to their travels. So there are different ways to live a life.

There is nothing “wrong” with people who want something different. I just think that is life. There have always been travelers – those who brought products from one culture and shared them or sold them to another. Look at the ancient Silk Road or the explorers who wanted to know what was just over that ridge.

Some people want security and sameness and others want variety and challenge, something new. There is no one way to live life.

Welcome aboard! Please feel free to write any time. We’d love to hear from you again, so do keep in touch.



Posted in Heart Song, Q & A From our Readers, Travel Tips and Insight | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q&A From an Aspiring Near-Term Retiree

Hi Billy/Akaisha

Craig: I have read your web site many, many times & researched my upcoming retirement from much of your tips.

Hi Craig,

Thank you for your kind words regarding our website, and we are happy you found our site to be helpful!

Craig: I am actually starting to visit different international sites to “recon” where to retire. My first trip is to Mazatlán, Mexico next month. Then every 4-6 months to check out as many places in the next 3-4 years. Thinking I’d like access to ex-pats to mix back home with new cultures. 100% committed to leaving the USA. Have a 6-8 point criteria of what I think I want.

Akaisha: It’s good that you have a 6-8 point criteria for what you are looking for. It’s much easier to find exactly that spot when you know what pleases you.

Simplify and set yourself free.

Craig: I vacationed recently in the USVI & loved the island but a little expensive. One question I have to ask is: what made you pick Nevis to retire and do you ever get “small island” phobia where you need to get off for a while or does your travels just naturally take care of that? Part of me thinks a 36 sq mi island would run out of options after a few years???

Akaisha: When we first retired, we moved to Nevis, but didn’t stay. We wanted to travel the world, so actually, we don’t really “live” any one particular place, and we live in many. We have a base in Chapala, Mexico, another one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, another in Panajachel, Guatemala and we have a small manufactured home which we rent out to a friend in Arizona.

We perfectly understand what you mean about getting small island fever and not having enough to do in a location. This is why, for us, we tend to choose large towns or small cities which have access to larger cities for all the benefits that larger cities bring, but without all the traffic and confusion. Since we don’t have a car, our locations must have good access to public transport to take us to markets, to doctor’s offices or to restaurants and theaters and so on. It’s also been beneficial to have access to an active Expat population, just for the camaraderie and to speak English with someone.

Craig: I think I’m doing all the right options to get to where you guys are at: however, I’m 58 years old so it took a little longer. Sold paid-off house last year, invested proceeds, no debt at all.

Akaisha: Congratulations on having no debt! That’s huge.

Craig: Renting now. Just shy of a million dollars in retirement & taxable accounts. I wonder the annual expense to live retired, $30K @ year, $40K, $50K. My goal was to create a dividend stream of ~$30K @ years and take social security @ 62 for little extra, perhaps $15K annual. Work is burning me out so not sure I can even make it to 62.

Akaisha: You might want to take a look at our Annual Spending Update which includes a link to  Adventures in Financial Independence. This might give you an idea of how it can be done.

Craig: Just looking for friendly advice. A friend of mine recently pointed me to a good site which gives great advice on how to expatriate & helps you with process of naturalizing to a new country.

Akaisha: I am happy to introduce you to an Immigration Attorney from the Dominican Republic who will answer any questions you might have about second passports, residency and even having a business in the Domincan Republic. I will send you this introduction email shortly. Her name is Maria Abreu and she is quite capable.

Craig: I recently Googled ex-pat blog sites to start writing to expats on their experiences. Have 3 I signed to.

Akaisha: You might also take a look at our Relocation Page which has many Expat blogs listed there.

Craig: My destination choices remain in the Central America / Caribbean area right now. Similar time zone to USA/Canada. Not ready to move to Europe or AsiaPac right now.

Akaisha: I understand. While Asia can be a great choice, it can seem to be very far away. Plus it takes much longer to get back to the States for visits or emergency family issues.

Craig: Keep up the great web site writings and advice to a growing boomer wave of upcoming retirees.

Akaisha: Thank you for your kind words and do feel free to write any time with questions you might have.

Wishing you all the best,


 If you are interested in receiving an email introduction to Maria to find out about residency in the Dominican Republic or how to obtain a second passport, send us an email to TheGuide@RetireEarlyLifestyle.com

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Retiring Early? Yes You Can

Thank you for visiting the RetireEarlyLifestyle Blog!

This post is no longer live, but if you want to know more about financial independence, world travel and medical tourism, please visit our website.

Retire Early Lifestyle appeals to a different kind of person – the person who prizes their independence, values their time, and who doesn’t want to mindlessly follow the crowd.

Thank you!



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Dancing Through the Pain

Guest post by Laverne H. Bardy whose humorous, often irreverent, slant on life in general, and aging in particular, draws a large readership. She has been syndicated with Senior Wire News Service since 2004 and you can find her columns on the Huffington Post. Her book, How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? was released in January, 2012, and is a compilation of the best of her columns.

LaverneI opened an e-mail that included a video of a 94 year old woman dancing the two-step. Background music was Gene Kelly’s classic Singing in the Rain.

Before executing her amazing agility, she demonstrated what a 94 year old is expected to look like, by entering the dance floor slowly, pushing a walker. Her dance partner, a much younger man, attempted to take her walker, but she resisted. At the end of this charade, the two of them began to dance.

Her moves were fluid. Her body was limber. And, if you know what a two-step is, you know it isn’t easy. It not only requires agility and strength, it calls for a sharp mind.

I want to be that woman when I’m 94. I want to be that woman now. I love to dance, and if I do say so, I used to be pretty darn good at it. I even won a couple of jitterbug contests back in the early 1950’s. Then I married a man who had no interest in dancing, so I spent 21 years at weddings and bar mitzvahs doing nothing more than tapping my feet.

Do not let Fear make your decisions for you. Risk has a price and so does security.

The next chapter of my life I married Mighty Marc, the best dancer I’ve ever known. In fact, he used to teach the instructors at Arthur Murray Dance Studios. But, as fate would have it, after finally landing a man who danced, my arthritis doesn’t allow me to do more than stand in his arms and sway to the music.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend, Rochelle. I told her that I become teary-eyed when I see an elderly couple walking arm and arm. “It’s lovely to realize that they are still in love,” I said.

“Love has nothing to do with it,” she answered. “They’re holding each other up.”

I’m not shot in the head with all the negative changes aging has forced me to accept. I know my body has been undergoing changes from the day I was born, but most of those changes brought positive results; unlike now when each change has me rolling further down the other side of the hill.

Recently, I had a mammogram. The technician looked at me and said, “You have beautiful, well-defined shoulders.” I’d never had someone compliment my shoulders before so I didn’t know how to react. I decided to just tell the truth. “Thank you,” I said. “It’s arthritis.”

My hairdresser had the audacity to point out what she described as “a gray hair.” I quickly kicked that thought to the curb when I shouted, “You’re wrong! I do not have gray hair.” She reexamined the strand and recanted. “You’re right,” she stammered. It’s blonde.”

Aging doesn’t just manifest itself as wrinkles and gray hair. It shows in other, more subtle ways, too. For instance, I was in the bedroom, rushing to get dressed and out of the house when Mighty Marc walked in and found me standing in nothing more than a pair of undies.

He looked at me and said, “Are you ready yet?”

My brows furrowed. “Do I look ready?”

After checking me out for a few seconds he said, “You could use some lipstick.”

There was a time when walking into the bedroom and finding me in a state of undress would have brought about an entirely different response. Back then he wouldn’t have noticed, or cared, if I was headless.

I once greeted my first husband at the door, wrapped in Saran. Being his usual pragmatic self, he looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you cold? Where are the kids? What’s for dinner?”

What a terrible waste of plastic wrap.

Mighty Marc and I have been together for ten years and there is another change that is apparent. The three little words he used to say so often, have changed to “I gotta pee.” On our last road trip we had to drive the longer route to our destination because the shorter one didn’t provide rest stops every ten miles. To avoid eating junk food along the way, we packed healthful snacks, which we devoured before the third rest stop, forcing us to buy junk food at every rest stop thereafter.

My cousin, Joanie, is starting to think she married an usher. “My husband keeps a flashlight next to the bed so he can navigate to and from the bathroom throughout the night. Is that romantic….or WHAT?  I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way flashlight replaced candle light. I guess we’re officially old.”

I can’t begin to imagine how seniors maneuver through this time of life without a sense of humor.

Other posts by this author

Men and Women Throughout History

I Don’t See Well Anymore

Giddy Yup

Stop Telling Me I’m Old

Growing Up Dangerously

Watching Real Beauty

Hell, Not on the Map, but I Was There

Cellulite: A Rite of Passage

Camping: Not for Sissies

Don’t Count Me Out

Aging, Not All Fun and Games

Challenging My Legacy

Behind Closed Doors

Battle of the Bulge

How the Home Shopping Network Turned Me into a Zebra

Posted in Guest Blog Posts, Humor, Women's Work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Including Charity in Your Will: What You Should Know About Estate Planning and Giving

By Jasmine Howard

Including Charity 1You’ve probably heard the expression “you can’t take it with you,” in relation to your personal wealth after you pass away. It’s why most people draw up a last will and testament, outlining what they wish to happen to their money and valuable possessions upon their death. While most people leave at least some of their estate to their family, many people also provide gifts to charity via their wills.

While it might sound simple to say “Donate X” to a specific organization after your death, it often isn’t that simple, especially when it comes to large gifts and gifts of property. Tax considerations — both before and after your death — are of great concern to everyone involved, and questions about how the gift should be used, and whether the organization can even accept the gift at all, must be answered before such decisions are made.

It is best to work with qualified legal counsel and a financial planner before making any decisions about your final wishes, but knowing a few important points beforehand can help your decision-making.

Not sure you can retire? Get answers here

What Happens to Your Estate When You Die

If you were to believe Hollywood, the process of dividing up an estate begins with the reading of the will to an assembled group of people who expect to be named in the document — and they either walk away pleased or unhappy with the dictates of the document. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

In many cases, a deceased’s estate must go through probate. The probate process essentially determines who receives which assets, and transfers ownership of those assets. For smaller estates, meaning those with a value of less than $100,000 after subtracting real estate, the process is generally simplified, while higher-value estates often have to go through a complex process that costs time and money. There are some exceptions to probate laws, though. If assets are jointly held, such as those owned by a husband and wife, they automatically transfer to the surviving owner. Assets held in trust, or that have a named beneficiary (like a life insurance policy or a retirement plan), are also exempt from probate.

So why is this important when making charitable gifts? For several reasons. First, it’s possible that your heirs could contest your will during the probate process, delaying or cancelling your gift. The more likely problem, though, is that the probate process will reduce the value of your estate thanks to the legal fees and estate taxes that result from probate. This reduces the value of your gift — and the value of assets your heirs receive.

Including Charity 2Avoiding the Probate Question

While probate is common, it doesn’t have to happen. Many people who wish to make gifts to charity after their death (also known as bequests) make other arrangements prior to their death in order to maximize their contributions, reduce estate taxes, and ensure their heirs are taken care of as well.

Some of the most common means of making charitable gifts after death include:

• Naming an organization as a beneficiary to your 401(k) retirement plan or life insurance policy. You can designate a specific dollar amount or percentage of the account to be donated.

• Establishing a trust with the charity named as the beneficiary.

• Creating a charitable gift annuity, which provides both a source of income and a tax deduction while supporting the charity.

• Gifting real property, such as donating a boat or vehicle, artwork, or other item of value to the organization.

Each of these options has its own benefits and drawbacks, but most will limit your tax burden.

Additional Considerations

Most charities welcome bequests, but few like surprises — especially when it comes to gifts of property, or when gifts come with strings attached like provisions for their use. If you have a specific purpose in mind for your gift, it’s best to discuss your thoughts with the charity in advance to prevent misunderstandings and misappropriation of your assets. Charities also like to be able to plan for major gifts (even if they don’t know exactly when they will be coming) and might have some insights that will help you maximize your gift and reduce your tax burden.

It’s very important that you discuss gifts of property in advance. Not all charities are equipped to accept gifts of physical property, even if they seem insignificant. If the charity cannot accept your gift, it might have some other ideas (such as selling the property and donating the proceeds) for you to support them.

Again, work with your attorney to determine the best way to handle your estate and make charitable gifts. With advance planning, you can both support an organization that you care about and provide for your heirs without creating a tax burden.

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Did You Really Say, “Far Out, Man?”

Garret Mathews is retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. He penned more than 6,500 columns in a career that began in 1972. Mathews lives in Carmel, Ind., and happily babysits his new grandson four days a week. 

Garet MathewsI’ve written a lot about men and women who came of age during the Second World War. They’re living history lessons, and I’m not shy about popping the questions.

What was the Depression like? Did you know anyone who toiled in make-work jobs provided by the WPA and CCC? At the time of your enlistment in the service, what was the furthest you had been from home? Unlike mobilizations in Vietnam and Iraq, public support for World War 11 was close to 100 percent. What was it like to have such unity of purpose?

Face it, folks. Despite our best efforts, one of these days we’re going to be old. One of these days, a young fellow will knock on my door at the nursing home.

“You’re a living history lesson,” the lad will say as I scoop another portion of Metamucil.

“Is it OK to pop some questions?”

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The tables will be turned. What will their generation want to know about my age group? What will they be curious about? What are some things that happened on my watch they’ll want explained?

Here’s what I came up with:

– Do you remember the day your father carried the family’s first television set across the threshold? How much did it weigh? How many knobs did it have?

– Talk about the Cold War with a special focus on the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The United States and the Soviet Union were on the precipice of nuclear war. Were you afraid you were going to die?

– In the heyday of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, did you know any racists who worked at a restaurant or a hotel or a department store who denied service to blacks?

– What was the first thing you filed on your Commodore 64 computer?

– Did schools let out when John Kennedy was assassinated?

– Let’s go back to the 1970s. No Internet. No cable news on TV. No sports stations. What was it like to fall asleep during Monday Night Football and have to wait until the next day’s newspaper to find out who won the game?

– How in the world did that geek Nixon get to be president?

– What was the first television show you saw in color?

– Did you like the Beatles better before their “Revolver” album, or after?

– What was it like in the days before fast-food restaurants? Did people actually eat at home?

– Do you remember the first car you rode in that had air-conditioning?

– Let’s go back to the beginning of the fitness revolution. Can you remember the first time you saw a grown-up jogging who wasn’t being chased by the police?

– When your family left the drive-in movie at the end of the picture, did your dad ever pull out with the speaker still in the window?

– When you were in college, did you really say, “Far out, man?”

Other articles by this author

The Early Years

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