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Many of you already have estate documents, probably executed many years ago. You need an estate attorney to look over your documents every 10 years or so. Here are a dozen points to review.

1. Will and Powers of Attorney

Do you have a will and powers of attorney for health care and property? These are part of every complete estate plan. With health-care power, you choose an agent to act on your behalf if you become unable to make your own decisions. With durable power for property, you select an agent to act if you are incapacitated and can’t sign a tax return, make investment decisions, make gifts or handle other financial matters.

Make sure your health-care power addresses the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This governs what medical information doctors can release to someone other than the patient.

2. Making Sure Roles are Filled

Do you need to change any beneficiaries, executors, trustees, guardians or others named in your documents? Are all still living? Can someone you recently found fill a role better?

3. Updates and Addendums

Any updates needed to addendums to your will that specify who gets what of your personal property? Often I read wills that mention addendums for personal property and the addendums don’t even exist.

4. Change of State

Did you move to a different state since the execution of your estate documents? If so, seek out a local estate attorney to check any legal differences for planning between your old and new states.

5. Trust Organization

Do you still need your trust documents or can you decant, which allows you to change some provisions? Consider this technique of emptying the contents of an irrevocable trust into another newly created trust if you are unhappy with your irrevocable trust. Not all states allow decanting.

You may also want to discuss possibly moving assets out of a living trust (where a trustee holds them, a technique sometimes used to avoid probate) and holding them in the name of an individual.

This discussion will weigh the income tax benefits of a step-up in cost basis, the original cost of an asset, versus other reasons to keep the trust. (“Step up” means that the cost basis of an asset resets to the fair market value of the security as the date of the holder’s death - potentially a much higher value than when they bought the security.) The higher the cost basis, the less capital gains tax your heirs pay when they sell the asset.

You may also want to see whether you need an irrevocable life insurance trust, a device once used to move assets, typically life insurance, out of a taxable estate. Now that thresholds are higher - you may not need to move assets.

Also check when your life insurance expires. Consider how long to keep it if you think you might outlive the policy.

6. Keeping Up With Your Children

Have your children passed the ages specified in a children’s trust (in which you designate money for such specific purposes as education, home down payments or weddings once the kids reach stipulated ages)? If your estate documents call for a trust to give children access to money at certain ages after you die, you may be able to delete that language if the kids are older than the specified ages.

7. In Case of a Divorce

What happens if one of your kids gets divorced? A trust can help you protect assets for your child or grandchild.

8. Special Needs

Do you have heirs with special needs? Don’t assume typical estate documents help such an heir. Seek out a financial advisor and attorney who specialize in this planning.

9. Beneficiary Designations

Check beneficiary designations on brokerage accounts, insurance policies and retirement accounts. Anybody you don’t want there?

10. Importance of Brokerage Account Policy

If you filled out a brokerage account application (or any beneficiary designation), understand the firm’s policy when one beneficiary dies before the others. If you want the share of the assets to pass by blood line - to the deceased’s children, for example - you may need to put in language specifying per stirpes (distribution of property when a beneficiary with children dies before the maker of the will).

Otherwise, the remaining listed beneficiaries may simply divide the assets.

11. Joint Bank Accounts

Often a parent names a child on a bank account so the child can access or use the money if the parent can’t act. Understand that if you name your child as a joint owner on an account, the money passes to your child no matter what your will dictates.

The child splitting the money with someone else constitutes a gift. Think carefully so you keep the family peace.

12. The All Important Password

Do your heirs know where to find all your important information? Let someone know the password to the app where you keep all your passwords - you must remember digital assets now, too.

Many parents may find it uncomfortable, or even believe it is unnecessary, to inform their children about personal finance matters. Yet, communicating openly with your family members can help to reassure them about your financial and health care wishes. This may also ease the decision-making process for your family in many important areas.

As time goes by, informing your children of financial, estate, and medical arrangements that could affect the entire family helps everyone prepare and plan for the future. This does not need to include detailed facts and figures; however, you may want to consider sharing the following information with your adult children:

Life Insurance

Life insurance is typically purchased to provide a death benefit to help cover final expenses, estate taxes, outstanding mortgages, other liabilities, and lost income. Knowledge of the existence and location of life insurance policies can be of the utmost importance to children when settling their parents’ finances in a timely manner.

Other Insurance

Be sure to inform children of other insurance policies that you may have, including health, disability income, and long-term care insurance. If you’re age 65 or older, make sure your children have a basic understanding of Medicare coverage and are aware of any health insurance policies that exceed Medicare coverage. Older adults can greatly benefit when their children understand and follow appropriate procedures, as well as submit any necessary forms on deadline.


Preparing a will allows you to avoid leaving the disposition of your estate up to your particular state and its probate laws. To help ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, both you and your spouse should prepare wills, review them regularly, and make necessary updates as circumstances change.

Although specific contents can be kept private, it is important to disclose the existence and location of wills to several family members or a trusted legal advisor. Keep in mind that bank safe-deposit boxes may be temporarily sealed at death, so you may want to choose an alternate location for this key document. For example, the original will may be left with your financial advisor for safekeeping.


Trusts can help protect your estate from unnecessary taxation or mismanagement. Make sure to discuss pertinent terms with those who will be involved. As children reach adulthood, it is common for parents to select a responsible son or daughter to act as trustee in the event of the parents’ death.

Living Will

This document specifies your preferences regarding the administering or withholding of life-sustaining medical treatment. Under many state statutes, a patient must be considered “terminal,” “permanently unconscious,” or in a “persistent vegetative state” before life support can be withdrawn. Be sure to provide copies of living wills to anyone who may be involved with the health care of you or your spouse, and keep the originals in a safe, readily accessible place.

Health Care Proxy

This legal document allows you to appoint a person to act as an agent on your behalf to make medical decisions, should you become incapacitated. It is important to file a copy of the health care proxy with your primary doctor and your hospital, if possible. In addition, be sure that the individual appointed as your agent retains a copy.

Durable Power of Attorney

With a durable power of attorney, an individual or financial institution may act as an agent to oversee your legal and financial affairs, even if you become incapacitated. Grown children need to be informed of the steps that have been taken to ensure the competent direction of your finances, should the need arise. However, their actual involvement in your financial matters may be limited, according to your wishes. A power of attorney automatically terminates upon the death of the principal.

Assets and Debts

It can be beneficial for your children to know that you have compiled a list of your assets and debts, even if you choose not to show them the list. An asset list updated regularly may include information on your bank accounts, real estate holdings, pension payments, annuities, business agreements, brokerage accounts, boats, cars, artwork, collectibles, jewelry, or other valuables, and insurance policies. A debt list may include information on your current mortgages, consumer indebtedness, personal loans, and business obligations. For both lists, be sure to identify where the paperwork and associated files for each item can be found.

Initially, preparing these lists and the associated documentation may seem like an overwhelming task. However, once completed, both you and your adult children may experience a sense of relief in the knowledge that thoughtful planning was discussed and implemented according to your wishes.

If you’re a small business owner, you’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into building your company. With day-to-day demands, it may be difficult to imagine your eventual transition into retirement. Yet, if you want to build personal financial security and ensure business continuation, it is important to plan ahead. Business succession planning can help create retirement income for a retiring business owner and facilitate the transfer of operations and/or ownership to family or another entity. A succession plan can also provide a strategy to handle unforeseen events, such as death or disability.

Laying the Foundation

It is never too early to begin planning for succession. An early start can allow you ample time to develop an appropriate exit strategy, choose the right person to be your successor, and train your successor to manage the daily operations of your company. Consider the following points to create a foundation for a successful plan:

Valuate Your Business

A key aspect of planning for continuation is calculating the worth of your business. There are a variety of techniques for business valuation, and the most appropriate will depend on your business circumstances. A qualified professional can help you choose strategies for valuation.

Plan Your Exit Strategy

It is important for a retiring business owner to plan his or her departure from the day-to-day operations of the business. A solid plan can help ensure this transition will go smoothly, as well as facilitate the transfer of ownership.

Choose a Successor

If you plan to keep ownership and control of your business within your family, start by assessing your family members’ interests and qualifications, and how well they match the needs of the business. Discuss with family members who will participate in the company and in what capacity. Then, determine how working members will be compensated and what will be given to nonparticipating members.

If you expect unrelated parties to carry on the business, meet with the key people involved for an in-depth discussion about the company and its future. If succession involves the sale of the business, be prepared to address such issues as what the purchase price will be, how it will be paid, and when the succession plan will be activated.  

Develop a Business Plan for the Future

Through your business plan, you can outline clear-cut, short-, medium-, and long-term business goals for your successor, along with an action plan for achieving them.

Include budgets and financial forecasts that can be modified according to changing conditions in both the industry and the economy.

Choose a Transfer Strategy

Depending on the type of business, its value, and your personal financial situation and goals, determine the best ownership transfer strategy for your business. There are a variety of ways to structure and fund buy-sell agreements. For transfers to family members or charity, gifting may be an appropriate option. Consult your tax and legal professionals for specific guidance.

Plan for Contingencies

Regardless of your intentions for succession, it can be helpful to compile current information in case an unforeseen event, such as a death or disability, occurs before you have finalized your succession plan. This information should include the following:

Other Considerations

A comprehensive succession plan involves strategies to handle a number of financial, legal, and tax issues. For instance, how will a successor secure funds to buy out a retiring, deceased, or disabled owner’s share of the business? What are the estate planning issues? How can an owner minimize gift taxes resulting from the transfer of company stock to family members? Such situations can be addressed in a succession plan, with the guidance of qualified financial, legal, tax, and insurance professionals.

You owe it to yourself to ensure that your business will continue to flourish after your retirement, as well as in the event of death or disability. Proper planning through a business succession plan can help provide long-term security for your retirement, your company’s future, and your family.

When it comes to personal finance, there are a number of competing priorities that can make it difficult to determine where to focus your efforts. For many people, the choice between building emergency savings and working towards their retirement goals is one of the biggest dilemmas they face. So, which should you focus on first?

In order to answer this question, it's important to understand what emergency savings and retirement goals are and why they are both important. Emergency savings refers to the amount of money you have set aside in a readily accessible account to cover unexpected expenses, such as a job loss, medical emergency, or major home repair. Retirement goals, on the other hand, are the plans you have in place to provide for yourself financially once you stop working.

Both emergency savings and retirement goals are important, but the order in which you focus on them will depend on your individual financial situation. If you have a stable income and few financial obligations, you may be able to focus more on your retirement goals, knowing that you have a safety net in place in the form of your emergency savings. However, if you have limited income and high debt, you may need to prioritize building up your emergency savings in order to protect yourself from financial shocks.

Emergency Savings First

Here are a few reasons why emergency savings should come first:

  1. Peace of mind: Having a solid emergency fund in place can help you sleep better at night, knowing that you have a safety net in case of an unexpected expense.
  2. Protects against debt: If you don't have emergency savings, you may turn to credit cards or loans to cover unexpected expenses, which can quickly spiral into debt. Building up your emergency savings can help you avoid this trap.
  3. Provides flexibility: With an emergency fund in place, you have more flexibility to make decisions about your financial future, such as taking on a new job or starting a new business.

Retirement Goals First

However, there are also some good reasons why focusing on your retirement goals first can make sense:

  1. Time value of money: The earlier you start saving for retirement, the more time your money has to grow, which can make a big difference in the amount you have saved when you retire.
  2. Compound interest: The power of compound interest means that the earlier you start saving, the less you have to save each month in order to reach your goals.
  3. Employer matching: If you participate in a 401(k) or other retirement plan at work, your employer may match a portion of your contributions. By maximizing this match, you can significantly increase your retirement savings.

Emergency Savings vs. Retirement Goals

So, which should come first? Ultimately, the answer will depend on your individual financial situation and goals. If you have a stable income and few financial obligations, you may be able to focus more on your retirement goals, knowing that you have a safety net in place in the form of your emergency savings.

However, if you have limited income and high debt, you may need to prioritize building up your emergency savings in order to protect yourself from financial shocks.

In any case, it's important to find a balance between the two. You don't want to neglect your emergency savings and end up in debt when an unexpected expense arises, but you also don't want to neglect your retirement savings and end up struggling to make ends meet in your later years. A good rule of thumb is to aim to have three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund, and then start contributing to your retirement goals as soon as you can.

Over the past year, the global economy has faced a series of rolling recessions – periods of economic decline that impact specific sectors or regions without bringing down the entire economy. This phenomenon, although concerning, is not necessarily as disastrous as it may sound. It reveals a nuanced picture of economic resilience, courtesy of offsetting pockets of strength. As an investor, understanding these dynamics can help guide investment decisions and strategies.

Understanding Rolling Recessions

Rolling recessions, sometimes referred to as rolling bear markets, are essentially localized downturns that hit specific areas of an economy while others remain robust. These can be industry-specific, region-specific, or even product-specific. They may be triggered by a variety of factors such as regulatory changes, technological disruptions, trade conflicts, or even sector-specific demand and supply imbalances.

For example, if there's a technological disruption that renders certain jobs obsolete in a specific sector, that sector could experience a recession while others continue to thrive. Similarly, a region heavily reliant on one industry may suffer if that industry faces a downturn, while regions with a more diversified economic base continue to grow.

The Economy’s Safety Net

The simultaneous existence of these recessions and robust sectors illustrates the complex, interconnected nature of modern economies. It also underlines an inherent resilience, as healthier areas can help stabilize the economy and prevent a full-blown, nationwide or global recession. These healthier sectors can absorb displaced labor, offer investment alternatives, and maintain overall economic activity.

It's akin to a natural ecosystem: when one species is in decline, others may thrive and maintain the balance. Similarly, in an economy, when one sector is facing a downturn, others that are more robust can provide the necessary counterbalance.

Navigating Rolling Recessions as an Investor

For investors, rolling recessions offer both challenges and opportunities.

On the one hand, these can lead to portfolio losses if one is heavily invested in a sector or region that enters a recession. On the other hand, they can provide opportunities to buy assets at discounted prices and diversify into more resilient sectors or regions.

Hence, the key to navigating rolling recessions lies in regular communication with your financial advisor, maintaining a diversified investment portfolio, staying informed about economic trends, and being flexible in adjusting investment strategies based on changing conditions. Investors can work with their advisor to keep a pulse on both macroeconomic indicators and sector-specific trends.

Knowledge Matters

While rolling recessions can unsettle investors, they need not trigger undue alarm. In fact, they highlight the resilience of a diversified economy and can present unique investment opportunities. With a good financial advisor who understands the economic landscape and sound investment strategies, investors can not only navigate these downturns but potentially turn them into profitable ventures.

As we move forward in this ever-evolving economic environment, remember that a professional financial advisor who is knowledgeable and adaptable is your most valuable asset. Use them wisely to spot opportunities, mitigate risks, and ensure your financial resilience, no matter the economic weather.

One of the more challenging aspects of managing finances today is deciding how much to save and which savings vehicles are most appropriate in helping you reach your goals. Naturally, you hope to create a savings and investment plan that’s “in tune” with your personal objectives and risk tolerance. But, the lure of potentially high rates of return can easily skew a novice’s objectivity, which could result in unrealistic expectations and unnecessary exposure to risk.

That’s why it’s important to meet regularly with a qualified financial professional to review your personal financial situation, taking into account your short-term and long-term goals. During these meetings, you’ll formulate answers to the following questions:

One Key Player: Diversification

Professional guidance can help you create a well-diversified savings program with assets placed in different types of investments and investment classes covering a wide range of the risk/return spectrum. Examples of some investment vehicles include: stocks; bonds; mutual funds (which can comprise of stocks, bonds, or a combination of both); certificates of deposit (CDs); savings; and money market accounts. Each investment class, and its respective options, tends to react differently to changes in financial markets and to the economy as a whole. Thus, by diversifying your portfolio, risk is spread over a broader range of investments—potentially minimizing the impact of downturns in the economy or a particular market sector.

Maintaining Harmony

Each individual situation has its own set of circumstances that require constant re-evaluation. Factors such as your age, income, expenses, family responsibilities, and risk tolerance will certainly change over time. In addition, it’s important to recognize that past performance of any investment is not indicative of future results, and shares may be redeemed for more or less than their original value. Investments that are performing well above or below your expectations may create an unbalanced portfolio, which could result in an investment mix that is “out of harmony” (inconsistent) with your original objectives.

Regular reviews with a qualified financial professional will help ensure your portfolio is properly diversified, balanced, and performing in accordance with your investment goals—in short, making music you want to hear.

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Investment advice offered through Integrated Partners, doing business as Strong Valley Wealth & Pension, a registered investment advisor. The information on this website has not been approved or verified by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission or by any state securities authority. Registration as an Investment Adviser does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Strong Valley Wealth & Pension, LLC offers some securities through M.S. Howells & Co. Member FINRA/SIPC. M.S. Howells & Co. is not affiliated with Strong Valley Wealth & Pension.
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