Invest In Yourself

February, the month of love, is typically when we express our affection and adoration for others: our partner, children, parents, grandparents, and other special people. This year, I encourage you to honor that one very special person… YOU! Self-care is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It is easy to get caught up with meeting the needs of others and overlook our own needs. When we do that, it is to our detriment. Make February a month that you take time to appreciate yourself. Do those special things for you! Pamper yourself. Fill your tank. You deserve it. Think: What is one thing you can do to show yourself some love? Now Think Again: What is one more thing you can do to show yourself? See how easy that can be.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Chocolate covered strawberries are a classic Valentine’s Day sweet – and the perfect option whether you intend to share them, or devour them all yourself!

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • toothpicks
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries with leaves
Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate and shortening in a double boiler, stirring occasionally until smooth.
  2. Insert toothpicks into tops (stem ends) of strawberries. Hold a strawberry by the toothpick and dip it into the chocolate mixture.
  3. Turn the strawberry upside down and insert the toothpick into a Styrofoam block or place strawberry on a sheet of waxed paper; allow chocolate coating to cool. Repeat with remaining strawberries.
AllRecipes: Chocolate Covered Strawberries

If You Have An LLC Or Corporation; Pay Attention To This New Law!

Many people think that the law is black and white; a rigid set of rules cast in stone. Being in the legal profession, I know the law is changing all the time. The changes in the law keeps me on my toes for sure as the law tries to respond to the ever-changing circumstances of our world. Sometimes those changes result in additional burdens; sometimes additional opportunities. Let’s look at two laws that have recently changed and how they may affect you.

If you have a beneficial interest in an LLC or a Corporation created before January 1, 2024, you are now required to file FinCEN’s Beneficial Ownership Information Form under the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). Even if your LLC is dormant (you don’t use it); or even if the LLC only owns one piece of rental property, each beneficial owner must file the document or be subject to a fine of $500 per day up to $10,000. Ouch! Let’s not take a chance on paying fines. You are deemed a beneficial owner If you own or control 25% or more of a “reporting company.” This reporting requirement is separate and apart and in addition to any state or local filing done to form a new business entity.

If you create an LLC or a Corporation after January 1, 2024, within 90 days of forming that entity, you must file a report with the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network

Is There Any Good News for LLCs and Corporations?

I had to dig deep to find the good news. Good News: You don’t have to pay any filing fees. More Good News: One and Done. You only have to do this once per entity as long as the beneficiary ownership doesn’t change. Even More Good News: You can file online at the new federal database called BOSS (an acronym for Beneficial Ownership Secure System). Better Good News. The reporting is easy to complete. Given that the purpose of the reporting is to prevent the use of anonymous shell companies for money laundering, tax evasion, and other illegal purposes, you could think of yourself as a modern-day Robin Hood. I’m stretching high to pick that fruit.

You can satiate your curiosity here: Beneficial Ownership Information Reporting


Helping Your Grandchildren

We all know that there’s a special place in our hearts for grandchildren as they often bring joy and special moments to our lives. Well now it is easier for grandparents to help their grandchildren with educational expenses.

The FAFSA Simplification Act, which went into effect last month (Dec 2023), now makes it possible for grandparents to make contributions to a 529 college savings plan for your grandchildren without impacting the student beneficiary’s eligibility for federal financial aid. A 529 plan also applies to qualified vocational training and trade schools.

The 529 Account

A 529 college savings account is a special savings account designed to help individuals, including grandparents, set aside money for future college expenses. Although contributions aren’t federally tax-deductible, the earnings within the 529 account grow tax-free and remain untaxed when they are withdrawn for qualified education expenses.

What The New Rule Changes

When the account owner is a dependent student or custodial parent, the total value of the 529 plan is reported as an investment asset on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Previously, if a grandparent owned the 529 plan, any distributions were considered untaxed income for the student, potentially affecting financial aid eligibility. The upcoming change eliminates this concern.

In summary, a 529 plan owned by a grandparent will no longer require reporting on the FAFSA. Even more impactful, distributions from this grandparent-owned 529 plan will not be deemed untaxed income for the student. This allows grandparents to contribute to their grandchild’s education without jeopardizing financial aid eligibility.

Maximizing Grandparent Contributions

It’s important to keep the following in mind when you make contributions to a 529 account for a grandchild:

1 | Funds Must Be Used For Qualified Educational Expenses

Grandparents can use 529 plan funds for a range of qualified educational expenses, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, laptops, and internet access. However, expenses such as insurance, student health fees, transportation, and extracurriculars are not covered and may incur a ten percent penalty if 529 plan funds are used toward these expenses.

2 | The Annual Gift Exclusion

While grandparents can contribute to their grandchild’s 529 plan, it’s essential to be mindful of the federal annual gift exclusion which currently stands at $18,000 for an individual ($36,000 if you file jointly with a spouse), which is the amount of money a person can gift to someone else without needing to file a gift tax return.

3 | Reconsider Payments Made Directly to The School

Distributions directly paid to the school from grandparent-owned 529 accounts will not affect aid eligibility. However, for now, it’s recommended to pay the grandchild directly.

4 | Timing Matters

The withdrawing of funds from the 529 plan must be done within the same tax year as the educational expenses in adherence to tax regulations.

5 | Watch Your Withdrawal Limits

The amount withdrawn from all 529 plans should be no more than the total cost of the qualified educational expenses billed by the school. Excess withdrawals may incur a 10 percent penalty, but there’s a 60-day window to rectify the situation without penalties.

Don’t Let The Online Spooks Haunt You!

It has been exciting to welcome all things fall recently. However, this email is about things that may haunt you and cause you difficulties and suffering. So, pardon me if I get a bit more serious this go-round, as October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. In our world, where many aspects of our lives are tied to our computers and online connection, our online safety has become more significant. Around the globe this month, a month-long campaign is waged to raise awareness about the ever-evolving cyber threats and the crucial measures individuals and organizations need to take to protect themselves against these risks.

Below are five easy tips to help keep you, your family, and your information safe online. I know you are busy. I know it is not easy. I know you think you have better things to do with your time. I also know innocent people, like you and me, who have been victims of cybercrime. Given what scammers and con artists can take from you if they get into your cyber world, the time and effort you take NOW can save you much more time, energy, money, and damages tomorrow.

Women Think Differently

Here’s the Scoop: Why, As Women, We Need to Plan

Ladies, whether we want to admit it or not, most of us, at some point, will find ourselves in an unforeseen situation with the rest of the family looking to us for direction. When this occasion arises, it is best to be prepared and have a plan laid out for whatever the circumstances are. I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with a woman left holding the bag after something happened to their spouse, parent, sibling, etc. This is why planning now could be the best gift you give to future-you.

  • Outliving Our Partners: Whether we like it or not, most women will outlive their partners. That means, ultimately, we will be making all the financial decisions. We need to be ready to take over when that happens, and, in the long run, it will benefit you to be proactive about it. The good news is we can begin together today. I encourage you to sit down and learn the various investments you have. Come up with a plan to provide a safe future for you and your loved ones, and ensure that you put in the effort and forethought now before you have to do it later.
  • Many Changes Occur When You Least Expect: Life can change from what you thought it would look like in the blink of an eye. Divorce, for example, is just one of those changes where friends say, “I never thought it would happen to me!” A sudden injury, disease, or disability are other changes that are hard to predict. When your life experiences change, your estate plan must also reflect these developments.
  • Health First: Health risks for women are much more likely to occur. Cancer and heart disease are equal opportunity risks. If your health declines, you will be thankful for a Healthcare Power of Attorney that sets forth your choices and specific directions. This is an easy step to take now that you will be highly grateful for later.
  • Modern Families: More than ever before, families today are blended families. Blended families can bring challenges and complexity because many moving parts and relationships must be considered. Thorough planning now will ensure that everyone is taken care of later, no matter what. If you die before your children’s step-parent, make sure your children still get what was important that you wanted them to have.
  • Likely Caregiver: Many of us will have no choice but to step up and become caregivers. This is an uncomfortable truth for many women regarding their spouses. Consider and plan for the possibility before it happens. Having this conversation now will also ease any tough decisions or discussions that will need to be had if the situation arises.
  • Boss Ladies: As you build your business, there are ways to protect yourself from the threat of liability. Now that you’re a Boss Lady let’s ensure your business legacy is secure and thriving by having the proper documents in order.
  • Single and Rocking It: Estate Plans aren’t just for married folks! If you are single and never tied the knot, it’s crucial to have an estate plan that lets those left behind know the choices you want made when you can’t make your own decisions and after you are gone. Your loved ones will thank you for making these decisions now, so they are not left guessing your wishes.

Estate planning is NOT a form you borrow from a friend. Estate planning is NOT taking chances with online services that warn this is “not legal advice” and “we are not your lawyer.” You are unique. Your family is unique. What you own and what you’ve built is unique. What you leave behind when you exit will be unique. Estate planning is about protecting you and your loved ones with a plan tailored to you and your life. Today is the day to start planning for your future and the probabilities and possibilities.

Let’s chat about crafting a unique plan for you and your legacy. Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your specific needs. You can call to schedule an appointment at 719-434-0000.

Make Family Communication All That it Can Be!

No relationship is immune to conflict. Sooner or later, you, your partner, your children, and others in a relationship with you are bound to not see eye-to-eye about something. Research shows it is how you handle communication with others that will determine both the health and success of your relationships. And we all want our relationships to be as healthy as possible, right? Check out the infographic below from The Gottman Institute. Perhaps you have never heard of The Gottman Institute. The Gottman Institute is a resource that I have followed for years and that I have found to have great value in helping me understand how to communicate with others more successfully. What I have learned from The Gottman Institute has benefitted me personally, professionally, and in every aspect of life, which is why I am sharing it with you. I encourage you to learn about The Four Horsemen. Even more important is learning how to avoid having The Four Horsemen be part of your communication patterns. You can access more information from The Gottman Institute here.

Tiny Habits to Improve Your Life

One of life’s rewards is having great friends that are bright, successful, articulate, and full of valuable information. For those of you that don’t know Mary Kelly, I am pleased to introduce you to my friend, Mary. Mary is an international speaker and the author of 15 books on topics such as leadership, business, and economics. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy and devoting over 20 years on active duty in intelligence and logistics, she retired from the Navy as a commander. She has a master’s degree in history and economics, a Ph.D. in economics, and always has a wealth of information to share. You can read more of Mary’s wisdom at https://productiveleaders.com. But first, enjoy Mary’s article on Tiny Habits You Can Do Today to Improve Your Life.

Tiny Habits You Can Do Today to Improve Your Life

Living your best life means something different to everyone. Your definition may be drastically different from the people close to you or your co-workers.

One of my favorite moments last week was talking to my Lyft driver. A retired chemical engineer, he drives because it is how he gets other people’s honest perspectives. “No one is trying to impress anyone during a drive,” he pointed out. “Passengers are honest about their lives and their opinions, and I learn from everyone.”

I love his perspective. He is fascinating! Why waste time when you can learn from talking with other people? His role of driving for a few hours a day evolved from his tiny habit of learning from someone else every day.

It is important to remember that there is a lot we cannot control, but we do have control over small amounts of time, and tiny changes in attitude and perspective make a difference.

Many people do not realize that small things add up to big things.

For example:

1. Walk a mile a day. That is 365 miles you walk that year.

2. Drink four ounces of water every hour from 7 AM to 7 PM. That is forty-eight ounces of water.

3. Write for 15 minutes a day and you have a manuscript in 90 days.

No matter where you are, you can improve by making minor changes. Tiny habits, compounded over time, produce amazing results.

Here are nine things you can do right now to change your life and increase your level of happiness:

1. Practice habit stacking. If you have been meaning to read more, but cannot seem to find the time, take the 5 minutes it takes your coffee to brew in the morning to read. Do not reach for your phone. Grab your book instead. This commitment is much easier because it is not a lot of time, and you are already spending that time waiting for your coffee. Another example is to floss right after brushing your teeth. You are already in the bathroom, so flossing is the next logical step.

2. Incorporate the 2-minute rule. Instead of committing to something for 20 minutes every day, commit to 2 minutes. Decide to walk for 2 minutes every day. Relieve stress by doing deep breathing exercises for 2 minutes. Clean out a drawer for 2 minutes. It is much easier to do something for 2 minutes than it is to carve out time for 20 minutes.

3. Set clear boundaries. Boundaries are necessary to keep us sane in both our personal and professional lives. Do you want to be available for clients 24/7, or would you like to handle business only during standard business hours? I know that I habitually work on weekends, but I don’t expect others to if those are not their working hours.

4. Identify the person you want to be. Use the right words to describe the type of person you want to be. Are you trying to quit smoking? You are a non-smoker. You are trying to become less messy? You are an organized person.

5. Find your community and join them to further commit to your habits. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people helps you keep that positive mindset. Think about going to the gym. We may not feel like going to the gym, but once we get there, we see other people who are working out and making an effort, so we do the same thing. It is the same at work. Align yourself with others in your industry or others who share your goals. Allow other people’s success to be a source of motivation.

6. Get back on the wagon. None of us are perfect. Donuts are my kryptonite. I really like donuts. One of the best donut stores on the entire planet is Horseshoe Donuts in Monument, Colorado. They have apple fritters, that way about 4 pounds. And they are delicious. Everything they have is delicious. I have dreams about their donuts. But I also don’t get to eat donuts every day. I might treat myself once every few months, but eating one donut is a treat. Eating donuts three days in a row is a habit. There are consequences for the donut. If I have a donut, I have to be extra healthy for a few days. If I skip a workout, I recommit to working out tomorrow. Most of us have good habits, so we cannot allow slip-ups to derail progress. Get back into positive habits right away. It is far easier to restart the habit immediately than to start all over again days later.

7. Don’t break the chain. Tracking your habits gives you a visual reminder of the progress you are making, and make sure tracking is a visual reminder of your attainable goal. For instance, if you want to improve your writing speed and skills, consider a goal of writing five hundred words per day for 30 days. Every day that you write, draw a giant x or smiley face on the calendar. After a few days, you may not feel like writing, but you don’t want to break the chain. At the end of 30 days, consider tracking for another 30 days. Seeing your progress gives you increased energy to keep moving forward.

8. Choose concrete goals instead of abstractions. “Getting healthy” or “start going to the gym” are not concrete goals. They are too abstract, and they do not lead to healthy habits. Instead, choose to do one easy health-related commitment, such as doing five sit-ups a day. You improve health, but the time investment is minimal. At some point, sit-ups every day will become second nature – a new habit – at which point you can add another tiny habit.

9. If you start too big, make your tiny habit tinier. We often set habits that are still too big because we are used to thinking big. If you cannot run for 30 minutes, drop it down to 30 seconds and add 30 seconds every day. If you cannot get motivated to go to the gym, let your first tiny habit be doing a jumping jack at home. Then your second tiny habit can be filling your water bottle. These tiny habits are meant to become automatic movements that you just do not think about once they are ingrained. In the end, all these tiny habits build on each other, and you will find yourself at the gym or running for 30 minutes.

Tiny habits are the stepping stones for our lifestyle. If something is not working, or we are not living our best life, then it is time to explore how to change our tiny habits, so we receive the outcome for which we work so hard.

My Pet Is My BFF!

If your BFF is a furry friend, you love and adore them; they are an important part of your life. So it only makes sense that you want the best for your pet even after you are gone. But estate planning for your beloved furry friend may be more complex than you think. When it comes to providing for your pet, it is important to know two things:

  • A pet is considered property under the law &
  • When someone receives your pet in your Will, they can do whatever they want with that property.

Your Will Doesn’t Cut It

Under the law, a pet is considered personal property, just like your money, furniture, and clothes. Because of this, you can’t leave money or possessions to your pet directly through your Will. If you leave money directly to your pet in your Will, the money will instead skip your pet and pass to the beneficiaries you named to receive the remainder of your possessions. And if you didn’t name anyone else, the court will give your possessions, including your pet, to your next of kin.

Worst of all, the person that receives your pet and any money left for the care of your pet in your Will, has absolutely no legal obligation to use that money for your pet’s care or even to keep your pet at all.

A Will Provides No Guarantees

For Their FutureBecause you can’t leave money to your pet directly, your first thought might be to leave your pet and money for its care to someone you trust through your Will instead. This option is not likely to work.

That’s because the person you name as the beneficiary of your pet in your Will has no legal obligation to use the funds you leave for your pet’s care for that purpose. Even if you leave detailed instructions for your pet’s care, your beneficiary does not have to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet. Nothing stops them from changing their mind and abandoning your BFF.

You might think that the person you’d leave your pet to would love them and would never abandon them. (Ask the local shelter how often they see this happen). Even if your chosen person is committed to caring for your pet, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might occur in the future that could make it impossible for them to provide for your pet for the rest of your pet’s life.

And a Will Isn’t Fast Enough

The other issue a Will creates for your pet is that a Will is required by law to go through the court process known as probate before any of your property can be distributed to the people you’ve named, and of course, it only operates in the event of your death, not your incapacity.

The probate process itself can take months (a minimum of 8 months on a good day) or even years to complete. During that time, your pet could be passed around between those who argue over who should care for it. In the worst-case scenario, no one may even think to check in on your pet regularly while the court process is unfolding.

Plus, a Will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion. This leaves your pet in limbo and vulnerable to being rehomed to someone you would not have chosen or wanted to care for your pet. In the worst scenario, your pet could be surrendered to a shelter by the time everything gets figured out.

Provide Long-Lasting Care for Your Pet Through a Pet Trust

In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and that the money you leave for its care is used precisely as intended, ask us to help you create a Pet Trust.

By creating a Pet Trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver (the trustee) can use the funds you leave for your furry friend. And unlike a Will, a Pet Trust will go into effect immediately in the event you become incapacitated or pass away.

Do Right By Your Pet

With a Pet Trust, all of the care decisions and financial distributions for your pet will happen in the privacy of our office in the event of your death or incapacity. Unlike a Will, a Pet Trust doesn’t go through probate, which means it goes into effect immediately if you become incapacitated or pass away. We’ll guide your decision-makers about how and why you made your decisions and how they need to care for your pet to receive distributions. And, while that may seem excessive for some, it is perfect for those clients who care so much about the well-being of their pets and want to ensure their pet gets plenty of tender loving care in the future.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and ensure you’re doing right by your pet.

Lesson Learned? Or Not?

You probably read recently that Len Goodman, the long-time judge on “Dancing With the Stars,” died. Len was a sage in the world of dance and was known for his wry and witty humor. It’s too early to tell if he left his loved ones holding the bag or if he had his affairs in order. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people with the time and resources to plan well for the eventuality of their death and fail to have a plan in place.

We all know that we are definitely going to leave this world. We all know that having a plan in place is essential. It’s perplexing that so many people fail to have an estate plan in place or whose plan is outdated and won’t work for their family now.

Earlier this year, Stephen Laurel Boss, also known as “tWitch,” died. TWitch wasn’t familiar to me, but he was to millions of others who knew him as an American DJ, hip-hop dancer, choreographer, television producer, and actor whose personality lit up the stage on So You Think You Can Dance. He was also a producer and frequent guest host on The Ellen Degeneres Show and co-hosted the TV show Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings alongside his wife and fellow dancer, Allison Holkers.

tWitch and Allison shared a seemingly happy life together in Los Angeles, California, where they were raising their three children, ages 3, 7, and 14. Sadly, on December 13, 2022, tWitch died by suicide at the age of 40. His death came as a complete shock to loved ones who reported the star seemed happy in the weeks leading up to his death.

Boss died without a Will or Trust in place, meaning his wife, Allison Holker, has the task of petitioning the California court system to release Boss’ share of their assets to her. Allison, his widow, will need to wait months before she can formally take possession of the property her husband owned with her, as well as property held in his name alone, including his share of his production company, royalties, and his personal investment account.

Do you know how many people have plenty of notice of their death and fail to protect their families? Celebs and regular people like you and I just fail to do what it takes and leave their loved ones to handle details that they are ill-equipped to handle.

Unnecessary Court Involvement in a Time of Grief

Now, mind you, this happened in California. However, the process that one has to go through in most states is strikingly similar. In order to have access to her late husband’s assets, Allison, his widow, will have to make a public filing in the Probate Court by filing a petition, which asks the court to transfer ownership of a deceased spouse’s property to her as the surviving spouse. Hopefully, there will not be any difficulty in proving that they were legally married at the time of his death.

While the probate court has become more efficient in recent years, the court’s involvement nonetheless delays a spouse’s ability to access the assets of a loved one that has passed – a hurdle no one wants to deal with in the wake of a devastating loss. In addition, the court probate process is entirely public, meaning that the specific assets that loved ones are trying to access are made part of the public record. When your financial affairs become part of the public record, they become available for anyone to discover.

This isn’t just a problem for the wealthy. Even if you own a modest estate at your death, your family will need to go through the probate court process to transfer ownership of your assets if you don’t have an estate plan in place.

How to Prevent This From Happening to Your Loved Ones

When someone dies without an estate plan in place, the probate court’s involvement can be a lengthy and public affair. At a minimum, in Colorado, you can expect the probate process to last at least six months and oftentimes as long as eighteen months or more. How long it will take depends on many variables that we cannot necessarily predict before death. The sad part is that court involvement can be completely avoided IF the couple had created a revocable living trust to hold their family’s assets. If they had, the widow would have had immediate access to all of the couple’s assets upon death, eliminating the need to petition a court or wait for its approval before accessing the funds that rightly belong to her.

A Trust would have also kept the family’s finances private. With a Trust, only the person in charge of managing the Trust assets (the Trustee) and the Trust’s direct beneficiaries need to know how the assets in a Trust are used. There is also no court-imposed timeline on the Trustee for taking care of your final matters (with the exception of some tax elections), so your family can move at the pace that’s right for them when the time comes to put your final affairs in order.

The privacy that a trust provides also helps to eliminate potential family conflict because only the parties directly involved in the Trust will know what the Trust says. If issues between family members arise over the contents of the Trust, the Trust will lay out all of your wishes in detail so that all family members are on the same page and understand your wishes for the ones you’ve left behind.

Guidance for You and the Ones You Love

When you create a revocable living Trust at our firm, we ensure your loved ones have someone to turn to for guidance and support during times of uncertainty. No one expects the sudden loss of a loved one, but when it happens, your world is shaken. Even the simplest tasks can feel overwhelming, let alone the work involved in wrapping up a loved one’s affairs.

That’s why we welcome you to meet with us to discuss your wishes for when you die or if you become incapacitated. If you’re ready to start the estate planning process, contact us today for a complimentary 15-minute discovery call.