Michele Clark
Clark Hourly Financial Planning - Chesterfield, MO Advisor
1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 255
Chesterfield, MO 63017 USA
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Estate Planning

March 20th, 2017

By definition, estate planning is a process designed to help you manage and preserve your assets while you are alive, and to conserve and control their distribution after your death according to your goals and objectives. But what estate planning means to you specifically depends on who you are. Your age, health, wealth, lifestyle, life stage, goals, and many other factors determine your particular estate planning needs.

For example, you may have a small estate and may be concerned only that certain people receive particular things. A simple will may be what you need. Or, you may have a large estate, and minimizing any potential estate tax impact is your foremost goal. Here, you’ll need to use more sophisticated techniques in your estate plan, such as a trust.  There are, of course, other considerations besides the size of the estate that would determine the best course of action; complexity of your situation and desire for privacy for example.

To help you understand what estate planning means to you, the following sections address some estate planning needs that are common among some very broad groups of individuals. Think of these suggestions as simply a point in the right direction, and then seek professional advice to implement the right plan for you.

Over 18

Since incapacity can strike anyone at anytime, all adults over 18 should consider having:

  • A durable power of attorney: This document lets you name someone to manage your property for you in case you become incapacitated and cannot do so.
  • An advance medical directive: The three main types of advance medical directives are (1) a living will, (2) a durable power of attorney for health care (also known as a health-care proxy), and (3) a Do Not Resuscitate order. Be aware that not all states allow each kind of medical directive, so make sure you execute one that will be effective for you.

Young and single

If you’re young and single, you may not need much estate planning. But if you have some material possessions, you should at least write a will. If you don’t, the wealth you leave behind if you die will likely go to your parents, and that might not be what you would want. A will lets you leave your possessions to anyone you choose (e.g., your significant other, siblings, other relatives, or favorite charity).

Unmarried couples

You’ve committed to a life partner but aren’t legally married. For you, a will is essential if you want your property to pass to your partner at your death. Without a will, state law directs that only your closest relatives will inherit your property, and your partner may get nothing. If you share certain property, such as a house or car, you may consider owning the property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. That way, when one of you dies, the jointly held property will pass to the surviving partner automatically.

Married couples

For many years, married couples had to do careful estate planning, such as the creation of a credit shelter trust, in order to take advantage of their combined federal estate tax exclusions. For decedents dying in 2011 and later years, the executor of a deceased spouse’s estate can transfer any unused estate tax exclusion amount to the surviving spouse without such planning.

You may be inclined to rely on these portability rules for estate tax avoidance, using outright bequests to your spouse instead of traditional trust planning. However, portability should not be relied upon solely for utilization of the first to die’s estate tax exclusion, and a credit shelter trust created at the first spouse’s death may still be advantageous for several reasons:

  • Portability may be lost if the surviving spouse remarries and is later widowed again
  • The trust can protect any appreciation of assets from estate tax at the second spouse’s death
  • The trust can provide protection of assets from the reach of the surviving spouse’s creditors
  • Portability does not apply to the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax, so the trust may be needed to fully leverage the GST exemptions of both spouses

Married couples where one spouse is not a U.S. citizen have special planning concerns. The marital deduction is not allowed if the recipient spouse is a non-citizen spouse (but a $149,000 annual exclusion, for 2017, is allowed). If certain requirements are met, however, a transfer to a qualified domestic trust (QDOT) will qualify for the marital deduction.

Married with children

If you’re married and have children, you and your spouse should each have your own will. For you, wills are vital because you can name a guardian for your minor children in case both of you die simultaneously. If you fail to name a guardian in your will, a court may appoint someone you might not have chosen. Furthermore, without a will, some states dictate that at your death some of your property goes to your children and not to your spouse. If minor children inherit directly, the surviving parent will need court permission to manage the money for them.

You may also want to consult an attorney about establishing a trust to manage your children’s assets in the event that both you and your spouse die at the same time.

You may also need life insurance. Your surviving spouse may not be able to support the family on his or her own and may need to replace your earnings to maintain the family.

Comfortable and looking forward to retirement

If you’re in your 30s, you may be feeling comfortable. You’ve accumulated some wealth and you’re thinking about retirement. Here’s where estate planning overlaps with retirement planning. It’s just as important to plan to care for yourself during your retirement as it is to plan to provide for your beneficiaries after your death. You should keep in mind that even though Social Security may be around when you retire, those benefits alone may not provide enough income for your retirement years. Consider saving some of your accumulated wealth using other retirement and deferred vehicles, such as an individual retirement account (IRA).

Wealthy and worried

Depending on the size of your estate, you may need to be concerned about estate taxes.

For 2017, $5,490,000 is effectively excluded from the federal gift and estate tax. Estates over that amount may be subject to the tax at a top rate of 40 percent.

Similarly, there is another tax, called the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax, that is imposed on transfers of wealth made to grandchildren (and lower generations). For 2017, the GST tax exemption is also $5,490,000, and the top tax rate is 40 percent.

Whether your estate will be subject to state death taxes depends on the size of your estate and the tax laws in effect in the state in which you are domiciled.

Elderly or ill

If you’re elderly or ill, you’ll want to write a will or update your existing one, consider a revocable living trust, and make sure you have a durable power of attorney and a health-care directive. Talk with your family about your wishes, and make sure they have copies of your important papers or know where to locate them.

Timeshare owners

Perhaps you own a timeshare, and perhaps to add further complication, it is in another state.  A good estate plan is important to help you consider who will inherit the time share and responsibility for the ongoing maintenance fees.  Different states have different rules about settling an estate with timeshare properties.  Is it better to let it be probated? Or is it better to title it in a Trust?  There are pros and cons to each approach and it needs to be considered based on the type of timeshare, dollar value, amount of ongoing maintenance fees, who will pay the fee, and how the fee would be paid.

One’s estate plan needs to be customized to one’s circumstance and wishes.  Work with an attorney who specializes in the area of estate planning due to the complexity of this area of law, rather than someone who also fixes tickets, sets up LLC, etc.  Just like a family doctor is an important part of your healthcare routine, you need to know when it is time to see a specialist.  In law, estate planning is an area of specialty.

Portions of this blog post are from an article prepared by Broadridge Investor Communications Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017  But, I just had to add my own two cents!

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Michele Clark in the News: US News and World Report about Reliable Retirement Planning Advice

March 7th, 2017

I was honored to help US News and World Report recently in their article “How to Get Reliable Retirement Planning Advice” with an important topic that is causing some friction in our industry right now.  The public is having their eyes opened to the importance of having a fiduciary relationship with their financial advisor, however, it is looking like the fiduciary rule could possibly get postponed.  Not all brokerage firms and advisors want to be subject to the fiduciary rule.  I am a fiduciary, and I share my thoughts on how to find quality, fiduciary advice.

The advice that I share is to “Look for a seasoned advisor who has been in the business through a market cycle or two, is a fee-only fiduciary and a certified financial planner who works primarily with clients like you.”

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Michele Clark in the News: CNBC.com about Relocation in Retirement

February 27th, 2017

I was honored to be quoted today on CNBC.com in the article “Retirees should look carefully before leaping into a relocation” .  It is a good list of things to consider before a major move to a new state.  Things like:

  • Taxes
  • Real Estate Expenses
  • Quality of Medical Care
  • Quality of Elder Care and Social Services
  • Culture Fit
  • Proximity of Family

When you read the article, based on some of my quotes, you might be able to tell that my mother is a 30 year veteran of the real estate business. She owns a residential real estate appraisal firm and she has passed her knowledge on to me.

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Coffee with Michele Clark, CFP ® and Friends March 2017

February 24th, 2017

Come to the Community Room at Kaldi’s in Chesterfield, MO with your financial planning and health insurance questions and enjoy a cup of coffee with CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional Michele Clark and Diana Wilson health insurance professional.

There is no prepared presentation, just a casual conversation in a small group environment; your opportunity to pick our brains.  Feel free to invite family or friends who could benefit from an hour with us.  Open to registered attendees only, due to the size of the room.  RSVP at our website Clark Hourly Financial Planning and Investment Management RSVP or call 636-264-0732.

You may have health insurance questions like:

  • What is the difference between private insurance and the marketplace?
  • What is Medicare Part A, B, and D and what does it cover?
  • How does a Medicare supplement work?
  • What is Medicare Advantage?
  • What is the donut hole I hear about?
  • How does COBRA play a part in this?
  • How does the ACA tax credit work?

Or maybe you just really like pastries and coffee.  We would love to see you.

Financial Planning and Health Insurance Questions Answered

Coffee with Michele and Friends
Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
10:30 am to 11:30 am

RSVP Information

RSVP at our website Clark Hourly Financial Planning and Investment Management RSVP or call 636-264-0732.

Kaldi’s Coffee Chesterfield, MO address and map

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Asset Allocation: Rebalancing a Portfolio in an Appreciated Market

February 22nd, 2017

You probably already know you need to monitor your investment portfolio and update it periodically. Even if you’ve chosen an asset allocation, market forces may quickly begin to tweak it.

For example, if stock prices go up, you may eventually find yourself with a greater percentage of stocks in your portfolio than you want, and therefore a more aggressive portfolio than you originally intended. If the market corrects, your portfolio will go down more than you originally felt comfortable with, because you had more in stock than you originally intended, due to stock market appreciation.

Do you have a strategy for dealing with those changes? You’ll probably want to take a look at your individual investments, but you’ll also want to think about your asset allocation.

How rebalancing works

To bring your asset allocation back to the original percentages you set for each type of investment, you’ll need to do something that may feel counterintuitive: sell some of what’s working well and use that money to buy investments in other areas that now represent less of your portfolio.

Typically, you’d buy enough to bring your percentages back into alignment. This keeps what’s called a “constant weighting” of the relative types of investments.

Let’s look at a hypothetical illustration. If stocks have risen, a portfolio that originally included only 60% in stocks might now have 70% in equities. Rebalancing would involve selling some of the stock and using the proceeds to buy enough of other asset classes to bring the percentage of stock in the portfolio back to 60%. This example doesn’t represent actual returns; it merely demonstrates how rebalancing works. Maintaining those relative percentages not only reminds you to take profits when a given asset class is doing well, but it also keeps your portfolio in line with your original risk tolerance.

Methods for Rebalancing your Portfolio

Knowing that the market can be volatile and that rebalancing is a disciplined process that helps offset the risk of volatility, how do you know when to rebalance your portfolio? There are a couple of methods for rebalancing.

Target Bands

One common rule of thumb is to rebalance your portfolio whenever one type of investment gets more than a certain percentage out of line, say, 5 to 10%. This type of monitoring typically requires sophisticated software and an alert system to send you an automated alert whenever your portfolio is outside of acceptable balance range.

Otherwise it would be a daily manual exercise of updating the value of each investment and the relative value of the asset classes of the overall portfolio. This is a daily disciplined practice that most investors would not maintain on a sustained basis over years, which would be required.  When we work with clients on an investment management basis, we use Target Bands as our method of rebalancing. We can do this because we have daily access to their account information and the software to monitor the accounts versus our target allocation.

Annual Rebalancing

You could also set a regular date for rebalancing. To stick to this strategy, you’ll need to be comfortable with the fact that investing is cyclical and all investments generally go up and down in value from time to time. When we work with clients on an hourly basis, we encourage them to come back to us on an annual basis for portfolio rebalancing. Because we do not have access to their accounts, we rely on investment statements that they provide us. In this situation, this is a good way to rebalance the portfolio back to the target allocation. The concern comes when too much time elapses between rebalancing periods and due to market fluctuation the portfolio can become an allocation that is not in line with their risk tolerance.

Our example has been about an appreciated stock market, because that is the market that we are experiencing. However, in a depressed market you would also want to rebalance. If stock prices go down, you might worry that you won’t be able to reach your financial goals because you no longer have the stocks needed to hedge against inflation, so you would want to rebalance back to your original asset allocation model. The same is true for bonds and other investments.

Balance the costs against the benefits of rebalancing

Don’t forget that too-frequent rebalancing can have adverse tax consequences for taxable accounts. Since you’ll be paying capital gains taxes if you sell a stock that has appreciated, you’ll want to check on whether you’ve held it for at least one year. If not, you may want to consider whether the benefits of selling immediately will outweigh the higher tax rate you’ll pay on short-term gains. This doesn’t affect accounts such as 401(k)s or IRAs, of course.

In taxable accounts, you can avoid or minimize taxes in another way. Instead of selling your portfolio winners, simply invest additional money in the asset classes that are underweighted in your portfolio. Doing so can return your portfolio to its original mix.

Sometimes rebalancing can be done in the tax deferred or tax free accounts, which will minimize the changes that need to be made in the taxable accounts, to minimize tax consequences.

You’ll also want to think about transaction costs; make sure any changes are cost-effective.

Also, look out for the impact that a sale in the taxable accounts can have in other areas of your financial plan. If your income goes up will it impact your FAFSA/college financial aid, Medicare means testing, Social Security benefit be taxed at a higher rate, put you in a higher income tax rate, etc.

No matter what your strategy, work with your financial professional to keep your portfolio on track.

Portions of this blog post are from an article prepared by Broadridge Investor Communications Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017  But, I just had to add my own two cents!

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