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Monday, April 28, 2014

My Kids Are Grown up, Now What?

My kids are now in their mid 20’s, do I still need a trust? If so, who should now be the trustee? Should my estate plan be updated again now that my kids are not minors?

These questions and many more are part of our normal client review discussions. I recently had a conversation with a family who had developed an estate plan when their kids were pre-teens. Part of this estate plan involved a trust with an extended family member named as trustee. The kids are now in their mid 20’s and starting their own careers. The question arose of the necessity of having an extended family member as trustee even though the two kids are now perfectly capable of managing their own assets. Is a trust still necessary? We concluded that a review with the estate planning attorney was the next step. Just as we review our insurance information and investment strategies on a regular basis, we also need to make a habit of reviewing our estate plan.

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified legal advisor.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Still Learning After All These Years

Over the years, I have often been asked about the educational requirements to be a financial advisor. Unlike other professions such as pharmacists, engineers, or medical doctors, this question is a little tricky. Technically, there are no education requirements. Anyone can put out a shingle and charge a fee for advice.

There are licensing requirements for those that deal in securities or insurance transactions. Licensing requires ongoing continuing education in order to maintain. Classes that prepare candidates for the general securities registration take approximately one week to complete.

Professional designations show that an advisor has completed some additional training. These are the various combinations of letters that appear after the advisor’s name. There are over 60 professional designations in the financial services industry, some require only a few hours of preparation and some require several years of study. The CFP® and the ChFC® are common designations that require rigorous classes, examination, and ongoing continuing education. In addition, the CFP® certification requires three years of experience.

Of course, there is a big difference between what is required and what is necessary to provide a high quality service with excellent outcomes. This is what drives us to seek out educational opportunities that have an impact on our client’s financial success. In 2013, we spent approximately 340 hours in education related activities at Argus Financial Consultants. The time necessary to keep up with subjects such as taxation, investments, estate planning, and financial planning has grown considerably over the years. Be assured that we will continue to make our education a priority.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Using the IRS to Steal Your Identity

Scammers are taking advantage of our need to file our taxes to commit identity theft and fraud. IRS investigations of identity theft surged 66% last year according to a CNN article posted on February 19, 2014. Here are some common scams:

1. Phishing scams are when you get a bogus email or phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS. You are asked to provide personal information often under the threat of a penalty or arrest. If you get a phone call or email, you can report it to 1-800-366-4484 or phishing@irs.gov.

2. Fraudulent tax preparers pretend that they are doing your taxes and really, they are stealing your identity. Often they will use your information to file a fraudulent return and pocket the refund. Make sure your tax preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Also, don’t use a tax preparer that bases their fee on the size of your refund.

3. Fraudulent websites are popping up that look like legitimate online tax preparers. Before you enter your information into an online preparation software, double check that you are in the correct site.

4. Some crooks are using stolen identity information to file fraudulent returns. While they keep the refund, you are left defending yourself against a charge of filing an inaccurate return. The IRS may take months to sort out the mess. In the meantime, you have to wait for your true tax return.

This is the time of year when we are getting lots of information in the mail that is necessary to do our taxes. Make sure you keep this information in a safe place. Don’t leave it laying around your house or the office. If you feel that you may have been a victim of a scam, let the IRS know as soon as possible.