Sunday, September 07, 2008

Is a Will or Living Trust Right for you?

Is a Will or Living Trust Right for you?

Choice of a Lifetime
By: Joe Vidueira Source: Segunda Juventud Date Posted: Summer 2008

Who will get your money, your property, or even your favorite pearls or pocket watch when you're gone? That's not something most of us like to dwell on. The evidence? Few Hispanics have the main documents used to distribute property after death: only one in four has a will, and one in five has a living trust.

Yet deciding exactly who gets what could relieve your loved ones of a considerable burden. After all, if you don't decide, the government will. "And that can lead to many headaches," says Luz Herrera, a California-based estate planning attorney.

Most people consider a will the best tool to make their wishes known to relatives and to have those wishes carried out. That may be true in many cases. But sometimes a living trust, alone or in combination with a will, offers a better solution, according to Herrera and other experts.

Wills are usually easier to set up and less expensive to create and change than living trusts. A will also lets you name a guardian to care for minor children after your death—something that's not possible with a living trust (unless a supplemental document is attached).

And if you have debts, a will provides another important benefit: creditors face a cutoff date for bringing claims against your estate. Creditors can't seek assets from beneficiaries once ownership is transferred to them. Should disputes involving beneficiaries and creditors arise, the courts supervise the resolution.

Living Trusts
For smaller estates, the setup and maintenance costs for a living trust may outweigh any after-death savings. But Dennis Sandoval, at the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, explains that a living trust may be the more economical route, especially for people with estates exceeding $2 million for the 2008 tax year.

Also, says Sandoval, "A will speaks for you only after you die. A living trust can help you while you're alive." Like a will, a living trust sets out how your assets will be managed and distributed after you die. But a trust is also created to hold and manage your assets during your lifetime, and you can serve as the trustee and name a successor to take over upon your death. Then if you become disabled, a trusted advisor you've designated can take over—a feature that will save your beneficiaries the hassle and expense of going to court to appoint a guardian or conservator.

In addition, a living trust can sometimes minimize probate at death. Whether your estate would go into probate—the sometimes slow and costly court process that transfers assets after death—varies by state and usually depends on the size of your estate.

Still, there are important caveats regarding living trusts. You'll most likely also need a "pour-over" will, providing for the distribution of any property not included in the trust. You'll also need to transfer ownership of any property you want to include in the trust to the trust. So if you own your home, for example, you'll have to spend the money and time to transfer the title to the trust. And as you acquire new property, you'll need to decide whether to include it in the trust, and then update the trust.

Make It Personal
There are other caveats to keep in mind regarding both wills and living trusts. Neither will change how property you own with another person is distributed at your death. And neither will affect assets with a designated beneficiary, such as individual retirement accounts or life insurance. Also, you may still need other documents, such as those that let you name someone to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated.

All these factors and more need to be considered when plotting your course. That's why experts recommend that you review your situation and available options with your legal and tax advisors. Experts agree that, in all cases, family members bear the highest costs when their loved ones fail to make a plan.

Beware of scams!
Beware of "free lunch" estate-planning seminars and other scams that suggest that AARP endorses living trusts. AARP doesn't sell or endorse any living trust product. And trusts sold through these schemes often are more costly and don't comply with state law.Read an excerpt of AARP's Crash Course on Estate Planning about choosing your executor or trustee, and test your knowledge of estate planning with our quiz.

More on This Story
Be Aware to Whom You Bequeath Your Nest Egg
What Happens to Probate Property if You Die Without a Will?
A House Divided? Some Advice Before Dividing Up Property
Decisions About Trusts Should Be Kept in the Family
Related Articles
What Happens to Probate Property if You Die Without a Will?
Avoid Probate When the Executor Is Far Away
Legalities Are not Enough: Family Dynamics and Estate Planning
Decisions About Trusts Should Be Kept in the Family

Friday, September 05, 2008

Asian Americans Combating the Gambling Addiction

Asian Americans Combating the Gambling Addiction
New America Media
Pacific Citizen, News feature, Todd Kushigemachi, Special to the Pacific Citizen
Posted: Sep 01, 2008

Michael Liao's stepfather is a compulsive gambler, and he almost ruined the family's financial situation when he accumulated $40,000 in debt.
Liao's mother Sandy Lee and stepfather Joseph Chan live in Taiwan where they have a computer business. Lee works as a piano teacher and was hoping to slow down and possibly retire, but that has changed now that the money from the business goes to paying off the gambling debt.
"She's forced to continue to work, and there's a lot of pressure to compete with other piano teachers in the community," Liao said. They even had to remortgage their home to help sustain themselves.
Chan was so ashamed of his debt he left town at one point, explaining in a note that he could not face anyone.
"The debt kept piling up until it was so overwhelming, and he felt so ashamed that he wasn't able to turn his luck around and win everything back like so many problem gamblers fantasize about," said Liao, director of programs at the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, a group of health and social organizations that serve the Asian Pacific American community.
Although gambling is widely accepted as a social activity among APAs, it can lead to addiction. While the average percentage of problem and pathological gamblers in the United States is less than 5 percent, the average is about 20 percent for APAs, according to Tina Shum, a social worker at San Francisco's Donaldina Cameron House.
Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA's Gambling Studies Program, said gambling is a "real hidden addiction," especially among APA communities.
The Pull of Casinos
Eugene Lee, program associate for the National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse, is currently working on a problem gambling prevention project, but a little over a year ago he worked at Commerce Casino, a Southern California card club.
Lee was a dealer who played to make money for Progressive Gaming, a third party proposition company. Estimating that Asians make up 80 to 90 percent of the clientele at Commerce Casino, he said the worst part of working at a card club was watching those who suffered from problem gambling."Some of these guys that come in to play at the card club don't even go home," he said.
Lee worked the swing shift from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. He would sometimes go home after the end of this shift to get his eight hours of sleep, come back the next day and see the same people gambling."They're still there in the same clothes," Lee said. "It's not like they're winning money. They're just trying to get their money back.
"For Asian immigrants, it is often difficult to find a place where they fit in, but casinos and card clubs can provide the sense of community they need, said Liao. Casinos sometimes fill the void left by a lack of community outreach.
"Do they have recreational centers? Community centers? The casino becomes a central focal point for immigrants," Liao said.
Casinos often bring in Asian entertainers and ethnic food to help draw in crucial portions of their clientele. Many try to hire card dealers who speak Asian languages. Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut even has a version of their Web site entirely in Mandarin Chinese.
"With gambling, there's no language barrier," said Chien-Chi Huang, Asian Community Program Specialist for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.
Difficult Road To Recovery
What many people do not know about problem gambling, however, is that it is medical rather than habitual, said Huang.
"Most people think it is a moral issue," Huang said. "We're trying to change that perception. We want people to understand this is a health issue.
"Until members of the APA community see gambling as a health issue, however, it is difficult to seek help because of the shame it can bring upon a family, according to Huang. Additionally, the idea of talking to a stranger is not widely accepted."For many Asians, counseling is a foreign idea. You don't tell a stranger about your personal problems," Huang said.
Dr. Fong, who has done research on the impact of gambling on APA communities in Los Angeles, said APAs often go into treatment too late, seeking help from churches and families before looking for professional help. Additionally, therapists are often not sensitive to issues important to the APA community.
"You can't dismiss values such as losing face and not including the family," Fong said. "With the Asian collective thinking, you have to have the family part of recovery.
"Some organizations have taken steps to provide resources for members of the APA community to deal with gambling addiction and its effects.
The Mass. Council recently produced an informational video to be played on a bus to Mohegan Sun, a casino located in Connecticut. The video will be available in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Khmer, alerting riders of the signs and symptoms of problem gambling and notifying them of hotlines they can call.In addition to providing counseling services in Chinese at member organizations like Cameron House, the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition has a hotline, which provides assistance to problem gamblers. The phone number for the hotline is 888/968-7888, playing on the fact that "eight" sounds similar to "prosperity" in Mandarin Chinese.
In 2001, the problem gambling program at NICOS used the campaign slogan, "When one person is addicted to gambling, the whole family suffers." Liao said this emphasizes the importance family has in treatment for problem gamblers in the APA community.
"Once family members become engaged, they can become a powerful way to get the gamblers to come in," Liao said.
Liao has done his best to support his own family, sending money to his mother every couple of months in order to help her financially. However, he hopes his stepfather will seek help because it could be an ongoing problem, as it is for many problem gamblers."
He claims that he doesn't gamble now, but if he doesn't address the underlying issues, they'll come out some way or another," Liao said.
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Stand by your Name

Thursday September 4, 2008
Stand by Your Name
Rihoko Ueno
It all started with my aching feet. Forced into appropriate attire for a job interview, I was limping, unaccustomed to anything more formal than sneakers. Shoes that are comfortable in the store can be anything but, after a few hours of pounding the pavement. The solution? More shoes, of course. I zipped into a store in Times Square, and when I was ready to purchase, the guy at the register looked at my credit card and asked, "Why didn't you change it?" Admonishing my taste in shoes? No, my name. From my unaccented English, he deduced that I grew up in America, so why hadn't I changed my Japanese name to something more suitably Western? The man was a bespectacled Asian, and his name tag claimed one of those American standards, those classic monosyllablics like Joe, Steve or Mike, but his last name showed his heritage – Chinese. I had never been asked this question before so I hemmed, I hawed, then I bought the shoes and left. ....................(more)