Many people have changed their investment manager recently - or have decided to become their own manager - as a result of the 2008 market collapse that led to widespread terrible returns.

That’s fine - but keep in mind that if you change your manager, you should make sure that any new account you create is titled properly and in accordance with your estate plan.

Many estate plans are carefully constructed to title certain assets as solely owned, jointly owned, owned with a transfer-on-death provision, owned by a revocable trust, etc. It’s possible to destroy much of the benefit of a well-built estate plan by moving accounts and not thinking carefully about how they are titled.

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string-fingerWe all forget to do things. But sometimes forgetting to do a “little” thing can turn into a big, expensive problem. Here are two examples of divorced people who overlooked “little” things that became a big deal.

► Not verifying automatic deductions

When an Arkansas couple filed for divorce, the court issued a temporary order that required the husband to pay his wife $4,300 per month in alimony and child support. The husband’s payments were automatically deducted from his paychecks by his employer.

Later, when the divorce was finalized, the amount of monthly support decreased to $3,660.

But the husband’s employer continued to use the amount in the temporary support order to calculate deductions. And the husband didn’t immediately notice that he was still paying the higher figure - a difference of $640 each month before taxes.

When the husband finally discovered the error, he tried to get a credit toward his future support payments for the amount he had overpaid his ex-wife. He argued that he wasn’t aware he was paying too much, and he shouldn’t be penalized for an innocent mistake.

But the court disagreed, and allowed his ex-wife to keep the overpayments. “[I]t was his responsibility to verify that he was making child-support payments in the correct amount,” the court said.

The court noted that the husband was in the best position to know how much child support was being withheld from his check, and the amount of the employer’s deductions was within his control - not his ex-wife’s.

► Not changing your beneficiaries

A husband in Wyoming designated his wife as the beneficiary of his investment account. When the couple later divorced, their agreement gave the husband the account as his “sole and separate property.”

However, after the divorce the husband neglected to change the beneficiary designation.

When he died, the investment firm paid the balance of the account to his ex-wife. The husband’s estate tried to recover the money, arguing that the divorce agreement was supposed to be a final separation of all the couple’s property.

But the Wyoming Supreme Court disagreed, and sided with the ex-wife. It said that since her name was still listed as the beneficiary, the money was rightfully hers.

Divorce is a stressful time, and it’s easy to forget things. But these cases are important reminders of the need to dot all the I’s and cross the T’s after a separation.

If you or someone you know is injured in an accident and the insurance company refuses coverage - or agrees to make only a small payment - don’t just assume that decision is final. You should always talk with an attorney about your options. Only when a qualified attorney has fully investigated the situation can you be certain of what your rights are.

For instance, consider the recent case of 65-year-old Julie Keyes, who was injured while driving to work.


denied-stampWhen Keyes swerved to avoid an oncoming car, her vehicle slid into an embankment and rolled over. The impact severely bruised her neck and spinal cord. Today, she is unable to walk and uses a wheelchair.

Keyes filed a claim with her insurance company, but the company refused payment. The company obtained the data recorder inside Keyes’ car, which suggested that she was driving well above the speed limit at the time of the crash. The company also refused to believe there was an oncoming vehicle, because the other driver didn’t leave his name or contact information. So according to the insurance company, Keyes was lying and simply crashed her car because she was speeding.

Many people might have given up, but Keyes decided to fight for her rights.

Here’s what a thorough investigation turned up:


  • A neighbor who spoken with the other driver just after the crash, before he took off.
  • The data recorder in the car wasn’t measuring the speed of the vehicle; it was merely measuring how fast the front wheels were turning. Because the front axle broke during the crash, the front wheels began spinning out of control and much faster than they would have if the wheels had been touching the ground.
  • Keyes was unlikely to have been speeding, since she wasn’t running late for work, she had just turned onto the road a quarter of a mile back, and according to her cell phone records, she wasn’t on the phone.
  • The data recorder showed that Keyes had made a very sharp swerve - more consistent with trying to avoid an oncoming car than with losing control while going too fast.

After seeing all this evidence, a jury ordered the insurance company to pay Keyes $4 million, including $3.3 million for her medical care and lost wages.

The moral of the story is that if you or someone you know is seriously injured, you should never just assume that you can’t receive fair compensation - even if your friends say so, and even if the insurance company says so. Don’t just sign off on a minimal offer from the insurance company - talk to a lawyer first to find out what you’re really entitled to receive.

When a couple buys a home, they often simply put both names on the deed. When a homeowner gets married, he or she often adds the spouse’s name to the deed. And when a single person shares a home with an elderly relative, they often put both names on the deed.

This may be common, but it’s not necessarily the best idea. Here are some things to consider:

Capital gains. Under certain circumstances, if you add a new spouse’s name to the deed and sell the house shortly afterward, you can end up owing more capital gains tax on the sale than if you had left the house in one spouse’s name.

Estate planning. You might want to adjust ownership of the house based on the objectives in your estate plan. Re-titling the house could save estate taxes and have other benefits.

Asset protection. If one member of a couple is more likely to face lawsuits or actions by creditors, it might be best to keep the house in the other person’s name.

Medicaid. If two people’s names are on the deed and one owner is going into a nursing home, the house might have to be sold and the proceeds given to the nursing home before Medicaid will begin picking up the cost.

The bottom line: Whose name is on the deed can make a big difference in terms of your legal rights. Make sure you think carefully about this…and consider changing it if your circumstances change.

work-around-the-clockAlthough the U.S. government has required employers to pay workers overtime ever since the 1930s, it’s still unclear in many cases whether certain workers are eligible.

A big reason is that the nature of people’s jobs and the workplace itself continues to evolve…so new questions keep coming up about eligibility.

For instance, the federal overtime law says that workers don’t have to be paid overtime if they have “administrative” jobs, which are jobs that involve using one’s discretion to make choices. But today, the line between administrators and non-administrators can often be blurry.

For instance, what about underwriters at a bank? Recently, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that a bank had to pay overtime to its underwriters because they weren’t administrators. The court said that at this particular bank, the job of underwriter fell under the category of “production” rather than “administration.”

In another case, the same court decided that a regional sales director responsible for generating advertising sales was entitled to overtime pay because she wasn’t an administrator.

But a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., came up with a different result in a case involving insurance adjusters. In that case, the court said that the adjusters exercised “some” discretion in their jobs, which meant the company didn’t have to pay them time-and-a-half.

Another issue that comes up is whether employees are entitled to overtime for duties they have to perform before and after they are actually “working.”

For instance, a federal appeals court in Chicago recently ruled that maintenance workers at a paper mill weren’t entitled to overtime pay for the time they spent changing clothes and showering at the end of each work shift. On the other hand, the mill had a policy that allowed an employee to shower immediately after a suspected exposure to hazardous chemicals, and the court said such a worker would be entitled to overtime in that case.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court in Virginia decided that poultry workers are not entitled to be paid time-and-a-half for the extra time they spent putting on and taking off personal protective gear required for their jobs…but that was because the employer had reached an agreement with the employees’ union that time spent changing clothes wasn’t compensable work time.

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