11-16-2017 Columns

How can you share your financial “abundance” with your family?

Thanksgiving is almost here. Ideally, this day should be about more than football and the imminent arrival of Black Friday mega-sales. After all, the spirit of the holiday invites us to be grateful for what we have and for the presence of our loved ones.

But it’s important to look beyond just one day in November if you want your family to take part in your “abundance.” If you want to ensure your financial resources eventually are shared in the way you envision, you will need to follow a detailed action plan, including these steps:

Identify your assets. If you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to take an inventory of all your financial assets – your retirement accounts (401(k) and IRA), other investments, life insurance, real estate, collectibles and other items. Once you know exactly what you have, you can determine how you would like these assets distributed among your loved ones.

Get professional help. To ensure your assets go to the right people, you will need to create some legal documents, such as a will and a living trust. The depth and complexity of these instruments will depend a great deal on your individual circumstances, but in any case, you certainly will need to consult with a legal professional because estate planning is not a “do-it-yourself” endeavor. You may also need to work with a tax professional and your financial advisor, as taxes and investments are key components of the legacy you hope to leave.

Protect your financial independence. If your own financial resources were to become endangered, you clearly would have less to share with your loved ones, and if your financial independence were jeopardized, the result might be even worse – your adult children might be forced to use their own resources to help support you. Consequently, you will need to protect yourself, and your financial assets, in several ways. For one thing, you may want to work with your legal professional to create a power of attorney, which would enable someone – possibly a grown child – to make financial decisions for you, should you become incapacitated. Also, you may want to guard yourself against the devastating costs of long-term care, such as an extended nursing home stay. Medicare typically pays very little of these expenses, but a financial advisor may be able to suggest techniques or products that can help.

Communicate your wishes. Once you have all your plans in place, you’ll want to communicate them to your loved ones. By doing so, you’ll be sparing your loved ones from unpleasant surprises when it’s time to settle your estate. And, second, by making your plans and wishes known to your family well in advance of when any action needs to be taken, you’ll prepare your loved ones for the roles you wish them to assume, such as taking on power of attorney, serving as executor of your estate, and so on. And you’ll also want to make sure your family is acquainted with the legal, tax and financial professionals you’ve chosen to help you with your estate plans.

Thanksgiving comes just once a year. Taking the steps described here can help ensure your family will share in your financial abundance as you intended.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Great American Smokeout

The Great American Smokeout is a nationwide event sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  Held on the third Thursday of November (November 16, 2017), it is a day where smokers are asked to put down their cigarettes, cigars, spit tobacco or any tobacco product and prove to them that they really can live without them for one day.  More Americans try to quit smoking on this day than any other day of the year, including New Year’s!  While smoking rates have gone down considerably, there are still 27% of Berrien County residents who smoke every day, and another 11% smoke on some days. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health.  In fact, smoking is responsible for the most cancer deaths in the U.S.

The majority of people who do smoke have attempted to quit at least once, but sometimes it can take some extra support. Once you have decided to quit, it is important to have a plan, and make sure others are supporting you.  The first thing to do is set a date to quit (the Great American Smokeout is a great one!).  Then, you should decide on a method to help you quit (cold turkey, patches/gum, medication, counseling, classes). The Berrien County Health Department has a variety of cessation resources available for you to get started or even to help someone you love get started on the journey of living tobacco free.  Smoking cessation classes are also available through Lakeland Health Community Health & Wellness.

For more information, visit the Berrien County Health Department website at www.bchdmi.org or call 269-926-7121.

Doing more for veterans and their families

Veterans and their families continue to be a priority for my colleagues and I in the House. Last week, I was proud to join a strong majority of my colleagues in voting for House Bill (HB) 4319 to allow surviving spouses of disabled veterans to continue to use their disabled veteran license plate. I also co-sponsored this legislation. HB 4319 recognizes veterans for their courage and heroism, and the families that supported them. Currently, Michiganders with a 100-percent disability rating and an honorable discharge from the military are entitled to one disabled veteran plate for use on a vehicle. However, spouses are not allowed to keep the plate after the veteran passes away. The surviving spouse must transfer the title of a deceased’s vehicle within 15 days of the veteran’s death.  While transferring the title, the surviving spouse will now be able to register the disabled veteran license plate in their name and receive one year free registration. House Bill 4319 advances to the Senate for consideration.

The House also passed HB 5015 last week, which helps to protect veterans from being taken advantage of or misled when trying to access certain benefits they have rightly earned. Under current law, independent agencies providing benefit services to veterans do not have to identify themselves or their company as being unaffiliated with providers of veteran benefits. Some of these agencies may charge fees for services that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides for free. The bill mandates these groups to disclose that they are not affiliated with a veteran service provider, when the VA offers a service for free, and which services are offered at no charge. Both bills further our tremendously important goal of helping our veterans and their families utilize veterans’ services and do so without worry of being misled.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns. You can reach me toll free at 1-800-577-6212, via email at BethGriffin@house.mi.gov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RepBethGriffin.

21st Century Cures Act recognized

Last week I was honored to be awarded the Marian B. & Jacob K. Javits Foundation “Celebration of Bipartisan Leadership” award alongside Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, and Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

It’s always been a top priority for me to focus on finding common-sense solutions to problems facing us all. The best way to get there is by working side-by-side with folks on both sides of the aisle. This recognition was particularly special because it was about our landmark, bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.

As you may know, the 21st Century Cures Act will help bring drugs and devices to market more quickly and at less cost by making needed reforms to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), provide $4.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for needed health research, provide $1 billion in grants to states to address the opioid crisis, address the country’s mental health crisis, and more. Marking the peak of our three-year journey, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law in late 2016.

Simply put, patients needed a game-changer – and it is our hope that history will look back at our efforts as the moment in time when the tide finally turned against disease. Going forward, I will continue to look for the common ground and find ways to bring us all together as that is the best way to achieve real results.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Supporting a first-time homebuyer savings program

Concerns about being able to afford a responsible down payment often hold back prospective first-time homebuyers. This is compounded by our state’s booming housing market.

Although increasing property values are good for homeowners and local communities, they make it harder for young professionals and new families to afford to buy a house.

I am proud to support proactive bills to help residents save enough money to purchase their first house.

Under the legislation approved by the Senate Finance Committee, residents would be able to set up a savings account to help cover the costs of a first-time home purchase and would be able to receive a state income tax deduction for their contributions into the savings account.

Senate Bill 511 would create the Michigan First-time Home Buyer Savings Program.

The bill would enable an individual to open an account with a financial institution and designate it as a first-time homebuyer savings account. Funds in the account could be used toward a down payment or allowable closing costs for a first-time home purchase in Michigan.

Senate Bill 512 would provide a state income tax deduction of up to $5,000 for a single return and $10,000 for a joint return for contributions made by the taxpayer into a first-time homebuyer savings account for up to 20 years.

I co-sponsored this initiative as part of a continued effort to attract new talent, promote smart homeownership and encourage Michigan residents to stay and grow roots in our state.

I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues to make this savings program a reality.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.