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Getting financial house in order

Experts suggest seniors, others take time for retirement, estate planning

Retirement and estate planning are a matter of getting a financial house in order. And seniors and others who know their financial situation can make everything easier, from deciding on retirement and estate vehicles to ensuring an estate will be properly distributed after death.

The process includes legal decisions and documents.

Omaha attorney Catherine Swinarski, with ElderLaw of Omaha, said everyone over the age of 19 should have at least three documents: a financial power of attorney, a health care power of attorney and a will.

But each person may have different requirements as well, Swinarski pointed out. A parent with a special-needs child might want to set up a special needs trust, and a person more interested in asset preservation might explore more complex estate planning.

If a person wishes to leave a legacy to a nonprofit entity such as a church, Swinarski said, the most important information to have is the legal description of the entity, as well as its employer identification number (EIN).

"For example, I go to St. Columbkille," Swinarski said. "But its legal name may be ‘St. Columbkille, a parish in the Archdiocese of Omaha,’ to distinguish it from a St. Columbkille in Ohio. You need the EIN to make sure it gets to the right church."

Saying something like, "I leave money to my church" is ineffective, Swinarski said. That’s why a will is important – and, she said, it’s helpful to the family.

Neil Pfeifer, a general agent in Norfolk for Knights of Columbus Insurance, said life insurance can be a good way to give to the church.

A policy with the church as the owner and beneficiary, for example, allows the donor to deduct the premium payments from their taxes while maximizing the value of the gift to the church, he said.

"When we look at life insurance products, they are a great way to transfer wealth," he said. "Done properly, you can move portions of your estate to your children, the church, a school, and have a significant impact in your giving."

"It’s a great tool," he said.

Ron Worthington, a development officer in the archdiocese’s Stewardship and Development Office, said the most important issue for people looking to leave a legacy to the church – whether to the archdiocese, a parish, school or specific initiative – is having their financial house in order.

"We’ve helped put on estate planning programs in the parishes and the schools," Worthington said. "The whole focus is to assist individuals in getting and keeping things in order."

When people know their financial situation, he said, "We’ve found those people are the most charitable in their estate planning."

The Stewardship and Development Office has worked for more than 30 years with the archdiocese’s pastors, school leaders and lay leaders so institutions such as Catholic high schools or Catholic Charities can connect with people who may want to give and can encourage their own constituents to get things in order, Worthington said.

Shannan Brommer, director of the office, suggests that anyone with accumulated resources should have an attorney, a banker or financial services person and a retirement planning professional.

"For many people, this is challenging – it can be a stressful experience, but there are people who can help," she said.

Knights of Columbus Insurance, for example, which serves members of the Knights of Columbus fraternal service organization, offers a financial workbook, free of charge, to help members strategize retirements and estate planning, from life insurance to funeral costs to donations to the church.

Protecting assets is an important part of planning, and long-term care insurance can help, Pfeifer said. "One attorney told me that if you don’t have long-term care insurance, you might not have an estate worth trying to protect."

And people must find a quality company, Pfeifer cautioned – Knights of Columbus Insurance has A.M. Best and Standard and Poor’s highest industry rating, for example.

Planning also must be ongoing, Swinarski said.

Once financial and legal documents are created, she said, they need to be revisited every 10 years, as circumstances and intentions might change. And parents should tell their children about the will.

"If you go home and put these documents under your mattress, they don’t do any good."

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