Supreme Court reminder: Update your beneficiary designations

One of the most important things people can do after a major life event – a marriage, a divorce, a new baby, etc. – is to update their beneficiary designations, and indicate who should get the assets in various accounts if they should unexpectedly pass away.

A new decision from the U.S. Supreme Court makes this very clear, and shows what can go wrong when people forget.

Beneficiary designations apply to pensions, 401(k) plans, life insurance policies, brokerage accounts, IRAs, bank accounts and more. Keeping them updated is a critical part of financial and estate planning.

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Product makers may be liable for injuries, regardless of ‘fault’

Product-makers-may-be-liable-for-injuries-regardless-of-faultGenerally, in order to hold someone liable in court for an injury, you have to show that they were careless or irresponsible in some way. If somebody ran a red light and hit you, that might not be hard to prove. But if a complex piece of machinery fails, it might be difficult to say exactly what went wrong, or what should have been done differently.

Fortunately, the court system recognizes this problem, and has made it easier for injured people to be compensated in many cases.

For instance, a man in Maine suffered severe abdominal pain after eating a hot turkey sandwich at a truck stop. Doctors discovered a small perforation of his esophagus, and evidence that it was caused by a turkey bone. The man sued the manufacturer of the turkey product in the sandwich, which was supposed to be “boneless.”

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Young families also benefit from having estate planning

Young-families-also-benefit-from-having-estate-planningKen and Judy are a couple in their 30s. They recently bought a home, and they have a small child. But apart from some home equity, a retirement account at work and a life insurance policy, they don’t have a lot of assets or investments. Do they really need estate planning? Can’t they get by with a simple will from the Internet?

The truth is, even a couple like Ken and Judy can benefit from a good estate plan, and it doesn’t have to cost them an arm and a leg.

Leaving aside the many serious errors that are commonly found in “form” wills in books and on the Internet, Ken and Judy should consider setting up a living trust.

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‘Do-it-yourself’ divorce is generally a bad idea

Do-it-yourself-divorce-is-generally-a-bad-ideaRecently, a number of companies have been trying to persuade people that they can save money by handling their divorce on their own. These companies sell packets of generic forms in books or on the Internet, claiming that they were developed by “expert” attorneys and that they’re all you need.

Buyer beware! While these forms might be accepted by a divorce court, they’re not tailored to your specific situation, and the companies do not provide legal advice to protect you.

If you know someone who’s thinking of a “do-it-yourself” divorce, ask them these questions:

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Should you buy or rent a home? Some things people don’t consider

Should-you-buy-or-rent-a-home-Some-things-people-do-not-considerBefore the financial crash, the conventional wisdom was that it was almost always better to own a home rather than rent. It seemed like home prices always went up, so there was no reason to pay a landlord if you could pay a mortgage lender instead and build up equity every month.

Since the crash, however, many people are crunching the numbers and concluding that they’re better off renting. But are they really?

Everyone’s situation is different, but when many people do the math, they don’t consider the many legal and tax advantages of home ownership. For example:

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