Harry Alford

By Harry C. Alford
NNPA Columnist

I have seen too many families break up following the unforeseen death of a loved one.  It is especially hard on siblings after the loss of a parent.  You must ask yourself if your children are aware of all the financial information that you have.

Many children below the age of 18 do not know that if one of their parents die, they will become eligible for monthly Social Security payments until they reach the age of 18. Many young adults have children without being married.  Those children should certainly be informed that if either parent dies before they become adults, they wil be entitled to those payments.  I bet there are hundreds of thousands of youngsters and their mothers who do not realize this.

Land can also be pretty tricky. The best thing my mother did for me and my brother was to turn over the land she and my father accumulated to us.  My father wasn’t too happy, but it made things so easy for us after she and eventually my father passed away. They even had my brother as a signer on their banking accounts.  We transferred the money in 15 minutes. My father remarried after my mother’s passing but it made no difference to our inheritance. Mom took care of that.

Fortunately, my father’s new wife died before him. So when he passed away, we inherited his house free and clear. He did some succession planning on his own. He persuaded his good friend to buy his house immediately after his death. We were shocked when his friend approached us with a documented appraisal of the home and cash to buy it.  It made things so simple.  I have some cousins who are in a full-fledge family feud over the house that their father left them.  They have been going at it for more than a year.

Veterans also have special benefits.  For the remainder of my life I can get a mortgage at very low interest rate and with no money down.  A veteran with an honorable discharge can do this.  I am still waiting for an opportunity to use my mortgage benefit. I may never need it but it is there if I do.  There are death benefits that many families of veterans are not aware.  The Veterans Administration (VA) will pay for a vet’s tombstone upon his death. The family can request and receive a military burial.  It is special when you attend a family member’s funeral and soldiers or sailors in full uniform attend, play taps at the cemetery and give a 5-gun salute as the body is being lowered into the grave. It is pure respect for the deceased who served his nation.

I have a friend who suffered a stroke a few years ago. He had no insurance but the local D.C. veteran’s hospital took him in until he was fully recovered.  He now says, “People can claim bad things about the VA, but I am here today because they saved my life and brought me back to full health.”  Hopefully, the VA will get its act together so that all ill vets can share this great benefit.

All veterans should maintain their honorable discharge certificate, known as DD 214.  I have mine on my computer at home and a scanned copy at the office. The VA may not take the time to document your discharge, one so keep the one handy and let your family know about.

A safe deposit box is the safest place to store documents. You should keep your will here.  Update your will at least every year. Mortgage information, deeds to land and houses, car titles, etc. should also be stored in a safe deposit box.  Hiding it out in your home may not be safe enough if burglars decide to come in.

My aunt had eight children.  She survived my uncle by 20 years and they had more than 400 acres of pristine land in Arkansas.  She divided the land eight ways and assigned it  to each living child or grandchild. Widows or widowers did not get it. Only descendants by blood received it.  My fondest memory of my mother is that she loved us so much.  She made sure we would be protected after her transition.  My wife and I will do the same for our sons.

Transferring wealth, no matter what size, should be planned and effectively delivered.  Beware of scoundrels who might be related to you.  Be very careful of the Internal Revenue Service.  My brother and I paid $1 for the many acres we purchased from our parents.  If we had normally inherited it we would have paid estate taxes which can be as high as 50 percent of the total.

Don’t leave your loved ones in jeopardy.

(Next week:  Retirement Planning)

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org  Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.


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