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Where there is a will – and more – there’s peace of mind

(BPT) – What’s the state of your estate? Robert Fishbein, a vice president and corporate counsel in Prudential Financial’s Tax Department, says now’s a good time to find out.

Changes in federal estate tax law have significantly increased the amount at which federal estate tax is triggered, says Fishbein. The individual exemption is $5.49 million (2017 amount, indexed for inflation) so a couple can accumulate almost $11 million dollars of assets without federal estate tax depleting the value.

The $5.49 million will increase over time. As a result, most individuals no longer need an estate plan to minimize federal estate tax.

That said, Fishbein adds, there are compelling reasons for having an estate plan, and three core documents you’ll need to create one: a power of attorney, a living will or health care proxy, and a will. In this article, Fishbein describes these core documents and how you can use them.

Power of attorney

A power of attorney is the document designating someone to make financial decisions for you, whether you’re out of the country for a long period, have a physical injury preventing you from conducting business in person, or are mentally incapacitated.

A power of attorney can be “springing” — going into effect upon your incapacity — or “durable,” meaning it goes into effect immediately. The challenge with a springing power of attorney is it can be subject to disagreement and dispute between the holder of the power and another family member. One solution is to require the incapacity be certified by a physician, although even those findings can be disputed.

With the durable power of attorney, there’s no basis for contesting whether the holder of the power can act. The risk is the holder has the immediate right and ability to access and take action with respect to the financial assets subject to the power. One possible strategy? Limit the power to specific assets. This won’t help if the grantor if the power is totally incapacitated and the holder may need access to all of the grantor’s assets.

A durable power of attorney is arguably less problematic, provided you are comfortable with the person you’re choosing. The holder of the power has a legal obligation, as a fiduciary of the grantor, to act in the best interests of the grantor and not in his or her interests.

It makes sense to have a power of attorney so you know your financial affairs will be attended to. The alternative could be a costly judicial process and court appointment of someone to manage your assets while you are living and unable to do so yourself.

Living will and health care proxy

A “living will” ensures your health care wishes are acted upon if you are unable to make such decisions. It lets you describe the types of treatment you do or don’t want under specific circumstances. For example, if you have a terminal illness, you may not want extraordinary measures taken to save your life. The challenge is it’s almost impossible to anticipate all possible scenarios to indicate what health care treatment you’ll want.

An alternative to a pure living will is a “living will and health care proxy,” wherein you designate an individual to make health care choices for you. The living will portion describes in general terms your health care philosophy, and the health care proxy allows you to name an individual to make health care choices for you consistent with that philosophy. The choice of such an individual is important, and you should make sure you are comfortable he or she understands and will act consistent with your wishes.

You should have a living will drawn up as part of your basic estate planning. Again, the alternative is a costly legal process for someone — maybe not of your choice — to get appointed as your proxy to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Last will and testament

A “last will and testament” serves several important purposes, including determining how your assets are distributed, who’ll care for your minor children and who’ll invest and distribute property held in trust for your children, grandchildren or other beneficiaries. The basic function of a last will and testament is to ensure your assets are distributed as you’d want. Absent a will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with applicable state law.

You’ll also designate the legal guardian, and possible successors, for any minor children who survive you and your spouse. This is one of the most important and difficult decisions for parents — so difficult that it sometimes can hold up the entire estate plan. But agreement by the parents is important and avoids the possibility of someone else being court-appointed who may or may not share your child-rearing views.

With the increase of the federal estate tax exemption and an individual’s ability to use the exemption of a deceased spouse, trusts for federal estate tax planning have been made largely irrelevant for most individuals. However, if you have minor children who could take property if both you and your spouse die, or grandchildren who could take property if a child of yours dies and leaves children, you’ll probably need trusts to hold property for those beneficiaries. Such trusts will enable you to determine who’ll invest the trust property, how it’ll be used for the child’s benefit and at what age the beneficiary will receive the remaining property.

Think you don’t have a large enough estate to warrant setting up trusts for your beneficiaries? Consider even the most basic estate when you own a house, have retirement assets and maybe additional investments or property. Given the total value of these assets, you’d probably want to hold them in trust for minor heirs. If there’s life insurance, a trust for younger beneficiaries will almost certainly make sense.

Although federal estate tax is no longer a significant consideration for most individuals, you may want to consider the cost of state estate tax. The state exemption is sometimes less than the federal exemption, and state estate tax can take a meaningful bite out of what you expect to leave to your beneficiaries.

Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and its financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax and legal advisors for advice concerning your particular circumstances.

The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.

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4 statement pieces to elevate your bathroom to a work of art

(BPT) – Investing in a bathroom upgrade is in the cards for nearly a quarter of homeowners planning to renovate within the next 12 months, according to a new survey by Bankrate.com. Improving a bathroom is rewarding on multiple levels; if you’re selling, buyers love great bathrooms. If you’re staying, a luxurious bathroom can be a relaxing oasis where you’ll be happy to begin or end a busy day.

Your bathroom is also an expression of who you are, and it should reflect not only your needs but your unique artistic flare as well. What could be more satisfying than making an artistic statement in one of the most-used rooms in your home? If you’re planning a bathroom renovation, here are four ways to make a statement in the space — and elevate your bathroom to a work of art:

Choose a showpiece sink

Few design elements afford such a perfect opportunity for utility and artistry to blend beautifully as does the bathroom sink. A striking statement vessel in patterned porcelain or smoky glass can be a focal point for your vanity while still providing ample space for essential functioning.

It’s not difficult to find statement-style sinks, but to truly elevate the basin to a form of art, look for options that evoke the look and feel of the era when luxury items were handcrafted by learned artisans. Kohler, a trusted name in bathroom fixtures for more than 100 years, offers Kohler Artists Editions collections that turn everyday fixtures into striking statement pieces. Whether you choose the subtle, carved texture and the complex color transitions of the Derring collection, the organic beauty of the Nature’s Chemistry glass lavatories or the old-world stylings of the Sartorial Line, each piece is a unique statement of your personal artistry.

Stun with a standout shower

Most Americans spend six to 10 minutes or more in the shower each day, according to multiple surveys. But a shower is so much more than just a place to get clean. A shower can soothe at the end of a trying day, or invigorate your senses in preparation for a busy day ahead. Statement showers incorporate luxury features such as multiple shower heads, wall jets, hand showers, rainfall showerheads, seating, customized lighting and even sound and video.

While bigger may be better in a statement shower, it may not always be possible. Start with a glass enclosure that makes the shower feel open to the room. If your space is small, choose lighter-colored tile. Bigger showers can withstand darker tile work.

Create luxury with countertops

Options like granite, marble, concrete, limestone and other natural stones might be too costly for a kitchen, where you have a lot of counter space, but they’re a cost-effective way to make a statement in a bathroom where you have less square footage to cover. These high-end materials pair perfectly with statement sinks to create a unique, one-of-a-kind look. Upgrade bathroom countertops to your dream material and then add luxury touches like a matching backsplash or under-counter LED lighting.

Transformations with tubs

Tub options are virtually limitless these days, and you can find statement tubs in every size and style imaginable. The tub is often the essential element homeowners and designers first fall in love with, and the one that establishes the direction for their overall bathroom redesign.

Soaking tubs continue to be popular installations for bathroom renovations, according to the 2016 National Kitchen & Bath Association trend report. Whether you choose a traditional claw-foot design that evokes a bygone era, a concrete tub that creates a more modern or industrial look, or a porcelain confection with sweeping, graceful lines, you can find a statement tub to match your personal sense of artistry.

Renovating a bathroom is an investment well worth the time, money and passion — and it’s an opportunity to put your artistic mark on one of the most important rooms in any home.

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Beyond the front door: The benefits of working with a mortgage banker

(BPT) – So you’ve found your dream home. Before you start packing up, you’ll need to make some big decisions first, like finding the right mortgage. Mortgage decisions can be overwhelming, especially if you try to do it on your own. Your neighborhood mortgage banker can help you navigate this process, answering questions in real-time and offering personalized advice.

But mortgage bankers can offer more than just loan advice. As residents of the communities where they work, bankers can help you find the right neighborhood, the best restaurants, and where to find that extra bucket of paint. Here are the top five benefits of working with a mortgage banker today.

1. They know it’s a big deal

Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases of a person’s life, and the experience can be emotional and complex. And while online sources are helpful search tools when looking for homes available in the neighborhood, or for preliminary research on mortgage rates, when it’s time to sign the dotted line, it’s best to enlist an expert: your mortgage banker. Bankers see the mortgage process as more than just a transaction, and focus on the customer instead of the loan itself.

2. They know one size does not fit all

Hundreds of loan options are available to suit the needs of homebuyers with different financial goals. Are you looking for a low monthly payment? Trying to pay off your loan in a certain number of years? Your mortgage banker can help customize a solution, compare loan types, rates and other options to ensure a loan makes financial sense now and in the long term.

3. They can help you find the best meal in town

Buying a house is more than just about the home; homebuyers want a neighborhood that fits their lifestyle. Mortgage bankers’ knowledge of the communities in which they live and work can be a great asset to homebuyers before they decide to buy. To share that expertise, Chase and Zagat teamed up to create lists of highly-rated restaurants and hangout spots in ten communities across the country, from Seattle to Miami. These lists serve as a guide for new and prospective homebuyers in search of the best local ‘meets & eats’. To find them, please visit Zagat.com/chasemortgagemeets or for more great recommendations in your neighborhood, download the Zagat App.

4. They’re in it for the long haul

The same mortgage banker who helped you move into your dream home can assist even after you’ve unpacked your boxes, whether it’s through a home equity line of credit to fund home improvements, or a refinance to get a lower rate. “A customer of mine asked if I could come to his home in the middle of a snowstorm to help him with a refinance,” said David McManaman, a Chase mortgage banker in Lincoln Park in Chicago. “He’s now one of my best customers and we still speak to this day.”

5. They share your love of technology

The internet makes it easy to search for a home or mortgage online; in fact, a Chase survey found that 68 percent of homebuyers start the homebuying process on their own. Mortgage bankers only want to make the process easier by giving customers choice. Whether you decide to apply online, in a branch or over the phone, a banker is there to help you through it.

To learn more about mortgage options, find neighborhood tips or get prequalified for a mortgage, contact a local Chase mortgage banker or visit our website.

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New neutrals dominate the color trends of 2017

(BPT) – From furniture to walls, new homes to remodels, cool grays have dominated home design palettes for the last five years. Look to 2017 to gently shake things up with a focus on fresh neutrals that bring warm and cool tones together to create versatile color with timeless appeal.

One of the most notable trends of the year is the transition of neutrals from monochrome gray to warmer hues, including complex taupe, beige, khaki and brown colors. These warmer tones create an inviting feeling, and while grays will continue to be popular, look for hybrid hues that blend the best of gray with warmer undertones for colors that are unique, yet familiar.

The perfect example of this trend is Poised Taupe (SW 6039), the Sherwin-Williams 2017 Color of the Year. Earthen brown combines with conservative gray resulting in a weathered, woodsy and complex neutral that fits well in virtually any room.

“Poised Taupe celebrates everything people love about cool gray as a neutral, and also brings in the warmth of brown, taking a color to an entirely new level,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “Not cool or warm, nor gray or brown, Poised Taupe brings a sense of coziness and harmony that people are seeking.”

If you’re looking to refresh your space with this new color trend, there are countless opportunities. Here are four stunning home decor themes using this up-and-coming color:

Cornflower hues

With its cool-yet-warm vibe, Poised Taupe is an ideal complement to cornflower hues. For example, when paired with the faded indigo of Stardew (SW 9138), it creates a charming palette ideal for French countryside aesthetics. This fun twist on a classic is sure to produce timeless results in the kitchen or living spaces.

Organic re-imagined

Create an updated nature-inspired palette in your home with citrus green, weathered bronze, mustard yellow and light, cool-toned blue paired with earthy neutrals like Poised Taupe. This contemporary organic look is perfectly re-imagined for the modern world with just the right amount of visual appeal.

Wine and taupe

Saturated color pairings that evoke deep moods are gaining popularity. Taking cues from baroque and romanticism designs, the Sherwin-Williams Noir palette is rich with colors that are reminiscent of vine-ripe fruits, dramatic wine colors and deep blues. Balance this mysterious palette with a neutral like Poised Taupe and you’ll have a look that is unexpected and gorgeous.

Yellow pop

Gray tones always provide a clean, modern base, but contrasting these hues with vivid colors allows you to transform any room into a contemporary paradise. Try using the deep teal of Marea Baja (SW 9185) and sunny hued Bee (SW 6683) alongside Poised Taupe to create a graphic look perfect for the office or kids rooms.

Ready to make this the year you update your house with fresh designs and stunning colors? To learn more about top trends for 2017, visit www.sherwin-williams.com.

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Bathroom renovations even the pickiest in-laws will love

(BPT) – While the approach of the holidays has many people focused on gift lists and celebrations, you’re thinking about the guest bathroom. More specifically, you’re thinking about your mother-in-law’s commentary on the dripping showerhead, your brother-in-law’s judgment of the archaic toilet that uses gallons of water per flush, and your sister-in-law’s reaction to the total lack of natural light.

Renovating a bathroom is almost always a good investment. Making bathroom upgrades that will not only improve the value of your home and your enjoyment of it, but also satisfy the most discerning guests, is a win-win for everyone. While bathroom refurbishment makes sense at any time of year, you may be inspired to get the work done now, before holiday guests arrive.

Here are tips for where to focus your efforts to ensure you’ll get the best return on your investment — and your in-laws will love what you’ve done with the room:

Make necessity meet luxury

Sinks and toilets are bathroom necessities, but they can also be eco-friendly luxurious design statements, too. Replacing an ordinary, older, gallon-guzzling commode with an option that combines toilet and personal cleansing functions can conserve water while elevating the comfort, beauty and luxury experience of the fixture.

Options like the Washlet G400 from TOTO integrate a low-flush, high-performance toilet with the convenience and personal care of a Washlet. Its 3D Tornado Flushing system uses an ultra-efficient 1.28 or 0.9 gallons per flush, while a special ion barrier glaze minimizes debris and mold to keep the toilet cleaner, longer. Auto open/close, auto flush, remote control operation, front and rear warm water cleansing with adjustable temperature and pressure control, air deodorizer and dryer functions and user memory ensure the Washlet offers the kind of luxurious touches every guest will remember and adore.

The sink can also be a design statement steeped in luxury, when you replace older, ordinary models with sleek modern options like the Arvina Round Vessel Lavatory. Its round design not only gives the lavatory a clean, uncomplicated look that works with modern and traditional styles, it also saves space, making it perfect for guest baths or powder rooms where space is at a premium. Or, use it to maximize vanity space in a master bathroom.

Turn the shower into an oasis

Regardless of your budget for upgrading a shower, a few luxurious touches can go a long way toward turning an everyday bathroom element into an exceptional experience. Once you’ve taken care of basics, such as replacing or improving tired tile or an outdated surround, incorporate luxurious elements like a rainfall shower head or multi-spray hand shower. With multiple style options available to mount overhead or on the wall, it’s possible to create a unique shower configuration that complements any aesthetic.

Simple, thoughtful touches can elevate the shower’s luxury, too. For example, incorporating storage for shower necessities like shampoo, body wash, soap and razors is both practical and luxurious. It’s easy to have a built-in storage recess added to the shower during re-tiling, or you can add ceramic tile shelving in the corner of the shower. A curved shower rod is a must — and a super-easy DIY project — for bathrooms with a tub and shower combination. The curved rod ensures no guest will every wrestle with a shower curtain mid-spray.

Light! Sound! Luxury!

A dearth of natural light is a common problem in powder rooms and guest baths, and many master bathrooms could benefit from more light. Adding a skylight is a cost-effective way to incorporate more invigorating, healthful natural light in a bathroom, while protecting privacy, boosting energy efficiency and improving air quality. Even if a bathroom doesn’t have direct roof access, it’s possible to install a skylight; tubular models use reflective tubes to direct light from the roof down into the room.

Adding sound and entertainment options to bathrooms is also a growing trend. Whether you opt to add a mirror with an integrated TV or sound speakers above the shower, incorporating entertainment options into a bathroom is the perfect blend of luxury and practicality.