Estate Mistakes: Americans Fail to Act

Planning Ahead

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Web Review: cytogen.com

This review was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 26, 1998. All rights reserved.

Log onto Cytogen's newly revised website (http://www.cytogen.com) and a whole world opens up. At least that's what the design theme tries to imply. A telescope and a sextant are clustered near a map so old that it looks like Columbus might have used it. It illustrates the theme "Charting a Clearer Course for Cancer Detection and Treatment." So that everyone understands that the College Road-based firm' products are all for helping people, faces of people are lightly superimposed on the map.

The latest revision for the website, adding to the usual shareholder and financial information, is the work of Cytogen's Randi F. Schayowitz and Mark Meara of Princeton Internet Group (PiNG), Cytogen's Internet consultant (http://www.PInGsite.com. It offers some interactive ways -- unusual for a healthcare site -- for consumers and doctors to find and use information about Cytogen's products.

One of Cytogen's most successful products is ProstaScint, which helps in the diagnosis of prostate cancer. Go to http://www.prostascint.com (also available by clicking through from cytogen.com) and choose either the Physican or the Patient track.

Patients can summon a list of support groups that is searchable by geographic area, or a list of group meetings organized by date. The leader of a support group can modify a listing by using password access.

"It lets the support group let the community know what they are doing," says Schayowitz, Cytogen's associate director of marketing communications. A Rutgers alumna, she started working in the role of patient advocacy for Cytogen last year. "Other disease specific sites have other attributes, but to my knowledge there is no other site that has these components."

Different resource libraries are provided for patients and physicians, and a list of 74 other websites is hotlinked. On the physician side, anyone can submit a question and the medical staff on the Web board will select a certain number of questions and post them back. Physicians can even transmit medical images and discuss them among themselves. Case studies, each with a half-dozen layers of information ranging from diagnosis to outcome, are available in the physician area, though the laypeople can read them also.

Schayowitz was concerned that the average cancer patient might not be able to negotiate the site easily. "But we got the technology down to where it was very user friendly but had a high level of functionality. PInG was able to make it so simple that grandma and grandpa can `get' it."

"I finally found a way where technology can help mankind," says Schayowitz. "Accessing your bank account at 4 p.m. ? That's OK. To be able to read a newspaper before it hits your doorstep? That's good, too." But to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients was for Schayowitz "absolutely exhilarating."

But as snazzy as this site is, it is still a work in progress. If you go to the meeting calendar database, you are provided with the date, the support group, and the city. No time, and no contact telephone number. Solution: Work your way back through the website and click on support groups. One more click and you get the details, including the phone number, on the support group you seek.

The Prostacint site debuted only last month. When its two databases get linked, so grandma and grandpa can click through in a direct sequence to what they are looking for, then this site will really fulfill its potential.

-- Barbara Fox

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Estate Mistakes: Americans Fail to Act

This article by Allen N. Jones of Merrill Lynch was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 26, 1998.

by Allen N. Jones

When it comes to estate planning, Americans have good intentions but many are not taking sufficient action to meet their goals. A Merrill Lynch survey on Americans' attitudes about estate planning has found a disturbing gap between what people know they should do, and what they actually do.

The survey, conducted in mid-1997 through International Communications Research, was comprised of 895 individuals aged 45 and older. Most people (85 percent) said they had given some thought to providing for their loved ones. But less than a third (30 percent) actually said they felt well prepared in the event something should happen. Nearly 71 percent reported having a will, but only about half reported having one that was current at the time of the survey.

Many people are unaware of federal estate tax laws and, therefore, may be underprepared even with a will. Only 55 percent of respondents knew that federal estate taxes were applied to estates in excess of $600,000 at the time of the survey ($625,000 for 1998). Just 31 percent knew that estate taxes are due within nine months of a death.

People also may mistakenly assume that preparing for the future means providing only for children or other dependents of the next generation. Only 13 percent said they have arranged for the care of elderly dependents. Yet people realize they may easily become a part of the "sandwich generation," caring for both children and ailing parents -- 44 percent of respondents said it was important to plan for the care of elderly relatives.

Interestingly, women placed more importance on specific estate planning steps than men. More women than men said it was important to organize financial records (84 percent versus 64 percent) and have a written plan (54 percent versus 37 percent). Yet more men than women (77 percent versus 60 percent) knew that estate planning strategies can reduce estate taxes and have consulted a professional (65 percent versus 59 percent).

People who do attempt to plan may take the wrong steps if they have incorrect or incomplete information about estate planning. Here are 10 common estate-planning misconceptions and mistakes to avoid:

1. Thinking you don't have an estate. Everything you own is part of your estate. If you don't plan properly, your estate may not be distributed as you wish.

2. Underestimating your assets. When you add up the value of your home, investments, retirement plan benefits, life insurance policies, and other personal property, you can quickly exceed the point at which estate taxes apply.

3. Relying solely on a will. A will does not control all of your assets, such as those that are jointly owned or have beneficiary designations. Nor does it prevent a court from controlling assets for an heir who is a minor or is incapacitated.

4. Leaving everything to your spouse. By doing so, you may lose the opportunity to use the Unified Credit, which in 1998 allows you to pass up to $625,000 to heirs free from estate taxes. Planning can allow both spouses to use the credit.

5. Holding most of your assets jointly. Assets that are owned jointly cannot be used when qualifying for the Unified Credit.

6. Owning life insurance in your name. If a policy is owned by the insured, life insurance proceeds are included in the owner's estate and can dramatically inflate its total value. Properly drafted irrevocable life insurance trusts can help eliminate this situation.

7. Thinking a revocable living trust will reduce estate taxes. People often believe that assets in a living trust pass estate tax free. These trusts can help avoid probate and ensure the management of trust assets, but the assets are still subject to estate taxes.

8. Not funding a living trust. Some people establish a living trust, but they fail to re-title their assets into the trust.

9. Not planning for estate tax payments. Estate taxes are usually due within nine months of death. Not planning for this could force a family to borrow, liquidate, or sell assets to pay the taxes. Life insurance in an irrevocable trust can help to meet this need.

10. Not updating your estate plans Failure to keep your estate plan up to date during life transitions or as tax laws change may result in the improper disposition of property to your heirs, as well as higher levels of taxation.

Estate planning is not a do-it-yourself project. Meet with your financial consultant and other professional advisors to get an overall picture of your estate and what steps you might need to take to ensure that it is distributed in the way that you would wish.

Allen N. Jones is senior vice president and director of the Merrill Lynch Private Client Marketing Group (http:www.merrill-lynch.ml.com).

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Planning Ahead

The Mercer County Bar Association offers free 15-minute consultations -- which could include advice on wills and estates -- on Wednesday, September 9, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the Triangle Art Center, Darrah Lane & Route 1. Call 609-585-6200.

On Thursday, September 10, at 10 a.m., Robert Fox of Smith, Barney, addresses the Business Owners Institute on "The IRS Wants your Inheritance: Don't Let Them Take It." The free session is at the Bridgewater Office Center, 676 Route 202/206 North. Call 908-526-1500 for a reservation.

Patricia U. Herst, of Goldstein & Herst, asks other attorneys "What Have You Done Lately for Your Own Estate Planning?" on Thursday, September 17, at noon, in a Mercer Bar Association meeting at Antonio's in West Trenton. Cost: $35. Call 609-585-6200.

Merrill Lynch presents John Carroll, vice president, plus Cheryl Carrington and John Schmierer, financial consultants, on Thursday, September 17, at 10:30 a.m. at 100 Franklin Corner Road. Topic: "The Difference Between Retiring and Retiring Well: Tax-Advantaged Investing through Variable Annuities." Call Kristen Barry at 609-896-7764.

Arun K. Glover of Arista Financial Services presents a financial workshop at the Plainsboro Library on Sunday, September 20, at 2 p.m. Call 609-799-0642.

Brian Bruel of Edward D. Jones, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying Insurance and Annuities," introduces his latest book, "Staying Wealthy: Strategies for Protecting Your Assets" on September 24 at Encore Books at 7:30 p.m. The book includes taxation of estates, outliving retirement funds, and pitfalls in wills. Call 609-252-0608.

Jeffrey Ross and Mark Gross of the Merrill Lynch Private Client Group on Franklin Corner Road host "Financial Goals Planning," on Saturday, October 10, at 10 a.m. and Wednesday, October 14, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. The guest speaker will be John A. Macejka, vice president of Eaton Vance Distributors. The seminar is free by calling 888-243-1764.


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