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Keeping Your Packages Safe

by Scott Darling


With online shopping having become so popular, this time of year brings stories on the news about package thieves, as well as new gadgets to help deter someone from walking away with packages delivered while someone isn’t home.  There are several options w
e have that can help keep our deliveries secure, as well as help from online retailers.   

 

  • - Talk to neighbors that may be home during the days you’re expecting a package, and ask them to be on the lookout for a delivery to your home so they can hold it for you or stash it somewhere out of sight. 

  • - There are simple ways to hide an unattended package: have a large plant to hide boxes behind, or use a lockbox at your doorstep, with key instructions for the carrier in your delivery details. 

  • - Most large retailers will give you a “ship to store” option, and all you have to do is pick it up at the Customer Service desk.   

  • - If your package is coming via USPS, there are several ways to divert package delivery, as well as ask a carrier to leave it somewhere out of sight. 

  • - When you place your order, if you know you’re going to be at work, make sure your boss doesn’t mind if you have your items delivered to your workplace, and use that address for shipping. 

  • - Your local pack-and-ship store will receive deliveries for you for a fee.  

  • - Installing a visible security camera at your front door can deter some thieves, and some cameras come with motion-sensor options to set off a siren or other alert if someone gets too close to your front door. 

  • - Amazon is offering several delivery options:  Amazon LockerKey Smart Lock KitKey In-Car Delivery, and Hub by Amazon. 

  • - UPS offers My Choice to customize your deliveries. For FedEx deliveries, go to their Delivery Manager, create and account, and manage your deliveries. 

 

The best way to prevent “package Grinches” from stealing your deliveries is to be proactive.  Use text message and email alerts, as well as specific delivery company smartphone apps to notify you when a package is left at your door. 

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Photo credit: huffingtonpost

Real Estate Disclosures and You

by Scott Darling

Zillow.com defines the term disclosure as “...the buyer’s opportunity to learn as much as they can about the property and the seller’s experience in it.”  In most states, this simply means that the seller must let the buyer know about problems that they are aware of.  Whether you’re selling or buying a house, disclosing issues with the house is an extremely important part of the process.  

 

What Disclosure Means for the Seller 

  • - Your listing agent will provide a form for you to fill out, answering questions with either yes, no or I don’t know about different aspects of the house.  This form should be filled out truthfully and to the best of your knowledge. 

  • - Items that most states ask you to disclose to the buyer:  lead paint or asbestos, previous repairs or additions, mold or water damage, pest issues, drainage problems, foundation cracks, problems with HVAC and other appliances, and if the roof is leaky. 

  • - If you think there might be a problem, say possible mold in the crawlspace, have an inspector come and have a look.  It’s better to be safe than sorry here. 

  • - While you’re going over the disclosure form, if you’re not sure if you should report something, report it anyway.  It’s best to err on the side of caution. 

  • - Have the disclosure ready before you’ve accepted an offer for your own protection. 

  • - Your listing agent will be aware of all government disclosure requirements--federal, state, and local--so be prepared to report all that these laws ask of you. 

 

Disclosure and the Buyer 

  • - Once you receive the disclosure statement, go over it carefully and ask questions if you’re not sure about anything listed, because you must sign the disclosure. 

  • - The extra expense of having an official inspection done on the house is vital to this part of the sale.  Have the disclosure form information with you when you meet the inspector at the house, so you can go over the problem places with a pro. 

  • - In the case of any additions to the home, check the local government building permit and zoning information to make sure the addition was done the legal way by licensed people. 

  • - If you have any issues with the seller’s answers on the disclosure statement, and don’t want to make the repairs, and can’t come to an agreement with the seller, it may be best to walk away and look for another house. 

  • - Once you are satisfied with the disclosure and have the peace of mind that the sale should go through, sign off on the disclosure. 

 

A disclosure should be a seller’s protection plan, and smart sellers will be completely honest, and maybe even over-disclose.  Also, be aware that some states even ask sellers to disclose things like traffic noise, and even paranormal activity!  Your Realtor will know everything you need to provide to buyers, so the sale of your home goes smoothly.

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Photo credit: nestiny.com

Creating a Restful Bedroom

by Scott Darling

Ah, rest--it is probably one thing that many people will say that they don’t get enough of.  Something we may not realize that’s vital to a good night’s sleep is a calm atmosphere in the bedroom.  Let’s look at what we can do to create a restful bedroom. 
 

  • - Keep the room free of clutter: use storage containers under the bed for clothes you may not have room for, keep jewelry neatly hanging or in a jewelry box, have a hamper tucked away for clothing that needs to be washed, and shoes should be tucked away. 

  • - Some smaller homes don’t have a designated room for an office, and it’s important to keep the two separate, even in the same room.  Face the work area away from the bed and use a screen if you like.  Keep the desk tidy, so you’re not looking at work that needs to be done while you’re preparing to go to bed.  Turn off any electronics that can disturb the quiet of the room when you’re not using them. 

  • - Low lighting is important, so use a low-wattage bulb in the bedside lamp and add a timer for it to come one just before bedtime so you won’t have to turn on the bright ceiling light when it’s time to get ready for sleep. 

  • - Sleep experts will tell you that the bedroom is no place for a television!  If sleep is an issue for you, keep the tv in the family room, as the light and noise will keep you from truly resting.  

  • - On that note, if you need some sort of noise to help you sleep, there are many white noise machines and smartphone apps, as well as playlists on many music streaming services that have a variety of relaxing background noise.  Ditch the tv and use white or “pink” noise to help you drift off. 

  • - Room-darkening shades can be very helpful in blocking city lights and help those who must work at night sleep during the day.   

  • - Pets are like family for most of us but allowing them to sleep in bed with you may not be such a good idea.   Have a special bed or crate for Spot to sleep in, so their nighttime movements won’t disturb your deep sleep cycles.  

  • - Room temperature is very important to rest.  If it’s in the budget, have a separate heating and cooling system for the bedroom, and keep it between 60° and 67°, and if that’s not possible, use a fan to keep you cool. 

  • - Choosing the color for decorating is important, as colors influence us when it comes to different activities.  Most of us know that blues, greens and grays are relaxing colors, but if you like to make a bold statement, light colors won’t work.  Royal blue, shades of teal, and browns can still make a room feel calm and add bright style to the room. 

  • - Obviously, your bedding is one of the most vital parts of getting a good night’s rest.  Have a comfortable mattress with good pillows and bedding appropriate for keeping you comfortable.   

 

Sleeping well is so important to many aspects of life, not to mention your health, and if your bedroom isn’t helping you get a good night’s sleep, it’s time to make some changes.  The Better Sleep Foundation has some other tips and information on how your bedroom can help you get the rest you need. 

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Photo credit: ballarddesigns.com

Chester County PA Real Estate Market Trends for October 2018

by Scott Darling

Chester County PA Real Estate Market Trends for October 2018

Chester County PA single-family homes saw pending sales decrease by 15.0% in October 2018 when compared to October 2017. 528 homes sold in October with a median sales price of $346,000.  The average sales price decreased by 1.8%, and homes were on the market 10 days more.

If you are thinking about selling your home get a free instant home evaluation Learn More

How To Select An Elder Law Attorney

by Scott Darling

When you are confronting a difficult life issue, you routinely seek guidance from someone who can help you to solve the problem.  So, it stands to reason that when you or a family member are confronting the potential or immediate need for long term nursing care, you will want someone experienced with the related planning opportunities on your side.  Elder Law attorneys counsel the elderly and their families through all of the important legal considerations they encounter through the phases of the aging process.  Elder Law attorneys typically handle legal matters related to preparation of estate planning documents, health care, nursing care planning, and asset protection, guardianship and Medicare/Medicaid.

It is important to select an attorney with a practice that focuses on issues confronting older adults.  This should not be a general practice attorney who dabbles in “preparing simple wills” or even an estate planning attorney who does not regularly deal with your specific concerns on a regular basis.  Don’t be afraid to interview a potential Elder Law advocate to make sure they have the proper experience and can help you to obtain the best result.

Not only should an Elder Law attorney be able to handle all of the technical and legal needs of the family, but they should also be experienced in dealing with “real people” and their emotional needs.  Protecting and providing for the family are central goals for all of us.  That being said, much of the planning for protection of assets in the face of the rising cost of long term nursing care involves emotional decision making for all people involved.  You need to have an advocate who is calm and comforting, but who is also willing to lay out the hard facts of the situation so you can have a full array of options and consequences.

What Are Some Of The Jobs Of The Elder Law Attorney?

An Elder Law attorney’s role can involve some or all of the following:

  • Working with clients to prepare properly drafted estate planning documents such as wills, revocable trusts, general durable powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney and living wills.
  • Working with clients to prepare and implement a plan to protect and preserve their home and financial assets so that they are not lost to long term care spending.
  • Working with clients to integrate estate and inheritance tax planning and savings into the overall approach.
  • Working with clients to select an appropriate assisted living, continuing care or nursing care facility.
  • Working with clients to review admissions agreements for care facilities.
  • Working with Agents under power of attorney documents to make sure they do not incur personal liability.
  • Working with clients to apply for Medicaid.
  • Working with clients to apply for Veterans’ Benefits such as Aid & Attendance.
  • Working with the family to make sure that all of the parties understand the plan and agree with the way it will be implemented.

Elder Law Attorneys Will Charge For Their Services.  What Are Their Fees?

The legal fees associated with assisting the elderly client will vary significantly depending on the tasks that need to be completed.

For aspects of the representation that involve work with an uncertain time commitment, an attorney is likely to charge on an hourly basis.  In these cases, you should ask for a good faith estimate on the time expenditure and hourly rate.  You can also provide the attorney with a cap at which point he or she must report to you before spending more time/charging more.

For more comprehensive plans, like the protection of family wealth through the use of a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, flat fee planning is best for the client.  This allows you to know the fee upfront without the uncertainty of hourly billing.  Additionally, a flat fee structure creates an open sense of collaboration and communication without concern for hourly billing.

In the end, the planning done by the Elder Law attorney can result in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings for the family.  The return on investment in an experienced Elder Law counsel should be significant and well worth the effort once you have located the right advocate.

What Do You Need To Know About Your Elder Law Attorney?  Here Are Some Questions To Ask:

It is important to find an attorney who is experienced in dealing with your exact legal issue.  “Elder Law” does encompass a broad range of legal issues.  It is possible that a single attorney has not covered every issue in the Elder Law universe.  Just check with them to make sure your case fits within their wheelhouse.

Additionally, you will want to “like” the person you hire.  You should be able to get a sense from the attorney and all of the people you talk to at the law firm that their team will be a good fit for you and your family.  You will want someone you feel comfortable calling and a staff of individuals who are willing to go the extra mile for you.

Here are some questions you should ask:

  • Is your practice focused on the Elder Law related issues?
  • How long has your practice been focused on Elder Law?
  • What percentage of your practice is presently devoted to Elder Law?
  • Is there an aspect of Elder Law that you would consider your forte?
  • Do you have a client intake form that I will need to fill out in advance of meeting?
  • What is your fee structure?

Generally, you have to view hiring your Elder Law counsel to be the same as entering into a relationship.  You have to trust your attorney to help you and your family through delicate issues and to provide advice that could ultimately protect hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This selection will be a key to achieving a successful completion of your goals.

Once you have selected the proper Elder Law attorney, some of the other most common planning considerations are:  Creation of Last Will & Testament, Creation of a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, use of a Medicaid Compliant Immediate Annuity, qualification of the Family Caregiver Exception, creation of the Caregiver Agreement, Irrevocable Burial Reserve, Monthly Gifting Exception, Elder Law Friendly Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will.

Check out our other great articles throughout this site that more specifically address the different ways to protect and preserve your assets.  Click here:  Access to More Blog Articles

For PA Residents:  To request our informative Elder Law Guides click here:  Request Elder Law Guides Today!

To keep up-to-date with changing laws and new planning options sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here:  Subscribe to our Newsletter Here!

By and photo credit: https://www.paelderlawsolutions.com/2017/04/how-to-select-an-elder-law-attorney/

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Common Factors Affecting Retirement Income

by Scott Darling

When it comes to planning for your retirement income, it’s easy to overlook some of the common factors that can affect how much you’ll have available to spend. If you don’t consider how your retirement income can be impacted by investment risk, inflation risk, catastrophic illness or long-term care, and taxes, you may not be able to enjoy the retirement you envision.

Investment Risk

Different types of investments carry with them different risks. Sound retirement income planning involves understanding these risks and how they can influence your available income in retirement.

Investment or market risk is the risk that fluctuations in the securities market may result in the reduction and/or depletion of the value of your retirement savings. If you need to withdraw from your investments to supplement your retirement income, two important factors in determining how long your investments will last are the amount of the withdrawals you take and the growth and/or earnings your investments experience. You might base the anticipated rate of return of your investments on the presumption that market fluctuations will average out over time, and estimate how long your savings will last based on an anticipated, average rate of return.

Unfortunately, the market doesn’t always generate positive returns. Sometimes there are periods lasting for a few years or longer when the market provides negative returns. During these periods, constant withdrawals from your savings combined with prolonged negative market returns can result in the depletion of your savings far sooner than planned.

Reinvestment risk is the risk that proceeds available for reinvestment might have to be reinvested at an interest rate that’s lower than the rate of the instrument that generated the proceeds. This could mean that you have to reinvest at a lower rate of return, or take on additional risk to achieve the same level of return. This type of risk is often associated with fixed-interest savings instruments such as bonds or bank certificates of deposit. When the instrument matures, comparable instruments may not be paying the same return or a better return as the matured investment.

Interest rate risk occurs when interest rates rise and the prices of some existing investments drop. For example, during periods of rising interest rates, newer bond issues will likely yield higher coupon rates than older bonds issued during periods of lower interest rates, thus decreasing the market value of the older bonds. You also might see the market value of some stocks and mutual funds drop due to interest rate hikes, because some investors will shift their money from these stocks and mutual funds to lower-risk fixed investments paying higher interest rates compared to prior years.

Inflation Risk

Inflation is the risk that the purchasing power of a dollar will decline over time, due to the rising cost of goods and services. If inflation runs at its historical long-term average of about 3%, the purchasing power of a given sum of money will be cut in half in 23 years. If it jumps to 4%, the purchasing power is cut in half in 18 years.

A simple example illustrates the impact of inflation on retirement income. Assuming a consistent annual inflation rate of 3%, and excluding taxes and investment returns in general, if $250,000 satisfies your retirement income needs this year, you’ll need $257,500 of income next year to meet the same income needs. In 10 years, you’ll need about $335,979 to equal the purchasing power of $250,000 this year. Therefore, to outpace inflation, you should try to have some strategy in place that allows your income stream to grow throughout retirement.

Long-Term Care Expenses

Long-term care may be needed when physical or mental disabilities impair your capacity to perform everyday basic tasks. As life expectancies increase, so does the potential need for long-term care.

Paying for long-term care can have a significant impact on retirement income and savings, especially for the healthy spouse. While not everyone needs long-term care during their lives, ignoring the possibility of such care and failing to plan for it can leave you or your spouse with little or no income or savings if such care is needed. Even if you decide to buy long-term care insurance, don’t forget to factor the premium cost into your retirement income needs.

A complete statement of coverage, including exclusions, exceptions, and limitations, is found only in the long-term care policy. It should be noted that carriers have the discretion to raise their rates and remove their products from the marketplace.

The Costs of Catastrophic Care

As the number of employers providing retirement health-care benefits dwindles and the cost of medical care continues to spiral upward, planning for catastrophic health-care costs in retirement is becoming more important. If you recently retired from a job that provided health insurance, you may not fully appreciate how much health care really costs.

Despite the availability of Medicare coverage, you’ll likely have to pay for additional health-related expenses out of pocket. You may have to pay the rising premium costs of Medicare optional Part B coverage (which helps pay for outpatient services) and/or Part D prescription drug coverage. You may also want to buy supplemental Medigap insurance, which is used to pay Medicare deductibles and co-payments and to provide protection against catastrophic expenses that either exceed Medicare benefits or are not covered by Medicare at all. Otherwise, you may need to cover Medicare deductibles, co-payments, and other costs out of pocket.

Taxes

The effect of taxes on your retirement savings and income is an often overlooked but significant aspect of retirement income planning. Taxes can eat into your income, significantly reducing the amount you have available to spend in retirement.

It’s important to understand how your investments are taxed. Some income, like interest, is taxed at ordinary income tax rates. Other income, like long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends, currently benefit from special—generally lower—maximum tax rates. Some specific investments, like certain municipal bonds,* generate income that is exempt from federal income tax altogether. You should understand how the income generated by your investments is taxed, so that you can factor the tax into your overall projection.

Taxes can impact your available retirement income, especially if a significant portion of your savings and/or income comes from tax-qualified accounts such as pensions, 401(k)s, and traditional IRAs, since most, if not all, of the income from these accounts is subject to income taxes. Understanding the tax consequences of these investments is important when making retirement income projections.

Have You Planned for These Factors?

When planning for your retirement, consider these common factors that can affect your income and savings. While many of these same issues can affect your income during your working years, you may not notice their influence because you’re not depending on your savings as a major source of income. However, investment risk, inflation, taxes, and health-related expenses can greatly affect your retirement income.

By and photo credit: www.key.com/kpb/our-insights/your-lifestyle/factors-affecting-retirement-income.jsp?CMP_ID=RTXKPB1018

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Carve, Drill or Sculpt a Pumpkin!

by Scott Darling

Gone are the days of using Mom’s best kitchen knife to carve a simple jack o’ lantern with triangle-shaped eyes and a toothy grin.  Pumpkin carving is an art for many, but even those who aren’t so talented in that department can create original and fun lanterns to light our front steps for Halloween! 

 

  • - Cleaning out the pumpkin is messy, and best done on a paper-covered table or done outside.  Once the inside is clean of seeds and pulp, use a spray bleach cleaner such as Clorox Clean Up to spray the inside of the pumpkin to help stop it from molding quickly.
     

  • - Pumpkin carving kits can be bought for just a few dollars, and they usually contain a utility saw, hand “drill,” and scraper.  Some kits offer templates to choose from. 

  •  

  • - The amount of free printable templates are almost overwhelming, and you’ll probably end up with more than one jack o’ lantern if you go through this list of available templates from The Spruce Crafts! 

  •  

  • - Find a template that compliments your skills, or find an easy one that children can help with, and print.  Tape it to your cleaned-out pumpkin, and use a pointy object to trace around the line drawing, poking through the paper and into the pumpkin. Cut the pattern using a small saw, and spray the newly cut areas with the bleach cleaner, and your piece of art should last for several days! 

  •  

  • - Metal cookie cutters can also be used for a different look for your pumpkins:  using a mallet, gently tap the cookie cutter through the carved pumpkin shell.  Go around the pumpkin using this method, or place the cutter in random places for a less-structured look. 

  •  

  • - A power drill can make creating a pumpkin lantern a breeze!  Use different bit sizes to make your pumpkin sparkle, like these from onelittleproject.com. 

  •  

  • - For the more advanced pumpkin artist, grab a linoleum cutter at your local home center, and follow these directions from FromChinaVillage.com for a different approach to “carving.” 

  •  

  • - Battery-operated tea lights are perfect for lighting your jack o’ lantern, and last for several hours, as well as being safer than a traditional candle.  Once you purchase an inexpensive pack, replace the batteries when the old ones die, as the LED bulbs inside last much longer than any wax tealight candle. 

  •  

  • - For more festive and different approaches to decorating your porch with other members of the squash and vegetable family, check out these ideas from The Garden Glove. 

 

Keep the pumpkin-carving safe:  supervise younger children, and even help them when they want to use tools to cut the pumpkin’s new face.  Most children love cleaning out the “guts” of the pumpkin, so have them pick out some seeds for cleaning and roasting later for a healthy treat.  Most of all, have fun, and make memories!

 

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

Photo credit: dailynewsdig.com

Confused about the differences between these types of plans? Let’s take a look.

First, understand that Medicare generally pays about 80%, and the rest is up to you. That’s where Medicare advantage plans or medigap plans make up the difference.  For Medicare quotes for your area, click HERE

Medicare Advantage Plans:

  • Are also referred to as part C. These plans REPLACE Original Medicare. In other words, instead of using original Medicare to see doctors or go to facilities, you have a private insurance plan that replaces parts A & B.
  • Advantage plans combine parts A & B, and sometimes part D (part D is Prescription drug coverage), and must provide as much services or more than original Medicare
  • May include extras such as dental, vision, hearing, fitness & wellness programs. Some Advantage plans have prescription coverage built in as well
  • Are usually in the form of HMO, PPO, Medical Savings accounts and Private fee for service type plans. Except for emergencies, HMO plans typically require the beneficiary to obtain referrals to see specialists and require them to use a network of providers. PPO plans allow for coverage outside of a network, usually at higher cost sharing to the beneficiary
  • Are guaranteed issue for most Medicare beneficiaries, but can only be signed up for at certain times of year

Medigap Plans:

  • Also referred to as Medicare supplement plans. You remain on ‘Original Medicare’ and the plans supplement to pay all or some of the “gaps” (or costs) that Parts A & B do not pay, such as deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance
  • Medigap plans do not have networks or require referrals. Any Doctor, hospital or facility that accepts Medicare in the United States is covered.
  • Are standardized. In other words, all Plan G Medigap plans offer the same standardized benefits, no matter what company issues them. Usually, the only difference is price, however, some plans may have some value-added services such as fitness benefits.
  • Do not include Prescription drug coverage (except for some old plans that are no longer offered to new enrollees) If a Medicare beneficiary would like prescription coverage he or she would need to buy a separate Part D policy.
  • Unlike Medicare Advantage policies which can only have rate increases once a year, can have rate increases at any time.
  • Have no annual enrollment period, and can be applied for any time of year (however you may not be able to disenroll in an advantage plan if you are currently in one or add a prescription plan depending on the time of year)
  • Are only guaranteed issue at certain times, such as when you initially reach age 65. Most other times, they are medically underwritten and a beneficiary could see a higher rate or even be declined.

Courtesy of Chester County PA Realtor Scott Darling.

By: David Kring, regardingwealth.com

Chester County PA Real Estate Market Trends for September 2018

by Scott Darling

Chester County PA Real Estate Market Trends for September 2018

Chester County PA single-family homes saw pending sales decrease by 12.5% in September 2018 when compared to September 2017. 509 homes sold in September with a median sales price of $330,000.  The average sales price increased by 3.1%, and homes were on the market 20 days more.

If you are thinking about selling your home get a free instant home evaluation Learn More

It’s That Medicare Time of Year Again

by Scott Darling

** October 15th starts the Annual enrollment period for Medicare, the following is an updated reprint of this article originally from 2015.

For help with Medicare advantage, Medigap and Prescription drug plans click HERE

You’ve reached that magical age of 65, Congratulations, you are now Medicare eligible.

But, where to start?? It can be one of the most confusing and consequential choices folks make in their retirements.  It may be the only time that you have certain guarantees of coverage choices, so your choice needs to be informed.

Do you still have coverage at work?  You need to contact the Center for Medicare.  And don’t forget to ask HR if your prescription drug coverage is creditable; you don’t want penalties in the future.  What about the alphabet soup of Medicare letters… Parts A, B, C & D? and what about those letters in the Medigap supplement universe that go further up into the alphabet?

Read more at Conestoga Wealth Management

 

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 347

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Scott Darling
RE/MAX Action Associates
403 W. Lincoln Highway #101
Exton PA 19341
(610) 594-SCOT
610-363-2001
Fax: (610) 363-5275