A lot of divorce clients ask me, what documents do I need to get together? Here is a list of some of the most important documents you will need:
- Complete income tax returns, W2s, and other like documents for the last 3 years.
- Year-to-date income information (such as pay stubs) for yourself and your spouse.
- Statements for banking and other financial accounts for the past 12 months.
- Statements for credit cards and other debts for the past 12 months.
- If you have children, copies of the monthly out-of-pocket cost of health insurance and the number of people covered on the plan. If you have employer-provided health insurance, this may be on your pay stub.
- If you have children, copies of any work-related daycare expense.
- Deeds, appraisals, mortgages, or other like documents for all real estate.
- Your will and your spouse’s will.
- Life insurance policies for you and your spouse.
- Certificates of title or other ownership documents regarding any cars, boats, motorcycles, RVs, or any type of titled vehicle.
A lot of us resolve to get more organized for the New Year. Below is a great article I found on lawyers.com with helpful tips on getting your legal and financial business in order for the new year. I especially like the tips at number 3 through 5, as I have found that many of my clients over the years are unfamiliar with household finances, as they have allowed that to be their spouse’s primary responsibility.
Everyone’s busy all year long. There’s work, school, and kids’ sports. Tack on summer vacation and the holidays at the end of the year, and you have even more to do. It’s easy to forget about taking care of some things that really need to be done each year. Taking some time to do them now can save you and your family time and headaches later.
1. Review and Update Your Will
You should look over your will each year to make sure it’s up-to-date. The laws don’t automatically add people to your will or automatically remove them, either. Did you get married this year? Divorced? Did you have a baby or adopt? Are your children now young adults? Your will needs to be updated for these and other life events.
While you’re at it, check your powers of attorney, too. Make sure the person you’ve named to take care of your affairs (your “attorney in fact”) is still willing and able to do so. If not, you need to make a new power of attorney.
Don’t have a will or any other estate planning tools? Get them. You can find everything you need at Lawyers.com. Whether you’re married or single, a good place to start is a planning worksheet. If you have questions or concerns, talk to an attorney.
And don’t forget about your digital assets, like online bank accounts and passwords to social media and other websites. Make a list of them and keep them in a safe or safety deposit box with your other important papers.
There are all kinds of insurance matters to take care of:
- Homeowner’s and Renter’s insurance: Did you make any improvements to your home, like remodel a kitchen or finish your basement? Did you buy a new TV? Check to make sure that your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance covers them.
- Car insurance: In most states, it’s illegal to drive without auto insurance. You don’t want to be overinsured, though. You can save a few dollars over the year by reducing your coverage on an older car or one that’s been paid off. You can also save some money by increasing the amount of your deductible – the amount you have to pay when you make a claim against your policy.
- Life and health insurance. Do you have enough life insurance to take care of your family in case something happens to you? Talk to your insurance agent about your new baby or a change in your marital status. The same thing goes for health insurance. Talk to your human resources professional at work or your agent about changing your coverage.
3. Start Getting Ready for the IRS
It’s never too early to start gathering receipts and other documents for next year’s taxes. Most employers send out W-2’s or “earnings statements” before Jan. 31, so if you’re ready before then, you can file fast and get your refund early.
Preparation is crucial especially if you itemize deductions, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses, mortgage interest and expenses related to your child’s college education. You’ll want to gather your paid medical bills, billing statements from schools, prescription receipts and receipts for cash donations you made to your church or favorite charities.
4. Credit Reports
Each year you’re entitled to one free report from each of the major reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Get and read them carefully. Any errors, like credit accounts that you didn’t open, should be reported to the agency in writing. The agency will investigate the matter, usually within 30 days, and will let you know how the matter was resolved.
With identity theft so common today, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the free credit reports each and every year.
5. Credit Cards
Check the terms of your credit cards. Rearrange your budget and try to pay off your cards in full. At the very least, shop around for a credit card with a lower rate and see if you can transfer the balance to the new card. This could save you thousands of dollars in interest.
6. Licenses, Permits and Leases
Practically all of these important documents have expiration dates. Here are few to keep in mind:
- Driver’s license. These usually expire every few years on your birthday, so check the date on yours. Driving with an expired license may lead to points against your license and higher insurance rates
Business license and permits. Many professions and trades require you to have a license. Attorneys, electricians and plumbers usually need one. Bars and restaurants typically need a permit to sell liquor or sell food. Check the expiration date. Don’t practice your trade or profession on an expired license. You may have to pay fine, and you may even be barred from practicing for a period of time
- Leases. As the expiration date on your home or apartment lease nears, contact your landlord to see if a rent increase is planned for the next lease term and try to negotiate. As a car renter, you should check the mileage to see if you’re in danger of going over the number of miles given by the lease. Consider asking the dealer to sell you extra miles, or perhaps take an early trade-in if you’re near the limit
7. In the US on a Visa?
Be certain to check the expiration date on your visa if you’re in the US temporarily. Start the renewal process early because it could take some time. You may be deported for being in the US after your visa expires, and you may not be able to return to the US for a period of time. Contact the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office if you have any questions.
8. Computer Security
It’s always a good idea to keep your computer’s security settings and software up-to-date. Shopping online, using a software program to prepare your taxes and online banking makes your computer a treasure trove of valuable information. Be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to your personal information and identity theft. Once the hackers or scammers have your information, it’s too late.
Learn how to protect yourself from viruses, phishing attacks, scams and even exposing you and your family to legal risks from participating in social networking.
9. What about the Kids?
New technologies come out every day it seems, like smarter, faster computers, hand-held devices and cell phones, to name a few. You may or may not pay much attention to these things, but your children almost certainly do. If any of these items are on a gift list, start looking into security and protection for their computer and cell-phone usage.
And if you don’t already do so, maybe it’s time to monitor your kids’ computer and cell phone activities. Don’t think of it as an invasion of privacy. Rather, think of it as protecting them from the bad things that you know are out there.
10. Get a Check-Up on Your Health & Records
It’s a good idea to see your family doctor at least once a year for a regular check-up. While you’re at it, take care of some other health-related matters, such as getting a copy of your medical records, asking your doctor about how your electronic medical records are kept safe and making sure your living will and health care power of attorney are in order.
By: Brandi Morgan, CPA
It is very important to select the correct filing status as this will impact the amount of your standard deduction and your tax rate. You may fall into more than one category, so you should choose the one the produces the lowest overall tax. An individual may be single, a surviving spouse, head of the household, married filing jointly, or married filing separately. Filing status is determined on the last day of the tax year.
The basis standard deduction amounts for 2016 are:
- Single 4,050
- Married filing jointly and surviving spouses 12,600
- Married filing separately 6,300
- Head of Household 9,300
You are considered single for the whole year if on the last day of the tax year, you are unmarried or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance agreement. You are considered unmarried if you and your spouse did not live in the same household for the last six months of the tax year. If your home was the main home for a qualifying child or relative and you provided more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year, you are eligible to file as head of household instead of single which provides a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates.
A single taxpayer qualifies as a surviving spouse during the two years following the death of a spouse if the household is maintained for a dependent child and you do not remarry. Tax brackets for surviving spouses are more favorable than filing single.
Married individuals may opt to file jointly or separately even if only one spouse had income. In most situations, it is advantageous to file a joint return due to higher deductions and lower tax rates; however, there are special circumstances where filing separately produces a lower tax bill. It is advisable to calculate your tax both ways and use the filing status that yields the lowest aggregate tax. Considerations other than tax savings should also be considered. If you believe your spouse is not reporting all of his or her income or you do not want to be held responsible for any taxes due because your spouse did not have enough tax withheld or pay enough estimated tax, filing separately may be ideal.
If you are unsure which status applies to your situation, consult your tax advisor.
Brandi Morgan is a CPA and Manager at Wilkins, Miller, Hieronymus LLC, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors. She can be reached at wilkinsmiller.com or 251-410-6700. Her office is located at 41 West Interstate 65 Service Road North, Suite 400, Mobile, Alabama 36608.