Books Set in Australia – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

A trip to Australia is one that offers endless variety – you could spend your time partying in Sydney, you could make an adventurous journey to the Outback, or you could wallow in the many wineries on offer in several Australian states. Australia is a big country and unless you have months to spend there, you are going to have to make some decisions on how best to spend you time. To help you do that, here are some books set in Australia – five novels depicting different aspects of Australian life and history.

'The Secret River' by Kate Grenville

A story of Australia's beginnings, William Thornbill and his wife Sal are sent from London to the fledgling colony of New South Wales in the early 1800's. After some time in Sydney (very different from the Sydney of today!) They decide to try their luck on some land Will has set his eye on along the Hawkesbury River. The challenges they face from their environment, the local Aborigines and fellow settlers reminds us of how harsh the country was for those who decided to make it their home. There are some magnificent descriptions of the landscape as seen by an outsider, and the books gives a 'warts and all' look at the impact of settlement on Australia's indigenous peoples.

'A Town Like Alice' by Neville Shute

While the first part of this novel is set in the Malayan jungle during WWII, what follows is a story that brings you to rugged, country Australia. If you want to know what life was like in a small outback town (more of a hamlet really) in the 1940's and 50's then this novel gives you a good idea. You are subject to the harshness of the landscape and the incredible distinctions involved, as Englishwoman Jean Paget travels to the heart of Australia to find a man she met whilst captured by the Japanese in Malaya. The language and attitudes, particularly in relation to Australia's Aborigines, are true to their time and should be taken as such. But it gives a good indication of the realities of life in rural Australia, something which is still a strong cultural impact on Australians today.

'Breath' by Tim Winton

From the desert to the sea now in this novel by one of Australia's most respected writers. This novel is set in Australia's south-west corner, at a time when the area was more of a home for the logging industry than for the tourists and vineyards of today. Set mainly in the 70's, this is a coming-of-age story about teenager Bruce as he seeks to overcome the boredom of country life with some high risk activities – like surfing off what can be a dangerous and deadly coastline, and developing a Dark friendship with an older woman. As Bruce begins to grow up, both emotionally and sexually, we are grateful to some of the most poetic and exhilarating descriptions you will ever find of the 'religion' that is surfing. And you too, will feel as if you have explored the rugged and beautiful coastline of this part of the country.

'Bad Debts' by Peter Temple

Peter Temple is one of Australia's leading crime writers, and this novel is our introduction to his hero Jack Irish. – an inner-city Melbourne solicitor with a love of Australian Rules Football, gambling, and part time cabinet-making. This is Melbourne in winter, complete with its rain, pubs and shady underworld. Irish has barely been sober for a number of years after one of his dodgy clients murdered his wife, and now Danny, another former client, needs his help. But when Danny is killed, Irish discovers there are plenty of the city's political elite who would like the past to remain undisturbed, and he is determined to get to the truth. Temple's novels may not give you 'sun and sand', but you will be treated to as much genuine Australian vocabulary and city sub-culture as you can handle.

'Summerland' by Malcolm Knox

And finally to Sydney, and a novel that explores the life of the city's idle rich. Four young Sydneysiders have been friends since they were teenagers, and living around the city's northern beaches they have the world at their feet. They form two couples and spend every Christmas at Palm Beach, a popular holiday location for the affluent. But despite all this, their friendship is based on lies, as Richard finds out when he learns of the long-running affair between his wife and his best friend. If you'd like an insight into a live of the privileged few in Sydney, then this novel will take you there.

These novels are just a taste of many books set in Australia, but they are well worth reading in the lead-up to your travels or on the plane. Immersing yourself in a novel about the place you are going to will not only give you an insight into the place itself, but it will whet your appetite for your travels ahead, making it far more enjoyable once you get there.

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Do You Have Sufficient Auto Insurance Coverage?

Imagine getting ready to leave your house and you open your door and the rain is pouring down. Now you start to frantically look for your umbrella…. ah, there it is! You step outside, open your umbrella, and you are now protected from that pouring rain. If it were a bright sunny day with no rain in sight you probably would not even care about where your umbrella is or if you even had one! The same is true about insurance. Until you need it, do you really care about it? Unfortunately, too many people realize that they have insufficient coverage only when an unexpected incident occurs and they have to place a claim with their insurance company.

So, a logical starting point to determine if you have proper insurance coverage is to understand the basics. To ensure that you do have the proper coverage, you first need to acquire a good understanding of the basics of auto, home, personal umbrella, and life insurance coverage. For this article, we will focus on auto insurance coverage.

Auto Insurance basically covers you for liability and property damage as it relates to your motor vehicle. There are other optional areas of coverage as well, but for our discussion let’s stay focused on the basics, which are the most important anyway. Your auto insurance policy’s first and/or second pages are the declaration pages of your auto insurance policy. The declarations pages describe your auto coverage limits in numeric dollar values.

Here is a sample of what you may see on your auto insurance policy’s declaration pages:

-Bodily Injury/Property (BIPD) 250/500/100

-Limited or Unlimited

-Medical (Med) $5,000

-Personal Injury Protection (PIP) 250 w/250 Ded

-Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) 250/500/100

-Collision $500 (Coll) Deductible

-Comprehensive (Comp) $500 Deductible

-Rental Insurance (RI) 80%/1500

Let’s take a look at each of these coverage definitions and amounts in more detail.

The BIPD represents Bodily Injury (BI) / Property Damage (PD). Basically, in the example above, this individual policyholder has liability protection for $250,000 per individual or $500,000 maximum per incident, plus $100,000 in property damage to the other party’s vehicle in a collision. Liability coverage is protection for times when you have been deemed and proven negligent in an auto accident and you therefore become legally liable for the resulting compensatory and/or punitive damages to the other party or parties. The BI, of the BIPD, will cover you for negligence on your part that resulted in bodily injury to the other party or parties. BI also covers the cost of attorney fees associated with any litigation brought against you by the other party. In the above example, this person has $250,000 in coverage for all inclusive liability and attorney fees per individual injured or $500,000 for the entire incident.

The PD, of the BIPD, covers the damage to the other party’s vehicle as a result of your negligence; thus, in the above example, up to $100,000 in property damage to the other party’s vehicle or property. Now, being cognizant of the litigious society that we live in, we ask if $250,000 per person or $500,000 per incident is enough BI coverage? This is a personal decision for every individual to make depending upon their current assets and net worth, and their knowledge of recent jury decisions and awards on BI cases. A major factor affecting this decision is an understanding that you are self-insured for any amounts awarded in excess of your BI coverage amount, should the jury award compensatory and punitive damages greater than your BI coverage amount. So, in this example, should the jury award $750,000 to the individual driving the other vehicle who suffered bodily injury because you collided with them as a result of your negligence, then you are self-insured for the amount in excess of $250,000 which in this case would be $500,000. If you do not have the $500,000 to settle the award, then the judge has many other options to ensure restitution to the injured party such as: garnishing your wages, selling off some of your assets, placing a lien on your property, etc. Now, you can get an umbrella policy to cover you up to a certain amount in excess of your underlying auto BI coverage. We will look at how an umbrella policy works in more detail in an upcoming article.

Next, we have “limited right to sue” versus “unlimited right to sue” coverage. Basically, under the “limited” right to sue lawsuit option, you agree not to sue the person who caused the auto accident for your pain and suffering unless you sustain one of the permanent injuries listed below:

-Loss of body part

-Significant disfigurement or scarring

-A displaced fracture

-Loss of a fetus

-Permanent injury

-Death

Please note that choosing this option does not waive your right to sue for economic damages such as medical expenses and lost wages.

Under the “Unlimited” right to sue lawsuit option, you retain the right to sue the person who caused an auto accident for pain and suffering for any injury. Most people will choose the “limited” option because it is far less costly and it provides the ability to sue the negligent party for most major and permanent injuries. However, many attorneys will usually choose the “unlimited option” for their own personal coverage and pay the significant extra cost because they want the right to sue for any injury.

PIP coverage stands for Personal Injury Protection coverage. PIP is paid from your own policy. PIP covers medical expenses, and possibly lost wages and other damages. PIP is sometimes referred to as “no-fault” coverage, because the statutes that enacted it are generally known as no-fault laws. PIP is designed to be paid without regard to “fault,” or more properly, without regard to legal liability. PIP is also called “no-fault” because, by definition, a claimant’s, or insured’s, insurance premium should not increase due to a PIP claim. A PIP claim may be subrogated by your insurance against the other party’s insurance company if the other party was determined to be the neglligent party in the accident. PIP is a mandatory coverage in some states.

Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) is coverage from your policy that may pay for injuries to you and your passengers, and possibly damage to your property, when as a result of an auto accident the other driver is both legally responsible for the accident and determined to be “uninsured” or “underinsured.”

An uninsured driver is a person who has no auto insurance coverage, or had insurance that did not meet state-mandated minimum liability requirements, or whose insurance company denied their claim or was not financially able to pay it. In most states, a hit-and-run driver is also considered an uninsured driver as it pertains to paying for injuries to you or your passengers.

An underinsured driver is a person who had insurance that met minimum legal requirements, but did not have high enough coverage limits to pay for the damage caused by the accident. In these situations, UIM coverage can pay you for your damages. It is important to note that uninsured and underinsured is separate coverage, although in many states they can or must be purchased together. Some states mandate purchase of UM/UIM, but many do not.

Collision coverage insures you for damage to your vehicle. No matter if it is a collision between your car and another car, or your car and a stone wall. You are covered if your car sustains damage as a result of colliding into something or something colliding into it, whether you are at fault or not. Your deductible will usually apply. If you collide with another vehicle and the other party is at fault, then your insurance company may subrogate the claim against the at fault party’s insurance company to recover the claim amount.

Comprehensive (Comp) basically covers what collision coverage does not. When your car sustains damage that did not result from colliding with another motor vehicle or object, the comprehensive portion of your policy will pay for the damages. If you do not have comprehensive coverage then you would have to pay out of your own pocket for any damage to your vehicle not related to a collision. Here are the perils typically covered by comprehensive auto insurance coverage: fire, theft, vandalism, broken or damaged glass, animal inflicted damage, falling objects, storms (hail, wind, etc.), and water damage. Your deductible will usually apply.

Rental Insurance (RI) is coverage for you to rent a car while your vehicle is being repaired because of a covered incident. In the above example of declaration page values, the 80%/1500 means that you have coverage for $80 per day and $1,500 maximum total cost to rent a car while your vehicle is being repaired. This is an optional coverage that many people take, but some do not.

Well, that is it! That is the basics of understanding your auto insurance coverage. Not so bad, right? Now that you understand the basics of auto insurance coverage you can review and analyze your personal auto insurance policy’s declaration page coverage information while taking into consideration your personal financials to determine whether or not you have sufficient coverage.

Stay tuned for future articles that will explain the basics of understanding homeowner’s, personal umbrella, and life insurance coverage. You never know when it is going to rain!

Joseph Rubino, Agent

NJ Licensed Property & Casualty, Health, and Life

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10 Reasons Why People Travel

When people decide to leave the comforts of their home and venture to other locations there is usually a reason behind it. Whether the cause to travel was a last minute whimsy or had an actual purpose, it makes one think about all of the reasons why people travel. Reflect on the last time you left your location and ventured to another one. Did it have a purpose behind it? Let’s look and see if your motive to travel matched any of the one’s listed below. These are not listed in any particular order.

1. Romance- There are thousands of people who are involved in long distance relationships. At some point though, they need to see each other. For the sake of love, people will travel for hours to spend as much time as they can with the love of their life.

2. Relaxation- All work and no play is not a good thing. People need to get away from the stress of everyday life, and a nice sunny location with a beach might just be what the doctor ordered.

3. Family/ Friends -Many people have family/friends that are located in different parts of the world. They need to visit with them even if it’s for a short period of time.

4. Religion- There are places in the world that hold religious importance for many people. Religious travel is often related to a purpose such as seeing where the last pope was buried, or traveling to the town where Jesus was born.

5. Death- A relative, friend or acquaintance has passed away and travel is required to attend the funeral which is located out of town.

6. Honeymoon- You’re getting married and are going somewhere special to celebrate. This usually occurs right after the wedding, but there are many occasions where people celebrate a honeymoon years later.

7. Education-You’re getting your education somewhere other than where you live or you are going away on an educational school trip.

8. Celebration- Wedding, Anniversary, Birthday, Birth- There’s always something to celebrate and it doesn’t always happen where you live.

9. Medical/Health- Sometimes the treatment you need isn’t available in the city/town where you live. Often the best medical care is costly and requires travel to receive it.

10. Work- Job requirements might mean a fair bit of travel is involved. Even if the travel is within your own country it still has a purpose attached to it.

Overall, traveling can be a wonderful experience or it can be draining, expensive and just plain torture. Nonetheless if you need to go then embrace it for what it is, and try to make the best of it even if it wasn’t planned.

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Single Premium Life Insurance – Pros and Cons

Single Premium Whole Life Insurance (SPLI) Explained

Most of the time, when we purchase life insurance, we agree to make monthly, quarterly, or yearly payments. There are some whole life policies which can be paid off, usually over a period of 7 years or more. But another way of purchasing coverage has begun to get more attention lately. This simply involves making one large payment in the beginning. The single premium is set to fund the coverage for the rest of an insured person’s life.

One obvious advantage might be the guarantee that life insurance is taken care of without having to worry about paying any more bills. One obvious disadvantage, as you may have already guessed, is the fact that this first premium must be pretty large.

Who Considers SPLI?

The type of person who may consider this unusual way of paying for a life insurance policy would have a lump sum of cash they are sure they will not need to spend for the next few years. They will also want to leave money to their estate, and they want to turn the cash they have into a larger life insurance death benefit. This way they can be assured they will be able to leave money to their kids, grand kids, or a favorite charity..

Advantages of Single Premium Life

  • Set it and Forget it – You can make on premium payment, and be assured you have funded a lifetime policy.
  • Estate Building – Most of the time, the cash will buy a death benefit of several times the original premium amount. For example, let us say that a healthy 65 year old could turn $12,000 into a $100,000 death benefit to leave behind. That was just an example. Premiums will vary.
  • Cash Value – Since the one large lump sum fund coverage, the actual cash valued of the policy should grow very quickly. The policy may have enough cash value to be borrowed against or cashed in at some future point. The cash value may grow by a set interest rate, or it may grow my some market index, like the S&P 500. This will be specified in the particular policy you buy.
  • Policy Provisions – Policies may have an accelerated death benefit, or provisions for early surrender or using some of the face value while the insured person is still alive in special cases. These cases could include terminal illness or nursing home confinement. These functions can give you a policy which performs “double duty.”

Disadvantages of SPLI

This product is not for everybody. Look at some of the disadvantages to consider.

  • You Need The Money – You must have the lump sum payment. Of course, the premium will vary by the age and health of the insured person, the insurer, and the amount of coverage you buy. The premium is usually several thousand dollars. This must be money that is not needed for the next few years, or ever. If this is in question, you may be better off by buying a policy with multiple payments.
  • Early Surrender Charges or Fees – Here’s why you must use money you will not need to live on. Most policies do have early surrender charges or fees. If you do have to cash in the policy before this term, set in your individual policy, you will probably get back less than you put in. You can only benefit if you can wait until the date of fees or surrender charges has passed.
  • Tax Considerations – These type of policies, purchased with one payment, are considered to be Modified Endowment Contracts (MEC) by the IRS. They do not have all of the tax advantages or regular life insurance.

Example of SPLI

Let us say that a 65 year old retired teacher has a pension and savings which enable her to live comfortably. She also has $12,000 in cash from her own parent’s estate. She would like to turn this cash into a much larger estate she can split with her son and a favorite scholarship fund.

In this case, she is able to purchase a $100,000 single premium life policy. This works out well for her in a few ways. This policy has a provision for an accelerated death benefit in the cash of terminal illness or nursing home confinement, so she does not need to worry about purchasing another long term care policy.

Is Single Premium Life Right For You?

In order to make a good decision, it will help to figure out what you own retirement planning goals are. This product can be a good solution for some people.

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Property Tax – Pros and Cons

Property tax can be the fairest and at the same time the not so fair tax collected by municipalities.

Two of the determining factors of how it can affect what an individual will pay for this type of tax are where you live and a person’s economic condition.

Even though we all can appreciate the good points of owning a home vs. renting, when it comes to property tax, renting is by far the better option. States will collect property tax on the following:

Any additions to the property such as improvements to the land

Land itself

Any structures that are not permanent to the property

The assessment is commonly made by an exclusive county tax collector in each state. An individual’s property and land will be appraised of its value and subsequently mailed as a tax payment notice. This usually is paid through a homeowner’s escrow amount stated on their mortgage.

Many times this can negatively affect a property or land owner as the taxes in a specific state can sometimes double or triple in amount and leave the homeowner unable to afford to pay their taxes, forcing them to sell their property or land.

People on a fixed income such as Senior citizens who have retired, can be greatly affected by the increase of property tax. The value of their homes increase, but at the same time they find themselves unable to pay their taxes because of their reduced income. Unfortunately, property tax doesn’t allow much wiggle room in the event of acts of nature or personal tragedy.

Although 2.3 seems to be the average percentage for property tax, it varies greatly from state to state, making it seem highly unfair for certain states such as New Hampshire, as it is a high 4.9 percent.

It also seem unfair when states like Alabama pay 1.3 percent and yet just a little distance away in neighboring Georgia would be required to pay 2.6 percent, then even more in Florida at a rate of 3.1 percent.

So who determines how the money generated from this income is spent or in some cases wasted? The state legislatures will determine this along with the decision to increase or decrease property tax and how frequent it is collected.

Even though property tax can absolutely help states with income,the amount of property tax to be paid can be a determining factor in one’s decision where to reside to achieve the American Dream of land or home ownership.

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OUTLAWED: Six Home Insurance Deal Killers Florida Homeowners Should Be Aware Of

As affordable Home Insurance in Florida gets more difficult to attain, it is extremely important for home owners and future home owners to be fully informed before purchasing a new home or shopping for new home owners insurance.

If one of these SIX conditions exist in the home, "BUYER BEWARE" as insurance may be difficult and potentially impossible to bind.

1) Fuse Panel

A properly installed FUSE PANEL by itself is typically not a safety issue, although most insurance companies have banned this type of electrical service for all new policies written. There are a number of reasons, some of these are noted below.

The main safety issues from fuses come into play when a homeowner replaces a blown fuse with too large of a fuse (ie a blown 15 amp fuse replaced with a 30 amp fuse which is readily available on the utility room shelf). The circuit is designed to "blow" if a load greater than 15 amps passes through. Now the "trigger" is set at 30 amps. An extra 15 amps just might be enough for the wiring or other components to heat up enough to cause a fire or other serious injury or damage.

A typical fuse panel can be replaced with a circuit breaker panel for $ 750 to $ 2,000 depending on any other upgrades that may have to be made in the replacement. Always get a minimum of THREE QUOTES from reputable Contractors before authorizing any work done.

2) Knob and Tube Wiring

Knob and Tube Wiring (K & T) was used from the 1880's into the 1930's. This early method of electrical wiring did a great job for many years and is still used today in some select governmental and industrial applications. However this old rubber or cloth covered wiring that strings along on porcelain knobs has outlived its useful life and is no longer insurable or even legal in residential applications per the National Electrical Code.

An average size home re-wire can run from $ 8,000 to $ 20,000 depending on the unique layout and access to electrical components. Always get a minimum of THREE QUOTES from reputable Contractors before authorizing any work done.

3) Aluminum Branch Wiring

In Florida, Aluminum Wiring has been in the spot light since 2010 when tens of thousands of Florida home owners learned they could not get insurance if they have this common wiring that was used frequently between 1965 and 1973.

Aluminum wiring is known to "cold creep". The wiring expanss as it heats up and contracts as it cools down, this can cause the wire to come loose at the connection and this can cause an arc which can heat up fixtures and start fires. Aluminum also oxidizes over time which can contribute to this fire safety issue.

There are two options to get insurance if you have aluminum branch wiring. First, and most costly (but the one we highly recommend) is to completely rewire your branch wiring to copper. This can cost on average, $ 8,000 to $ 20,000 depending on how easily or difficult your electrical components are to access.

The second option is to use AlumiConn or CopAlum crimps that in essence crimp a copper "pig tail" to your aluminum wire so that the copper wiring is what is making the connection to your electrical fixture. This option, on average, costs between $ 1,500 and $ 3,000 depending on how many electrical fixtures there are in the home. We recommend staying away from this when possible as we fear that the ever changing insurance industry may indeed OUTLAW the crimp method as well. We also do not like the idea of ​​going from the average fixture having 3 connections to having 6 connections. The more connections the more chance of failure.

4) Less Than a 100 Amp Electrical Service

A more recent industry change in our "power consumption hungry world" is requiring homes to have 100 amps or more of service feeding the home. With the heavy consumption of electrical power the average homeowner uses, insurance companies appear to be fearful that smaller services can overheat when using typical high consumption appliances.

The cost to upgrade an electrical service can range depending on if the size of the electrical wiring can handle the increased electrical load. If it can not, the feeder line will also have to be replaced. As always, get at least 3 quotes from reputable electrical contractors.

5) Polybutylene Plumbing

This popular plumbing pipe was used heavily through the 1980's and into the early 1990's. It is usually "blue or gray colored", is flexible, and has caused flood damage in thousands of homes across the country. Up until recently a few insurance companies did not ask about the type of plumbing pipe so agents would place homeowners with those companies, however starting September 1, 2012 Citizens Insurance Company specifically outlawed Polybutylene Plumbing.

A typical re-plumbing cost can run from $ 4,000 to $ 10,000 depending on the ease of running the new pipe (in attics or under homes). We recommend using copper or CPVC piping as some insurance companies are also taking issue with PEX pipeline that has become very popular over the past decade. We'll cover more on PEX in a later article.

6) Roof with less than 3 Years of life

The final INSURANCE DEAL KILLER in today's article addresses your first line of defense in a wind or rain event, THE ROOF! If your roof has less than three years of useful life left on it you will likely be denied insurance coverage. In our hot Florida sunshine, an average three tab shingle roof will last between 10 and 15 years. An average dimensional shingle roof will last between 15 and 25 years. Other popular roofing options include tile and metal roofing. These options have significantly longer life expectancy of upwards of 50 years if installed and maintained properly.

A re-roof is normally calculated on a per square basis. A square is equal to 100 sq ft of shingle. In the Pensacola area that per square cost can run anywhere from $ 225 to $ 300 per square making the average 30 square roof cost between $ 6,750 and $ 9,000 depending on the quality of products used.

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What Is the Difference Between an Heir and a Beneficiary?

The term ‘heir’ refers to a person who is entitled to property owned by a deceased family member. Individuals can bequeath property to heirs through their last will and testament or a trust. When a person dies without leaving a Will, their assets are given to rightful heirs according to state probate laws.

An heir can be a surviving spouse, minor or adult children, mother, father, or siblings. Heirs can also include direct lineage relatives such as aunts, uncles, and cousins. Individuals can bequeath property to whomever they desire. If they gift items to anyone outside the family, those individuals are referred to as beneficiaries. Although somewhat confusing, heirs can be beneficiaries, but beneficiaries are not always heirs.

The only way to ensure property is distributed according to your wishes is to execute a legal Will. When property is held in a trust, the Will is used to provide directives regarding distribution. Unless inheritance assets are placed into a trust, the estate must undergo the probate process.

Probate is required to settle decedent estates. Two types of probate exist – testate and intestate. Testate refers to estates which include a last Will, while intestate refers to estates where no Will exists. The probate process varies depending on the type. Intestate estates take longer to settle because additional procedures must be taken.

The last will and testament is also used to designate a probate personal representative. This person is responsible for all tasks required to settle the estate. This can include paying any outstanding debts owed by the decedent; filing a final tax return and paying outstanding taxes; obtaining appraisals for valuable property; securing personal property owned by the decedent; and distributing inheritance gifts left to heirs and beneficiaries.

The last will can also be used to disinherit an heir. When a person decides to leave a direct lineage relative out of their Will they must include a disinheritance clause which states the reason for exclusion. While this clause does not prevent heirs from contesting the Will, it can minimize the risk. If a disinheritance statement is not included, heirs can prolong the probate process by claiming the decedent was influenced by another person or not in their right mind when executing the Will.

Contesting a Will is a costly process that often bankrupts estates due to excessive legal fees. Those who have direct lineage relatives whom they do not want to bequeath gifts to should consult with a probate lawyer to ensure their Will is properly executed.

Engaging in estate planning can keep certain assets out of probate and allow quick distribution to heirs. Individuals with checking or savings accounts can designate beneficiaries to receive funds at death. This is referred to as payable on death (POD) beneficiaries. Account holders must fill out POD beneficiary forms to provide the names, addresses, date of birth, and social security number. Upon death, beneficiaries must provide photo ID and a copy of the decedent’s death certificate to claim funds.

Individuals with retirement accounts or financial portfolios can assign transfer on death (TOD) beneficiaries. Upon death, heirs can elect to transfer funds into a new account to avoid estate taxes or cash-out the account. It is best to consult with a tax attorney to discuss tax ramifications before accepting lump sum cash.

Executing a last will and testament is one of the best gifts you can leave loved ones. Wills should be updated when major events occur. These might include buying or selling real estate; starting or closing a business; or when a new heir is born or a designated heir dies.

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Twelve Secrets and Tricks to Buying Life Insurance

Secret #1: Don’t spend too much time on a life insurance quote.

Do not be fooled by the low price quotes you get online – they don’t apply to you unless you are extremely healthy. Statistically only 10% of people who apply actually get the lowest priced policy. The premium you end up paying has nothing to do with the initial quote you get online or from an agent. It is amazing to me how often I see people getting duped by an agent who quotes company X at a lower price than another agent.

Life insurance policies are the same price no matter who you buy from! One agent or website quoting a lower premium means nothing. Prices for any given policy is based on your age and health. There are a few exceptions to this but that is beyond the breadth of this article.

Most life insurance companies have 10-20 different health/price ratings and no agent or website can assure you the quote they give you is accurate. You have to apply, do a health check, and then go through underwriting (meaning you complete a mini-exam with a nurse in your home and then the company checks you doctor records and reviews and ‘rates’ your health) to get the real price of the policy. Remember that a health rating also factors in your family history, driving record, and the type of occupation you have. Only use quotes to help narrow down your choices to the top companies. You may want to consider a no load or low policy. The more that you save on commissions the more money builds up in your policy. You can even buy term insurance no load, and save a lot on premiums. You will not get the help of an agent, which may be worth something if they are very good.

The most important factor determining price is matching your particular health history with the company best suited for that niche. For instance company X might be best for smokers, company Y for cancer survivors, Company Z for people with high blood pressure, etc.

Secret #2: Ignore the hype on term versus cash value permanent insurance.

You can go crazy reading what everyone has to say on buying term insurance versus a whole or universal life policy. Big name websites give advice that I think borders on fraudulent. Simply put there is NO simple answer on whether you should buy permanent cash value policies or term insurance.

But I do think there is a simple rule of thumb – buy term for your temporary insurance needs and cash value insurance for your permanent needs. I have read in various journals and run mathematical equations myself which basically show that if you have a need for insurance beyond 20 years that you should consider some amount of permanent insurance. This is due to the tax advantage of the growth of the cash value within in a permanent policy. I am divorced and have taken care of my children should I die. I probably no longer need as much insurance as I now have. I have earned a great return on my policies and have paid no taxes. I no longer pay the premiums, because there is so much cash in the policies. I let the policies pay themselves. I would not call most life insurance a good investment. Because I bought my policies correctly, and paid almost no sales commissions my policies are probably my best investments. I no longer own them, so when I die my beneficiaries will get the money both tax free, and estate tax free.

Since most people have short term needs like a mortgage or kids at home they should get some term. Additionally most people want some life insurance in place for their whole life to pay for burial, help with unpaid medical bills and estate taxes and so a permanent policy should be purchased along with the term policy.

Secret #3: Consider applying with two companies at once.

Life insurance companies really don’t like this “trick” because it gives them competition and increases their underwriting costs.

Secret #4: Avoid captive life insurance agents.

Look for a life insurance agent who represents at least fifty life insurance companies and ask them for a multi company quote showing the best prices side by side. Some people try to cut the agent out and just apply online. Just remember that you don’t save any money that way because the commissions normally earned by the agent are just kept by the insurance company or the website insurance company without having your premium lowered.

Plus a good agent can help you maneuver through some of the complexities of filling out the application, setting up your beneficiaries, avoiding mistakes on selecting who should be the owner, the best way to pay your premium, and also will be there to deliver the check and assist your loved ones if the life insurance is ever used.

Secret #5: Consider refinancing old life policies.

Most companies won’t tell you but the price you pay on your old policies has probably come down dramatically if you are in good health. In the last few years life insurance companies have updated their predictions on how long people will live. Since we are living longer they are reducing their rates rather dramatically. Beware the agent may be doing this to obtain a new commission, so make sure it really makes sense.

I really am amazed at how often we find that our client’s old policies are twice as expensive as a new one. If you need new life insurance consider “refinancing” your old policies and using the savings on the old policies to pay for the new policy – that way there is no extra out-of-pocket costs. We like to think of this process as “refinancing your life insurance” – just like you refinance your mortgage.

Secret #6: Realize life insurance companies have target niches that constantly change.

One day company ‘X’ is giving good rates to people who are a little overweight and the next month they are super strict. Company ‘Y’ might be lenient on people with diabetes because they don’t have many diabetics on the books – meaning they will give good rates to diabetics. At the same time company ‘W’ might be very strict on diabetics because they are insuring lots of diabetics and are afraid they have too big of a risk in that area – meaning they will give a bad rate to new diabetics who apply.

Unfortunately when you are applying a life insurance company will not tell you, “Hey, we just raised our rates in diabetics.” They will just happily take your money if you were not smart enough to shop around. This is the number one area a smart agent can come in handy. Since a good multi-company agent is constantly applying with multiple companies he or she will have a good handle on who is currently the most lenient on underwriting for you particular situation. The problem is that this is hard work and many agents are either too busy or not set up to efficiently shop around directly to different underwriters and see who would make you the best offer. This is a lot harder than just running you a quote online.

Secret #7: Don’t forget customer service.

Most people shopping for insurance focus on companies with the lowest price and the best financial rating. Unfortunately I know of some A+ rated companies with low rates who I would not touch with a ten foot pole simply because it’s easier to give birth to a porcupine backwards then it is to get customer service from them.

Before I understood this I used a life insurance company that gave a client a great rate but 2 years later the client called me and said, “I have mailed in all my payments on time but just got a notice saying my policy lapsed.” It turned out the company had been making lots of back office mistakes and had lost the premium payment!

We were able to fix it because we caught the problem so early. But if the client happened to have died during the short period the policy had lapsed, his family might have had a hard time proving that the premium had been paid on time and they might not have received the life insurance money – a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in that case.

Secret #8: Apply 3-6 months ahead of the time you need the insurance if possible.

Don’t be in a hurry to get a policy if you already have some coverage in force. But go ahead and apply right away knowing that you might need months to shop around if the first company does not give you a good rate. Even though the life insurance industry is getting more automated your application will still often be held up for weeks or months while the insurance company waits on your doctor’s office to mail them a copy of you medical records.

If you are in a hurry and buy a quickie ‘no-underwriting’ policy without going through the full health checks and underwriting that a mainstream life insurance company requires, you will end up paying 20%-50% more because the insurance company will automatically charge you higher rates because they don’t know whether you are healthy or about to die the next day.

Secret #9: Avoid buying extra life insurance through work if you are healthy.

I am sure there are exceptions to this “trick” but I have rarely found one. By all means keep the free life insurance your employer provides. But if you are healthy and you are paying for supplemental life insurance through payroll deduction you are almost certainly paying too much. What is happening is that your ‘overpayments’ ends up subsidizing the unhealthy people in your company who are buying life insurance through payroll deduction.

Usually the life insurance company has cut a deal with your employer and will waive the required health exam for all employees – instead they just average the price for all the employees and offer one or two rates for males or females at any given age. Life insurance companies know they will pick up lots of unhealthy clients this way so they jack up the price on everyone so that the healthy people end up overpaying so that the unhealthy employees get a cheaper policy. Also, unlike the guaranteed term policies which we recommend, most life insurance you buy through work will get more expensive as you get older.

Also group life insurance is generally not portable when you retire or change jobs meaning that when you retire or change jobs you might have to apply all over again even though you will be older and probably not as healthy and risk being turned down for a policy. If the group plan does allow portability they generally limit your conversion choices and force you to go into expensive cash value plans.

I remember helping someone evaluate his supplemental life insurance. He was sure it was a better deal than any policy I could find him. Little did he know that the price of his group plan would go up every year? By the time he retired his premium would have risen to over $10,000/year. I found him a policy for around $1000/year that would never go up. Also, unlike his old group life policy, he could take the individual policy with him when he changed jobs or retired.

Secret #10: Do a trial application on a COD payment basis.

Only send money with the application if you need the life insurance coverage right away. Sending a check with the application is a traditional practice agents used to do – I think mostly because it got them their commissions faster. If you send money with an application you usually get temporary coverage immediately but if you already have plenty of coverage and are just trying to get better rates ask your agent to do a trial application on a COD basis so you only pay once the policy is approved. If you do not send money, and you die before paying for the policy there is no coverage.

Secret #11: Wear your shoes when the nurse measures your height.

When the insurance company sends out the nurse to do your health check try to be as tall as possible if you are overweight? In most states you are allowed to wear shoes and if you are a little overweight your taller height/weight ratio will look a little better to the underwriter who is determining your health rating and policy price. Also do your exam early in the morning with no food in you – this will make your cholesterol count and various health ratios look the best.

Secret #12: Be careful with extra perks and riders.

Most policies come with options like accidental death benefit, child riders, disability riders, return of premium etc. If you do the math on most of these “extras” they usually don’t make smart financial sense. Life insurance companies are out to make money and these riders are usually profitable because they either cover something that rarely happens or they are so stringent that the benefit never gets paid out. Keep things simple and focus mainly on getting a life policy to cover your life without many strings attached. Again a good agent can help you weigh the benefits of the extra riders. But be wary of an agent who tries to tack on every possible extra rider.

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Travelling As a Hobby

A hobby, whatever it may be is definitely a fun activity and a stress buster. There are so many activities people do in their free time and to relax their stressed mind. The common and popular hobbies are Stamp and coin collection, music, painting, photography, reading and cooking. Among long, long list of various hobby activities, there is one interesting, informative and adventurous hobby which is also one of the most popular and loved pastimes. That is travelling.

For some it is a waste of time and money. They argue to use an alternative and read a book or watch a film related to places to be travelled. For others, there is no doubt that a person gets more life experience by walking a mile than reading an entire book. It’s a feeling of freedom, Freedom from routine and a great experience each time. You can make new friends, get rid of day to day frustrations, and give yourself some time to experience something new.

People who like and enjoy travelling have different options to try every time; a crowded market, historical momentum, a lonesome beach, and high hills and many more. The world is so big and there are so many places to visit. Each has a different beauty, various creatures, culture, speciality, language, history, and weather. The hobby of travelling is a hobby of enduring the beauty of God’s creativity and skill fullness.

If you are travelling to an historic place then chose to get prior information and an authorized guide. If you are going to any adventurous place then prefer to go in a group or with trained a person with emergency box ready with you. If travelling to a new country then make sure of having details and include a list of hotels, food, culture, language, laws, travel options, emergency numbers, currency of that region and other many more minute details. If as a traveller you like to have a nice and a planned trip without any hurdles then you are better off planning your trip.

You can take the details about the place to be visited. A wisely chosen spot, or a package will help you reduce your expense, as travelling is an expensive hobby. The planned trip is very helpful for the lone woman travellers. If you are from those who love adventures then the sky is your limit, although, you have to be smart, and informative enough to handle the experience waiting next step. You can enjoy hill walking, hiking, canoeing, caving, water sports, snow sports, and many more adventures activities.

Travelling gives you a great break from your routine and an opportunity to learn a new culture, old history and make lifelong friends. The people you come across and interact with, will give you a new heritage. They may open up your mind from a particular bend of thinking. Travelling is a perfect educational hobby as it helps you learn a lot of new things in life.

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Geode Crystals & Astral Travel

Astral travel can be enhanced by working with crystals and their vibrational field levels during your session. But where do you start and how to help? There are many different suggestions for this, as well as different ones will resonate within different people and their energy fields.

A good place to start is by working with the crystals you enjoy the most. If you are not sure where to start, go with your intuition and follow your gut instincts as they will not steer you wrong.

A wonderful way to work with them in astral travel and meditation sessions are in geode form. The best ones I have come across that have the highest energy vibrational level are clear quartz, amethyst, citrine and calcite. It is best to work with just one type of crystal within the geode, but you can combine them in your circles if you wish. The energy field will be a combination of the different types and will have them make a weaving type of pattern within the energy field. This is a very unique type of field to work within, but may not always be the best, as opposed to a single type of stronger vibrational field you would receive with just one type of geode.

During your astral travel session, surround yourself with as many geodes as possible, in a circle, or alternating the type of crystal found within. The more the better, and even if they are small, the geodes still put out a lot of vibrational fields for you to work within!

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