Cost Effective Strategies to Improve Office Morale

Running an office can be a stressful experience, especially if your workers aren’t performing quite like they used to. If you’ve struggled to come up with new ideas to get your workers excited about doing their jobs, then you’re in luck. This guide will look at some of the best ideas out there to inspire workers and get them back to an acceptable productivity level. Perhaps most importantly though, many of these ideas are not only effective, they’re cost effective as well. With that in mind, here’s a look at just a few of the many ways that small businesses can improve their office’s morale.

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Foster a More Natural Environment

Studies have shown that natural light and access to fresh air can have a dramatic impact on worker productivity. If your office simply can’t provide this though, there are other alternatives. For instance, you could invest in lights that mimic natural light, and aren’t quite as harsh as the ones found in many office buildings. Air filter media suppliers can also help you to find an air filter that makes the building feel less claustrophobic, so that your workers can get back to doing what they do best.

Develop Healthy Competitions

Small incentive programs can do wonders for a company’s morale situation. Of course, it’s important to make sure any prizes you offer aren’t so good that they undo all of the goodwill you’ve built up between your employees. Instead, you want to try and find a balance, so that the ultimate prize is interesting enough to get people involved, while simultaneously insignificant enough that no one will be a poor sport afterwards if they don’t win. While this can be a tricky line to find sometimes, it doesn’t mean it’s completely impossible. If you ask for suggestions from your staff, you might be able to quickly find a prize solution that meets all of these criteria.

While there are many unique ideas to try and improve morale, one of the most consistently effective strategies is to simply be open with your employees. Communication can help get to the root cause of any issues your business might be facing, and it can also provide insight into what strategies you should be adopting. With these suggestions as well, you should have plenty to think about the next time you decide to improve office morale.

Stay safe while Investing

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Warnings abound about scams all over the country, and oil and gas investments are not excluded. Whenever oil prices increase this creates heightened interest with energy-related investments. Although most opportunities are legitimate, there are some unscrupulous practices masked as a chance to yield huge returns.Notwithstanding that investing has varying degrees of risk, you do not want to make things worse with fraudulent practices. Unfortunately, there are promoters who look for ways to take advantage of the unsuspected. The best you can do is educate yourself on these scams aimed at stealing your hard earned money.Fraudulent Tactics Fraudulent sales techniques and tactics can take on many different forms, none of which are intended to help you earn money. Typically, these deals are structured as a legal entity in one state, but with physical operations in another state.Furthermore, the bogus company contacts prospective investors who live in a totally different third state. For obvious reasons, this ensures you will not just drop by the office. This deceptive tactic also makes it very difficult for law enforcement to investigate. Exposing the fraud becomes a challenge for you, the victim, and authorities trying to restore integrity into the system.Another tactic is to use what is known as “boiler room” offices to attract potential investors. These are phone banks where salespeople with little or no knowledge of the energy industry make unsolicited phone calls to the public.If you get one of these calls, they use high-pressure sales techniques to convince you to buy into their promotion. Some may even send you a professionally designed brochure to hype up the profitability of the deal.Avoid Being Swindled into the Wrong Investments While some con artists moved on after the end of the mid-80s oil boom others lingered and created new ways to deceive. Today, constant fluctuating oil prices has brought more back into the fold.Anytime economic conditions are highly publicized, it creates opportunities for scammers to step in and grab legitimate money. This means you have to take necessary precautions to avoid being cheated.Beware when you receive unsolicited promotions that you encounter on the Internet, telephone call or in an email. Ask all the hard questions if you are contacted by someone with an opportunity to invest in the oil and gas industry. Look for oil producing and exploration companies that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange and are well-established.

Ways To Choose The Best Debt Relief Programs

Debt is not a good feeling, at all. Even when you have tried a lot to get rid of it; still there is no use. You are always stuck with a bi amount on your shoulder, which is not letting you live properly. Majority of people file for the bankruptcy, but that is not the fact. Whenever you file for the bankruptcy, always remember that it will degrade your credit score, too. So, to prevent any such step from taking place, you must consider having a thorough chat with the credit counselor and debt counselor. They can be your best help, once you are in debt and want a plan to get rid of it.

Choose the best one

There are so many non-profit organizations available, and all of them claim to offer you with best result. It becomes really difficult for you to choose the best one among the lot. Moreover, you have to work hard to get along with the experts around here. If you cannot do so, then you are doomed with nothing but worst services. There are various fake and unreal firms available around here, and you need to stay away from them for better result. They can ask for more money without offering you with any positive result.

Check out the reviews

It is always better to check out the reviews, even before you get along with the right firm for help. These reviews are provided by previous clients, and they are always there to be your help for the day. The clients will share some of their great experiences with you regarding the firm, you have chosen. After going through these reviews, you can be sure if this firm is the right choice for you or not. If you are not getting proper feedback, then you should not try to work with them.

Eligibility and application

When you are in debt and want to procure help from best ward winning firms, you have to click here and follow the application and eligibility criteria. Here, you must have a minimum debt of $7500 to be qualified for their services. If the amount is less than that, then it is hard for you to gain proper response around here. The firms further have 34 participating states, working with them, for sure. On the other hand, whether you are suffering from personal debt or business one, you can always procure the best result around here. They are always ready and happy to help you in any kind of scenario.

Get rid of debt now

The reputed firms are always there to be your best guide to get rid of debt. They are busy with some case or the other; so you should book for your services instantly. After receiving the case details from you, and after approving your case account, these firms will start their work immediately. Whether it is about debt consolidated services or you are looking for debt settlement, these experts are always there to guide you with the help of their years of experience.

Ways To Work On Consolidated Loan Programs

You have been using credit cards from so many areas, and now you are drown in debt. Now, when it is time to repay the loan, you have no clue regarding the areas to cover. As you have taken payments from multiple areas, therefore; paying each one of them separately in their times seem to be a crucial task. Well, it is during such instances, when you have to take help of the debt consolidate programs. Before you happen to take it, you must know more about it. Once you are through with the generic ideas, it will not be difficult for you to use the same in solving your cases.

What about debt consolidated

As defined by the name, debt consolidated works only when you are stuck with multiple payment options. As you cannot take a note of the available areas to make payment, the debt consolidated firms will take this work on their shoulders, and on your behalf. Once you are through with the service, it will be easier for you to work on the features, as well. You just have to make a payment to them, monthly, which needs to be same and fixed. After that, leave the rest on clients. The services will be always towards you side now!

Procedure they will follow

After receiving the monthly amount from your side on a particular date, these experts are going to divide the amount among various lenders. It can be credit card companies or other lenders too. They will mainly target those firms with higher interest rates first. Their primary aim is to crack the hard nuts first. Once you are through with it, making the other payments will not be a difficult task. After paying a lender in full, they will increase the amount of other lenders, to hurry up the procedure and make you debt free.

Choosing the right amount to pay

Now, you must have this vital question in mind. What about the amount, which you need to pay them on a monthly basis? Who will work on that amount? Well, not to worry, when you have experts from the same non-profit organization, to help you out. After checking the amount you earn on monthly scale, and after judging the daily expenses, they will make sure of an amount. Furthermore, they will also take hold of the loan amount you are in, before finalizing their amount. If you have any queries regarding time, they can solve it too. To check out for more on the topic or credit card help check out online.

Crucial time to work on

There are so many important strategies for you to follow, when you are relying on bill consolidation loan. No matter whatever is the case or how hard the problem is, you must always procure help from experts to help you out. These experts will take down your loan amount, and will dictate a time, as well. This is not a fast procedure, and nothing will happen overnight. Therefore, you have to wait till the entire procedure gets over, and you are free from debt completely and lead a better life.

Avoid Paying Upfront Fees To The Reliable Debt Settlement Firms

Is this the first time when you are associated with debt? If so, then you must look for the right company, to help you get rid of this shackle soon. With debt settlement consolidated and management programs, choosing the right one is simply disturbing. Oh well, you have so many variations available, that choosing the right one can be a difficult task. When you face any such problem, it is time to contact experts for help. As they have already handled so many similar scenarios, it becomes really easy for them to choose the best one among the lot, for handling your case. Once you have visited them, you will not look for any further option.

More about best company

How can you choose the best firm among the lot? For that, you have to know more about the firm. Reliable firms are going to charge you with only competitive fees, after winning the case. Before that, you do not have to pay them any amount, not even a single penny for their services. On the other hand, these firms are always going to follow contingency fee structure. They can ask for a flat fee at the end of your case, or a percentage of the amount you have saved. It varies from one program to another.

Look for accredited firms

It is your duty to research and look for the BBB accredited firms only. They are mostly associated with some of the top debt associations and councils, and it further comprises of promising business ratings. These ratings are provided by none other than leading experts, over here. Moreover, some of the previous clients have commented over the firms, which further lead to some changes in the ratings, as well. Due to the standup business practices along with low fees, these firms have already been awarded as the latest helping guide for those people in debt.

Other benefits to look for

These ward winning companies have not just won award like that. There are so many benefits involved, which help them to get on the high. You are free from paying up any kind of advance fee around here. On an average, creditors might right of for a 50% on debt.  On the other hand, the reliable firms are going to charge you with 18% to 25% of fee rate, only after winning it on your behalf. There is no question of paying any upfront fees with them for sure!

Relief from pressure too

With the help of reliable experts, you are free from any pressure. Here, the pressure will not be on debtor, but on the creditor, for a change. After you have enrolled for the debt programs and click here, your case has been approved, you just need to sit back and relax. Let them work with your creditors for settling an amount, which you can pay upfront, if you have chosen the debt settlement plan. On the other hand, they can further help you with the debt consolidated programs. With them, you are always on the safe hands and right track!

Comparison Of The Best Stock Market Apps: And Which One You Should Go For

Stock market apps are indispensable for just anyone who deals in the stock markets. Right from the nice traders to a sophisticated investor, it is a great asset to decode the stock markets. There are top stock market apps in the market and here is an in-depth comparison of the leading apps.

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  1. Sharekhan: An app from one of the leading brokerage companies in India. The app does the basic job of getting stock quotes and allows you to trade. It has in-depth analysis and many secondary features that make it a good choice for the started. However, the interface isn’t up to the mark. It sometimes freezes and has some uncomfortable to use fonts. The app overdoes things with a sluggish interface. Many users can be found complaining about the line charts, and about data consumption. Overall it is a fine app – however, not the best amongst the stock market apps.
  2. Moneycontrol: It is one of the most well known mobile applications. Backed by a tv channel. It is good for getting real-time updates and have an up to the mark interface. Although the experience isn’t anywhere near world class. The app does the basic job of giving up to date information about stock quotes. It has a wide number of financial markets that users can see. However, since the company itself is not a brokerage firm, users cannot trade the shares, and users often complain of excessive data usage. One would expect Moneycontrol to be a world class stock market app with a great interface, but if horribly falls short of the expectations. However, it is a good app. In all fairness to the developers, the interface is better than Sharekhan.
  3. India Infoline: The company holds numerous achievement, but the one that counts the most is the one for user experience. India Infoline limited’s (IIFL) users swears by the company’s ability to provide world-class brokerage services, and so far it is the only app that doesn’t end up things in a disappointment. It has one swipe trading facility, to the mark stock updates, and in-depth coverage of scripts, it covers a wide range of financial markets right from bse, nse to mcx and ncdex. Company and its app, both have been tried and tested, and as of now, it works like a charm on every device. The interface is sleek and the data usage, even on 2g, is pretty judicially used.

If all crucial parameters are taken into the account, then IIFL has a clear lead over its peer. But whether it is able to maintain the lead is totally up to the future updates and how well its competitor pulls things off.

The motto of any app that promises to provide a world class trading experience should have the promise of putting web on the app, and IIFL does a great job in making that happen.

How to invest—yes, invest—your emergency fund

Even if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates this month, it still stinks to be a saver.

The average rate on a savings account is 0.1 percent and the average one-year certificate of deposit rate is just 0.28 percent, according to Bankrate.com. That’s less than the rate of inflation. In the 12 months through August, the core Consumer Price Index, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, increased 1.8 percent.

Low interest rates make it particularly tough to build an emergency fund. That’s an account that financial advisors recommend hold savings to cover three to six months of essential expenses in the event of an unexpected event, such as a job loss, car accident or health problem.

So should you stash your safety net fund in something other than savings accounts? Even with low interest rates, most financial advisors say no.

Many are concerned that if you invest your emergency fund it may decline in value when you need it the most because of market volatility and believe cash is the only true liquid option for such a fund to ensure you can cover sudden, unexpected expenses.

“It is not the job of an emergency fund to earn a high return or even a nominal return. It is the job of an emergency fund to be there in an emergency,” said David Mendels, ‎director of planning at Creative Financial Concepts in New York City. “If it could be down when you need it then you can’t count on it to be be there when you need it. If you can’t count on it to be there when you need it, it is useless as an emergency fund.”

Yet there is an opportunity cost to having an emergency fund that’s earning less than the rate of inflation, said Dan Egan, director of behavioral finance and investments at Betterment, an automated investing service. Over time, people who put their emergency fund in low-yield investments will have to “top it off” to make sure the fund maintains its value because of inflation, he said.

 

Betterment actually recommends investors put their emergency fundsin a portfolio with between 30 percent and 50 percent in stocks and the rest in a diversified allocation of bonds. Most Betterment clients have a 40 percent allocation to stocks in their emergency funds and the robo-advisor uses low-cost stock and bond exchange-traded funds to create those portfolios.

If you go this route, consider investing at least 130 percent of your emergency fund goal in the moderate-risk portfolio of stocks and bonds to hedge against stock market turmoil, Egan said.

By increasing the targeted savings amount by 30 percent, it would allow the emergency fund to absorb a 23 percent decline while maintaining the level of expenses you want the fund to cover, Egan said. He used the 23 percent because it represents the largest peak-to-trough percentage drop a Betterment emergency fund with 40 percent stock allocation would have experienced since 2004 by his calculations.

If your monthly expenses were $2,000, for example, and you wanted to save four months’ worth of expenses for your emergency fund, you would need to invest $8,000 plus 30 percent more — another $2,400 — under Betterment’s advice.

Egan understands Betterment’s approach goes against the grain of traditional financial planning, but he said he believes it’s the right one.

Some other financial advisors do recommend similar approaches to emergency funds, such as investing in bond funds or using a Roth IRA, which allows you to withdraw contributions without tax penalties. All strategies involve taking more investment risk to earn better returns than liquid cash holdings. Depending on how an emergency fund is invested, you may also have to pay capital gains taxes when your fund’s investments are liquidated to cover unforeseen expenses.

To be sure, such investments aren’t as easy to convert to cash as a traditional savings account at a bank. At Betterment, it can take three to four days to liquidate a portfolio.

But how many emergencies require cash instantly? Egan said he used a credit card to cover the cost of a car accident a year ago and then paid off the balance with his emergency fund before interest could accrue.

Of course, that strategy only works if you have enough in your fund to cover such expenses.

Building an emergency fund is the No. 1 priority among the 5,500 U.S. households annually surveyed by Hearts & Wallets, said Laura Varas, principal of the retirement market research firm. Yet many Americans still aren’t setting enough aside. Six in 10 Americans said they don’t have enough in an emergency fund to deal with even minor expenses.

While advisors may disagree on whether to invest the money in the fund or leave it in a bank account, they do agree on this: The most important thing is to have an emergency fund, and one with enough money to cover your needs.

Finding ways to provide better overall after-tax gains

As investment advisors, we are constantly looking for ways to provide any additional performance in client portfolios. As a tax attorney, I know there are a variety of actions an investor can take during a tax year to avoid or defer—but never evade—taxable investment income. One such technique is called tax-loss harvesting, or maximizing losses to provide a better overall after-tax gain.

In theory, it is quite simple. If you buy Stock A for $100 and it declines in value to $90, why not sell it, harvest the $10 tax loss and “bank it” to offset $10 in taxable gains from other investments? And if you still have a loss at the end of the calendar year after doing so, then you can deduct your losses—up to $3,000—against other income on your federal tax return and carry over excess losses to future years.

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In practice, it is far, far more complicated. If selling a security to take a loss were the good you’ve accomplished, the bad would be that you’ve lost the opportunity to benefit when the stock recovers its loss. But the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t allow you to sell the stock, take the loss and immediately buy the stock back. That would be too easy. Portfolio-cleansing “wash sale” rules prohibit you from buying a “substantially identical” security within 30 days from the date of the sale of the security used to generate the loss.

There are many complex and intertwined tax rules and investment considerations in working this strategy. You don’t want to run afoul of IRS laws or turn your portfolio into a tax-efficient mess that now no longer resembles your intended investment strategy.

For example, many investors have carefully crafted a thoughtful asset allocation. Selling a security that overweights or underweights an area of the allocation can cause far more investment damage than tax gain. Remember, by definition, you are selling when the security is at a loss, so you really want to be around when there is a rally back. This strategy is not about market timing, since you don’t know when the loss recovery will happen.

If you would like to explore this tax-deferring strategy, let’s consider when it works best and then let’s build your toolbox of what you’ll need to do to implement it properly.

“Tax-loss harvesting is a wonderful way to find a silver lining in the black cloud of investment losses.”

First, this strategy tends to do well in periods of volatility. Sharp movements in the market—say, during inevitable periods of volatility and correction—make this strategy both particularly effective in producing big deferral results and worth its complexities.

When does it not serve you well? When you are in a low capital gains tax bracket this tax year but expect to be in a higher capital gains tax bracket in later tax years, when you might harvest the deferred gains achieved from the harvested losses. There are three tiers of rates for long-term capital gains on investment securities: 0 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent. (Net short-term capital gains—for assets held under one year—are taxed at your ordinary income tax rates.) Consider when you’ll be in which tier.

For investors with increasing income, also consider whether the additional Medicare tax surcharge of 3.8 percent may apply to you later, further increasing your capital gain tax bracket.

Now the tool box of rules and tips:

  • Document the precise tax basis of each purchase of each of your securities to know which lots provide worthwhile tax loss harvest opportunities.
  • Research and select a replacement for the harvested security, that is similar to the one sold and meets your investment criteria. It might track a highly correlated index to the security sold, for example. But remember, if the investment loss you deducted recovers within 30 days of the purchase of the replacement security, you’ll need to hold the replacement at least one year or you will have a dreaded short-term capital gain upon its sale. Epic fail otherwise.
  • Buy and sell in the same day so that you don’t lose any investment exposure to the market. And watch out for trading costs, commissions and redemption fees.
  • You can’t get around the “substantially identical” rule by selling in your personal taxable account and buying it in your IRA. All of your accounts, and your spouse’s, will be scrutinized for wash sale rule violations.
  • Unintended consequence: You could turn qualified dividend income, taxed at capital gains rates, into ordinary income if you hold the new security for, generally, fewer than 60 days from when the dividend is received.
  • Record-keeping is key. Calendar and carefully track the tax basis of each lot owned, with buy date, sale date and replacement security. Make sure your broker’s records match yours, or the annual 1099B tax reporting form won’t reflect your records and planning. Not all brokers’ websites track mutual funds by buy lots, so that may not be your best record-keeping system.

Tax-loss harvesting is a wonderful way to find a silver lining in the black cloud of investment losses. Roiling markets will always give you investment and tax opportunities; take this tax one, but thoughtfully and with great attention to the details and rules.

4 things you need to consider before investing in art

With major art fairs taking place across the globe from Chicago to Istanbul to Shanghai, art enthusiasts, collectors and sophisticated investors alike are questioning whether to acquire works of fine art as investments. And as significant appreciation emerges in some corners of the art market, we see growing interest from clients about incorporating art into their investment portfolios.

Last year saw more than $60 billion in art sales, a 67 percent increase from 2009. According to the 2014 Deloitte Art & Finance Report, 75 percent of art collectors and buyers are purchasing art for collecting purposes but with an investment view — a sizable jump from 53 percent just two years earlier. In 2014, artworks sold at auction jumped more than 25 percent to $15.2 billion, with a record 1,679 sales worth $1 million or more. That’s four times more than a decade ago, according to data from Artprice.com.

Fine art investments

When clients are considering an art purchase, we encourage them to think of art as part of their total portfolio — as they would a second home, private business or real estate investment — but not an asset class that adds diversification in the traditional sense.

From that viewpoint, consider these four factors before investing in art.

Read MoreThink before that splurge purchase

1. Avoid getting caught up in the hype. When any asset class performs well, more investors want a piece of the action. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stock, a piece of real estate or a work of art.

Recent art appreciation has triggered great excitement, but in reality only a handful of artists and artistic periods will generate those big returns. Investors can fall into potentially hazardous behavioral patterns, hoping to ride the wave when a certain asset class performs well. Buying that soon-to-be-discovered artist or that underappreciated art form about to become the next big thing often proves to be the exception, not the rule.

“When considering an art investment, it’s important to step back and take in a holistic view of your investment assets, future cash flows and other tangible assets.”

2. Think of art as you do venture-capital investing. Just as every start-up is unique, so too are works of art. Some have a track record of success, but many are prone to the whims of the market.

What drives passionate collectors is the individual interpretation and unique viewpoints on artwork. That subjectivity also explains why it’s difficult to think of art as an asset class. Unlike start-ups, art has no balance sheet, cash flow or earnings to help determine its true value.

Read MoreTurning your hobbies into cash

To determine the fair market value of a piece of art, work with a reputable art advisor to find the sale prices of comparable works. The gallery or auction house may be able to provide documents showing their own related sales.

It also pays to learn about the artist’s life and times. That information can provide context and meaning for an investment piece. Note any prestigious awards or fellowships the artist has won, academic positions held and notable collectors or museums with the artist’s work. That information can offer positive indications about the long-term value of a piece.

The most expensive paintings ever sold

3. Shun the belief that art sales translate to resale value. The secondary market for art is limited beyond works from “blue chip” artists. Also, before you calculate any windfall, remember the Internal Revenue Service considers art as a collectible — meaning the tax rate on gains is up to 28 percent. Add that to the expenses associated with acquiring, owning and selling art and you may net only 55 to 60 percent of the sale price.

Reflecting the wide spectrum of possible returns from an art investment, focus on non-financial benefits first. View any financial gain as an additional benefit rather than an expected outcome. And if you acquire art as an investment, especially if you’re new to collecting, you’ll likely want to work with a reputable art advisor.

Read MoreArt investing is a long-haul endeavor

4. Value a collection as more than the sum of its parts. This adds a layer of complexity to appraising a collection and raises important planning considerations for wealth transfer or philanthropic giving.

The IRS and others valuing estates after death recognize art as an important part of a portfolio, so make sure you’ve updated your estate plan accordingly. Do you intend to sell your collection before you die? Gift it to your children or donate it to a museum? Each of these options carries a host of unique wealth-transfer and tax implications.

When considering an art investment, it’s important to step back and take in a holistic view of your investment assets, future cash flows and other tangible assets, such as existing art collections. While art often is viewed as an investment, many behavioral factors come into play, as with any other type of asset. We believe every asset serves a purpose in your portfolio, so identifying that purpose in advance is critical to determining long-term objectives for it.

We all want to benefit from something that’s doing well, and the art market is no different. Yet at day’s end, it pays to think about the purpose art serves in both your life and your portfolio.

Serving as executor to an estate

So, you’ve been asked to serve as the executor of a friend or loved one’s estate. It’s an honor, no doubt, but it’s also a significant burden.

Before you consent, said Erika Safran, a certified financial planner and founder of Safran Wealth Advisors, consider the commission with care. Educate yourself on how much work is involved (it can take up to two years to settle an estate) and honestly assess whether you’re willing and able to handle the job.

Executor wills

“If you know that you are not financially astute and [are] completely disorganized, don’t do it,” said Safran. “An executor must be organized, diligent and able to execute tasks.”

Indeed, failure to perform your duties effectively could leave the will-maker’s assets vulnerable and, worse, expose you to legal risk. Executors can be sued for damages that result from acts of gross negligence, fraud or the perception of unethical actions taken in managing the estate, such as attempting to skew the wording of the will for personal gain.

But such lawsuits are hardly the norm. If you do decide to commit, you can insulate yourself from liability risk by exercising sound judgment, communicating openly with beneficiaries and refraining from seeking personal profit from your position above and beyond any compensation to which executors are entitled.

You can also minimize the administrative burden considerably by working closely with the will-maker (i.e., the person who named you executor) before he or she passes on to clarify any poorly defined requests and simplify the estate.

“If you know that you are not financially astute … don’t do it. An executor must be organized, diligent and able to execute tasks.”-Erika Safran, certified financial planner and founder of Safran Wealth Advisors

“Their will might say they wish to leave a certain amount of money to their school in Idaho, but ask them to clarify which school they mean,” said Safran. “Those are the kind of nebulous requests that can get people into trouble.”

Likewise, if they have 20 different mutual fund accounts, multiple individual retirement accounts, dozens of old savings bonds and a collection of stock certificates, ask them to consolidate those assets into as few accounts as possible while they’re alive,” said Safran, noting each financial institution will require a separate death certificate and a written letter of instruction once the will-maker has died.

The will-maker may not be willing to disclose details about his or her personal or financial affairs just yet, and doesn’t have to, but they should at least notify you as to the location of the will and give you the information necessary to retrieve it when the time comes.

It may sound simplistic, but if it is held in a vault at an attorney’s office, you’ll need the name and contact information for that office. If it is kept in a safe-deposit box, you’ll need to know the name of the financial institution, box number and location of the key.

“When someone asks you to be their executor, you may not know what their financial lives look like and they may not want you to, but you want to at least ask if that person can compile an inventory of their assets,” Safran said.

Along with a list of assets, she said, ask for (along with the will) a list of online passwords to both banking and social media sites and clear copies of life, homeowner’s and auto insurance policies.

Finally, said Safran, secure contact information for the will-maker’s tax accountant and attorney.

After death

The role of the executor, sometimes called a personal representative, is to distribute estate assets to the beneficiaries and settle any outstanding taxes and debt when the testator (will-maker) dies. That’s when the real work begins.

Within the first few weeks, you will need to file a copy of the will with the probate court and notify all financial institutions, credit card companies and government agencies, including the Social Security Administration, of the decedent’s death.

To do so, you will need to provide copies of the death certificate, typically distributed by the funeral home.

Most likely, you will also handle the funeral arrangements according to instructions in the will.

After the probate of the will and grant of letter of testamentary (a document granted by the court that states you are the legal executor), the clock starts ticking.

“Every state is different, but most have some form of notice provision to interested parties within a proscribed time frame,” said Elizabeth Roberts, senior vice president and chief fiduciary officer at Bryn Mawr Trust, noting it is typically 90 days. “That time goes quickly.”

Your state may also require executors to place an advertisement in the legal notices section of the newspaper, advising creditors that the deceased has passed away and providing contact information for making claims.

“You want to cut off the creditors within a year, but you need to follow procedures for doing that,” said Roberts.

In the weeks immediately following the will-maker’s death, you will also need to have all tangible assets professionally appraised, including houses, cars and artwork, so the value can be included in the final death income-tax return.

As administrator of the estate, it is your responsibility to maintain the will-maker’s home, continue making mortgage, utility and insurance payments, and protect all personal property held within so it can be distributed to the beneficiaries.

That’s why it’s a good idea to consider changing the locks on the door and putting any valuables into storage, Roberts explained.

At the same time, you will need to note the value of any appreciated financial securities (stocks and bonds) in brokerage accounts at the date of death, since beneficiaries enjoy a step-up in cost basis, which minimizes their capital gain.

That means when they eventually sell those assets, they will only be required to pay taxes based on the increase in value since the day they inherited it, not its value when they were originally bought.

Also on the to-do list: the disbursement of any cash bequests noted in the will. It’s wise to have recipients sign a legal receipt acknowledging they received the asset and that they release the executor, said Roberts.

Next, you must contact the will-maker’s accountant to have him or her prepare the final income and estate tax returns and pay any death taxes from the estate. (Executors can potentially be held liable for unpaid taxes on the estate.)

“Ask if you can get a copy of the last three years of income-tax returns,” said Roberts. “That’s a good way to trace back to make sure you didn’t miss any assets and look for brokerage accounts.”

Depending on the state in which the decedent died, the estate may also be required to pay inheritance or estate taxes, usually within nine months of the date of death. Some, including Pennsylvania, offer a 5 percent discount for paying within three months of the date of death, so it pays to perform your duties promptly.

The home front

The balance after all debts and administrative expenses are paid and bequests distributed is your “residue,” or leftover assets, said Roberts, and it’s wise to retain that cushion until you’re sure all creditors are satisfied and all taxes have been paid.

One final cautionary note: Many homeowner’s policies automatically cancel if a home is unoccupied for 30 days or more, so you may need to obtain a “vacancy permit” from the insurance company.

Serving as the executor of a will is not a job to be taken lightly. To ensure you’ve covered all your bases and haven’t left yourself exposed to risk, Safran suggests hiring a lawyer or financial planner with expertise in probating estates.

“Having a good advisor who is experienced in this process is invaluable,” she said.