How to Inventory and Assign Value to Estate Personal Property

There is an old saying that goes: What is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Personal property is the elephant of an estate. It is the responsibility that can take up most of your time, and it provides the estate with the least amount of money for the effort involved. But, dealing with the personal property cannot be avoided. The property must be inventoried, valued, distributed, or sold. Let us start our analysis by looking at what property we have (inventory); then we will determine what it is worth (valuation). In a future post, we will determine what to do with it (distribution/sale).

When you go to the courthouse, the clerk will provide you with the form you will need to fill out for the inventory. The form will ask you to provide general categories and a value for each category you have listed. For example, you would list: furniture, $1500; office equipment, $300, etc.. You will not have to list the items separately, such as sofa, $100; chair, $5; typewriter, $25. I suggest that you do keep a list of the individual items, though. Although you will not have to go into a lot of detail for the court, you will likely want a more detailed inventory for yourself. You will want this for two reasons: to track the sale of estate property, and to protect yourself against claims of heirs and/or creditors.

You do not have to get real fancy with with the inventory; pencil and paper will do. If you are so inclined, there are home inventory record books available at office supply stores, or you can purchase software online. There are also companies that specialize in taking home inventories.

You will need a helper. One person sorts and counts while the other writes. Start inside the house, and work your way from the top of the house to the bottom. Go room to room with a consistent pattern so that you do not miss anything: always clockwise or counter-clockwise around the room. Write down what is on the walls as well, not just what is on the floor. For small goods, write down identifiable groups of items such as 200 hardcover books, 100 paperback books, 42 nick-knacks, etc.. On your list, put a star next to any item that you think may be valuable. If the nick-knacks are porcelain and the books are first editions, they are valuable items. When you are finished, follow the same procedure for the outbuildings: the garage, shed, workshop, or whatever. If there is a rented self-storage unit, vacation home, recreational vehicle or boat, they will need to be inventoried as well.

When you file the inventory at the courthouse, you will need to state a value for the personal property. For run-of-the-mill household items, a good resource for determining the value is the software program It’s Deductible that comes bundled with the income tax program Turbo Tax. It’s Deductible can also be purchased separately. The software lists the thrift shop value for most household items, and it is easy to use.

For the items that you have identified as being valuable, It’s Deductible will not work. There are several ways to determine the value of single items or collections. A good place to start is eBay ( http://www.ebay.com ). To use eBay to help set your values, you will need to be a registered user. Registering for eBay is free; just follow the instructions when you get to the website. Once registered, type in the item you are researching, and eBay will search for the item. When the search results come up, scroll down and look on the left side of the page to where it says Search Options, click on completed listings, then scroll down further and click on Show Items. The search results displayed will be for completed auctions, not for auctions in progress. The prices listed in green are items that actually sold; the prices in red are for items that did not sell. If you find your item listed, and the price is green, you have a good value. Compare the details of the item you found on eBay with the details of the item you have. Use the closest match as your value.

If you are unable to find your item listed on eBay, it is time to go to the library or bookstore. There you will find an assortment of price guides for every sort of antique or collectible. You will also find blue books for automobiles and equipment.

If you have lots of items and no time to research, then it is time to call in an expert. In your local phone book you will find jewelers, antique dealers, auctioneers, appraisers, and other professionals who will tell you what the property is worth. What they will offer you is an opinion of value, not an appraisal. An appraisal is based on actual sales data, not an opinion. I will cover appraisals below; for now, just be aware that there is a difference. For probate valuation purposes, the value placed must be the fair market value at the time of the decedents death. This is the value you should ask your expert to provide.

In my home state of Virginia, individual items or collections that are valued over $500 must have an appraisal. Personal property appraisers are not licensed like real estate appraisers, but the content of their reports is regulated. For a personal property appraisal to be valid and accepted for tax purposes, it must be performed by a qualified expert and follow the federal guidelines of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Most real estate appraisers do not appraise personal property. You can find a personal property appraiser online by checking the websites of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, the National Association of Auctioneers, or the American Society of Appraisers.

Estate Executors will find that the inventory and valuation of estate personal property is their most time-consuming task, but there are resources available to help.

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Tips On How To Clean Your Dirty And Smellygage

Your luggage travels in different conditions. The rain, the muddy pathways and the dirty pavements can all make your luggage dirty and smelly. If you do not take good care of it, your precious travel bag can wear out faster.

Cleaning your dirty and smelly luggage should not be too daunting. Let me tell you some tried and tested cleaning tips:

1. Vacuum your luggage. Try to get rid of as much dirt and dust from your travel bag as you can. Also vacuum the casters and the interior of the bag. You might want to use a vacuum machine with a good filter to effect suck minute dirt and dust particles.

2. If you are using a canvas luggage, try cleaning it with a mild dish washing liquid. Mix two drops of the dish washing liquid in two cups of warm water. Soak a sponge or a clean towel in the mixture. Wring out the excess. Use this to wipe the interior and the exterior of the machine.

Make sure you remove dirt particles. Also wipe away dirt and crusty mud on the wheels of the luggage.

3. For your leather luggage, try to get rid of the mud using a leather polisher. Apply leather polisher on a clean rag. Wipe it all over the bag.

4. Get a soft bristled brush and use this to remove dirt particles in the zippers, wheels and the handles of the bag. You can try soaking the brush in the dish washing liquid solution first. This will loosen up the crusty mud or dirt.

5. Sprinkle baking soda on the interior and exterior of the luggage. Leave it on for an hour. Baking soda can effectively diffuse unwanted luggage odor. This will also help get rid of lingering stains and dirt.

6. After an hour, vacuum the travel bag again to get rid of the baking soda residues.

7. To deodorize the luggage bag once again, try spraying it with lemon juice solution. Just mix one cup of lemon juice with one cup of water. Place it in a spray bottle. Spray it all over the luggage. This should work in diffusing unwanted bag odor.

8. Let it dry completely. Place the bag in an area not directly exposed to the sun.

If you are traveling during rainy seasons, make sure you use a luggage cover for your bag. These can be purchased from travel bag stores. They can protect your bag from further damage.

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What Are the Factors to Consider When Buying Life Insurance?

As you are shopping around for insurance quotes and insurance companies, these are a few basic factors you need to consider before you make any decision.

1. HOW MUCH LIFE INSURANCE COVER DO YOU NEED?

Here is a quick guide if you are not doing this with a financial planning professional yet. For ease of calculation and explanation, we are not taking time value of money and inflation into consideration.

Financial Obligations

Take into account any financial obligation that needs to be paid off if premature death or unfortunate event such as total & permanent disability or critical illness should occur. Examples could be business or personal loans or debts to be repaid or mortgage loan repayments.

Financial Support

Is there anybody who is dependent on you for financial support? Maybe aged parents, spouse or children? If there is, you may want to plan for the financial support to continue should any unfortunate event happen. For example, you may be planning to provide for your aged parents or a young kid for the next 20 years with an annual sum of $20,000. You would need a sum assured of $400,000 should that sum of money be needed right now.

Financial Gift

Is there a lump sum of money you would like to provide if an unfortunate event should happen? Is there someone you would like to leave a financial gift for when you are not around anymore? Or maybe a charitable cause you would like to contribute to? If there is, be sure to take this into consideration in your calculation of how much insurance cover to buy.

Replacement of Income

This is the tricky one where you will read of many differing opinions. The reason why this question is not so straightforward to answer is that guesswork of your income growth rate is involved.

There are general (very general) rules of thumb for this though.

You need to know how many years you would like your income to be replaced for. For example, if you would like your income replacement to be for 10 years. You will need a $500,000 sum assured if you are earning $50,000 currently. That will enable you to withdraw $50,000 per year for 10 years.

Alternatively, some may suggest for you to have insurance cover of 20 times your annual income. If you have a cover of 20 times your annual income, an investment return of 5% from your insurance proceeds will be able to replace your current income perpetually.

2. HOW LONG DO YOU NEED THE INSURANCE COVER FOR?

Knowing how long you need the protection of insurance for will play a part in knowing what types of life insurance products may be suitable. Do you need the insurance cover for a specific number of years only such as for a specific loan payment period or do you prefer the insurance protection for the whole of your life?

3. WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET FOR INSURANCE PREMIUMS?

Knowing how much sum assured and how long you need the coverage for is one thing but your ability to pay the insurance premiums also need to be considered. For example, if you require a specific sum assured but your budget is limited, you may need to buy a term life insurance policy to get the required insurance cover even if you may prefer an insurance policy that can accumulate cash values.

4. WHAT TYPES OF INSURANCE POLICIES SHOULD YOU BUY?

There are different life insurance products to suit different financial needs and wants. Find one that is suitable for yours. There are mainly four types of life insurance products.

Term Insurance

For protection needs with no accumulation of cash value

Whole-Life Insurance

Mainly for protection needs with accumulation of cash value

Endowment Insurance

Mainly for savings needs with accumulation of cash value

Investment-Linked Insurance

Accumulation of cash value through investments. Whether it is for protection or investment needs depends on the specific policy.

The pointers listed above is catered to the Singapore market. They are meant for general information and discussion. It is not intended to provide any insurance or financial advice and you should always seek advice from a qualified adviser if in doubt.

Benjamin Ang has a Bachelor of Business Administration and holds the designation of Associate Financial Consultant (AFC) and Associate Estate Planning Practitioner (AEPP). He writes about wealth matters to share financial knowledge with the public and also writes regularly on living and experiencing all the wonderful things that life has to offer.

Find out more about him at http://www.benjamin-ang.com/

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The "Contents Pack-out" Trap and How to Escape It

“Contents Pack-out” is a term used by water and fire restoration contractors, and insurance companies. It is the process in which the contractor sends trucks, boxes and workers to your home. They pack up all of the damaged personal property in your home or business and transport it back to their warehouse. Once the personal property is at the warehouse, the contractor begins the cleaning and restoration process.

Insurance companies do not like to replace personal property. They would rather clean or repair it and give it back to you. That drastically slashes their claims cost, which makes them happy.

I’ve been an insurance adjuster for over 16 years, and in the insurance business for over 35 years. I’ve seen very few instances where seriously damaged personal property can be just cleaned or repaired successfully. Most fires burn or infuse toxic chemicals into personal property, like wood or textiles. Same goes for a flood loss. My personal opinion is that replacement of damaged personal property is better than repair or cleaning.

So, what is the trap?

Insurance adjusters like to swoop in with their favorite approved restoration contractor and do a “pack-out.” But your insurance policy has a limit on Personal Property. All of the money that the insurance adjuster authorizes to have your contents cleaned is paid against the policy limit. So, if the restoration contractor cleans a bunch of your damaged property, but you reject it as damaged, the contractor still gets paid. But you have less money now to replace your damaged personal property.

The trap is that a pack-out can penalize you when you are submitting your insurance claim!

Here’s the Escape Strategy

1. You own the personal property…not the insurance company and not the restoration contractor. It is YOUR DECISION what gets repaired and what gets replaced, not the adjuster.

2. Call in your own restoration contractor for a second opinion. It shouldn’t cost you anything, but even if it did, it would be money well spent.

3. Make sure every single item that gets removed from your home is listed on an inventory sheet.

4. Based upon your contractor’s opinion, negotiate the replacements with the adjuster and settle the claim.

If you have experienced a property loss, whether fire, wind, flood or other, you need to know winning insurance claim strategies. The insurance company will not tell you the claims process, but I will. I will show you how to take control of your insurance claim, and add hundreds or even thousands more dollars to your claim settlement. For more information, go to the website listed below.

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Realty Vs Real Estate Vs Real Property

Realty and personal property terms have often been confused as to what they exactly mean. Here we will clear that right up for you. We will look at the terms personal property, realty, land, real estate, and lastly real property.

Let’s begin with personal property. Personal property also known as chattel is everything that is not real property. Example couches, TVs things of this nature. Emblements pronounced (M-blee-ments) are things like crops, apples, oranges, and berries. Emblements are also personal property. So when you go to sell your house, flip, or wholesale deal, you sell or transfer ownership by a bill of sale with personal property.

Realty.

Realty is the broad definition for land, real estate, and real property.

Land

Land is everything mother nature gave to us like whats below the ground, above the ground and the airspace. Also called subsurface (underground), surface (the dirt) and airspace. So when you buy land that’s what you get, keep in mind our government owns a lot of our air space.

Real Estate

Real estate is defined as land plus its man made improvements added to it. You know things like fences, houses, and driveways. So when you buy real estate this is what you can expect to be getting.

Real property

Real property is land, real estate, and what’s call the bundle of rights. The bundle of rights consist of five rights, the right to possess, control, enjoy, exclude, and lastly dispose. So basically you can possess, take control, enjoy, exclude others, and then dispose of your real property as you wish as long as you do not break state and federal laws.

Lastly there are two other types of property we should mention.

Fixture

Fixture is personal property which has been attached realty and by that now is considered real property. So you would ask yourself upon selling to determine value “did you attach it to make it permanent?” The exceptions to this rule are the garage door opener and door key, these are not considered fixtures.

Trade Fixtures

Trade fixtures are those fixtures installed by say a commercial tenant or can be the property of the commercial tenant.

I hope this clears up some misconceptions about personal property, realty, land and real estate and now fixtures and trade fixtures!

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Rental Property – The Responsibilities of the Renter and the Owner

When you rent someone’s property, it’s good to know how what your responsibilities are in order not to have inconvenient situations. When some people rent someone else’s property they think that they are responsible only for a few little things and the rest of responsibilities should be taken care by a leasing agent. But usually it is vice versa. When someone rents a house or apartment, they are usually obligated to sign a contract where all the responsibilities of leasing agent and renter are fully described. In case if something happens both parties understand what they are responsible for.

Responsibilities Of Renters

Normally, renters bear responsibility for the area that is around their apartment and for the apartment itself. Usually, these are areas inside the apartment as well as their backyard. So this includes common sense responsibilities and rules of maintenance and cleanliness of the area. Such things such as repairing certain parts of the interior or the exterior or painting the walls are the responsibilities of the renter.

But still, this is not it. Renter is responsible for some other things in leasing agent’s house. If something happens with the bathrooms, the renter is also responsible for fixing it if it’s possible. But if such things happen and that renter doesn’t feel comfortable to accomplish this job she might contact the maintenance contractor for proper help.

Renters must know their responsibilities and always show respect to other renters in their area and not cause damage intentionally. Not picking up trash after yourself if you left it somewhere is the same as intentional littering. Renters that don’t follow these rules are fully responsible for their actions and might be forced to pay fines.

Responsibilities Of Leasing Agents

If something happens with that exterior of the building or the equipment is not working properly then it is the responsibility of the leasing agent. Leasing agent is always supposed to take care of his renters and make sure that they are always provided with all the necessary utilities and that everything is working properly in his apartment. For instance, if problems with water occur in the apartment then the leasing agent he supposed to contact maintenance staff.

And also, one more of responsibilities of a leasing agent taking care of public areas. This is usually that surround that area of the apartment, such as grassy parts of the land.

So basically, the leasing agent is always has to take care of his renters and make sure they don’t have any complaints or concerns. If the leasing agent doesn’t pay attention to any complaints that he’s renters might have, this may lead to having problems with clients or with the local housing authority. Again, if the client or the renter is not provided with what he expected and paid for, he will be very disappointed about the maintenance service. In these cases renter might call a maintenance company to resolve the situation and bill the expense to the owner.

So before you rent an apartment to a renter as a leasing agent make sure that both of the above are working fine. A renter faced with this kind of problems, can contact the department of housing and ask them to provide advice what to do in this situation.

In some cases, leasing agents may break their rules of that agreement and disobey points of the contract. The department of housing is usually responsible for enforcement in this kind of situation and if the renters still have complaints, they have the authority to force the owner to provide a remedy.

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How to Do a Sales Pitch in Commercial Real Estate

In commercial real estate, you will undertake a variety of presentations, in a variety of circumstances. Most of them are business-like in nature, focusing on the needs of the tenant, the property buyer, or the property seller.

Get to the core issues

Each of these groups has unique property requirements and points of focus. It is their needs which must be identified and clearly addressed in the sales pitch or presentation. Many successful commercial real estate agents will have a preliminary meeting with the client or customer so that they can identify key issues and concerns. This allows the commercial agent to return to the client or customer in a few days with a well structured proposal that addresses the needs of the customer or client.

It’s all about THEM, not YOU!

When you design an investment or commercial property proposal for presentation, the document should be 90% regards the property and the client. Frequently you see this rule disregarded or broken with the proposal document being largely regards the agency and the personnel.

Rarely is the property transaction a simple matter of the property rental, the property price, or the physical elements of the property. In most situations, it is the combination of these things which must satisfy a fundamental equation of need that the customer or client has. In getting them to this fundamental need, you will identify an element of pain that the customer or client is experiencing. This is what you focus on.

They are Experienced

It is interesting to note that many clients and customers in commercial real estate are reasonably comfortable in circumstances of business negotiation. This means they may not tell you the total big picture or all the elements of a transaction until they are ready. Conversation and connection in the presentation process should be biased towards the client or customer using well selected questions which allow the agent to interpret the body language coming from the client’s response.

When you believe you have identified the element of clients pain related to the property transaction, you start to magnify the problem in terms of today’s market, then offering stable and logical solutions that your real estate agency business can provide to the client or customer. Invariably, the commercial real estate transaction in today’s market centres on financial matters such as:

  • High vacancy factors
  • Other property choices and chances are available
  • Underperforming leases
  • Unstable cash flow
  • Unstable tenancy mix
  • Tenanted conflict
  • Escalating building operating costs
  • A shift in demographics which exposes the property to a unstable future
  • Mortgage payment pressures
  • Age of the asset
  • Needs for refurbishment or extension
  • Competition properties attracting tenants away from the subject property

This type of information and interpretation requires your intimate knowledge of the local region. This is by both property type and by location. This is the higher value that you bring to the customer or client. Being able to distinctly define local market awareness is a major advantage in any commercial real estate presentation or sales pitch. You must be seen as the best knowledgeable solution to the problem.

From Experience

After many years working exclusively in the commercial real estate industry, I found that my unique skill was in market knowledge and the display of that in any formal presentation to the client. Being able to talk about market trends and financial performance in a solid and sound way will help the client understand that they need your services. Coupling that with your extensive and relevant database of enquiry clearly shows the client that they need you.

A fantastic commercial real estate presentation is a function and balance of lots of things. Things like:

  1. A well established pre-planning process is a strategic advantage for every commercial real estate presentation. Strategy is everything in commercial real estate. Every property presentation requires planning.
  2. Making sure you are asking the right questions of the client or prospect. Plan your questions relative to the subject property so that you help the client think about opportunity and changes that are possible.
  3. Using your market knowledge and giving good answers. Have a variety of market facts and trends available to call on. Feed them into your presentation; facts are always useful. They can also be used as a channel to direct the discussion when the client is forcing you to justify your approach or your experience. Confidence and control must be the basic rule of your property presentation. When the client takes control of the presentation you have lost.
  4. Using your experience in the marketplace so that you are telling relevant stories of success in similar properties. Stories of other properties will always interest of the client.
  5. Making sure your personal presentation is optimised for the connection in the presentation. It can be that you are using a combination of the proposal document, the marketing document, and computer slide presentation, samples of your database, photographs of the subject property projected on to slides, and photographs of comparable properties projected on to slides.
  6. Choosing the placement of people at the table or strategically positioning them in the room is always important. Much has been written about where you should sit relative to the client. The basic rule is adjacent to the client rather than across an area of barrier such as a table. Being within arm’s reach allows you to pass documentation to the client at the appropriate time. Documentation should not be provided to the client until you are ready for them to review it; otherwise it is a distraction of their attention.
  7. Make sure that your proposal is simple and yet well directed with a clearly defined outcomes of sale or lease. Many proposal documents in commercial real estate are much too wordy so the main messages are lost and not clearly defined. The best proposals are less wordy and more illustrative. The best balance of a commercial real estate proposal is a mixture of 25% words, 25% pictures, 25% graphs, and 25% white space. This becomes a document which is clearly read and understood.
  8. Combine good illustrations and photographs of the subject property into the proposal or presentation so that any lengthy descriptions or paragraphs are broken up. This will keep interest of the client in your documentation.
  9. Make sure that your marketing package is value for money, and yet reaching the target market that the property serves or needs to attract. All too often, we see examples of generic marketing by the commercial real estate agent to the broader and less specific marketplace. Showing the client that you clearly know and will attract best the target market will always help your conversion to a potential listing. Be very specific about the target market and how you will reach it.
  10. Ensure that your commission costs are fair and reasonable for the location. In most circumstances, discounting your commission should not be an option as it will make you poor and remove or detract from your enthusiasm for the sale or lease. ‘Cheap’ means ‘cheap and without focus’ and the client needs to know this. The property deserves better. You are not cheap because you are the best and you do a great job. A fair commission is always paid for a positive property outcome.
  11. Always provide testimonials that are relevant to the property transaction. When you combine relevant history and details of happy customers into your presentation you will make the client feel more comfortable.
  12. Always display clear and sound market knowledge that impresses the client relative to their property. This will include extensive awareness of comparable properties that compete with the subject property. You should be able to talk solidly about property prices, comparable rents, rental growth, returns on investment, changes to the future demographics of the area, and properties in the immediate precinct of relevance. In many cases, it pays to walk around the local area just prior to any property presentation so that you bring immediate and clear pictures of the precinct to the discussion. Many times this has been of significant advantage in my presentation processes. Talking about neighbouring properties localises the client and their thought processes.
  13. Come up with a variety of ways to serve the client. Innovation and relevance will always impress. In today’s market, this is relatively easy considering the marketing opportunities and tools provided by the internet & technology. Be proactive in your property promotion processes so that the listing for sale or lease stands uniquely different in its marketing campaign from the others in the area. This does not have to be expensive to the client or to your office, given that the internet and electronic technology is historically cost effective. In today’s market, the traditional methods of publicising the property in the property pages of the local paper, is becoming much less important in the marketing campaign. Most commercial property buyers and tenants research the market from the Internet first and foremost.
  14. Almost every property agency will say that they have excellent communication and connection skills to support the property promotion process. From experience, this is largely incorrect and typically the average commercial salesperson or leasing person will exercise ordinary communication channels with the client. Put yourself in the shoes of the client. They expect and deserve frequent updates on the promotion of the property even when nothing is happening or when the adverts are producing little response. When a property campaign is not producing the results, it is important that you act or adjust with alternative recommendations and strategic changes to the promotional campaign for the client to consider. Rarely would you get to the property campaign correct in the first week. It is in this time that you must consider fine tuning the promotion process so that the target market is being reached in a timely and effective way. This means that every property enquiry generated from your promotions must be tabulated so that you understand what channels of marketing work most effectively with the property in question.
  15. When addressing the client or the client group in a formal property presentation, the answers and information you give must be delivered well and provide relevant solid property knowledge, in a practiced and professional delivery. Any sales or presentation tools relative to the property must be relevant and you should know how to use them with exceptional skill. Fumbling and faking information is not tolerated by the client.

So there you have it. These are some of the key skills to use in a commercial real estate presentation. Whilst many real estate agents think that they are the best alternative in the market to promote sell and rent commercial property, the reality is they do not get the message across when it matters most in front of the client.

To be the best commercial real estate agent in your area, you must show that you are just so, and you do this in the first 10 minutes of the time that your presentation takes. The client will have formed an opinion by then.

Be prepared to walk away from any demands for discounting that the client or customer demands. In this market they need a great commercial real estate agent providing a great job; discounting is not an option. Show pride in your services and walk away when the client demands discount in marketing or lower commissions.

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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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Factors That Affect the Cost of Travel Insurance

Travel insurance policies come in different types of packages, with all manner of options and choices. It is designed this way for a reason, of course. You would not want to pay for cover that you are illegally to need, or skimp on cover you should have.

A basic policy may be adequate, or you may find you'll be more comfortable paying a bit more to obtain higher levels of cover, as needed. It often depends on where you plan to travel. Let's say you plan to travel to a destination such as Madagascar, which has limited medical facilities. In the case of a serious medical emergency you may have to be transferred by air ambulance to another country for treatment. Therefore, you would be wise to pick a policy that offers the maximum cover for medical emergencies. It should also include cover for air ambulance and medical repatriation. If you check you may find that a very cheap policy does not include this cover.

You will need to decide whether to opt for a Single Trip or Annual Multi-trip policy. If there is any possibility that you may take more than one trip in a year the Annual policy is usually the best value for money. On many policies children are included free – which is a major saving for family holidays.

Travel insurance premiums usually increase increasing depending on where in the world you are traveling. For example, the cost of travel insurance for a British citizen traveling to Europe would be less than if they were flying long-haul to a destination such as North America or Australia.

Most travel insurance companies offer different levels of cover so that you can choose. Paying a bit more for the next level should affect the amount the insurer will pay on a claim, or increase the amount of items covered. Pay attention to the amount of Excess (Deductible) included as it may be much higher on a cheap policy. (This is the amount you have to pay towards a claim). To keep the premium very low it is often the case that levels of cover have been cut or the amount of Excess increased.

When it comes to pre-existing medical conditions the cost may increase dramatically for serious pre-existing conditions, or the insurer may not offer cover at all. Most often though the average company will agree to cover a specific condition for an extra premium, or with the understanding that any claims related to the condition are excluded. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for those that are affected.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that travel insurance for seniors is usually more expensive because of the assumed increased risk of a medical problem arising – despite the fact that our seniors are probably healthier these days than they have ever been!

Winter sports (skiing / snowboarding) insurance can be added to a typical travel insurance policy for an additional fee. Other add-ons may include cover for activities such as:

  • Business Insurance – additional premium to cover many travel-related risks associated with traveling for business
  • Golf Insurance – additional cover for mishaps relating a golf holiday to cover lost or stolen equipment, golf equipment hire, and pre-paid green fees

When it comes to activities deemed by insurers as 'Hazardous' the cover may vary very between policies and companies. It is important to check and understand which activities are covered as standard. A typical policy will include activities in which you can participate on a casual, unplanned or 'incidental' basis. An additional premium may be required to provide cover for activities that are considered planned or 'non-incidental'. Confused? Do not worry, it is not as complicated as it sounds! Here are some examples to show the difference:

'Incidental' usually refer to activities such as a bungee jump, an elephant ride or sleigh ride that you may decide to participate in on the spur of the moment. 'Non-incidental' or planned activities refer to those that are participating in a regular or non-causal basis. For example: the activity is the main purpose of the trip, such as sailing holiday, scuba diving holiday, safari, white-water rafting trip, or cycle touring.

There is no question that insurance can be a difficult subject to forgive – most people would prefer to spend their precious spare time doing something much more interesting and fun!

The bottom line really is that if you do not have time to look into it in detail, make sure that the policy you choose contains, at a minimum , adequate cover for potentially cost travel problems involving: Medical Expenses, Medical Repatriation, Air Ambulance , Personal Liability, and Legal Expenses. A good basic policy and even a backpacker policy should contain these as standard. Pay a little more and you will get more features.

Beware of that cheap policy offered as an incentive – it may not always be a good buy. You get what you pay for – and peace of mind is priceless!

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5 Fundamental Principles of Insurance

Insurance is a contract, a risk transfer mechanism whereby a company (Underwriter) promised to compensate or indemnify another party (Policyholder) upon the payment of reasonable premium to the insurance company to cover the subject-matter of insurance. If you are well conversant with these principles, you will be in a better position in negotiating you insurance needs.

1. Insurable interest. This is the financial or monetary interest that the owner or possessor of property has in the subject-matter of insurance. The mere fact that it might be detrimental to him should a loss occurred because of his financial stake in that assets gives him the ability to insure the property. Castellin Vs Preston 1886.

2. Umberima fadei. It means utmost good faith, this principle stated that the parties to insurance contract must disclose accurately and fully all the facts material to the risk being proposed. That is to say that the insured must make known to the insurer all facts regarding the risk to be insured (Looker Vs Law Union and Rock 1928). Likewise, the underwriter must highlight and explain the terms, conditions and exceptions of the insurance policy. And the policy must be void of ‘small prints’.

3. Indemnity. It stated that following a loss, the insurer should ensure that they placed the insured in the exact financial position he enjoyed prior to the loss (Leppard Vs Excess 1930).

4. Contribution. In a situation where two or more insurers is covering a particular risk, if a loss occurred, the insurers must contribute towards the settlement of the claim in accordance with their rateable proportion.

5. Subrogation. It has often been said that contribution and subrogation are corollary of indemnity, which means that these two principles operates so that indemnity does not fail. Subrogation operates mainly on motor insurance. When an accident occurred involving two or more vehicles, there must be tortfeasor(s) who is responsible for accident. On this basis, the insurer covering the policyholder who was not at fault can recover their outlay from the underwriter of the policyholder who is responsible for the incidence.

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