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Tom's Blog

Know Your Rights when You Fly

July 31, 2013 1:22 am

When volatile summer weather grounds a plane, it creates a domino effect of cancelled flights across the country. Add in that nearly 209 million people fly June through August, and you could easily find that part of your summer adventure may be spent trying to get a seat on another plane.

Just ask Marcy Baustian, a high school teacher who recently spent three weeks leading her French Club students through France, only to have the final leg of the journey back to Des Moines grounded in Detroit for 48 hours. "Getting rebooked was difficult because it's very tough to find 18 seats on a flight – especially to Des Moines since bigger planes aren't scheduled through there," says Baustian.

After spending the night in the Detroit airport, she spent the next day working with the airline to get rebooked on a flight to Kansas City, where parents were willing to drive and pick up their children. That flight was also cancelled due to weather. The group eventually rented a charter bus – after their travel agency called 30 bus companies and offered to cover the expense temporarily. (A claim to cover the cost of the bus is pending with the airline.)

While Baustian and her students' ordeal was extreme, airline travel often comes with some sort of challenge. "It can be difficult to know when a situation that started as inconvenient has crossed the line into a violation of rights," says Ann Cosimano, General Counsel for ARAG®, a global provider of legal solutions. "Knowing when to be patient – or when to speak up – can take some of the stress out of travel." Here are a few reminders of the rights you have when you fly.

When Your Flight Is Delayed or Cancelled

If your flight is delayed or cancelled for problems beyond anyone's control, like weather or safety issues, most airlines will rebook you on the next available flight at no charge. They may even book you with another airline without charging you extra. Airlines are not required to provide any amenities, such as meal vouchers or hotel rooms, in this situation.

Similarly, if your flight is delayed or cancelled for something the airline could control, such as a maintenance issue, the airline will likely rebook you on the next available flight, either theirs or another airline's, at no charge. The airline is still not required to provide amenities, however, many will provide meal vouchers and even hotel rooms and grooming kits if your delay causes an unexpected overnight stay.

When You're Bumped from Your Flight

If you are "bumped" for a domestic flight that is oversold, you are likely legally entitled to compensation for a new flight. Generally, when the flight is oversold, the airlines will ask for willing passengers to volunteer to give up their seats in exchange for a later flight and compensation. They may also negotiate with free tickets or travel vouchers. If you accept one of these offers, be sure to ask some deal-breaking questions such as when the ticket expires or if it's only available certain days of the week or during certain seasons.

If no one volunteers and you're bumped involuntarily, you should receive a written statement from the airline that describes your rights and how the carrier decided which passengers were bumped. If you're not rebooked and scheduled to arrive at your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time, then you are entitled to compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the ticket price and length of delay. To be eligible for compensation, you must have a confirmed reservation and have checked-in with the airline within their deadlines.

If the airline must substitute a smaller plane for the one it originally planned to use, the carrier isn't required to pay people who are bumped as a result. In addition, on domestic flights using aircraft with 30 through 60 passenger seats, compensation is not required if you were bumped due to safety-related aircraft weight or balance constraints.

If you are delayed on the tarmac of a domestic flight before taking off or after landing, you may have rights if the delay is more than three hours. DOT rules prohibit most U.S. airlines to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours unless air traffic control or the pilot decides there are reasons related to safety, security or airport operations.

If you are delayed on the tarmac of a domestic flight, you are entitled to food and water no later than two hours after the delay begins. Lavatories must remain operable and medical attention must be available if needed.

Source: www.ARAGgroup.com.

 

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Q: Should I Hire a Professional or Do the Job Myself?

July 31, 2013 1:22 am

A: It depends on the complexity of the project and your ability to do the job well yourself.  Really consider whether you have the time, skills, tools, help, and legal knowledge of local regulations to get the job done.  While you could save up to an estimated 20 percent of the project cost doing the work yourself – there are plenty of how-to books and workshops offered by home improvement stores to guide you – be aware that you could also end up spending more money and time if you botch the job or unforeseen problems arise.  Think, too, about resale value.  If the quality of your work is less than professional, your home’s value could drop.  So, unless you’re highly skilled or experienced, shy away from major home improvements that involve structural changes.  Stick to building shelves, painting, and other minor improvements instead.

 

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Word of the Day

July 31, 2013 1:22 am

Real estate broker.  Individual who has passed a state broker’s test and represents others in realty transactions.  Anyone having his or her own office must be a broker.

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It's Not Too Late to Dig into a Summer Garden Project

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

So you are staring at that corner of your yard again and wishing you had the energy last spring to plant a simple vegetable garden. I have some good news for you.

In many regions across the country, July and even early August are fine for planting new veggies. In fact, according to Carl Wilson, of the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, (www.coopext.colostate.edu) squeezing vegetables in before fall frosts makes good use of garden space available from the harvest of lettuce and other spring crops.

Wilson suggests greens like cabbage, collards, endive or green onions can all go in the ground by mid July and be ready to harvest before average mid-October frost in the Denver area.

How about roots, and fruiting veggies?

Get your carrots and turnip in by late July, or consider beets by the first week of August, or radish as late as the first week of September. Hurry and get your cucumber, cauliflower and summer squash in by mid -July, or aim for planting broccoli by month's end.

Hill Gardens of Maine (hillgardens.com) says you can plant a crop of short-season sweet corn during early July for a really delicious late crop just before frost. They also offer thios tip for reducing raccoon damage to your corn:

As the corn seedlings break ground, inter-plant winter squash every few feet. Squash vines have sharp, needle-like spines all along their stems and leaves that repel raccoons. They very much dislike getting tiny, painful "stickers" in their paws...and will quickly learn to avoid the discomfort.

If you are not up for corn, Hill Gardens says Oriental greens and vegetables will grow and perform very well when sown even as late as six weeks before first frost.

Just remember, when all your neighbors' gardens are buttoned up, you need to plan for watering, cultivating, weeding, staking, tying, thinning, picking and bug-squishing well into October in most of the northern half of the country.

 

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Will Your Beneficiaries Beat the Odds?

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

Two-thirds of baby boomers will inherit a total $7.6 trillion in their lifetimes, according to the Boston College Center for Retirement Research -- that’s $1.7 trillion more than China’s 2012 GDP.

But they’ll lose 70 percent of that legacy, and not because of taxes. By the end of their children’s lives -- the third generation -- nine of 10 family fortunes will be gone. 

“The third-generation rule is so true, it’s enshrined in Chinese proverb: ‘Wealth never survives three generations,’ ” says John Hartog of Hartog & Baer Trust and Estate Law, (www.hartogbaer.com). “The American version of that is ‘shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

There are a number of reasons that happens, and most of them are preventable say Hartog; CPA Jim Kohles, chairman of RINA accountancy corporation, (www.rina.com); and wealth management expert Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo, CEO of Pillar Wealth Management, (www.pillarwm.com).

How can the current generation of matriarchs, patriarchs and their beneficiaries beat the odds? All three financial experts say the solutions involve honest conversations – the ones families often avoid because they can be painful – along with passing along family values and teaching children from a young age how to manage money.

“Give them some money now and see how they handle it.” Many of the “wealth builders,” the first generation who worked so hard to build the family fortune, teach their children social responsibility; to take care of their health; to drive safely. “But they don’t teach them financial responsibility; they think they’ll get it by osmosis,” says estate lawyer Hartog.

If those children are now middle-aged, it’s probably too late for that. But the first generation can see what their offspring will do with a sudden windfall of millions by giving them a substantial sum now – without telling them why.

“I had a client who gave both children $500,000. After 18 months, one child had blown through the money and the other had turned it into $750, 000,” Hartog says.

Child A will get his inheritance in a restricted-access trust.

“Be willing to relinquish some control.” Whether it’s preparing one or more of their children to take over the family business, or diverting some pre-inheritance wealth to them, the first generation often errs by retaining too much control, says CPA Kohles.

“We don’t give our successor the freedom to fail,” Kohles says. “If they don’t fail, they don’t learn, so they’re not prepared to step up when the time comes.”

In the family business, future successors need to be able to make some decisions that don’t require the approval of the first generation, Kohles says. With money, especially for 1st-generation couples with more than $10 million (the first $5 million of inheritance from each parent is not subject to the estate tax), parents need to plan for giving away some of their wealth before they die. That not only allows the beneficiaries to avoid a 40 percent estate tax, it helps them learn to manage the money.

“Give your beneficiaries the opportunity to build wealth, and hold family wealth meetings.” The first generation works and sacrifices to make the family fortune, so often the second generation doesn’t have to and the third generation is even further removed from that experience, says wealth manager Ashoo.

“The best way they’re going to be able to help preserve the wealth is if they understand what goes into creating it and managing it – not only the work, but the values and the risks,” Ashoo says.

The first generation should allocate seed money to the second generation for business, real estate or some other potentially profitable venture, he says.

Holding ongoing family wealth meetings with your advisors is critical to educating beneficiaries, as well as passing along family and wealth values, Ashoo says. It also builds trust between the family and the primary advisors.

Ashoo tells of a recent experience chatting with two deca-millionaires aboard a yacht in the Bahamas.

“They both built major businesses and sold them,” Ashoo says. “At this point, it’s no longer about what their money will do for them -- it’s about what the next generations will do with their money.”

John Hartog is a partner at Hartog & Baer Trust and Estate Law. He is a certified specialist in estate planning, trust and probate law, and taxation law. Jim Kohles is chairman of the board of RINA accountancy corporation. He is a certified public accountant specializing in business consulting, succession and retirement planning, and insurance. Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo is the CEO of Pillar Wealth Management, LLC, specializing in client-centered wealth management. All three are based in Walnut Creek, Calif., and advise ultra affluent families.

 

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Road Trip Tips: How to Plan a Memorable Vacation and Save Money

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

(BPT) - Americans enjoy the fun and relaxation of traveling: 77 percent of domestic trips are for leisure purposes, according to the U.S. Travel Association. If you want to vacation with friends or family, hitting the pavement for a road trip can't be beat, and with a few money-saving tips and organization tricks, you'll plan an awesome trip packed with memories.

Step 1: Get everyone on board

Planning a group-travel trip can be complicated when it comes to deciding on a destination. Start with a brainstorming session where everyone offers an idea of where he or she would like to go. Research different destinations and visit websites dedicated to travel, such as www.LiveLifeLocal.com. With a focus on car, RV, boat and motorcycle travel, the site makes it easy to search for fun locations - whether an hour or a day's drive away. It's a breeze to search by geography, vehicle and tags - for example, you can search for information on boating in the San Diego area, but designate only fishing-related posts. You'll find valuable content from everyday users as well as authors and bloggers passionate about travel.

Step 2: Build an itinerary and save travel documents

Once everyone agrees on a location, it's time to get organized. Whether camping or staying at a hotel, make reservations well ahead of time to avoid the seasonal rush. When you call, ask about available discounts. Many places offer deals to lure visitors and win your business. Whether you're traveling locally or cross-country, create a folder and save all travel documents for easy access.

Step 3: Drive smart and slash gas costs

Getting there is half the fun of a road trip, but if you're traveling a long distance, it can also mean expensive trips to fill the tank. Slash your gas costs with a few important tips. Start by only filling up in bigger towns - remote gas stations often have higher prices. Utilize your cruise control - it's convenient plus it regulates gas usage. And remember to use air conditioning sparingly because it is a huge gas guzzler. Crack those windows and enjoy the breeze and open road.

Step 4: Create a meal plan

Eating out is one of the most expensive parts of traveling. Save cash by planning meals ahead of time. If you're camping or staying in an RV, pack easy-to-cook foods like pasta, stew and canned vegetables. Then pack a cooler with basic necessities, like cold cuts, cheese and milk. A little forethought with food can mean hundreds of dollars in savings, plus it can be a lot of fun to cook in the great outdoors. If you're staying at a hotel, you can still cut down on meal costs by packing bags of snacks and a small cooler with basics for breakfast or lunch. Plus, look for a hotel that offers free continental breakfast.

Step 5: Be a compact packer

No matter what type of vehicle you drive, the more you haul the more you'll pay. Reduce how much you pack and you'll reduce how hard your vehicle has to work to get it there, conserving on fuel. Pack what you need, but don't go overboard - you can probably survive on two pairs of shoes rather than five. Pack multipurpose items, such as a coffee maker that also makes hot water for tea, and a sleeping bag that also works as a picnic blanket. Vacuum bags work well for bulky pillows and jackets to save space and provide you and your family a more comfortable ride.

No matter where you go, a few proactive steps and planning tricks will ensure you have an awesome vacation. Whether it's your adventures on the road or the memories you make when you arrive at your destination, 2013 offers unlimited travel potential.

 

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Word of the Day

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

Warranty deed. A deed in which the grantor guarantees that he or she is giving the grantee good title free of encumbrances.  Considered to be the best deed a grantee can receive.

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Q: What Are the Main Reasons Why Homeowners Remodel?

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

A: There are many reasons. Home remodeling can improve the appearance of your home, enhance its value, add to your quality of life, and appeal to future home buyers.  According to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders, the top four reasons homeowners remodel is to obtain more space, avoid buying a new home, enjoy more amenities, and adjust to lifestyle changes.

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10 Tips for Fabulously Successful Corporate Events

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

Successful corporate event planning is not for the faint of heart. Whether the event is for 100 or 3,000, there are all sorts of challenges and points that must be carefully considered.  

OBie O'Brien, Director of Sales at Manhattan Center, home of the Hammerstein and Grand ballrooms, (both of which have housed major events like Tech Crunch and others for AT&T, GM, Macy's, Fortune Magazine, HSBC and more,) offers the following tips that can help make your corporate party or event one to remember:

Planning is essential. Secure a suitable venue as far in advance as possible. You also might benefit from choosing a spot that is not just centrally located for ease of access and parking, but one that can expand if your RSVPs go higher than originally planned. Get your contract and deposit in early, as some venues book as far as a year in advance.

Set your budget. Unexpected expenses are sure to arise, but you need a strict budget.

Make double copies of all contracts, seating charts, vendors or anything else important. You wouldn't be the first person to leave that ever-so-important folder in a taxi.

Invite early & avoid major holiday weeks. Consider "Save the Date" emails. Insist on RSVPs for calculating your headcount. Plan on doing late RSVP call-downs.

Decide on a theme…or not. Is a theme necessary? Or does your organization carry the day?

Seating or standing? Are seating charts required? Who'll be in charge of those? Or is a more casual event planned where guests will mix and mingle more freely? Get details on guests to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

Equipment counts! Does the facility you want to book offer in-house microphones, projectors, speakers, video, recording or live air streaming? Or will you have to bring this all in, at possibly significant additional expense?

Staff? Will you need doormen? Servers? Bartenders? Does the facility offer an in-house production team and/or staff to fill certain requirements?

Are special accommodations required? Is there a hotel in proximity? Will your talent or others require rooms or suites? Are they convenient to the event?

Communication is key. Healthy dialog between the planner and all vendors is paramount to a successful event. Make sure your requirements are spelled out and that you give detailed instructions regarding what you expect from every vendor hired. Eliminate major headaches by taking time ahead of the event to clarify possible areas of confusion.

Source: MCStudios.com

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Select the Right Insurance for Your Home-Based Business

July 26, 2013 10:18 pm

(BPT) - Home-based businesses are booming.

About 36.6 million businesses operate from U.S. households, according to the Home Based Business Institute. And the Small Business Administration notes that 53 percent of all small businesses located in the U.S. are home-based, with those numbers expected to grow substantially in the near future.

But before you start planning your home-based bakery, personal training studio or computer repair venture, there's one important thing to think about. Charles Valinotti, head of underwriting & product with insurer QBE, says that you should make sure you have the right insurance to protect your at-home enterprise.

A homeowner's or renter's insurance policy might provide some coverage for a business that operates out of the home, he says.

"If someone is running a small accounting business with little-to-no customer foot traffic and doesn't have expensive office equipment, the homeowner's or renter's insurance would probably be acceptable to most insurance providers," Valinotti points out. "But if you have a pottery school with customers coming and going, and are using pottery ovens that might be a fire hazard, most insurers don't want to take on those kinds of risks."

Depending on what type of business you're brewing, Valinotti says there are three insurance options you'll want to consider:

  • Homeowner's policy endorsement: An endorsement is a special provision added to an insurance policy to enhance or restrict its coverage. Adding a simple endorsement can increase coverage for business equipment, such as computers. You'll also want to look into buying a homeowner's liability endorsement - available in most states - to cover on-site injuries to customers or delivery people. A liability endorsement is usually available to in-home operations with few business-related visitors.
  • In-home business policy: Valinotti says this policy is also known as an in-home business endorsement. Coverage can vary significantly between insurers. It provides more protection than what's found in a typical homeowner's policy. That includes more comprehensive property and equipment coverage, as well as protection for loss of income, extra expenses incurred, and liability for injuries caused by the products and services you offer.
  • Business owner's policy: If your home-based business is in more than one location, this policy might fit the bill, Valinotti says. It gives broader property and liability coverage than the in-home business policy. However, if you have employees, it doesn't include workers' compensation, health or disability insurance.

“Valinotti also suggests you don't forget about auto insurance if you're using your car for business to transport supplies or products, or to visit customers.

He recommends contacting your agent for more information on the right insurance for your home-based business. "If you're doing business at home, you need insurance. Finding the right coverage will go a long way to give you peace of mind and help make your special business possible."

 

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