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Living Trust – my conclusion

December 26, 2007 Leave a comment

The main purpose of the living trust is to avoid probate – a process that the court decides what to do with your properties. Your heirs/relatives will eventually still get everything but at 3%-10% cost and may take up to 2 years.

If the house and bank accounts are under both of the spouses name, then the spouse automatically gets it without going through probate. So from this perspective, living trust is mainly for your children to get your assets quick and with minimum cost.

Bank accounts, IRA accounts, life insurance etc… as long as they have designated beneficiaries, they will go directly to the beneficiaries. Make sure you specify contingent beneficiaries, which should be all your children, in the event that your spouse also die. You need to ask your bank about adding beneficiaries to your saving accounts. They do not do that for checking account – Citibank told me the first person showing them the death certificate will get all the money in checking account after 60 days. They do saving and CD accounts.

A “will” will not avoid probate. And, title and designated beneficiaries take precedence over the will. Without the will, the court will decide who gets what. With the will, you decide, court executes.

A “living will” is mainly for medical purpose so that someone else can make decision for you (i.e. “pull the plug” so you can die naturally) – you may be interested at this. (In California, “advance health care directive / durable power of attorney for health care ” is used for this purpose.)

“Durable power of attorney for property”- someone to make financial decisions when you are not able to. Court most likely will specify your spouse if you don’t specify one. Not a matter if everything is co-owned.

A living trust will NOT protect you from the creditors, as long as it’s revocable (most are).

My conclusion:

For young couples who jointly own everything and don’t have much properties, and do not worry about estate tax ($2 m threshold for 2008 and will change later) , they do not need estate planing/living trust. Because if one of you dies, your spouse gets everything; if both of you die, your children will get the most liquidate part of your asset directly (maybe through a custodian account if under 18), and they will get your real estate soon or later. You should designate a guardian for your children through a will.

Some links:

Will report the software or other good ways to get a will/living will done shortly.

Categories: Finance

2007年装修回顾

December 22, 2007 Leave a comment

卖前一个房子时给我们一个启示:不要再等卖房子时再装修了。如果早晚要花这个钱,不如早花。 所以自从搬家以来就一直在计划装修的事情。07年7月才算找到时间。

从设计上,我从图书馆前前后后一共借了几十本书,参考别人的设计,还有以前买房子的时候在样品屋照的照片。有的设计是很好,但是还得结合我们的工程大小和预算来考虑。然后我们就开始跑建材商店,主要在State College那条街上,来来回回走了至少两遍。挑材料的同时也在最后的定案。木板没有多久就选好了;Trim/molding也容易,反正就是白色的MDF;浴室地上的瓷砖花了我们最多的时间。在商店里就照了400多张照片。

同时我们也约谈了几个装修公司。美国人开的大公司价钱贵的离谱,其他几个中国人的小公司比较接近。我们最后选的是朋友推荐的任先生,木工出身,谈一谈感觉很好,而且穿着比较干净整齐,给人感觉也比较细心负责。他收费的方式也很好,按具体做法明码标价。比如石头地面$7一尺,斜的$7.5,做边$1每尺,每个小花$4等等。这样我们随时更改计划,也知道工钱几何。免得像别家给出一个总价,如果有变化又要谈价钱。

所有的材料都是我们自己买,有的任先生用他的大车帮我去拉。8月21日开工。先拆地面和浴室(留了一个给我们用),然后同时做浴室和Trim,最多的时候一共有 6个工人。Trim/molding做起来很慢,用任先生的话讲:“不出活”。我们的设计也比较复杂一些(其实我是觉得任先生给别人家的做法不够好看)。后来铺地板就很快,两天就好。后来临时决定楼梯和楼上走廊也换地板(中间见过两个地毯商,没有满意的,所以决定楼梯换地板),等材料又等了两天。最后完工是9月2日。

我这些天基本在家,算是在家工作,不算请假,但是只有晚上才真的有时间坐下来上班,挺累的。但是白天不看着还是不行,很多细节。

那些天也请了住家的保姆。王阿姨很能干,帮了我们大忙。在我们一共试过的4个保姆里面,她是最能干的,做菜也最好吃,可惜最后没有留住她。

因为花费超出预算不少,所以房间内的刷漆肯定是自己上了,况且颜色还没有来得及挑。这一挑就挑了两个多月,中间还有许多事情打岔(比如填税表,也是Rena熬夜赶出来的,她还是新的工作,得备课)。终于从10月中旬开始刷漆,贴壁纸等等。干了几个周末,才算基本搞定。

这里的几张照片就是那些乱糟糟的日子,可惜照的不多。几周后有一天任先生来修一点东西,进来后也感慨说真是好看,当时光忙了。他专门带了相机来照相。我相信这个工程在他做的里面是比较讲究的。他说我们是中档的房子,高档的装修,有些东西只有一百万以上的房子才做的。这多好,不用住一百万的房子也能享受到。

这次三个浴室的花费大约是$7500 ,trim/molding$6000,地板$12000。这里除了地板的材料比手工贵以外,手工和材料花费基本各一半。后来我们自己刷漆贴壁纸,材料不过$300不到,至于手工,就是我们自己的几个周末了。

最后写这些blog,整理照片,也用了很多时间。因为我们对这次的装修很满意,想和大家好好分享一下我们的喜悦和一些经验,也算是自己的一个记录。

Categories: Remodel Tags:

Masterbath 主浴室

December 22, 2007 Leave a comment

这里有更多照片

主浴室的地面我们选的是现在流行的一种石头Travertine。其实我们也考虑过大理石,但是担心太滑,孩子容易摔跤。Porcelain(瓷砖)比较便宜,但是和石头的天然比起来还是逊色不少,尽管它做得越来越逼真。我们选的这两种颜色的石头和店里摆的样品都不一样,浅的没有店里的样品白,深的也没有店里的深,所以不尽然是我们所设想的效果。不过石材店里的人讲,天然的材料就是会有这些变化,他们不能保证都和样品一模一样。

做边的是2寸的红色大理石,这也是开工前几天才在一家店看到合适的。四角的金属装饰一般是用在墙上的,但是我们别出心裁,放在了地上。另外还有两个小星星的insert,本身就是用Travertine做的,和地上的石头几乎浑然一体。

厕所用是和洗衣房地上一样的瓷砖(Porcelain)。一般书里的设计里外间地面是一致的,但我们想多一点变化。

两个台面原来都是白色的瓷砖,而且洗手池是over-mount,所以水池边很容 易积水,于是这次就换成石头的。这种叫做“黑星座”(Balck Galaxy)的花岗岩原产地据说是在山西,黑色的石头中有金色的小鳞片一样的东西。白天不太明显,但是在灯光下就会闪闪发亮,是很像黑色星空中的金色星 星。我们是在新中国城那边的一家石材店买的,比我们当地的便宜一半,而且还有OG的边,省了我们不少人工。我们付款后装修公司去拿货。

中间的这个浴缸的取舍也花了我们不少思量。其实这个浴缸我们很少用,而且瓷砖很新,手工也不错,拆了挺可惜。如果换成石头的,花费不菲,而且也很难有现在的圆边,如果不小心磕一下还很痛。但是这个有点“旧式 ”的白瓷砖的浴缸,和石头的地面以及黑色花岗岩的新台面如何协调起来呢?最后我们在Home Depot选定了一种花边,既有石头也有白瓷砖,很自然的把所有的这些东西连接在一起。因为台面和上面的镜子还有2寸的距离,所以我们又把地上做边的红色大理石的小石头块放了进来,这样和地面也呼应起来的。

墙上的颜色是中性的咖啡色。原来在店里也挑好了一个,但是拿回来一试,不好,想来应该是灯光的问题(店里很亮)。于是我们拿带回来的色卡在家试好了,又回店里买的。这次很满意,颜色不刺目,很柔和、雅致,also very soothing,和白色的天花板,门窗的对比很好看。我们记得很多样品屋里见过这种颜色。

点击看更多照片

Categories: Remodel Tags:

Wallpaper in master bedroom 主卧的壁纸

December 22, 2007 Leave a comment



壁纸给一个房间带来的改变是很大的,很温暖,装饰感极强。但是有一种考虑,就是壁纸容易过时和显得陈旧,清理的时候比较麻烦,不像漆,再刷上一层就行。另外壁纸的成本比刷漆高出许多倍(不过总面积不大的话差别并不大)。我们除了在孩子浴室的一面墙上贴了壁纸之外,就只在主卧室也贴了壁纸。

壁纸刚刚贴好的时候,看上去房间一下子缩小了,尤其是有壁纸的那面墙,好像一下子缩进来一些。不像原来白白的墙,好像边界的感觉不是很明显。不过卧室宁可小而温馨一点。这个壁纸的质感有点像布,红色和金色尤其显得温暖,在冬天里倒是很合适(希望夏天到了以后不会嫌热)。刚刚贴好的那晚真是喜欢,感觉这才算有个像是“家”的地方,不能想像原来为什么墙上白白的那么平淡。记得前些天一个下雨的夜里,临睡前,我抱着baby坐在床上给他讲故事书,桔色的灯光映在壁纸上,外面是雨滴打在窗户上的声音,真是享受啊。

现在是只贴了一面墙,还在犹豫要不要另外几面也贴上。 我们觉得现在的对比挺好看,怕如果几面墙都一样,就失去了这种对比的美感。这次装修之后,我们对“对比”的美感深有感触。比如主卧室这个浅色的家具,本来都已经有要更新的想法,因为这个深色的壁纸,就又把它衬托出来,看上去还能再用些年。

这个壁纸和孩子浴室的是一样的,连生产商都一样,都是预先涂好胶的(pre-pasted),理论上用水泡一泡,背后的胶就可以用。但是这个壁纸在贴的时候,用水泡过之后就是不粘。我只好像书上建议的那样去买了paste activator来,兑上一半的水,刷在后面。注意pre-pasted的壁纸不可以再用壁纸胶,只能用水或者paste activator。

Categories: Remodel Tags:

I love my Nikon D40!

December 21, 2007 Leave a comment

It’s been about half year since I bought my Nikon D40, after much comparison between quite a few alternatives. The more I use it, the more I love it. I wish I bought a DSLR earlier. It’s such a joy taking pictures (especially indoors) with DSLR. The most significant benefits of a DSLR is: No shutter lag. This is *THE* most important reason for a DSLR. The picture is taken at the time you press the shutter – you won’t know how important that is unless you have little kids. The point-shot (digital of course) cameras these day are very advanced in some areas – such as 12x optical zoom, pocket size, video with voice etc. But it can never compete with DSLR on this matter. Also the optical viewfinder is much more responsive than LCD screen (and especially in bright outdoor light), though it may take your some time to get use to it.

Another flexibility is that you can change lens in different situations. I’m not a photography enthusiastic so I haven’t purchased any lens yet. The 18-55 kit lens came with the camera is enough for me. Even this lens has much better performance in low light condition than all the 5 point-and-shot cameras I have used before. I also bought an external flash to attach to my camera. I witnessed how a $400 flash took simply GREAT pictures, while most the flash pictures of point-shot are just very plain (even ugly).

I have written a review on Amazon, mainly comparing between Nikon D40 and Canon XTi. Here it is: Read more…

Categories: Gadgets Tags:

Zero $0 commission on stock trading

December 19, 2007 Leave a comment

Update on 6/1: Now you have to have over $25,000 balance to have the 10 free trade every month. Otherwise it’s $4.5.


Oops, forgot the small print – restrictions applied.

Zecco.com offers 10 free trade every month as long as your balance (cash and stock market value) is over $2500. After 10 free trades or lower balance, you pay $4.5. Well, that’s still cheaper than most of the online brokers. I have opened an account, and placed 2 free trades already. So far so good. I don’t see any catch here. For small investors who place less than a dozen trades every month, this is just perfect!! If you sign up using this link:

http://friends.zecco.com/r/8c4fd326ffaf102a8555

I will get $50 credit. Hey, I will split it with you. 😉

They say they can offer free trade because they do not provide other services other than online trading. I don’t know what services Fidelity could give me when they charge me $19 a trade. I do all the research myself and just need basic trading. $2500 balance? That’s the minimum to have any excitement in stock market, isn’t it?

They also say online brokerage earn most of the income from margin account interest so they can use free trade to attract account signups. That’s perfect for me since I don’t use margin. In a sense, the 10 free trade is also a kind of “reminder” that restrain me from excess trading.

Zecco doesn’t have extended hour trading. The web interface is not the best one I have seen. But, for free trades, it’s acceptable.

For those trade more, you can consider http://www.just2trade.com. They charge straight $2.5 a trade no matter what your balance is and no limit of trades. I don’t have an account but from my research I haven’t seen anyone saying bad on them yet. But anyhow, I’ll no longer trade with Fidelity.

Categories: Finance Tags:

Wood floor 木地板

December 16, 2007 Leave a comment

dsc_1431.jpg

有了上个房子选地板的经验,我们这次选的是深颜色的木板。深色的更显出木板的材质,并且带来沉稳和富贵的气质。这是巴西产的胡桃木(walnut),深棕色。木纹非常细腻耐看,并且硬度很高(3600 PSI),不用总是担心被划坏或是被东西砸得坑坑洼洼。

Entrance另外现在流行distressed style,就是那种不是平滑如镜的,而是故意弄出高低不平的条纹的。据说现在新房的样品屋全是这样的。我们当时没有觉得如何好,就顺着潮流也要了这种。装上之后,越看越喜欢。

当初挑选的时候,是在两种木材之间犹豫,一种是我们本来想要的红色调,但是纹理比较粗,也软。我们咨询装修公司老板任先生的意见,他毫不犹豫的推荐我们现在用的巴西胡桃木。后来证明他的其他一些经验也在设计上给我们不少帮助。我们对这次的工程质量还是很满意的。

Medallion at the entrance在门口的是一块3尺见方的整块的瓷砖。这样的装饰类型(medallion)一般是圆的,而且石头(大理石的,onyxe)的比较多。在地板中间加一块,显得比较别致。而且门口人来人往的,有个耐磨损的考虑在里面。本来门口想要不要铺瓷砖或者大理石,但是后来找到了这个,所以就决定全部用木板了。

Categories: Remodel Tags: , ,