Helping widowed mother with investments

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Topic Author
Whakamole
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Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

My father passed away this year, and until recently he was managing the investment portfolio for my parents. Now that he's gone, I'm stepping in to help my mom; she's not an investment person, and so I'd like to have something as much on autopilot for her as possible.

There are some tricks here, including a possible order-of-operations puzzle, which make this a bit tricky.

Where they stand:
- Mom has an IRA worth $25K. Investments here aren't great, high expense stock fund and cash.
- Dad also had an IRA worth $25K. Investments here also aren't great, high expense stock fund and cash.
- Joint taxable account worth $100K. Some positions here (namely utility stocks/income CEF) have no cost basis; they were inherited and luckily I know when they were inherited and can calculate the cost basis. Some positions (mostly stock funds) were bought by my father, probably at another brokerage over 10 years ago and transferred in, but I can't be sure. If he bought them, I can narrow down the range of purchase to within a few years. My current estimate is that the total capital gains, if the portfolio was liquidated, would be about $30K, nearly all of which would be long-term. Account also has a cash position. I also think that the cost basis for about half the portfolio reset due to my dad's passing.
- Cash earning ~0.00% at a large national bank.
- Low tax bracket.

Mom is in good health right now. She is around 80.

To throw another piece of wood on the fire, my father was a disabled veteran, and continuing benefits requires filing paperwork including total assets and both recent (last 12 months) and expected (next 12 months) income. I assume that includes RMDs from the IRA, as well as income from selling the stock if we decide to simplify the portfolio.

We've been thinking that this would be an ideal situation to use Vanguard PAS, since there are enough assets to qualify, price is reasonable, and they will put her in investment vehicles that are appropriate given her age and situation. That means selling the taxable account and taking a bit of a tax hit this year, but it seems better to do it this year (when the tax bracket will include 2 people) than future years. I've proposed this and she seems fine with it.

We (her kids) could also try to look at the account ourselves and try to manage it; the utility stocks aren't terrible, and the brokerage has some good, cheap, broadly-diversified conservative allocation funds available (equivalent to LifeStrategy Conservative Growth Fund VSCGX.) This would keep the funds at the broker, who has offices nearby.

I'd also like to get the cash earning zero at the bank earning something, but so far she has expressed opposition to using an online bank.

Any thoughts?
HomeStretch
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by HomeStretch »

Sorry for your loss.

Don’t generate any capital gains until you figure out how/if it affects the disabled vet benefits. Your mom should be able to sell now the 1/2 of the investments that received a step-up in basis for little gain.

When my parents asked me to manage their investments and cash transfers, they didn’t want to change their local bank but did want to earn better interest without chasing CD rates anymore all over town. So we simplified their accounts, moved their Taxable/IRA accounts to Vanguard and earn more interest. They have a local B&M checking account that holds about 9-12 months of spending and the rest is held in VMMXX Prime Money Market fund as part of their Taxable account. As their spending exceeds their SS income (which is direct deposited into the checking account), I set up a monthly transfer equal to 1/12 their annual net spending from Vanguard VMMXX to their bank checking account. Their Vanguard IRAs RMDs replenish the Taxable account’s VMMXX.

I check their accounts once a month but it runs pretty smoothly. But if you/your mom wanted to use Vanguard’s PAS instead of DIY, that’s reasonable too (as long as selling all stock doesn’t impact the disability payments). I will say that market losses in a parent’s 3-fund portfolio can be more stressful than your own.
delamer
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by delamer »

I am sorry about your father.

It isn’t clear to me of your parents are paying a fee to the local broker who holds the accounts now.

If so, I’d certainly move them.

With a portfolio of $150K, I wouldn’t pay Vanguard to manage the money. That’s $450/year that could go to your mother.

You’d be better to sell the assets in the IRAs and use VSCGX. Then reallocate the taxable while minimizing capital gains.

Or maybe put the IRAs into bonds and leave the taxable alone.

It depends on what allocation she’d find comfortable or that you’d find comfortable for her.
CRTR
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by CRTR »

If your parents lived in a community property state (as mine did), your Mom will receive a step-up in basis to your Dad's DOD, for all the items of in her accounts. In this case, LTCG caused by portfolio moves most likely will be a non-issue.

I don't think you can lose with Vanguard PAS, VSCGX or VWIAX. If you decide to go with the latter, the setup should be pretty simple . . . Vanguard has an automatic RMD service and the proceeds can be automatically invested in her taxable brokerage account or checking account. If she doesn't like VG because they only have an online presence, you can accomplish the same thing at other brokerages which have local offices (TDA, Schwab, Fidelity, etc).
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

CRTR wrote: Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:31 pm If your parents lived in a community property state (as mine did), your Mom will receive a step-up in basis to your Dad's DOD, for all the items of in her accounts. In this case, LTCG caused by portfolio moves most likely will be a non-issue.

I don't think you can lose with Vanguard PAS, VSCGX or VWIAX. If you decide to go with the latter, the setup should be pretty simple . . . Vanguard has an automatic RMD service and the proceeds can be automatically invested in her taxable brokerage account or checking account. If she doesn't like VG because they only have an online presence, you can accomplish the same thing at other brokerages which have local offices (TDA, Schwab, Fidelity, etc).
Thanks. Her broker is TDA, which has a nice selection of Vanguard funds without transaction fees, including Wellesley, which I had forgotten about as an option. There is also the Target Retirement Income Fund VTINX. All seem like sensible options, and should be fine both in the IRA and in a taxable account.
CRTR
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by CRTR »

Whakamole wrote: Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:32 am Thanks. Her broker is TDA, which has a nice selection of Vanguard funds without transaction fees, including Wellesley, which I had forgotten about as an option. There is also the Target Retirement Income Fund VTINX. All seem like sensible options, and should be fine both in the IRA and in a taxable account.
Not sure that TDA offers Vanguard products NTF any more. I think only Vanguard and Etrade offer VG funds and ETFs as NTF. TDA did a couple years ago but think they cancelled the arrangement. On the other hand, they do offer a bunch of iShare ETFs, NTF. You could go with AOK (iShares Core Conservative Allocation ETF) and accomplish the same goal while remaining at TDA.
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

CRTR wrote: Wed Sep 25, 2019 12:33 pm
Whakamole wrote: Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:32 am Thanks. Her broker is TDA, which has a nice selection of Vanguard funds without transaction fees, including Wellesley, which I had forgotten about as an option. There is also the Target Retirement Income Fund VTINX. All seem like sensible options, and should be fine both in the IRA and in a taxable account.
Not sure that TDA offers Vanguard products NTF any more. I think only Vanguard and Etrade offer VG funds and ETFs as NTF. TDA did a couple years ago but think they cancelled the arrangement. On the other hand, they do offer a bunch of iShare ETFs, NTF. You could go with AOK (iShares Core Conservative Allocation ETF) and accomplish the same goal while remaining at TDA.
You are right, they don't. (Except ETFs with the most recent announcement.)

I'm not entirely comfortable rolling a three-fund portfolio for her, even using the %s used for a Target Date income fund. Then again, I'm also not entirely comfortable with the foreign bond allocation in the Target Date/Lifecycle funds.

I was looking at AOK but the ER is about 2x as much as it is for the Vanguard equivalent.

Maybe I can convince her to roll everything over to Vanguard.
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Stinky
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Stinky »

Whakamole wrote: Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:09 am
Maybe I can convince her to roll everything over to Vanguard.
Sorry for your loss.

Do you or your siblings have accounts at Vanguard? If so, you can talk up their choice of funds, low fees, etc. to your mother, along with your personal satisfaction with Vanguard (that is, if you're satisfied with them).

Best of luck to you. You've gotten some good advice upthread.
It's a GREAT day to be alive - Travis Tritt
galectin
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by galectin »

CRTR wrote: Wed Sep 25, 2019 12:33 pm
Whakamole wrote: Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:32 am Thanks. Her broker is TDA, which has a nice selection of Vanguard funds without transaction fees, including Wellesley, which I had forgotten about as an option. There is also the Target Retirement Income Fund VTINX. All seem like sensible options, and should be fine both in the IRA and in a taxable account.
Not sure that TDA offers Vanguard products NTF any more. I think only Vanguard and Etrade offer VG funds and ETFs as NTF. TDA did a couple years ago but think they cancelled the arrangement. On the other hand, they do offer a bunch of iShare ETFs, NTF. You could go with AOK (iShares Core Conservative Allocation ETF) and accomplish the same goal while remaining at TDA.
TDA just announced that they are going to commission-free trading for all stocks and ETFs, so the Vanguard offerings are back for the OP's purpose at TDA.
rj49
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by rj49 »

The easiest thing would be to put the IRAs into some sort of income fund, like TR or Lifestrategy income, and use the RMD or mortality tables to set up automatic withdrawals.

For the taxable mishmash, slowly sell a little each year, to minimize the tax hit and to make it a sort of annuity for your mother. It also allows you to sell selectively based on current valuation, so you're not selling everything during a recession/market decline, with a healthy amount kept in reserve for possible LTC or other medical needs.

For savings, you could try finding a local credit union that pays something positive on an account and that your mother would be comfortable visiting. I know BECU pays 6% or so on the first $500 in savings and checking, so something like that would be helpful, especially if they have a credit card that's easy to pay from savings (the BECU one gives 1.5% cash back).

For the VA, find your nearest DAV (Disabled Veteran's Charity) officer and set up an appointment. I did that after my disabled vet stepdad passed away, and they did all the paperwork and found everything my mother was eligible for. As they put it, they're free lawyers for vets, so definitely worth using their free expert help.

I also help my mother by monitoring her email and unsubscribing all the spam built up over the years, monitoring her bank account to watch for any signs of fraud, and will eventually try to get her savings/checking into something like BECU, as well as setting up my sister and I as joint account owners, so we could write checks in case she had to go into managed care or had an accident.

More importantly, I've found that focusing just on the money is worthless if a widow doesn't get involved in life and build relationships. So subtly encouraging such things would help her enjoy her money more--we've planned a family Christmas cruise, my brother took her on a wine tour and to his home in Belize, and we've tried to get her away from tv and garden work to volunteering and attending community events, as well as getting her an English setter that likes to be walked and admired in public, instead of the little yap dogs she had before.
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

Stinky wrote: Wed Oct 02, 2019 10:01 am Do you or your siblings have accounts at Vanguard? If so, you can talk up their choice of funds, low fees, etc. to your mother, along with your personal satisfaction with Vanguard (that is, if you're satisfied with them).
I do. Not quite Flagship but working on that. I've already played it up to her. Also the fees are lower and I'm more confident in using PAS than whatever TDA has cooked up, if it comes to that.
galectin wrote: Wed Oct 02, 2019 10:10 am TDA just announced that they are going to commission-free trading for all stocks and ETFs, so the Vanguard offerings are back for the OP's purpose at TDA.
Only ETFs, I think. I don't think any of their fund-of-funds are available in ETF format. Which goes back to rolling my own.
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

rj49 wrote: Wed Oct 02, 2019 10:33 am The easiest thing would be to put the IRAs into some sort of income fund, like TR or Lifestrategy income, and use the RMD or mortality tables to set up automatic withdrawals.

For the taxable mishmash, slowly sell a little each year, to minimize the tax hit and to make it a sort of annuity for your mother. It also allows you to sell selectively based on current valuation, so you're not selling everything during a recession/market decline, with a healthy amount kept in reserve for possible LTC or other medical needs.

For savings, you could try finding a local credit union that pays something positive on an account and that your mother would be comfortable visiting. I know BECU pays 6% or so on the first $500 in savings and checking, so something like that would be helpful, especially if they have a credit card that's easy to pay from savings (the BECU one gives 1.5% cash back).

For the VA, find your nearest DAV (Disabled Veteran's Charity) officer and set up an appointment. I did that after my disabled vet stepdad passed away, and they did all the paperwork and found everything my mother was eligible for. As they put it, they're free lawyers for vets, so definitely worth using their free expert help.

I also help my mother by monitoring her email and unsubscribing all the spam built up over the years, monitoring her bank account to watch for any signs of fraud, and will eventually try to get her savings/checking into something like BECU, as well as setting up my sister and I as joint account owners, so we could write checks in case she had to go into managed care or had an accident.

More importantly, I've found that focusing just on the money is worthless if a widow doesn't get involved in life and build relationships. So subtly encouraging such things would help her enjoy her money more--we've planned a family Christmas cruise, my brother took her on a wine tour and to his home in Belize, and we've tried to get her away from tv and garden work to volunteering and attending community events, as well as getting her an English setter that likes to be walked and admired in public, instead of the little yap dogs she had before.
First, thanks for this reply.

I was thinking of selling everything in taxable this year - the reason being, I have the cost basis corrected now, and this is the last year that my mom will file as married. Nearly everything is long-term capital gains (we're talking stocks inherited from parents, and mutual funds bought decades ago.) I already have a rough estimate on what the impact on taxes will be. (And I've heard some stories about Vanguard not getting the tax basis correct when stock is transferred, so maybe selling the assets while they are still at TDA would be better.) I could do it on a more gradual basis, selling some of the worst offenders. Some funds I don't even have much of a problem with, like Dodge and Cox Growth DODGX, though I'd prefer an index-based approach or Wellington-run actively managed funds.

Getting more on her savings - she's been with this (large national) bank for a long time, and is pretty convinced that they are there for her, etc. The interest rate on her savings account can be measured in single digit basis points. I don't think they are there for her. Another advantage to Vanguard since their money market rate is good, but we've discussed options like Ally. I honestly think she would rather have everything earning nothing in a checking account under the "it can't lose money" theory, even though it is definitely losing a lot to inflation every year. I'm a big fan of credit unions, especially since shared branching means your banking network is bigger than all but the largest banks.

We're already looking at DAV, and they've offered to help. Dad was a long-time member and it's nice to see they are returning the favor.

Already looking at mail and helping to monitor her accounts for fraud and spending. Some of this already resulted in action - she and my dad had decided to be very generous to the family over the past year. It was more than they could afford honestly, and I don't think she was keeping track of how much the outflow was. We had The Talk about this.

The last paragraph is the hardest - we're encouraging her to get involved with community groups, so far that's not happening but I'm hoping that she opens up to it over time.
psteinx
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by psteinx »

Sorry for your loss.

Some thoughts:

1) Community property state vs. not is a big deal. I think this has been asked, but you haven't answered. If it's a CP state, then the basis should be fully reset, and you can probably sell/exchange just about everything with minimal tax consequences.

2) Are you near by to your mother? Things are easier if you can easily go to her home, look through paperwork, etc.

3) How is your mom's mental state? Does she want you to be power of attorney, or just sort of a side financial helper?

4) Any other siblings/heirs with a strong interest in this situation? How much do they know about things and how do they feel, generally?

5) How much in the bank account? If she's got $30K there, earning 0.01%, that's not so good. If she's got $2000 there, and uses it to manage her finances and maybe [edit - for] a little personal interaction, that's not so bad.

6) If she's not in CP state and thus has probably only a partial basis reset, then as much as possible if you can track down the basis of assets, that's good. Older investments (bought before about 2012, but to some extent it varies based on the type of asset) will be considered "non-covered" - brokers didn't have a requirement to track basis for this stuff, though sometimes they can provide useful information.

7) It may be worth investing in an hour or two of a CPA or other tax preparer's time, to ask about basis questions and other stuff.

8) Veterans' benefit issues are far outside of my wheelhouse, but this sounds like a potentially big deal in your mother's financial picture. You need some understanding of this before you take just about any specific actions with other assets. You should find out the nature of these benefits, and what filings your father has made in the past. Be aware that your father's record keeping, filing, and so on, may not have been complete and/or accurate. And things may change as a result of your father's death.

(I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer.)

Good luck!
Last edited by psteinx on Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

psteinx wrote: Wed Oct 02, 2019 1:40 pm Sorry for your loss.

Some thoughts:

1) Community property state vs. not is a big deal. I think this has been asked, but you haven't answered. If it's a CP state, then the basis should be fully reset, and you can probably sell/exchange just about everything with minimal tax consequences.

2) Are you near by to your mother? Things are easier if you can easily go to her home, look through paperwork, etc.

3) How is your mom's mental state? Does she want you to be power of attorney, or just sort of a side financial helper?

4) Any other siblings/heirs with a strong interest in this situation? How much do they know about things and how do they feel, generally?

5) How much in the bank account? If she's got $30K there, earning 0.01%, that's not so good. If she's got $2000 there, and uses it to manage her finances and maybe a little personal interaction, that's not so bad.

6) If she's not in CP state and thus has probably only a partial basis reset, then as much as possible if you can track down the basis of assets, that's good. Older investements (bought before about 2012, but to some extent it varies based on the type of asset) will be considered "non-covered" - brokers didn't have a requirement to track basis for this stuff, though sometimes they can provide useful information.

7) It may be worth investing in an hour or two of a CPA or other tax preparer's time, to ask about basis questions and other stuff.

8) Veterans' benefit issues are far outside of my wheelhouse, but this sounds like a potentially big deal in your mother's financial picture. You need some understanding of this before you take just about any specific actions with other assets. You should find out the nature of these benefits, and what filings your father has made in the past. Be aware that your father's record keeping, filing, and so on, may not have been complete and/or accurate. And things may change as a result of your father's death.

(I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer.)

Good luck!
Thanks, psteinx.

To answer your questions:

1) Not a community property state, so I think half of the stocks/funds have their cost basis reset. The paperwork for this (TDA wants a form to be filled out to request this) already sent in.

2) I'm not close by unfortunately. I have a sibling who is very close by but definitely not the financial type, but he's much better at dealing with stuff around the house. We'd like to have a neighbor show her how to take photos of mail she gets on her phone and send it to us.

3) That's hard to say. She's a bit afraid of signing over a power of attorney - and I don't blame her entirely, any AARP bulletin will have a story about a POA being used for elder abuse. She may eventually be OK with it, but is obviously going through a lot.

4) Other siblings, for the most part we are on the same page about watching her finances, making sure they are invested in an appropriate and prudent way, etc. Her side of the family tends to live well into their 90s so the money she has will have to last. In some ways that's why I would like to have a financial person look over my investment plan, since she may want to be more aggressive if she gets more than enough to cover her expenses for the time being. I'm not sure if PAS would even be appropriate for that, this may be beyond their expertise.

5) Much more than $30K. My dad was much more into online banks and such. I'm feeling that I can see about convincing her to put some of that money in either an online bank or Vanguard's MM fund, to get her toes wet. And emphasizing that it's very easy to get the money in case of an emergency.

6) Already done, I'll give a thumbs-up to TDA who produced the cost basis for everything from the Scottrade acquisition and made the adjustments to the account, as well as stock that was inherited.

7) I'm thinking that, since I have both tax questions (should everything be sold/reallocated this year?) and investment questions (do I want to be more conservative given her income and expenses, or more moderate.) I don't know if there is a single person or person(s) who would have the answer to this. We'll probably want to find someone to help with her taxes next year, since dad always did them before, and they'll be more complicated at least for this year.

8) It's a big deal, the potential benefit from the VA is several thousand per month. There are some organizations, like DAV, that will represent you to the VA, and they've offered to help. Part of the problem is that some of the questions (income, assets) are really best answered by myself, since I know about all the financial accounts and what the income/outflow is. (Which is another issue, I don't have POA or formal access. Just my mom saying that it's ok for me to check the accounts to help with the budget and look for fraud. I wish I had proper authority for this and want to convince her to do that.)
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

OK, part 2 of this, now that I have gotten the cost basis adjusted, gotten rid of some clunkers, and more of a handle on assets and income.

As a refresher, mom is 80. Her monthly income is $1200 through Social Security, $1700 through a Federal government pension, and we expect that she'll be getting an additional $2500-$3000 from survivor benefits from a VA disability claim. She owns her own home, is in good health, has great health insurance through the Feds (effectively paying nothing), no plans to move to a CCRC/equivalent though she has talked about doing it someday. Her side of the family tends to live long into their 90s. She did have one sibling with dementia.

I'm currently assisting her in moving brokerage/IRA assets from TD Ameritrade to Vanguard; that includes selling assets in favor of better ones. I've already sold some clunkers, so the cash level is a bit higher than it was before. She does not live in a community property state, so I was able to reset the cost basis for 50% of stock/mutual fund holdings.

The main purpose of managing this is to make sure she has enough to have a comfortable retirement. I do not think there is enough to think about much of an inheritance for her kids, and all of us (myself included) are doing ok-to-well financially and are expecting nothing.

Assets are:
House worth ~$200K

Taxable accounts:
$80K in low-yielding savings
$10K in a low-yielding CD
$10K in a high-yielding CD
$25K in brokerage money market funds
$40K in various utility companies. Current adjusted gain is a few thousand dollars.
$20K shares in DODGX (Dodge & Cox Growth.) $3K gain here.
$7K shares in VIPSX (Vanguard TIPS.) Minimal gain here.

IRA:
$45K in money market fund.

My thoughts:
Initially I was thinking I should just let it sit in VTINX (Vanguard Target Retirement Income.) I have mixed feelings about foreign bonds, seeing as I have avoided them myself, but there's a strong element of simplicity there.

However, I'm aware that Jack Bogle had said that we should think of social security as part of bond allocation; given that my mother is getting sufficient income stream to live on now, and (once the VA claim is processed) should even be getting enough to live in some assisted living, I wonder if VTINX may be too conservative. Effectively my mom already has a lot in guaranteed income, so perhaps the investments should be slightly more aggressive, maybe Vanguard Balanced (VBIAX), LifeStrategy Moderate (VSMGX), Wellington, etc.

I don't think I'd go straight three-fund portfolio because I'm not sure my mom could deal with a large drop in one fund, even if the other funds kept their value, so I'm leaning towards asset allocation funds. That's not including what my siblings might think.

I would want to sell the mutual funds (DODGX, VIPSX) this year since this would be the last year that she'd be filing married, so from a tax perspective it makes sense to take gains this year. I'd also want to sell the half of the stock with an adjusted cost basis, and look into ending the CDs.

I have no idea how much cash I should make sure she has on-hand, right now it's way too much, but I may keep a larger allocation until the VA has made their final ruling on how much she will be getting.

Any thoughts, or other issues I haven't considered?
ExitStageLeft
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by ExitStageLeft »

I would explore selling all the stocks now and taking the LTCG for her half of the basis. As long as she's in the 0% LTCG bracket, take those gains and simplify.
HomeStretch
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by HomeStretch »

Whakamole wrote: Thu Oct 03, 2019 12:54 pm We'd like to have a neighbor show her how to take photos of mail she gets on her phone and send it to us.
You can also, with your mom’s permission, sign up for “Informed Delivery” for your mom’s address with USPS. I get a daily email that includes a picture of the outside envelope for (almost) every piece of mail to be delivered (usually) that day. If you see something that might be important, you can call your mom if you don’t get a photo from her.
Topic Author
Whakamole
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Re: Helping widowed mother with investments

Post by Whakamole »

HomeStretch wrote: Tue Oct 22, 2019 12:40 pm
Whakamole wrote: Thu Oct 03, 2019 12:54 pm We'd like to have a neighbor show her how to take photos of mail she gets on her phone and send it to us.
You can also, with your mom’s permission, sign up for “Informed Delivery” for your mom’s address with USPS. I get a daily email that includes a picture of the outside envelope for (almost) every piece of mail to be delivered (usually) that day. If you see something that might be important, you can call your mom if you don’t get a photo from her.
Already done, actually my dad set it up, we're just checking it.
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