Question: Practically everything my husband and I own is in his name. He has a will, but he says I don't need one because I don't own any assets. But I feel uncomfortable about this. What do you think?
Answer: At the risk of getting caught in the middle of a marital disagreement, I have to tell you that I think he's wrong, and you have a right to feel uncomfortable.
It is certainly conceivable that you may both die in a common catastrophe in which it is medically determined that your husband died before you. In that case you might inherit under his will, and then all those assets would be distributed to your heirs in accordance with state law, since you would have died intestate.
It is also possible that you may die before your husband. And even if your home and car and invested assets are in his name, you may have some personal assets -- family heirlooms, perhaps -- that you would want to go to specific people. You can only direct that disposition by having your own will.
Even if your husband were to die and you survived, you would then be faced with the need to have a will drawn -- and at a time of great personal stress. You really should discuss disposition and make your will during a period of calm when you are not pressured by the trauma of a personal loss.
I'll repeat what I've said here before. Every adult should have a will -- and that inlcudes single people and both partners in a marriage. If you die without a will, the state will provide one -- and it may not dispose of your assets as you would have wished.
Q: Each year I make my church contribution in the form of appreciated stock, to save the capital gains tax. But I'm never sure what date to use for valuing the shares. Is it the date I write to my broker asking him to transfer the stock to the church? (He holds my stocks in the street name.) Or the date on the new certificate? Or the date I actually give the certificate to the church?
A: the IRS has laid down some pretty specific rules covering a situation like yours.
Normally a contribution is considered consummated on the date you physically deliver it to the charitable organization. If the gift is sent by mail, delivery is the day of the mailing regardless of when it is received.
If you have a stock certificate in your name and simply endorse it to the church for their deposition, then the above rule applies. The date of delivery is the date of the gift, and the value on that date is the amount to use on your tax return.
But if you send the certificate to the transfer agent for reissue, or, as in your case, request issue of "street name" securities in the name of the church, then the rule is different.
In either of these situations, the gift is made, and the valuation established, on the date the stock is transferred on the books of the issuing corporation.
You can ask your broker to tell you the date of transfer when he sends you the stock certificate. In the absence of that information, the date shown on the new certificate is about as close as you're going to get and probably would be acceptable to the IRS.
Q: We recently bought some shares in a mutual fund. Now the fund has declared their annual capital gains dividend. How do we allocate that portion of the capital gain that we have to report on our tax return?
A: You don't allocate the dividend. You must report for tax purposes the full amount of the capital gain. Of course, you are only taxed on 40 percent of the total gain, since the gain is all long-term no matter how long you have owned the fund share.
As I've pointed out in the past -- and as you're now learning -- timing can be important in the purchase of mutual fund shares.
Most funds declare both income dividends and capital gains on a regular schedule. If you're planning a purchase, you should check out that schedule.
If it's pretty close to the next payment, you should consider delaying the purchase until after the record date to avoid paying tax on the whole year's capital gains when you have only owned the shares for a short time.