Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Financial Planning for Kids With Special Needs

By Renee Hanson, Ameriprise Financial

Are you wondering how to plan for the future of a child with special needs? Here’s a list to help you get started:

Set up a special needs trust.

The most critical component of a plan for your child’s future welfare is the special needs or supplemental trust. Through Social Security and Medicaid, the government subsidizes certain services to help care for special needs individuals with demonstrated financial need, but there are strict eligibility requirements.

A special needs trust allows you to circumvent income limitations imposed by the government, because money or property left in this kind of trust does not count toward the allowable limits. Why? Because you are not leaving your assets in your child’s control. Rather, the assets are assigned to a trust that is managed by a trustee, who in turn nominates your child as beneficiary while maintaining absolute discretion regarding expenditures from the trust. The trustee can use the assets to pay for necessary services not funded by other sources. Assets can also be used to fund activities that enhance quality of life, for example, to pay for a haircut, a night at the movies or even a vacation.

Name a trustee to handle your child’s finances.

The trustee you assign to a special needs trust should be a person who is not only trustworthy but also competent to manage finances and follow complex and ever-changing government guidelines. It’s a big responsibility, which is why some parents turn to a financial or nonprofit institution that specializes in trusts to serve as the child’s trustee.

Seek legal guardianship of your adult child.

If your child is unable to handle his or her own medical or financial decisions, apply to become the child’s legal guardian before he or she turns 18. Because the process varies by state, consult your legal professional for more information. You’ll also want to identify a legal guardian for your child in the event of your death. Make sure it is someone you are confident will carry out your wishes and advocate for your child’s best interests.

Write a letter of intent.

This document serves as a guideline for the caretaker(s) of your child when you are no long here. Update it annually to help ensure that it includes:

  • Current information about your child’s likes and dislikes
  • Contact information for your child’s medical, dental, educational and other professional providers
  • Other pertinent information to help your child’s caretaker(s) meet your child’s needs

Do you want more helpful advice on managing your finances, budgeting, investing and saving? Become a member of the Fresh Start Community of women today: Membership gives you exclusive access to all of the exciting & interactive workshops.

Meet with your legal, financial and tax professionals as a team.

This will enable you to put together the right combination of legal and financial solutions to ensure your child is financially secure and receives quality care throughout his or her lifetime.

Renée A. Hanson, CFP®, CEP®, CDFA™, CFS, is a private wealth advisor with Hanson, Ayala & Associates, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Her passion is in helping women achieve their dreams and financial goals, regardless of life’s many obstacles. Renée is licensed/registered to do business with U.S. residents only in the states of AZ, CA, CO, GA, IA, IL, MI, MN, MT, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, PA, SC, TX, VA, WA, WI. Please visit: to learn more.

Ameriprise Financial does not provide tax or legal advice. Consult your tax advisor or attorney.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC. Some products and services may not be available in all jurisdictions or to all clients.

© 2011 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Raise Mistakes

Two things you should never say if you want to make more money at work!
By Laura Browne, Author & Corporate Trainer

Asking for a salary increase can be stressful. Here are two mistakes to avoid and what you can say instead to get the raise you deserve.

  • Don’t talk about how much you need this money to pay your bills. Your manager doesn’t want to hear that you need money for a new car or a vacation or to save for your child’s college fund. They may be privately sympathetic to your need for more money, but that doesn’t mean they’ll give you a raise.

    Instead, focus on the business reasons for the raise request. Talk about the value you’ve brought to the company and how you continue to make money and save money. People get raises based on their perceived value to the company. If your boss sees that you’re an important contributor to the bottom line, you’re more likely to get a raise.

  • Don’t hint that you’ll quit. Managers hate this. Even if you’re looking for a new job, don’t mention it unless you’re ready to walk out the door that day. Otherwise you run the risk of your manager calling your bluff and saying you should go somewhere else. If you really don’t think you’re going to make any more money at your company and you think you will be more valued somewhere else, start looking but don’t threaten you’ll leave.

    Here’s what you can do instead. Talk to your boss and say how much you like your job. Say there is one thing that concerns you and mention your salary. Then stop talking. See what your boss says. It’s important to keep this positive and upbeat. If your boss mentions the difficult economic times, agree that could be a concern and turn it around to focus on how you’re helping the company to be more profitable. Don’t argue with your boss, just emphasize your worth. All you want to do is start the conversation and then have follow up meetings.

    Another good approach is to ask your boss for suggestions after you mention your salary concern. Ask what else you would need to do to make more money at work. Are there high priority projects you can get assigned to? Is there a problem area you can take on?

    It comes down to this, asking for a raise should be treated like any other important work project. A raise request should be handled in an unemotional way. Talk about value to the company and build a business case for your salary increase. It will make it easier for you to prepare and your boss will appreciate your calm and practical approach.

Do you want more helpful advice on job searching, career advancement and improving your leadership skills? Become a member of the Fresh Start Community of women today: Membership gives you exclusive access to all of the exciting & interactive workshops.

Laura C. Browne has more than 20 years experience as a corporate trainer and manager and is passionate about giving women the guidance and communication skills necessary to overcome and be successful despite workplace and gender-specific challenges. For almost ten years, women from Fortune 1000 companies have turned to Laura for career guidance and training. Laura is the author of Raise Rules for Women: How To Make More Money At Work and Why Can’t You Communicate Like Me? How Smart Women Get Results At Work (both titles available on Amazon Kindle).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to Ace Your Next Performance Review

By Amy Michalenko, Career Expert, Fresh Start Women's Foundation

When it’s come to performance reviews, you’ve likely heard of the best case scenario: a glowing review that brings added responsibilities, more visibility in the organization, a promotion, and even a raise! And you’ve probably heard tales of the worst, too: a nightmare meeting ending in probationary status or even dismissal.

So, yes, it’s perfectly understandable why this annual event can be more than a little intimidating. But really, a review shouldn’t be scary, surprising, or even something you lose sleep over.

Your performance review should be an accurate look at your work and accomplishments and a check-in to help you get to the next stage in your career. And doing well is not about getting lucky that day—it’s about preparing all year long. Here’s how ensure smooth sailing:

1. Don’t Wait to Ask for Feedback.

Employees often make the mistake of waiting to get comments on their performance until their yearly review. But a performance review shouldn’t be a time for surprises. Instead, solicit regular evaluations by setting up times to check in with your supervisor throughout the year. This allows you to nip any performance issues in the bud and avoid getting dinged in your review for small or easy-to-fix problems. Plus, when you know what to expect, you’ll sleep much easier the night before.

2. Plan for Your Review All Year Long.

Being able to clearly communicate what you have accomplished throughout the year and articulate the value you bring to the company is critical to receiving a great review. Your supervisor likely won’t notice or remember everything you’ve done, particularly if she’s managing many employees, so set up a system to keep track of your accomplishments. Write things down, or keep your list on your hard drive. Note new processes you’ve implemented, improvements you’ve made, responsibilities you’ve taken on, acknowledgements you’ve received from customers or co-workers, and any other ways you have gone above and beyond. And don’t hold back or downplay what you’ve accomplished: it’s not bragging—it’s making sure you’ll be recognized for the work you’ve done.

3. Determine your Expectations.

Before your review, think ahead of time about your desired results. A promotion? A raise? A lateral move into a new department? Whatever it is you want for your next step, a performance review is an excellent time to ask for it. It’s also a great time to communicate your career plans for the upcoming year. Do you want to take on more management duties? Learn a new skill? Take on different responsibilities? If so, explain this to you supervisor during your review. This is the time she’ll be thinking about your future with the organization as well as changes for the upcoming year—especially as other people in your department might also be moving around at this same time.

4. Prepare to Hear Constructive Criticism.

Performance reviews are meant to help guide your development and growth. So your supervisor won’t—and shouldn’t—just discuss the things you do well. She’ll also provide you with constructive criticism to help you to improve.So don’t get caught off guard—expect to receive this type of feedback, even if you’re doing great. It’s not bad, it’s normal and even helpful. The worst thing you can do in response to constructive criticism is to become defensive or upset. Instead, take this opportunity to ask your supervisor for concrete suggestions on how you can improve, especially in areas you know have been a challenge for you. Show that you are receptive and eager to continue growing in your role. Plus, chances are your boss was in your shoes once, and might have some great tips for overcoming whatever you’re struggling with.

5. If You’re Not Comfortable, Go to HR.

Not every supervisor has had proper training to do a review, and sometimes the reviewer’s personal feelings can affect the rating she gives you. If you feel you have received an unfair review, refrain from becoming sullen or angry with the reviewer. Instead, finish the meeting and then approach your HR department afterward.Be sure that you can provide backup for your disappointment, such as accomplishments that went unrecognized or facts that dispute the information your reviewer provided. If you don’t have evidence, you can come off as bitter just because you didn’t get the review you wanted. So organize your facts before approaching someone with your concerns.

A review can be nerve-racking and stressful, but it’s definitely not something to be afraid of. Be prepared and take charge of your career—starting well in advance of review day—and you’ll set yourself up for a great conversation when that day rolls around.

Do you want more helpful advice on job searching or career advancement? Become a member of the Fresh Start Community of women today: Membership gives you exclusive access to all of the exciting & interactive workshops, webinars and special offers.

Amy Michalenko is the Career Services Manager at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in human resource management and a master’s in instructional leadership and corporate training from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA. She has more than 10 years of experience in the areas of human resources, career services, corporate training and development.