Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

September 12, 2013
Does the sale of appreciated stock increase my income?

Q: I plan to retire in a couple of years and am strategizing my money options for maximum gain. Therefore I am allowing myself 12 years to roll over as much money as possible from 401k and 457 to Roth IRA. I am targeting to keep my income below the $250,000 threshold for married filing jt. I want to pay the taxes with my taxable account. I will have to sell LT appreciated stock. Does the sale of the appreciated stock count toward the $250,000 threshold? If so, then I suppose I will have to start selling off my stock now to bring up the cost basis in time for retirement when my income will ramp up due to the conversions.

Lady Lee
Sacramento, CA

September 5, 2013
Can overlooked heir receive IRA proceeds without tax consequences?

Q: My 94-year-old widowed mother recently died. Her will divides her estate equally among 3 adult children. However, she had various IRA accounts. On one rather large account, she only listed my sister and me as beneficiaries, inadvertently excluding my brother. Since these IRAs need to be rolled over to prevent huge tax consequences for us, is there any way to give my overlooked brother his share (about $100K) without incurring tax liability? He wants to get the money this year rather than $14K per year over time, the maximum gift allowance. Thank you.

Sacramento, CA

September 4, 2013
College students: Here's how to avoid I.D. theft

September marks the annual migration of college students flocking back to college campuses. With student loan debt topping $1.2 trillion, we recently wrote about ways to trim the fat from college costs.

But one of the biggest financial threats facing college students may be identity theft. According to, college students ages 18 to 24 face the highest risk of identity theft among adults, partly because they often live in shared housing where others can access their computers, files and other financial facts of life.

Here are some ways students can reduce the odds of becoming a victim of I.D. theft:

September 3, 2013
What opportunities are available for an older worker looking to retrain for a new career?

Q: I am a 60-year-old desperate to find a full-time career after being displaced several years ago (working two part-time jobs now). A career college in Rancho Cordova offers optical assistant training courses. Do you feel this would be a wise career path? Or could you offer an alternate suggestion? I have management and sales skills and am quite comfortable with various software apps. Thank you. Rick - Roseville, CA

September 3, 2013
Are there any tax breaks with respect to an inherited home?

Q: "Hello,
I inherited my Dad's home in 2009 after he passed away in January of 2009. I continued to pay the mortgage but last year (2012) added some improvements to get the house ready for sale. It sold in September 2012 with me owing $18,000 on the mortgage. (It was paid off at closing). What kind of tax breaks are available to me ?

Thanks so much,
Canton, GA

September 1, 2013
When is a trustee required to give heirs notice of a will or trust's existence?

Q: My aunt passed away without any children. My mother was the her last surviving sibling. I have an older cousin who 'took charge' and said that he was trustee of her estate. He also said that my aunt wanted no services of any kind. Since my aunt's passing, my mother has passed away as well. This leaves me wondering about the status of the estate. Does my cousin have a legal obligation to disclose the contents of my aunt's will? At what point must documents be filed with the county (nothing has been filed yet)? If she left a "living trust," must there be a disclosure of the contents to my mother and her heirs? At what point do we give up our rights to any inheritance?

Robert, Sacramento

August 29, 2013
If a parent's will leaves an estate equally to children, can one sibling take all the real property?

Q: When a person states in their will that adult children shall share equally in the estate, does that include real property, or does real property have to be stated specifically? There are only two adult children, myself and a sister. The deed on my father's home listed his name and my sibling. She kept the home and I only shared in the personal items and money from a bank account. Was I also entitled to share in the home?

GB, Sacramento

August 28, 2013
How do I get employers to see past my age and 33-year work history?

Q: I'm 58 and medically retired from state service in 2001. After 33 yrs of working in an office as an executive secretary, administrative assistant, legal secretary and division training coordinator, I wanted to try a different career path.

I got into merchandising and for the last 5 years was a caregiver. I now want to re-enter an office environment but seem to be getting nowhere. I'm taking online courses for current computer software programs but don't think employers see past my age (it's easy enough to figure out) and my job history since state retirement. Help!
Sacramento, CA

August 28, 2013
How do you get hired as a Pharmacy Tech without previous experience?

Q: My daughter completed a course for Pharmacy Technician. She has passed the necessary state exams and is trying to find a job. The problem is they all seem to want someone with at least one year of experience. But how do you get experience if you can't get hired?
Carole - Lincoln, CA

August 28, 2013
What types of jobs are available for a sex offender seeking employment?

Q: Hi. I am a 25-year-old man and worked so hard to earn a bachelor's degree in Electronics and a master's degree in Electrical Engineering. I was happy working for a good company. But lost my job because I made the biggest mistake of my life.

As a registered sex offender, I will be on probation for 5 years. What possibility do I have to work again in my career? And where? What are my alternatives? Any information will be really appreciated. Thank you.
Paul - Folsom, CA

August 28, 2013
Where should I house my IRAs?

Q: I was told that one should not park their IRAs (both traditional and Roth) at a bank and should have the accounts at a brokerage/mutual fund. Is this true? If so, why?

Sacramento, CA

August 27, 2013
What is reasonable compensation for the trustee of a small trust?

Q: My longtime friend (and attorney) has agreed to become my Trust Trustee.
However, when I inquire how much she should be paid or otherwise compensated, she merely shrugs and says, "Whatever you think is fair," which, of course, doesn't answer my question or help me to stipulate any amount in the Trust that I am now completing. Are there "standard rates" you can inform me of? I'd like to pay her a lump sum per year for each year there are funds remaining in the Trust. My Trust is small (less than $90,000), of which $70,000 will be immediately spent on my charitable beneficiaries listed. The remaining portion is to be my nephew's college fund, of which my friend is to oversee and manage and of course, issue any checks when appropriate. It is not any more complex or involved. I read somewhere that 1% per year of the remaining funds of a trust is fair compensation. Is it?

Stephan, Antelope

August 23, 2013
What steps should one follow to amend estate planning documents?

Q: My wife and I prepared our living trust in June 1990 through an attorney. He sent me a couple of amendments, which I made in the trust. The last amendment was made in 1998 changing the durable power of attorney for health care. There are no changes in the assets or other family changes. My children are now grown, and I want to substitute existing successor trustees, co-executors, agents and conservators with my children. Can I do it myself by making these changes in the living trust? Do I need to make any other changes that may be required in the trust? No changes were made after 1998. Thanks.

Hargopal, Cerritos

August 21, 2013
Sibling questions a brother's changes on promissory note to elderly mother

Q: My brother borrowed $300,000 from my mother to buy an apartment building. He has made interest-only payments for the past three years. He recently brought a new promissory note and deed of trust for our mother to sign, reducing the principal balance of the note by $60,000 and reducing the interest rate from 7 percent to 3 percent. Mother is 94 years old and has been diagnosed with dementia and is under 24-hour care. My brother's wife is a notary and notarized the documents. Does any of this situation seem legal?

Wondering in Folsom

August 19, 2013
Is a trust really necessary for a small estate and, if so, what is a reasonable cost?

Q: My 78-year old father is going in for some heart valve repairs. He is just now getting his information/estate done! He recently informed me that he is being charged $2,500 do draw up papers. He said the attorney was from a list provided by Placer County courts. The fee seems very high to me. All he has is his home, with a large mortgage, $20,000 in a savings account and nick-nacks around his house.
My brother and I will be in charge of clearing/selling the home and then distributing assets among my father's grandchildren. Do we really need to spend $2,500? We have sat down and listed his wishes and agree with them. I will be executor and my brother will be trustee. With so little in his estate, what is the best legal way to handle this? Also, do we even need an attorney involved?

Amber, Roseville

August 19, 2013
Back-to-school shopping? Let your kids calculate the costs

In Sunday's column on back-to-school shopping, we shared some tips from experts and parents alike.
One of those, the financial literacy site, Practical Money Skills for Life, recommends letting young kids or teens figure out exactly what school really costs. It's got an easy-to-use calculator where you and your kids can plug in the numbers to see whether you're going over/under budget. The site also offers budget tips, plus advice on how to manage extra-curricular costs for kids' sports, music, theater and other activities.

Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

Personal Finance columns

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