Everyone remembers to list their house and car when drawing up their last will and testament. But what about Mom’s painting, or Dad’s quirky Christmas tie, or the chipped porcelain cake plate that came from “the old country” four generations back?

Value is a subjective term when it comes to heirlooms. You may want to rethink the list of possessions you plan to bequeath to children, grandchildren and other relatives and friends, to include items that could hold tremendous sentimental value for them.

Sadly, forgetting these items can undermine even the most careful inheritance plans and unnecessarily drag out the probate process.

Many a family rift is rooted in misunderstandings over who claimed a trinket that wasn't even mentioned in a will. Look no further than comedian Robin Williams' family: sure, there was dispute over valuables and money, but Williams' widow and children also fought viciously over possessions that carried little more than sentimental value.

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Worthy nonprofits rely on the big hearts and generous gifts of their donors. Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous nonprofits that use donations to line their owners’ pockets.

The Federal Trade Commission outlined one of the biggest shams in history earlier this year, charging four agencies with fleecing donors for $187 million. The Commission alleges that the agencies claimed donations were helping buy pain medicine, hospice care and other services for cancer patients including children and women with breast cancer. In fact, the Commission said the money really went toward execs' cars, vacations, tickets to sporting events and other luxuries. Two of the agencies have closed down and won't re-open.

How do they pull it off? And how can you make sure your hard-earned dollars get to those truly in need?

How to tell the saints from the sinners

One thing the allegedly fraudulent agencies counted on was that donors weren't paying attention to details. They gave their enterprises

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Retirement can be the best years of your life, without question. But there’s more to retirement than a permanent holiday from work. Unless you retired very young, there are very real implications of aging as you make real estate decisions. Don’t let pride, sentimentalism or inertia get in the way of good financial sense and health planning.

Here are four housing pitfalls that many retirees make and how to navigate each with grace and wisdom.

1. Staying Too Large, Too Long

Plenty of empty nesters get sentimental about the house where they raised their children. Some simply refuse to move out of pride and stubbornness (“What am I, an old person? I’m only __!”). But bigger houses are cost more money, more time and more effort.

If it has more than two bedrooms, you probably don’t need a house that size. You don’t need to wait until your last child graduates college (or high school, for that matter). Sell it now, and downsize to a single-story house or condo (more on stairs later).

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The idea of a “living” will is counterintuitive, isn’t it?

A will, after all, is a document you prepare to determine what will happen with your assets when you’re no longer living. Except that a living will doesn’t really have anything to do with money. And then there’s a living trust. Which is, actually, much more similar to a will. Confused?

If you’re asking what the difference is between the two, the answer is, well, almost everything. What the two documents do have in common, however, is that they are both created and take effect while you are living. They are also documents you should use in your estate planning journey.

Living Trust

A living trust (for these purposes usually created as a revocable living trust) serves a similar purpose as a last will in that it provides for the distribution of your assets. However, because this document is created and goes into effect while you are still living, you have the ability to continue to manage your assets as long as you’re mentally capable.

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My home town would be an expensive place to retire. With a 5% state income tax, a 3% county income tax, a 6% sales tax, exorbitant property tax rates and costly real estate, a nest egg of $500,000 would last far less time here than it would in, say, Alaska or Ecuador.

The tax question isn’t academic, or some political abstraction; by one calculation I made, I could live for only 15 years on my target retirement savings in my high-tax city, compared to virtually unlimited time in Ecuador.

How does that work? Put simply, if your retirement investments earn an average of say 6% return every year, and you can live on draws equalling 5% of your investments, then your nest egg will continue to grow and you can live indefinitely on it. But if you must spend 10% of your investments to live each year, then you draw down your nest egg and it will run out at a certain point.

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