If you have recently lost your job, you are not alone! Inflation has skyrocketed in the United States over the past couple of years. Some smaller businesses have not been able to survive the increased expenses, putting employees out of work, while many larger companies have laid off employees to reduce their costs. If you are dealing with a job loss, you can transform what you may view as a crisis into an opportunity to take steps to protect yourself and your family.
- Take a Hard Look at Your Financial Situation
Try not to dwell on the loss; rather, focus on planning for the future. In planning proactively to address both the immediate crisis and your long-term financial wellbeing, it is important to assess the state of your finances. Do everything you can to maximize your resources and minimize your expenses.
Keep in mind that some resources may be available if you were laid off through no fault of your own. Some employers may provide a severance package, and in many cases, unemployment benefits are available for a limited period to tide you over until you find a new job. Depending on state law and your former employer’s policy, a payout of accrued vacation and sick leave may also be a source of liquidity that can sustain you for a while.
In addition, create a list of everything you own and their values. Some assets—i.e., accounts and property—are more easily converted to cash than others, and as a last resort, those assets could be liquidated and the proceeds used for living expenses. Your list should include your checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, cars, boats, and real estate. If you have an emergency fund, you can rely on those funds first. Keep in mind that withdrawals from checking and savings accounts have no tax consequences. That is not the case for every type of account: if you liquidate a portion of an investment account that has appreciated over time, you may have to pay taxes on any capital gains (the rate may be up to 20 percent, depending on your income and how long you have had the investment). Drawing cash out of a retirement account may result in even more tax liability (depending on the type of account and the amount withdrawn), as the amount withdrawn may be taxed as ordinary income, which could mean a rate much higher than the capital gains rate, and it may be subject to a 10 percent penalty.
You should also create alist of your debts and expenses. This will provide you with a fuller picture of your financial situation. If you have expenses that can be temporarily eliminated—subscriptions for streaming services, cable television, yard or house cleaning services, and other luxuries—it is smart to do so sooner rather than later. You can easily reestablish those services if you find another job quickly, but if you continue to spend money on such items, you will have less money available in the future if your job search lasts longer than you anticipate. You can figure out creative ways to live on less (and you may decide you want to continue doing so even after you land a new job!). If you do not already have a monthly budget, create one that will help you minimize your expenses.
You may also be able to work with creditors if you think you will miss a payment or need to make a reduced payment temporarily. They will prefer getting a partial payment rather than no payment, and most will be open to working with you as you look for a new job. However, this may have a negative impact on your credit rating, and you may have to make an effort in the future to increase your score.
- Update Your Estate Plan
Although you may think about updating your estate plan when your life circumstances change in a positive way—for example, getting a higher-paying job or having a child—you should also update your estate plan when you experience negative changes, such as losing a job. If your life insurance policy was provided by your employer, it will generally terminate when you leave your job. If, for example, you named your trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and were relying on those funds to provide for your loved ones, you may need to review your estate plan and make changes to how much everyone will receive. Similarly, if you have dipped into your savings account to cover your expenses during your period of unemployment and you have an insurance policy not provided by your former employer, you may want to name both children as beneficiaries of the insurance policy instead of naming one as the beneficiary of the insurance while leaving the diminished savings account to the other.
- Create an Estate Plan
If you do not already have an estate plan, gather your lists of accounts and property, and meet with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan to protect yourself, your family, and your property against court involvement upon incapacity and probate. Your attorney will ask you to provide your financial information to prepare for the estate planning consultation. An estate plan can protect your accounts and property by minimizing expenses and taxes—leaving more for your family—while also making sure your wishes are followed.
Without an estate plan, state law determines who will inherit your property and accounts after going through the probate process. Additionally, your heirs do not receive any of the assets until probate is complete which could take a year to a year and a half in California. A will or trust enables you to choose your beneficiaries and what you want each one to inherit from you. Administering a trust can be done quickly and more efficiently then probate so your beneficiaries can receive needed funds sooner. Certain types of trusts can protect your assets from creditors if the trust is established before any creditors’ claims arise. You can also specify in your will or a separate document who you would like to be the caregiver of your minor children if you are too sick to care for them or if you pass away. Your estate plan should also include important documents such as powers of attorney to authorize individuals you trust to make medical or financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so and a living will to provide guidance about how you want things to be handled if a medical crisis occurs.
Most importantly, an estate plan provides you and your family with the peace of mind of knowing that if anything happens to you, they will not have to deal with the possibility of family conflicts and difficult decisions during an already stressful time. An estate planning attorney can help you create a basic plan that you can afford now; and, if you choose, you can add to your plan once you have found a job. We are here to help, so please give us a call to schedule a consultation.