Money Management Q&A

October 5, 2007

Home assessment errors; estate planning; mutual funds

Spotting taxing errors in home assessments

My home was recently reassessed and my property tax has skyrocketed, so I want to check the accuracy of the property description in the town assessor's office. What common errors should I look for?

Start with simple mathematical slipups: transposed numbers, inaccurate measurements of the home's exterior or the land, square-footage miscalculations, mistakes in the number of rooms your home has, and the like. Then see if the property description still lists any structures that have been removed, such as a barn, shed, or swimming pool.

For more guidance and advice on how to fight an inflated assessment, see "The Homeowner's Property Tax Reduction Kit," an 86-page guide from the American Homeowners Association. You can download it for free at http://www.ahahome.com/propertytax. The National Taxpayers Union ( http://www.ntu.org) also offers its own guide for $6.95.

Can an executor refuse to serve?

My terminally ill uncle has asked me to serve as executor of his estate. I'd hate to disappoint him, but because of his estate's size the probate process could prove complicated. What if I say Yes and then find it's too involved for me?

You can turn down the job later or resign from it if you've already begun to settle his estate. But if you refuse your uncle's request, or you die before him and he hasn't named an alternate executor, the court will assign someone-possibly a trust company-to take over. If the court-appointed executor does a poor job, your uncle's heirs will suffer and you'll probably feel guilty. So you'd be wise to discuss this with him now, to make sure he names an alternate, leaves clear instructions to minimize the potential for court battles, and does anything else he can to make the job as simple as possible for you.

Checking for overlap among fund holdings

I've read that it's important to avoid overlap among mutual fund holdings, but I own shares of 15 funds and comparing lists of their top holdings seems like it would be a paperwork nightmare. Is there a simpler way?

You can use an online fund-analysis tool such as Morningstar's Portfolio X-Ray, a feature of the Portfolio Manager service. Portfolio X-Ray looks at each of your funds' top holdings, factoring in how much money you invest in each fund. Although you can use portions of Portfolio Manager for free to see a holdings list that shows the overlapping securities, you must be a premium member. The fee is $15.95 per month or $145 annually, after a 14-day free trial. Another portfolio analysis service is Overlap ( http://www.overlap.com, $165 a year), which includes several tools that allow users to compare funds, as well as a comprehensive portfolio review option. Although Overlap is geared toward investment advisers and other financial professionals, individual investors can also subscribe to the service.

Send your money management questions to: MMQA Editor, Medical Economics, 123 Tice Blvd., Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677-7664, or send an e-mail to memoney@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address).

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