Money Management Q&As

April 7, 2006



The safest way to mail tax returns

Q. Last year a colleague faced hassles after the IRS claimed it had never received his income tax return. To avoid all possibility of a similar snafu, I plan to send my return by certified or registered mail. Which is best?

A. Either will provide adequate proof of delivery for the IRS' purposes. Other options include filing electronically, in which case the IRS will send you an electronic confirmation that it received your return, or using one of the private delivery services that the agency has approved (see http://www.irs.gov/irb/2004-52_IRB/ar10.html for the full list).

If a tree falls, whose insurer pays?

Q. My neighbor doesn't want to pay to cut down a large tree that's on his property and leans toward my home. If the tree falls during a storm, would his homeowners policy cover the damage to my property?

A. Probably not, assuming the tree is healthy. You'd likely have to file a claim under your own homeowners policy, which means paying your normal deductible and possibly more, depending on your policy's conditions regarding storm damage. Some policies have separate deductibles for damage related to windstorms, for instance.

If the tree is dead or dying, however, and your neighbor does nothing to prevent potential damage to your property, he could be considered negligent and held legally responsible. In that case his homeowners policy should cover the damage. Ask your insurer for clarification if your policy isn't clear on this point. If you anticipate a problem, you might consider splitting the tree-removal cost with your neighbor to head off the potential for a bigger bill later.

When a will doesn't rule

Q. Before either of us married, my brother and I bought a vacation home together, and we own it as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Now I'd like my interest in the home to pass to my wife if I die. Can I do that by including that instruction in my will?

A. No. Ownership as joint tenants with right of survivorship nixes any instructions in your will. You and your brother each have an equal interest in the property, and when one of you dies his interest will pass directly to the surviving brother, escaping probate (but not necessarily estate tax). To prevent that, you must change your ownership to "tenancy in common" by executing a new deed. Then your wills can dictate how the property passes after death.

An easy way to track savings bonds

Q. When my mother died she left behind a large collection of savings bonds of varying types and maturities. How can I determine their worth?