Social Security Benefits ‘Restricted Application’

Don’t confuse “Restricted Application” with the “Claim and Suspend” strategy. Many people confuse the two, according to an article appearing in Forbes titled “Put Thousands In Your Pocket By Taking Advantage Of the Social Security ‘Restricted Application’.” One thing these tactics do have in common: you’ll need to be at your Full Retirement Age, or FRA, to use them.

The use of the ‘Claim and Suspend” strategy, ended on April 30, 2016. You would have needed to have been born before May 1, 1950. This let a person have Spouse #1 claim their benefit and then immediately suspend that benefit, allowing it to grow by 32% using delayed retirement credits. That allowed Spouse #2 to apply for and receive Spousal Benefits. In this case, Spouse #1 was not receiving a monthly benefit and Spouse #2 was.

However, that’s history. Let’s examine what you might be able to do: the ‘Restricted Application.’

To use this strategy, you need to have been born before Jan. 2, 1954 and have reached FRA. The restricted application is similar to claim and suspend, with one big difference: Spouse #1 needs to be receiving their Social Security benefit, in order for Spouse #2 to collect a spousal benefit. As of this writing, for one spouse to receive a spousal benefit, the other spouse must be receiving their benefit. Both spouses cannot receive spousal benefits at the same time.

Here’s what the Social Security Program Operations Manual says:

When a claimant is eligible for more than one benefit at the time of filing, he or she may, for any reason, choose to limit or restrict the scope of the application to exclude a class of benefits unless there is an exception. The reason may be to receive higher current benefits or to maximize the amount of benefits over a period-of-time, including the effect of delayed retirement credits (DRC). For additional information on DRCs, see RS 00615.690.

Using the restricted application works best, if the lower earning spouse claims their Social Security benefits, when the higher earning spouse reaches their FRA.

Here’s an example:

The husband’s primary benefit is $2,650 and his birthday is June 15, 1953.

The wife’s primary benefit is $1,000 and her birthday is June 15, 1955.

Because he was born before January 2, 1954, he can use the restricted application, when he reaches full retirement age. She can never use the restricted application because she was born after that date.

She begins taking her own benefits based on her earnings record at age 64, when he reaches his FRA. She only gets $855, because she is filing before her FRA.

He then files a restricted application for spousal benefits only in the amount of $500 in June 2019, when he is at his FRA of 66 years of age. He gets one half of her FRA benefit.

He then switches to his own benefit based on his earnings record in the amount of $3,498 in June 2023 at age 70. His benefit is 32% higher, because of earning delayed retirement credits.

She adds $325 in spousal benefits to her own benefit of $855, for a total of $1,180 in June 2023, when she is 68.

Now that he has filed for his own worker benefit, she can file for her spousal benefit. When he dies in June 2038, she switches to survivor benefits for $3,498, which is the amount he was receiving when he passed away. Her benefit of $1,180 goes away.

This strategy does three things:

  • Maximizes the higher earner’s benefit,
  • Coordinates benefits between the spouses, and
  • Maximizes the survivor benefits.

It takes advance planning and attention to detail, but this strategy could have a big difference in the total benefits that the couple receives. Is it worth doing the math? Definitely!

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 21, 2019) “Put Thousands In Your Pocket By Taking Advantage Of the Social Security ‘Restricted Application’”

 

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How Can I Goof Up My Estate Plan?

There are several critical errors you can make that will render an estate plan invalid. Many of these can be easily avoided, by examining your plan periodically and keeping it up to date.

Investopedia’s article, “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning” gives us a list of these common issues.

Not Updating Beneficiary Designations. Be certain those to whom you intend to leave your assets are clearly named on the proper forms. Whenever there’s a life change, update your financial, retirement, and insurance accounts and policies, as well as your estate planning documents.

Forgetting Key Legal Documents. Revocable living trusts are the primary vehicle used to keep some assets from probate. However, having only trusts without a will can be a mistake—the will is the document where you designate the guardian of your minor children, if something should happen to you and/or your spouse.

Bad Recordkeeping. Leaving a mess is a headache. Your family won’t like having to spend time and effort finding, organizing and locating your assets. Draft a letter of instruction that tells your executor where everything is located, the names and contact information of your banker, broker, insurance agent, financial planner, attorney etc.. Make a list of the financial websites you use with their login information, so your accounts can be accessed.

Faulty Communication. Telling your heirs about your plans can be made easier with a simple letter of explanation that states your intentions, or even tells them why you changed your mind about something. This could help give them some closure or peace of mind, even though it has no legal authority.

Not Creating a Plan. This last one is one of the most common. There are plenty of stories of extremely wealthy people who lose most, if not all, of their estate to court fees and legal costs, because they didn’t have an estate plan.

These are just a few of the common estate planning errors that happen. For more information on how to be certain your assets will be dispersed according to your wishes, talk with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (September 30, 2018) “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning”

 

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Should Older Millennials Buy Life Insurance?

We’re all going to die someday. That’s one of the only certainties in life, along with taxes. However, a recent study by Budget Insurance found that 82% of millennials don’t know the purpose of life insurance—despite the fact they’re aging, starting families and dealing with more complex financial situations.

Forbes’ article, “Why Older Millennials Need To Start Taking Life Insurance Seriously,” notes that, although most millennials may not have given life insurance much thought before, it’s now time to begin taking life insurance and other estate planning more seriously. To help with this, more companies are starting to take millennials seriously, when it comes to financial matters. The result? It’s getting easier than ever before to get life insurance.

Life insurance is used to protect your family financially, in case of your death. That is important for millennials who are starting families that depend on them financially.

According to Pew Research, 60% of families depend on dual incomes and just 31% of families rely on a single income.  A total of 91% of families in the U.S. require the income of at least one spouse to survive. However, what happens if one (or both) die? That’s where life insurance comes into play.

Because millennials are still relatively young, getting life insurance is very cost effective. In addition, for the vast majority of millennials, a simple term life insurance policy will do the job.

Term life policies are very inexpensive and can be a financial relief, if they’re ever actually needed.

It’s possible to get a $1,000,000 term life insurance policy for about $40 per month, depending on your age and health. That is quite a bit of insurance for little expense.

With the increase in millennials who require life insurance, many insurance companies are making buying life insurance very easy.

These companies have online or app-based solutions that focus on speed and ease of use. These companies leverage technology and keep human interaction to a level that most millennials like.

Reference: Forbes (January 26, 2019) “Why Older Millennials Need To Start Taking Life Insurance Seriously”

 

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Four Common Myths about Estate Planning

1) Myth: My spouse can make all of my healthcare and financial decisions because he/she is my spouse.

Reality: This is not always the case. To make sure your spouse can indeed make important medical decisions on your behalf, you should sign a durable power of attorney and a medical advance directive.

2) Myth: I’ve told my family how I want my affairs handled after I die. They’ll divide everything the way I want it divided.

Reality: Informal discussions about your affairs have no legal enforceability. Even if your immediate family does carry out your wishes, if  here is a remarriage or divorce, for instance, your estate could end up in the hands of people you never intended to be beneficiaries. A properly executed will and other estate planning documents are the only way you can ensure your estate ends up where you want it to go.

3) Myth: I signed a will before, so I don’t need to do it again.

Reality: An old will may not reflect your current goals. You or your children may have married or remarried. Your property holdings may have changed. A trust may now be the preferred method to safeguard your legacy because of changes in your circumstances and needs. The only way to know for sure is to have a comprehensive estate plan review.

4) Myth: I am not wealthy enough to need an estate plan.

Reality: Almost everyone will benefit from estate planning, which addresses non-wealth aspects of your legacy along with the financial aspects. Estate planning can ensure someone you trust will care for your children and pets after your death, and make sure treasured family heirlooms end up where you want them to go. Estate planning also can help you pass along your values.
Moreover, trusts are not just for the wealthy: In states that practice Medicaid recovery, for instance, your survivors may receive a large bill for Medicaid-funded nursing home care after your death, which can force the sale of assets like the family home. Some states even seize life insurance proceeds. Depending on your situation, a trust can prevent this from happening. The only way to know for sure is to visit with an estate planning attorney to obtain personalized advice for your situation.
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Why Do I Need Estate Planning If I’m Not Rich?

Many people spend more time planning a vacation than they do thinking about who will inherit their assets after they pass away. Although estate planning isn’t an enjoyable activity, without it, you don’t get to direct who gets everything for which you’ve worked so hard.

Investopedia asks you to consider these four reasons why you should have an estate plan to avoid potentially devastating results for your heirs in its article “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important.”

Wealth Won’t Go to Unintended Beneficiaries. Estate planning may have been once considered something only rich people needed, but that’s changed. Everyone now needs to plan for when something happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). The primary part of estate planning is naming heirs for your assets. Without an estate plan, the courts will decide who will receive your property.

Protection for Families With Young Children. If you are the parent of small children, you need to have a will to ensure that your children are taken care of. You can designate their guardians, if both parents die before the children turn 18. Without a will and guardianship clause, a judge will decide this important issue.

Avoid Taxes. Estate planning is also about protecting your loved ones from the IRS. Estate planning is transferring assets to your family, with an attempt to create the smallest tax burden for them as possible. A little estate planning can reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes or state inheritance taxes. There are also ways to reduce the income tax beneficiaries might have to pay. However, without an estate plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.

No Family Fighting (or Very Little). One sibling may believe she deserves more than another. This type of fighting can turn ugly and end up in court, pitting family members against each other. However, an estate plan enables you to choose who controls your finances and assets, if you become mentally incapacitated or after you die. It also will go a long way towards settling any family conflict and ensuring that your assets are handled in the way you wanted.

To protect your assets and your loved ones when you no longer can do it, you’ll need an estate plan. Without one, your family could see large tax burdens, and the courts could say how your assets are divided, or even who will care for your children.

Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

 

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No Matter How Young—Or Young at Heart—You Need End-of-Life Planning

Two out of every five people over 45 years old don’t have a prepared will. Many of them have not thought about estate planning. It doesn’t take that much to do the planning necessary to help family members who survive you, according to the Lebanon Democrat’s article “End-of-life planning beneficial no matter your age.”

The planning you do will also help your family avoid the nasty disagreements that so often happen, when no one has been told what is going to occur after a parent dies. It will help your loved ones who may not know what you would have wanted after you pass: a funeral, a big memorial service, graveside services only or even cremation.

If you die without a will, which is known as dying “intestate,” all of your assets, from bank accounts to your favorite table saw could be awarded to someone, based on the judgment of a court-appointed administrator. This person won’t know that you had a nephew who you’d promised your woodworking tools and that would include the table saw.

Start by meeting with an estate planning attorney in your community. The laws that govern estate planning are based on your state’s law, so an attorney from another state may not be familiar with the big or small differences in your state versus another state. The same goes for online wills: unless they are reviewed by an attorney in your state, you won’t know if they are valid. Your family will find out, after you have passed, and they can’t make changes. That’s probably not how you want to be remembered.

If there’s a senior citizen in the family, ask them if they have prepared a will. It’s best to do this, while they are still competent. You never know what tomorrow might bring–and that holds true for people of all ages. Many people become incapacitated unexpectedly, at all ages and stages of life. Prior planning prevents a bad situation from becoming much worse.

Here’s what your estate planning attorney will speak with you about:

Who do you want to be in charge of your estate? It should be someone who you trust without reservation. That person will become your executor, when you die.

Who do you want to receive certain possessions? We tend to think about who will inherit a house or a car, but many families argue over sentimental possessions, like jewelry or art. Epic battles have occurred over items with little monetary value.

Your estate planning attorney will ensure that you also have a living will, since you’ll need this, if you have to go to the hospital or long-term care facility and are not able to speak up for yourself.

Update your will as time goes on. Families grow and shrink, and your will needs to reflect your changing life. What if the person you named as executor dies, or moves far away? You’ll want to make sure there are people who can carry out the responsibilities you want.

Don’t forget to tell your executors that they have been named and make sure they are up for the tasks. If you have an argumentative family, will your executor be able to stand up to them? Personality is as important as understanding legal and financial issues.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you through any rough spots, or issues you might be struggling with. It is better for you and the ones you love to have an estate plan, regardless of your age or health. Life changes come quickly, and it’s best to be prepared.

Reference: The Lebanon Democrat (Jan. 18, 2019) “End-of-life planning beneficial no matter your age”

 

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Without a Plan, Your Estate Could be at Risk

The unknown events of life include financial perils. They don’t disappear just because you try to ignore them. There are more threats to your financial future and personal health than an estate tax, says Newsmax Finance in its article “Your Estate is at Risk.” There is also legal liability, which is a commonplace event in our increasingly litigious society.

For many people, the first experience with litigation is a divorce. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s a difficult situation. In a bad situation, it’s a nightmare for all concerned. What would happen if you became disabled? It’s more likely that someone will become disabled during the course of their life than that they will die prematurely.

Do you have a health care power of attorney, so someone you trust is empowered to make decisions on your behalf if you became disabled? What about a durable power of attorney so a person you trust, who also has some financial savvy, can take over for you if you can’t do things, like pay bills or manage your business?

If you don’t have these documents in place, a court-appointed person will be assigned as your guardian. That is not something you want to happen.

If you’ve created a private business, you also need to plan for succession. Too many business owners let their businesses die along with them, leaving families, employees and clients stranded. Transitioning a business for succession or to be managed in your absence takes planning.

All of these issues can be dealt with in an estate plan, which you should have created for you by an estate planning attorney. The attorney should be someone you trust, who has experience helping people with the same challenges as your situation, whether that’s a blended family or a privately held family business.

Estate planners know how to use certain methods to help individuals and families make the most of their assets, limit their tax liabilities and plan for the future. There are many different tools available, from different types of trusts to the basics, like a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney, to make sure you and your family have the correct protection in place.

Going through the estate planning process is a useful experience, since it gives you and your spouse a chance to review your life’s accomplishments from a long-term perspective, prepare for events like retirement or funding a child or grandchild’s college education and taking care of this important element of adulthood.

Reference: Newsmax Finance (Jan. 14, 2019) “Your Estate is at Risk”

 

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How Would Cinderella’s Story Be Different, if Dad Did Estate Planning?

The story never really focuses on why Cinderella is placed in such a dire position in the first place. However, The National Law Review article titled “A Cautionary Fairy-Tale–If Only Cinderella’s Father Had An Estate Plan” does. It starts with a light-hearted tone, but the details quickly move to how many different ways that this family situation could have been prevented with proper estate planning.

To refresh your memory: Cinderella’s mother died, her father remarried and then he died. She is basically a slave to her evil stepmother and stepsisters, in her own home.

Let’s start with what would happen, if there had been no estate plan. If the family lived in Mississippi, half of her father’s estate would go to her stepmother, and half of the estate would be given to Cinderella. As a minor, her half of the estate would be placed in an UTMA account–Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. There would be a court-appointed custodian, who would be required to use these funds for her health, education, maintenance and support. The court would have likely appointed the Evil Stepmother, who would not likely have complied with the guidelines. A second option would have been for the money to be placed in a trust for Cinderella’s benefit, but the Evil Stepmother would likely have been named a trustee, and that would not have worked out well either.

What Cinderella’s father should have done, was to create a Revocable Living Trust Agreement, stating that certain assets are the separate property of the father (Schedule A), that certain assets are the property of the Evil Stepmother (Schedule B) and that certain assets are community property of the father and the Evil Stepmother (Schedule C).

A neutral successor trustee would have been named—a friend, fiduciary, corporate trustee or perhaps the Fairy Godmother—to oversee the trust. At the death of the father, the trust should have directed that the trust be divided into two subtrusts, known as an A/B split trust.

The Survivor’s Trust (Trust A) would have gathered all the Evil Stepmother’s separate property and one half of the value of the community property assets. Trust B (The Decedent’s Trust) would have all of the father’s separate property, as well as half the value of the community property assets. The trust could have been structured, so that the Evil Stepmother could use the Survivor’s Trust assets as she wanted and could only receive income, if the assets to the Survivor’s Trusts were depleted.

The neutral successor trustee would either work with the Evil Stepmother or make sure that Cinderella’s share of the Decedent’s Trust was not being improperly depleted. At the death of the Evil Stepmother, the assets in the Decedent’s Trust would go to Cinderella.

Cinderella’s father could have also taken out a large life insurance policy to ensure that she was cared for, with the proceeds to be distributed to an UTMA account, with a neutral custodian or to a support trust with a neutral trustee.

The only way Cinderella could have recovered any assets would have been through litigation, which is the likely way this story would have turned out, if it happened today. It’s not ideal, but if a child has been left with nothing but an Evil Stepmother and two nasty stepsisters, a lawsuit is a worthwhile effort to recover some assets. Assuming that the Evil Stepmother either adopted Cinderella or was appointed her guardian by the court, there would be a fiduciary obligation to protect her, and an accounting of assets at the time of her father’s death would have been prepared.

Estate planning would have preempted the story of Cinderella. It does serve as a clear example of what can happen with no estate plan in place. Whether your blended family enjoys a great relationship or not, have your estate plan created, so that if things turn wicked, your beloved children will be protected.

Reference: The National Law Review (Jan. 16, 2019) “A Cautionary Fairy-Tale–If Only Cinderella’s Father Had An Estate Plan”

 

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