Got a Will? Put it on Your Schedule for 2019

A Power of Attorney is just one part of your estate plan. Don’t have an estate plan? Instead of making the same old New Year’s resolutions, try making a will and an estate plan your top priority in 2019, says the Toronto Sun in the article “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” We are reminded that when we do select a person to serve as our Power of Attorney (POA), we better make sure to appoint someone we trust.

Many people insist that they are fine and not old enough to need a POA. However, life holds surprises. Parents whose adult children are injured in a sport or accident, discover they can’t manage their kid’s finances because there was no POA in place.

Anyone over the age of 18 needs a POA and a will. The POA is used while you are alive, if you should become incapacitated and the will is used after you die. You’ll want to speak with an estate planning attorney to create both documents and an overall plan, since this is a complex area of the law and every person’s situation is different. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all document. The problem is, you won’t know that until it’s too late.

Another reason for an estate plan is to protect the emotional integrity of a family. Estate battles don’t just happen to celebrities. They happen to “regular” people as well. Families often fracture, when grandparents or parents neglect to share details of their financial situation or reasons for their estate plan.

Let’s say you come home from the hospital after a serious operation and find that a member of your family, without your knowing it, has decided to prepare all your belongings for your demise.

Everything in the house has a sticker on it, bearing either the name of a person who was expecting to inherit the item, or a price for an estate sale. No plans about your will were ever discussed with your children, so they had no idea what you wanted. From their perspective, they were expecting you to pass and just making sure things were properly taken care of.

Those kids probably won’t get a penny, since their eagerness was excessive. They were concerned more about possessions than their parents.

A better way to go is to work with an estate planning attorney to create a holistic plan that addresses your wishes, while you are living and the distribution of your assets when you have passed. You might want to consider holding a few family meetings with the attorney, so that everyone’s on the same page. You don’t want to come home from a hospital stay, to find your home ready for a yard sale!

Reference: Toronto Sun (Dec. 30, 2019) “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

 

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Should I Use an Online Will Service?

More than 50% of Americans don’t have a will, according to a 2017 survey by Caring.com. Spelling out how your assets should be divided, is an essential start to estate planning that can be easily overlooked.

A U.S. News & World Report’s article asks “Should You Make a Free Will Online?” According to the article, before writing your will or using an online service, you need to know the legal requirements in your area. In many instances, this is best left to a legal professional in your state.

There are plenty of online tools that will help you create a will. However, before clicking on a website’s promise, you need to evaluate the available options. There are three main ways to write a will:

  1. Do it yourself;
  2. Use a do-it-yourself program; or
  3. Get help from a qualified estate planning attorney.

If you draft a will on your own, you’ll need to be absolutely certain you understand all of the applicable probate, tax and property laws. People who’ve written their own wills are usually those with very basic estates, like a person with a single piece of real estate and a small amount in basic checking accounts.

If you use an online service, you’ll have access to software that walks you through the process. In this case, you’ll need to be sure that the software company has all the applicable laws covered, as required for your state. You also want a program that lets you make updates later, if your situation changes.

However, if you engage the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll have the opportunity to have an expert help you think through the details. This result will be a well-drafted comprehensive estate plan. Yes, it will cost a bit more, but for many situations—like those with blended families, complex investments, or property in several states—it’s worth it.

Remember that the probate laws can vary widely from state to state. For example, the basic form requirements may allow a handwritten will in some states, but in other states the will must be typewritten. Some states require only two witnesses, and others require that the will be witnessed, notarized and typed.

If you have a larger estate or heirs with medical conditions, it may be wise to work with an attorney who can counsel you on the best solutions for your situation. For example, if you have a child with special needs receiving government benefits, you should have an attorney create a trust so their inheritance doesn’t negatively impact their benefits.

You should also use an attorney if you want to reduce your exposure to probate fees. Some people transfer their assets into a revocable living trust, so they are not subject to probate fees. An online service can’t give you this type of attention or personalized service.

If you have a complex situation, you may end up paying less by using an attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney has helped numerous families. He or she can offer insight into setting up guardians for minor children or appointing an individual to be in charge of the distribution of the estate. There are frequently estate and gift tax considerations about which the average person doesn’t know or monitor.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (January 9, 2019) “Should You Make a Free Will Online?”

 

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No Estate Taxes? You Still Need an Estate Plan

Increases in the estate tax exemption has an impact on how some people are thinking about life insurance, says ThinkAdvisor in the article “Estate Planning Is Still Important.” However, before making any changes, consider the larger picture and think long, not short, term.

Let’s start with why many people buy life insurance policies. As young parents, they buy life insurance so a surviving spouse and family will be able to continue to live in their home, pay the mortgage and send children to college. Another reason for life insurance is to cover the cost of estate taxes.

Remember the new higher estate tax exemption is federal. Your heirs may still have state estate taxes and inheritance taxes, depending upon where you live. Having an insurance policy will still help with the costs of settling an estate and paying any taxes that are due.

The new tax exemption also has a sunset date. The year 2026 may seem far away. However, it will arrive, while we are busy with our lives. It may be much harder and more expensive for an individual to purchase a life insurance policy in 2026 than it is right now.

If someone is very old or in ill health, they have a different window of time for planning. However, if you are in your middle years or relatively healthy, now is not the time to put off purchasing life insurance or to let an existing policy lapse.

We know that political landscapes change. If they do, and you want to buy a policy, there may be additional obstacles in the future.

Life insurance also serves as a tool for your estate. If your estate plan seeks to distribute an inheritance equally from assets in a traditional IRA, life insurance can become an equalizer. Let’s say one child is in a much higher tax bracket than the others. Upon receiving the IRA, they will have to pay more in taxes than the others. The child in the lower bracket will end up with a larger sum of money, having lower taxes on their inheritance. This could lead to sibling arguments, which are not uncommon when brothers and sisters become heirs. The insurance policy proceeds can be used to make up the difference.

Another point to consider is who owns the insurance policy? If it is owned by a trust, you may not have the legal right to make a change. If the trustee does not agree that the policy should be liquidated or cancelled, they may not allow the change to go forward.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to review your life insurance policies, when she reviews your overall estate plan. Each part of an estate plan works best, when all parts work in concert.

Reference: ThinkAdvisor (Jan. 11, 2019) “Estate Planning Is Still Important”

 

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Self Employed People Get to Retire Too–If they Plan Well

People who work for companies have access to perks like 401(k) plans, with automatic deductions that let them put retirement savings on autopilot. However, when you work for yourself, it’s all up to you, says Zing! in the aptly-titled article “Saving for Retirement When You’re Self-Employed? It Takes Planning and Commitment.” If you have the discipline and self-motivation to run a business, you should be able to apply those skills to your retirement.

Here are some tips for self-employed people who are concerned with building their retirement savings.

Embrace a budget. One of the biggest challenges is income that fluctuates. It’s hard to save when one month has you earning $10,000 and $3,000 the next month. You’ll need to create a budget and stick with it, including budgeting a percentage of your income for retirement. While you’re creating a budget, set goals for short- and long-term objectives to keep your budgeting focused.

A budget should include necessary expenses for each month, including mortgage or rent, car loans and credit card payments. Include groceries, transportation, and health care costs. Some self-employed people pay for some items like transportation or entertainment out of their business accounts. If you do that, just work with one budget, so you can measure spending. There is no need to split things out for yourself. You should then look at discretionary items like vacations, entertainment, gym memberships, clothing and things that are not basic necessities.

Now see what’s left at the end of the month. If there’s no regular stream of money going into retirement savings because there’s not enough after spending, you may need to make some changes.

Create an item in your expense budget for retirement savings. Make it automatic. Set a fixed amount of your income, by dollar amount or percentage of monthly income, and put it away every month for your retirement. This takes discipline at first and then becomes a habit. Once you see how the account grows, you’ll be more inclined to continue.

Talk with your accountant about the best savings vehicle for you. Some self-employed individuals use a “solo” 401(k) account, known as a SEP or Self-Employed 401(k). Designed for employers who have no employees other than themselves (or their spouses), it offers the same benefits as traditional 401(k)s. In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 when contributing as an employee, or up to $24,500 if you are 50 and older. As an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of your compensation – not counting catch-up contributions for those 50 and older, you can go as high as $55,000 in 2019.

Another factor if you are self-employed is your estate plan. Entrepreneurs are often so busy working on their business, that they forget about the legal side of their personal lives. You need a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney and, depending on your business and life situation, a succession plan.

Reference: Zing! (Jan. 7, 2019) “Saving for Retirement When You’re Self-Employed? It Takes Planning and Commitment”

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What Exactly is Long-Term Care Insurance?

Some people confuse Long-Term Care (LTC) with Long-Term Disability Insurance. The disability insurance coverage is designed to replace earned income in the event of a disability. Others think that LTC is a type of medical insurance.

nj.com’s recent article entitled “The benefits of long-term care insurance” explains that long-term care insurance isn’t meant to be disability income replacement, and it isn’t medical insurance. LTC insurance covers the varied personal needs of persons who are ill and (even temporarily) incapacitated. This includes feeding, clothing, bathing, and driving to appointments and doing the extra washing.

Some people consider LTC insurance as what was once called “Nursing Home Insurance.” This evolved to include either care at home or care in a rehab or nursing home facility.

Married couples are especially susceptible, when one spouse becomes ill or injured because the extra costs of long-term care can eat up all their savings and bankrupt the caregiver spouse. For that reason, those in their 50’s should start to look at LTC insurance for several reasons:

  1. Annual premiums are lower when acquired at younger ages; and
  2. Aging may bring health issues in the future, which may prohibit the opportunity to buy LTC insurance coverage altogether.

There are many ways to tailor LTC coverage to make it affordable. The most critical components of an LTC insurance policy include the following:

  • The average period of need for most is three years.
  • The daily amount of coverage varies by geographical area.
  • Home care should be the same as that for care in a facility.
  • The waiting period, which determines when the coverage actually starts after the date the incapacity began.
  • Married individuals can get a combined policy with a discount.
  • An inflation rider: The daily cost of coverage will naturally increase over time with inflation, selecting a rate of inflation will ensure keeping up with rising costs in the future.

Every family should have an open discussion about potential illness or incapacity of family members, and LTC should be a part of that.

Reference: nj.com (January 6, 2019) “The benefits of long-term care insurance”

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Legacy Planning for Farm and Ranch Families

An inheritance is more than money or property, especially when it comes to family farms, ranches and businesses. Many survive for multiple generations, says the Woodward News in the article “Plenty to consider in legacy planning,” but it takes planning.

Knowing that one day your grandchildren, and hopefully their children, will walk the land their great-grandparents did, and take the same satisfaction in knowing that the work they do, is a part of our country’s economy. Every family’s situation is different but one thing they all share in common, is that succession goals need to be evaluated critically, even though there is great emotion involved in passing on a legacy.

Dividing assets, sharing control and management decisions and transferring ownership are all things that must be examined and formalized as part of a succession plan.

For starters, determine the overall goal. Every family’s goals are different. Should assets be held for end-of-life-care for aging parents, passed on to children, donated to charity or are they needed to ensure the successful transition of the business to the next generation?

People work hard their whole lives to accumulate assets, so it’s important to have a legacy plan.  In this way, everything you’ve worked for is preserved for the next generation or available for your needs as you age.

In 2019, gift and estate tax exemptions are up dramatically, but strategic planning still needs to be done.

For farm families, the Farm Journal Legacy Project offers printable downloads, including a succession planning action guide, family meeting agenda, conversation starters and a goals clarification worksheet.

Family meetings will need to tackle some topics that may benefit from the presence of an estate planning attorney, who is experienced with family farms and succession planning.

  • How will the transfer of property, including farm equipment, property, and livestock, be done with minimal taxes due?
  • How can the non-farming members of the family receive their fair share of their inheritance, without taking away valuable resources needed to keep the farm or ranch going?
  • What resources will be available for the older parents to live on, when they retire?
  • Can the farm support multiple generations?

Succession planning that works best, begins long before the farm family is thinking about retirement. Determining roles and responsibilities and setting accountability for those roles must start happening long before the oldest generation steps away from the day-to-day operations of the farm or ranch.

Reference: Woodward News (Jan. 2, 2019) “Plenty to consider in legacy planning”

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Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?
Protect your children with an estate plan

Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.

However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.

Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.

The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.

In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.

Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords and documents. This can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access.

If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs.

Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”

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Four Retirement Issues for 2019

A host of new retirement savings options will be on the horizon for millions of Americans whose workplace does not offer 401(k) plans, says The New York Times in “For American Workers, 4 Key Retirement Issues to Watch in 2019.” The article takes a broad view of retirement policy topics, covering everything from Congress working on a plan to stop sharp cuts in traditional pensions, to the SEC’s battle over fiduciary responsibilities to protect investors and the possible expansion of Social Security.

Here are some of the highlights:

Workplace Savings Plans. Features like automatic enrollment and matching employer contributions make these plans a great way to help save for retirement. However, a third of workers in the private sector don’t have access to these plans. In 2019, some states are starting programs to automatically sign up workers who don’t have access to these plans at work. Employers in some states will be required to set up automatic payroll deductions, although they won’t have to make matching contributions.

Congress is expected to work on legislation that would make it easier for employers to create and join a single 401(k) plan that they could offer. This “open multiple-employer plan” would be offered by private plan custodians. It may take a while for this to get up and running.

Pension Insolvency Crisis. A special congressional committee is working on heading off an insolvency crisis that could lead to big cuts in pension benefits for millions of workers. More than 10 million workers and retirees are covered by multi-employer plans, which are severely underfunded. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal insurance program for pensions, will run out of money by 2025, if nothing changes. This is a complex problem, with no easy solution.

Protecting Investors. This battle over requiring fiduciary standards by brokers has been going on for a while. It centers on requiring brokers and others to put customer’s financial interests first. A rule from the Department of Labor from the Obama era never made it past opposition from the financial services and insurance industries. A proposed new rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission would require brokers to put their customer’s financial interests ahead of their own. However, it does not require them to act as fiduciaries. Consumers advocates are against this rule, believing that it does not go far enough.

Expanding Social Security. Expansion legislation in the Larson Bill from has more than 170 co-sponsors in the House. The bill includes a 2% increase in benefits, a generous annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and higher minimum benefits for low-income workers. How are we paying for these increases? The cap on wages subject to taxation and a gradually phased-in higher payroll tax are the sources.

Regardless what happens (or does not happen) in Washington, if retirement is in your future, 5 or 50 years from now, this is the year to have your estate plan created and ramp up your savings.

Resource: The New York Times (Dec. 23, 2018) “For American Workers, 4 Key Retirement Issues to Watch in 2019”

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Thinking about Giving It All Away? Here’s What You Need to Know

There are some individuals who just aren’t interested in handing down their assets to the next generation when they die. Perhaps their children are so successful, they don’t need an inheritance. Or, according to the article “Giving your money away when you die: 10 questions to ask” from MarketWatch, they may be more interested in the kind of impact they can have on the lives of others.

If you haven’t thought about charitable giving or estate planning, these 10 questions should prompt some thought and discussion with family members:

Should you give money away now? Don’t give away money or assets you’ll need to pay your living expenses, unless you have what you need for retirement and any bumps that may come up along the way. There are no limits to the gifts you can make to a charity.

Do you have the right beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts and life insurance policies? If you want these assets to go to the right person or place, make sure the beneficiary names are correct. Note that there are rules, usually from the financial institution, about who can be a beneficiary—some require it be a person and do not permit the beneficiary to be an organization.

Who do you want making end-of-life decisions, and how much intervention do you want to prolong your life? A health care power of attorney and living will are used to express these wishes. Without these documents, your family may not know what you want. Healthcare providers won’t know and will have to make decisions based on law, and not your wishes.

Do you have a will? Many Americans do not, and it creates stress, adds costs and creates real problems for their family members. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to put your wishes into a will.

Are you worried about federal estate taxes? Unless you are in the 1%, your chances of having to pay federal taxes are slim to none. However, if your will was created to address federal estate taxes from back in the days when it was a problem, you may have a strategy that no longer works. This is another reason to meet with your estate planning attorney.

Does your state have estate or inheritance taxes? This is more likely to be where your heirs need to come up with the money to pay taxes on your estate. A local estate planning attorney will be able to help you make a plan, so that your heirs will have the resources to pay these costs.

Should you keep your Roth IRA for an heir? Leaving a Roth IRA for an heir, could be a generous bequest. You may also want to encourage your heirs to start and fund Roth IRAs of their own, if they have earned income. Even small sums, over time, can grow to significant wealth.

Are you giving money to reputable charities? Make sure the organizations you are supporting, while you are alive or through your will, are using resources correctly. Good online sources include GuideStar.org or CharityNavigator.org.

Could you save more on taxes? Donating appreciated assets might help lower your taxes. Donating part or all your annual Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) can do the same, as long as you are over 70½ years old.

Does your family know what your wishes are? To avoid any turmoil when you pass, talk with family members about what you want to happen when you are gone. Make sure they know where your estate planning documents are and what you want in the way of end-of-life care. Having a conversation about your legacy and what your hopes and dreams are for family members, can be eye-opening for the younger members of the family and give you some deep satisfaction.

Reference: MarketWatch (Oct. 30, 2018) “Giving your money away when you die: 10 questions to ask”

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