How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?

Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?

The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.

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Why Is It A Bad Idea to Take a Loan from My 401(k)?

Generally, it’s a really bad idea to take a loan from your 401(k).

Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “Why You Shouldn’t Take A 401(k) Loan,” lists some of the reasons why.

Many people who borrow from their 401(k)s wind up lowering or completely stopping their contributions, while they’re paying back the loans. This can mean the loss of 401(k) matching contributions, when their contribution rates fall below the maximum matched percentage.

Most people thinking about changing jobs don’t know that their outstanding 401(k) loan balance becomes due, when they leave their employer. Whether a job change is voluntary or involuntary, who among us has the financial resources available to pay back a 401(k) loan right away, if we leave our employer? As a result, many individual default.

However, the new tax law gives a little cushion, and you have until your tax return due date the next year. Plan balances that leave 401(k) plans due to loan defaults are rarely ever made up. That makes it less likely that loan defaulters will build sufficient retirement savings.

When you take a loan, it becomes one of your investments in your 401(k) plan account. If you were to take a $10,000 loan for five years at a 6% interest rate, that portion of your 401(k) balance will earn a 6% return for five years.

However, if your loan balance had been invested in one of the other investment options in your plan, you may have earned a lot more. Instead, look into taking a home equity loan first, because interest on those loans is tax-deductible.

Easy availability of a 401(k) loan can frequently make a bad financial situation worse. It can push you into bankruptcy and/or resulting in the loss of your home.

It is clear that 401(k) loans can significantly reduce your chances of achieving retirement preparedness.  It is also one of the worst investments you can make in your 401(k) account.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (February 4, 2019) “Why You Shouldn’t Take A 401(k) Loan”

 

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What Do I Need to Know About Estate Planning After a Divorce?

The recent changes in the tax laws created increased year-end activity for those trying to finalize their divorces by December 31—prior to the effective date of the new rules.

The new tax laws stipulate that alimony is no longer deductible by the payor, and it’s no longer taxable by the receiver—this creates a negative impact on both parties. The payor no longer receives a tax deduction, and the receiver will most likely wind up with less alimony because the payor has more taxes to pay.

Forbes’ recent article, “9 Things You Need To Know About Estate Planning After Divorce” suggests that if you were one of those whose divorce was finalized last year, it’s time to revise your estate plan. It’s also good idea for those people who divorced in prior years and never updated their estate plans. Let’s look at some of the issues about which you should be thinking.

See your estate planning attorney. Right off the bat, send your divorce agreement to your estate planning attorney, so he or she can see what obligations you have to your ex-spouse in the event of your death.

Health care proxy. This document lets you designate someone to make health care decisions for you, if you were incapacitated and not able to communicate.

Power of attorney. If you had an old POA that named your ex-spouse, it should be revoked, and you should execute a new POA naming a friend, relative, or trusted advisor to act as your agent regarding your finances and assets.

Your will and trust. Ask your attorney to remove the provisions for your ex-spouse and remove your ex-spouse as the executor and trustee.

Guardianship. If you have minor children, you can still name your ex-spouse as the guardian in your will. Even if you don’t, your ex-spouse will probably be appointed guardian if you pass away, unless he or she is determined by the judge to be unfit. While you can select another responsible person, be sure to leave enough cash in a joint bank account (with the trusted guardian you name) to fund the litigation that will be necessary to prove your ex-spouse is unfit.

A trust for your minor children. If you don’t have a trust set up for your minor children, and your ex-spouse is the children’s guardian, he or she will have control of the children’s finances until they turn 18. You may ask your estate planning attorney about a revocable trust that will name someone else you select as the trustee to access and control these funds for your children, if you pass away.

Life insurance. You may have an obligation to maintain life insurance under the divorce agreement. Review this with your estate planning attorney and with your divorce attorney.

Beneficiary designations. Be certain that your 401K and IRA beneficiary designations are consistent with the terms of your divorce agreement. Have the beneficiary designations updated. If you still want to name your ex-spouse as the beneficiary, execute a new beneficiary designation dated after the divorce. It’s also wise to leave a letter of intent with your attorney, so your intentions are clear.

Prenuptial agreement. If you’re thinking about getting remarried, be certain you have a prenuptial agreement.

It’s a great time to settle these outstanding issues from your divorce and get your estate plan in order.

Reference: Forbes (January 8, 2019) “9 Things You Need To Know About Estate Planning After Divorce”

 

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What Should I Think About Before the Baby Comes?

Prince William Living’s recent article, “Baby on the Way? Here’s How You Can Prepare Financially,” says that as you plan to welcome your child, consider these seven tips that can help you decide how to provide your family with the lifestyle you desire.

Examine your career. A new baby may cause you to think differently about your career goals—you may seek a promotion, a job with a higher salary or better benefits, or more education. Perhaps you or your spouse want to decrease your hours or become a stay-at-home parent. If you are thinking about changing your job status, examine the effect it may have on your take-home pay, retirement nest egg and benefits.

Lifestyle changes. Look at how your baby will affect your day-to-day activities. If your perfect lifestyle involves a new car or home, talk to a financial professional about whether to make the move now or in the future.

Childcare expenses. Nearly one-third of parents spend 20% or more of their income on childcare. In some states, the cost for a year of care can be more than one year of college!

Tuition. Private elementary or secondary school often costs money, and the price of a college education continues to rise at a pace faster than inflation. The 2017 tax reform expanded the use of 529 plans, so you can now withdraw up to $10,000 federal income tax-free per beneficiary, per year to pay for kindergarten through 12th grade tuition at a public, private or religious school.

Review your financial position. Unanticipated events can impact your finances at any time. Resolve to build or maintain an emergency fund that could cover three to six months of expenses.  You should also prioritize your retirement savings. After your baby arrives, update your estate plan and insurance coverage as needed.

Consider family values. Consider how you want to teach your child about financial responsibility. Being intentional early, can help create clear expectations and ensure that you and your spouse are on the same page.

The family bucket list. Look at what activities matter to you and add them into your financial plan. Taking an annual vacation or having a vacation home are common goals for many families.

Adding a new member to your family has a way of putting your priorities into perspective. Use these reminders to plan accordingly. Don’t forget that you’ll need an estate plan now that your family is growing. Your will should name a guardian in case something happens to you and your spouse. If there is no will, or no guardian named, the state will decide who will raise your child. Talk with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your planning for the future is complete.

Reference: Prince William Living (December 2018) “Baby on the Way? Here’s How You Can Prepare Financially”

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What Do I Need to Do To Get Financially Fit in My 30s?

Whether you’re 30 or 39, retirement will come up fast. Many people are surprised when they see how much they need to put away to keep their current standard of living in retirement.

Once you decide when you want to retire, you need to calculate how much money you’ll need and how you’ll get there. Of course, you should take advantage of company matching and various tax deductions, when saving for retirement. Don’t wait until your 40s or 50s to try to catch up. That will be painful, or worse, impossible.

Forbes’s recent article, “3 Steps To Financial Fitness In Your Thirties,” advises that when you start to accumulate wealth, be sure someone is watching your investments and that those investments are suitable for your time frames and financial goals.

Work with a financial advisor you think can help improve your situation. This should be someone you trust, and most important of all, who you feel has your best interests at heart.

If you are accumulating assets, make sure they’re protected. Be certain you and your family are covered by having the correct insurance policies. Of course, in a perfect world nothing would happen. For instance, most people on disability would much rather be healthy. They’d love to be able to joke and say that having that disability insurance was a “bad investment”. However, those who are disabled and aren’t covered with a disability insurance policy, most likely wish they’d made sure they had this income protection in place.

Another form of protection is an emergency fund. If you don’t have one, start by regularly putting some amount of money into a non-retirement account. Even if it’s a small amount, something is better than nothing. If you were to be laid off, chances are that your unemployment benefits would not be enough to pay the rent or make a mortgage payment.

If you’re single, you should protect yourself—even more so than someone who has a partner to rely on. Many life insurance policies have living benefits that can protect you, if an emergency happens.  You may also be able to use cash value life insurance to partially fund your retirement.

Finally, it’s critical that you think about estate planning. You should have an estate plan, including a will, Powers of Attorney, health care power of attorney and, if you have minor children, a guardian should be named in your will.

Let’s say you’re living with someone. If something happens to either of you, the living partner will most likely will be treated as a roommate—and have no legal rights to your property. An estate plan can be prepared to provide your partner with legal protection.

Reference: Forbes (December 17, 2018) “3 Steps To Financial Fitness In Your Thirties”

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How To Keep Your Financial Resolutions in 2019

New Year’s Resolutions: we all make them but keeping them is another story. About 30% of all Americans plan on making financial resolutions for the year ahead, reports CNBC in the article “The secret to keeping next year’s financial resolutions.”

Getting more specific, most of the 2,000 people surveyed by Fidelity said they were going to save an extra $200 a month for their long-term 2019 goals, like retirement, college costs and health care. Half said they were going to boost contributions to their retirement savings plans, usually a 401(k) or their IRA. Higher limits for contributions to both are expected to increase the savings rate.

The unexpected ups and downs of life could stand in the way of your resolutions. Rising costs of health care, the volatile stock market and concerns about the trade wars are on most people’s minds. Try to focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot control.

Like most of us, the people surveyed also admitted to making some spending mistakes they know made their savings less than they wanted. Chief among them: eating out too often and splurging on things that are way out of their budget.

How can you be sure to make and keep your financial New Year’s resolutions in 2019?

Try a budgeting app. There are several well-known, tried and tested budgeting apps that make keeping an eye on your spending and finding costs to cut easier. Once you’ve identified places you can cut spending and created a surplus, put that money into your savings account. Or, increase your retirement plan contribution. Even a little bit, can make a big difference over time.

Can you do better with your savings interest rate? Rising interest rates may make it possible to get a better return in 2019. As the Fed has raised its benchmark rate, yields on savings accounts are on the rise. While many savings accounts are only averaging 0.2%, some high-yield accounts are at 2.25%. Consider switching to a bank that offers at least a 2% return.

Note that the opposite goes for your credit cards: rising interest rates mean you’ll want to pay those off as soon as you can. Today’s average credit card interest rate is more than 17%. Try to pay the balance in full every month to avoid paying any more in fees than necessary.

Take control of your health care costs. If your Health Savings Account permits, increase the amount of money you contribute to your plan. If you didn’t use up all your funds in 2018, make an appointment for mid-year 2019 to schedule appointments or procedures you know you’ll need before the year is out. Make a resolution not to throw away health care dollars in 2019, especially if you have a “use-it-or-lose-it” flexible spending account.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 15, 2018) “The secret to keeping next year’s financial resolutions”

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What Should I Be Doing 10 Years Before Retirement?

Investopedia’s recent article, “5 Things to Do 10 Years from Retirement,” explains that there’s a red zone both in football and retirement planning. In many instances, that zone is where the game is won or lost. In football, the red zone is 20 yards from the goal line. For retirement, it’s 10 years from your target retirement date. As you move towards your goal, you may need to “huddle up” and look at your game plan.

  1. Figure Out What Retirement Means to You. Before you start making financial plans, be clear on what retirement means to you. It may mean working 40 hours instead of 60 or never working another day for the rest of your life. Whatever you like, it’s important to have some idea of what you want to do every day. From there, you can start to shape a financial plan to support your retirement vision.
  2. Determine How Much Money You’ll Spend Every Month. Once you’ve defined what your retirement will look like, you can begin planning for it financially. First, determine how much you’ll be spending every month on your retirement budget. Many pre-retirees just don’t know how much they need to live on a monthly basis. An accurate retirement plan will be based on your monthly household expenses.
  3. Examine Your Sources of Income in Retirement. While looking at your spending, be aware of all the types of income you’ll have during retirement, such as Social Security, a pension, a 401(k) or an IRA. There are choices that will have to be made, if you have a pension. The timing for collecting Social Security payments is also important.
  4. Rework Your Investment Strategy. The way you’ve been investing for the past 30 years, is not how you should invest for the next 30. Younger people focus on accumulation, but when you’re in or nearing retirement, you need to concentrate on income and keeping pace with inflation. Diversification is important, but what’s more powerful than diversification is asset allocation.
  5. Consider Hiring a Financial Professional. You can do-it-yourself, since there are many inexpensive funds and research information available. However, there’s much more that goes into creating a comprehensive retirement plan than just investments. Your retirement plan should address your need for income, estate planning, survivorship planning, insurance needs, business continuation, inflation, and other points.

As in football, the team that wins the game, is often the team who played well in the red zone. Don’t fumble the ball at the goal line or settle for a field goal. Score a touchdown with smart retirement planning.

Reference: Investopedia (September 7, 2018) “5 Things to Do 10 Years from Retirement”

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Estate Planning Documents You Need While Living

Statistically, we know without a doubt that we are all going to die. That’s 100% certain. However, we know that the chances of becoming disabled are also high. For that reason, everyone should have a Power of Attorney, or POA, as well as a will. In fact, says nwi.com in the article “Estate Planning: 3 important estate planning docs, and 2 maybes,” everyone should have a POA, a will, an advanced medical directive and more specifically, a living will.

How many times have you heard the story about someone’s aging mom becoming disabled and the hospital asking if she has a POA? The problem is we’re so reluctant to ask mom about a POA, that we tend to neglect this difficult conversation. Then, when we are faced with a medical emergency, it’s too late.

The time to have a POA created, is before an emergency or health crisis, not afterwards!

In a medical emergency, people are actually far more likely to become disabled or incapacitated than they are to die. Therefore, you need a POA.

The living will is equally important to have in advance of an emergency. With a living will to provide instructions for when you are terminally ill, and death is expected to occur in the very near future, you will have had the opportunity to state your wishes regarding medical care in advance.

A living will should be part of your estate plan.

The related document, which is not as well known, is the “life prolonging procedure declaration,” which says, in a nutshell, “Do everything you can to keep me alive, because I’m not leaving until I absolutely have to.”

The third must-have estate planning document is a will. The will is the document where you tell your heirs exactly how you want your assets distributed. If you have children who are not yet of legal age, you name a guardian for them in your will.

One “maybe” document is a trust. Trusts are used to protect assets. There are many different types of trusts. An estate planning attorney, the same one who will help you with your POA, living will and will, can also help with trusts, if you should need one. They are not simple to set up and you’ll want to get the one that best fits your needs.

Another document is called a “letter of instruction.” This is a set of directions that you leave to your family that tells them what you would like to happen. It’s not legally binding, so it falls into the “maybe” document category. However, you may find it satisfying to put down on paper what you would like them to know, what you would like them to remember, etc.

If you want to dictate your funeral, memorial services and the like, work with an estate planning attorney to execute a funeral planning declaration. This document can be legally enforced.

Remember, the laws about estate plans vary by state, so you’ll want to speak with a local estate planning attorney to ensure that your wishes, your documents and your estate plan will be properly prepared.

Reference: nwi.com (Nov. 25, 2018) “Estate Planning: 3 important estate planning docs, and 2 maybes”

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Should I Give Access to My Checking Account to My Adult Son in Case of an Emergency?

It’s not uncommon for an elderly parent to go to the bank to add a child to his or her bank account “in case something happens to me.”

The reason why most parents do this, is to give their child access to their money during an emergency. It sounds like it should be a pretty easy process. With proper planning, it can be. However, parents should know that simply making a child the joint owner of a bank account (or investment account or safe deposit box) can have unintended consequences. Sometimes this isn’t the best solution during a family crisis.

As Kiplinger’s recent article, “The Trouble with Joint Bank Accounts ‘Just in Case’” explains, the vast majority of banks set up all of their joint accounts as “Joint with Rights of Survivorship” (JWROS). This type of account ownership typically says that upon the death of either of the owners, the assets will automatically transfer to the surviving owner. However, this can create a few unexpected issues.

If Mom’s intent was for the remaining assets not spent during the family crisis to be distributed by the terms of a will, that’s not happening. That’s because the assets automatically transfer to the surviving owner. It doesn’t matter what Mom’s will says.

Remember that adding anyone other than a spouse could create a federal gift tax issue, depending on the size of the account. Anyone make a gift of up to $15,000 a year tax-free to whoever they wish, but if the gift is more than $15,000 and the beneficiary isn’t the spouse, it could trigger the need to file a gift tax return.

For example, if a parent adds a child to their $500,000 savings account, and the child predeceases the parent, half of the account value could be included in the child’s estate for tax purposes. The assets would transfer back to the parent, and, depending on the deceased’s state of residence, state inheritance tax could be due on 50% of the account value. In some states, the tax would be 4.5%, which would mean a state inheritance tax bill of more than $11,000.

However, if Mom’s intent in adding a joint owner to her account is to give her son access to her assets at her death, there’s a better way to do it. Most banks let you structure an account with a “Transfer on Death,” or TOD. With a TOD, if the beneficiary passes before the account owner, nothing happens. There’s no possibility of a state inheritance tax on 50% of the account value. When the account owner dies, the beneficiary has to supply a death certificate to the bank, and the assets will be transferred. These assets are transferred to a named beneficiary, so the time and expense of probating the will are also avoided, because named beneficiary designations supersede the will. This is the same for pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Setting up an account as TOD doesn’t give the beneficiary access to the account, until the death of the account owner. Therefore, the change in titling isn’t considered a gift by the IRS, which eliminates the potential federal gift tax issue.

There’s no such thing as a joint retirement account because IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, and the like can only have one owner—it’s not possible to make someone a joint owner. However, if a parent becomes incapacitated, they still often would like their child to have access to all their assets, in addition to their bank accounts. The answer for these is a financial power of attorney. This is a document that lets one or more people make financial decisions on your behalf. This document should be drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney.

It is important to understand that many financial institutions require a review process of a financial power of attorney appointment. The bank’s legal department may want to review the document before allowing the designated person to make transactions. This can take several weeks, so be sure that all financial institutions where you have accounts have a copy of your executed financial power of attorney. Have it in place before it’s needed.

Talk to your estate planning attorney about what you’re trying to do and let her guide you. Planning in advance will make things much easy for your loved ones, in case of an emergency.

Reference: Kiplinger (November 14, 2018) “The Trouble with Joint Bank Accounts ‘Just in Case’”

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How Do I Set Up a Trust?

Trust funds are often associated with the very rich, who want to pass on their wealth to future heirs. However, there are many good reasons to set up a trust, even if you aren’t super rich. You should also understand that creating a trust isn’t easy.

U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Setting Up a Trust Fund,” explains that a trust fund refers to a fund made up of assets, like stocks, cash, real estate, mutual bonds, collectibles, or even a business, that are distributed after a death. The person setting up a trust fund is called the grantor, and the person, people or organization receiving the assets are known as the beneficiaries. The person the grantor names to ensure that his or her wishes are carried out is the trustee.

While this may sound a lot like drawing up a will, they’re two different legal vehicles.

Trust funds have several benefits. A trust can reduce estate and gift taxes and keep assets safe. With a trust fund, you can establish rules on how beneficiaries spend the money and assets allocated through provisions. For example, a trust can be created to guarantee that your money will only be used for a specific purpose, like for college or starting a business.

A trust fund can also be set up for minor children to distribute assets to over time, such as when they reach ages 25, 35 and 45. A special needs trust can be used for children with special needs to protect their eligibility for government benefits.

At the outset, you need to determine the purpose of the trust because there are many types of trusts. To choose the best option, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, who will understand the steps you’ll need to take, like registering the trust with the IRS, transferring assets to the trust fund and ensuring that all paperwork is correct. Trust law varies according to state, so that’s another reason to engage a local legal expert.

Next, you’ll need to name a trustee. Choose someone who’s reliable and level-headed. You can also go with a bank or trust company to be your trust fund’s trustee, but they may charge around 1% of the trust’s assets a year to manage the funds. If you go with a family member or friend, also choose a successor in case something happens to your primary trustee.

It’s not uncommon for people to have a trust written and then forget to add their assets to the fund. If that happens, the estate may still have to go through probate.

Another common issue is giving the trustee too many rules. General guidelines for use of trust assets is usually a better approach than setting out detailed rules.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (November 8, 2018) “Setting Up a Trust Fund”

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