Beneficiary Designations and Your IRAs

If you’re like most people, you opened that IRA many years ago. You may not have any idea who you named as your beneficiary. If you have a copy in your files, there’s something you need to do, says The Mercury News in the article “No beneficiary designation for an IRA? Here’s what can happen.” It’s time to dig into your records and take a look.

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What Should I Keep in Mind in Estate Planning as a Single Parent?

Every estate planning conversation eventually comes to center upon the children, regardless of whether they’re still young or adults.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney and let him or her know your overall perspective about your children, and what you see as their capabilities and limitations. This information can frequently determine whether you restrict their access to funds and how long those limitations should be in place, in the event you’re no longer around.

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How Big or Small Will Your Retirement Paycheck Be?

You’ve spent years saving for retirement, and maybe you’ve gotten that down to a science. That’s called the “accumulation” side of retirement. However, what happens when you actually, finally, retire? That’s known as the “deaccumulation” phase, when you start taking withdrawals from the accounts which you so carefully managed all these years. However, says CNBC, here’s what comes next: “You probably don’t know how much your retirement paycheck will be. New technology is working to change that.”

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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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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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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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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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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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