Your Will Isn’t the End of Your Estate Planning

Even if your financial life is pretty simple, you should have a will. However, there’s more work to be done. Assets must be properly titled, so that assets are distributed as intended upon death.

Forbes’ recent article, “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled” notes that with the exception of the choice of potential guardians for children, the most important function of a will is to make certain that the transfer of assets to beneficiaries is the way you intended.

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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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A Roadmap for Making Your Money Last Through Retirement

Many Americans worry about whether they will outlive their money in retirement. This concern is understandable. Just the thought of going broke after decades of working hard, and not being able to fix the problem, because very few companies will hire a person of advanced age is enough to cause sleepless nights. To help you avoid this situation, here is a roadmap for making your money last through retirement.

Since people ask them about this problem frequently, financial experts have come up with key strategies for making your money outlast you. The four components are:

Add Up the Income You Can Count On

Start with Social Security and add to that all of your guaranteed income. This category can include things like a pension, annuity, or net rent (after all expenses) from reliable rental property. If you do not yet receive Social Security retirement benefits, you can call the Social Security Administration (SSA) or set up an online account for yourself (a My Social Security account) at the SSA’s website, (ssa.gov) to estimate your Social Security retirement benefits.

Your Safe Number to Withdraw from Savings

With interest rates fluctuating and the stock market going all over the place, it can be exasperating to try to calculate how much money you can withdraw safely from your retirement savings, without running out of money down the road. You can stop banging your head against the wall. Financial planners have a formula.

Get the total value of all of your liquid assets – things that are cash or that you can easily convert into cash. These assets include checking and savings accounts, money market accounts and investments like mutual funds, stocks and bonds. You should include your retirement accounts and other savings and investments.

Once you have that total, deduct a ”buffer” amount for several months’ worth of living expenses. That year, you can withdraw four percent of the amount that remains.

Here is how it works: If your total liquid assets minus the cash cushion equal $200,000, you can spend four percent ($8,000) that first year. The second year, you can withdraw a little more if there is inflation, but make sure that you do not confuse the formula on how to adjust for inflation.

Let’s say inflation is two percent. In year two, you can withdraw and spend four percent of your total liquid assets plus two percent for inflation. That does not mean you should spend six percent of your total liquid assets. It means you can spend $8,000 plus $160, which is two percent of $8,000.

Add Your Guaranteed Income and Your Spendable Amount

You can calculate your total income, by combining your Social Security and other guaranteed income with your “safe” four percent to withdraw. If you get $24,000 from Social Security and your four percent to withdraw from savings is $8,000, your total income is $32,000 a year.

Budget Accordingly

Set your budget around this amount. If you can keep your annual spending at or under your total income, you should have enough money to last you for your lifetime.

Be aware that some economic fluctuations might require you to withdraw less money from your savings in some years, and things like a medical crisis can increase your expenses.

Every state has different laws, so be sure to talk with an elder law attorney near you to find out how your state’s regulations might vary from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP. “4 Steps to Make Your Money Last a Lifetime.” (accessed January 25, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/retirement-savings/info-2018/make-money-last-lifetime.html

 

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Planning for Three Financial Phases of Retirement: Spending Down, Final Spending and Legacy

In pre-retirement earning years, all our attention is focused on accumulating assets. However, the information you need during the accumulation years is different than for the remaining years, according to a useful article from Financial Advisor titled “A Successful And Secure Retirement—Spend-Down Strategies: Part 1.”

The biggest difference in the strategies during the accumulation and withdrawal strategies, is that there’s a greater emphasis on long-term tax planning. Taxes are often the single biggest expense for investors. To make sure that you meet your goals, which includes having the IRS take the smallest piece of your assets, a plan must be created to focus on paying the least amount in taxes, while you are alive and even after you have passed.

The first phase of decumulation, which occurs at different times for different people (and for some people, never occurs) usually comes with a low tax rate. It often starts with retirement, when the paychecks are not coming in and, ideally, you are not yet drawing Social Security or pension benefits. This would allow your Social Security benefits to continue to grow and keep you in a low tax bracket.

The spend-down phase begins, when you start taking withdrawals from tax deferred retirement accounts. This typically starts the year you turn 70½ and start taking RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions). This is the time to be careful, since your tax rate will likely jump up from the amount it was when you were not yet taking RMDs or getting Social Security or pension benefits. The goal is to manage your retirement income, in order to minimize taxes.

The final-spending phase begins all too soon, especially when medical costs and long-term care costs increase dramatically. Given their tax deductibility, as things currently stand, this may provide another period with very low tax rates.

The legacy phase begins upon your death, or on the death of the surviving spouse. The goal is the tax efficient transfer of remaining wealth to heirs and charities and preparing heirs for the assets they will inherit. An estate plan should be in place long before this phase is reached, so that your assets are passed seamlessly to family members and charities.

As a person moves through these stages of post-retirement spending, there are many strategies that can be used to minimize tax liability and maximize the growth of assets. A balance must be found between spending, managing tax burdens and preparing for a legacy.

Speak with your estate planning attorney, who can help you navigate tax planning.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Jan. 21, 2019) “A Successful And Secure Retirement—Spend-Down Strategies: Part 1”

 

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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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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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How Do I Avoid the Three Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?

The Street lists the “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” These are issues that frequently mess up an estate plan:

Lack of Information. Unwinding the various pieces of your estate can be a monumental task. Some folks leave this all to chance. They fail to leave their executor and loved ones with a complete and updated list of where everything is located and how to get to it.

Think for a minute about all the assets you’ve accumulated in a lifetime: this will include your brokerage accounts, bank accounts, mutual fund holdings, IRAs, pensions and others. They’re hopefully all protected by a host of user names and passwords and maybe even by the answers to questions, like the hospital of your birth and your first pet’s name.

While things like insurance policies are likely online, some of your holdings are not available electronically. In addition, other possessions are totally digital, and you should guard against cyber-theft and hacking. Create a list of all your user names and passwords for investment accounts and other financial holdings.

Beneficiary Designations Issues. It’s not uncommon for people to forget that they’re required to name beneficiaries for their retirement accounts, annuity contracts and insurance policies. Messing this up is a guarantee that your assets will wind up in probate. It can be an expensive and time-consuming legal process, where your wishes may be disregarded.

Outdated Plans. Sometimes, decades pass after estate documents are executed and put away. In the meantime, divorces and other life events happen, radically impacting the original estate planning objectives. In addition, changes in tax laws might impact your initial intentions. It’s smart to periodically review what is in your will and your beneficiary designations.

Reference: The Street (November 29, 2018) “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”

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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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