Estate Planning Blog Articles

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How Do IRAs and 401(k)s Fit into Estate Planning?

When investing for retirement, two common types of accounts are part of the planning: 401(k)s and IRAs. J.P. Morgan’s recent article entitled “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?” explains that a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored plan that lets you contribute some of your paycheck to save for retirement.

A potential benefit of a 401(k) is that your employer may match your contributions to your account up to a certain point. If this is available to you, then a good goal is to contribute at least enough to receive the maximum matching contribution your employer offers. An IRA is an account you usually open on your own. As far as these accounts are concerned, the key is knowing the various benefits and limitations of each type. Remember that you may be able to have more than one type of account.

IRAs and 401(k)s can come in two main types – traditional and Roth – with significant differences. However, both let you to delay paying taxes on any investment growth or income, while your money is in the account.

Your contributions to traditional or “pretax” 401(k)s are automatically excluded from your taxable income, while contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible. For an IRA, it means that you may be able to deduct your contributions from your income for tax purposes. This may decrease your taxes. Even if you aren’t eligible for a tax-deduction, you are still allowed to make a contribution to a traditional IRA, as long as you have earned income. When you withdraw money from traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, distributions are generally taxed as ordinary income.

With Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, you contribute after-tax dollars, and the withdrawals you take are tax-free, provided that they’re a return of contributions or “qualified distributions” as defined by the IRS. For Roth IRAs, your income may limit the amount you can contribute, or whether you can contribute at all.

If a Roth 401(k) is offered by your employer, a big benefit is that your ability to contribute typically isn’t phased out when your income reaches a certain level. 401(k) plans have higher annual IRS contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs.

When investing for retirement, you may be able to use both a 401(k) and an IRA with both Roth and traditional account types. Note that there are some exceptions to the rule that withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s before age 59½ typically trigger an additional 10% early withdrawal tax.

Reference: J.P. Morgan (May 12, 2021) “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?”

Will Vets Now Get a COLA Increase in Benefits?

The measure was filed by Representatives Elaine Luria, D-Virginia and Troy Nehls, R-Texas, along with Senators Jon Tester, D-Montana and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. In joint statements, they called the proposal critical to bolstering veteran’s finances, reports Military Times’ recent article entitled “Lawmakers move to guarantee cost-of-living boost for veterans benefits.”

“We have a responsibility to take care of our veterans, many of whom rely on VA for financial support,” said Moran, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“As rampant inflation is driving up the cost of living, this legislation helps make certain that veterans are able to keep up with our changing economy and receive the benefits they have been promised.”

The bill linking the two government benefits is largely routine.  Lawmakers typically approve the annual proposal to couple VA benefits increases with Social Security benefits increases by large bipartisan margins.

However, this isn’t automatic. Even with the efforts of advocates in the past, an annual cost-of-living increase in veterans benefits requires congressional action.

Social Security benefits, in contrast, are adjusted based on an automatic formula that is triggered whether lawmakers vote on it or not.

In 2021, as inflation pressures began to impact the American economy, that increase was 5.9%. Officials haven’t said what this year’s adjustment may be. However, continued rising costs across the economy could push that figure even higher. The VA COLA increase legislation would apply to payouts for disability compensation, clothing allowance, dependency and indemnity benefits and other VA assistance programs.

“Transitioning from active duty to civilian life is not always easy, and a cost-of-living adjustment is the least we can do for the men, women and families who served our country,” said Luria, herself a Navy veteran.

Tester, who serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the bill will “ensure [veterans] benefits are keeping pace with the changing economy.”

No timetable has been set for when either chamber could vote on the proposal.

Reference: Military Times (May 23, 2022) “Lawmakers move to guarantee cost-of-living boost for veterans benefits”

When Should I Think About Business Succession?

The pandemic has made many business owners rethink their business succession and retirement planning. Insurance News Net’s recent article entitled “Succession Planning For Business Owners: More Important Than Ever” reports that according to PwC’s 2021 US Family Business Survey, only a third of US family businesses have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place.

If you wait too long, you may not have the right people in place to run the business. It also restricts the tax planning options for the business and your personal estate. Either error can cause a business to fail, when it passes from one generation to the next.

An exit that is too sudden or without direction can leave a vacuum at the top and damage relationships with existing clients and customers. With clear objectives, a sense of urgency and an experienced estate planning attorney, you can help ensure that your business, and your future, are secure.

There are a number of areas of transition that should be addressed:

  1. Founder Transition: Determine how long you plan to stay with the business, and what your retirement plans are;
  2. Family Transition: If you plan to leave your business to your children, determine the way in which the roles and power relationships will change;
  3. Business Transition: How will the company’s operations and customer relations be maintained through other transitions;
  4. Management Transition: Decide who will make up the new management team, such as family, non-family, or both, and how new leadership will be evaluated. You should also map out the schedule for transferring control of day to day decisions;
  5. Ownership Transition: Determine how ownership is to be transferred; and
  6. Estate Transition: see how you will coordinate your estate plan to ensure that the other transitions above occur as planned.

Many of these transitions will be accomplished through formal documentation, such as an operating agreement, buy-sell agreements and trusts. Sit down with an attorney soon rather than later to sort this out.

Reference: Insurance News Net (December 30, 2021) “Succession Planning For Business Owners: More Important Than Ever”

Is It Important for Physicians to Have an Estate Plan?

When the newly minted physician completes their residency and begins practicing, the last thing on their minds is getting their estate plan in order. Instead, they should make it a priority, according to a recent article titled “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead” from Medical Economics. Physicians accumulate wealth to a greater degree and faster than most people. They are also in a profession with a higher likelihood of being sued than most. They need an estate plan.

Estate planning does more than distribute assets after death. It is also asset protection. An estate planning attorney helps physicians, dentists and other medical professionals protect their assets and their legacies.

Basic estate planning documents include a last will and testament, financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. However, the physician’s estate is complex and requires an attorney with experience in asset protection and business succession.

During the process of creating an estate plan, the physician will need to determine who they would want to serve as a guardian, if there are minor children and what they would want to occur if all of their beneficiaries were to predecease them. A list should be drafted with all assets, debts, including medical school loans, life insurance documents and retirement or pension accounts, including the names of beneficiaries.

The will is the center of the estate plan. It will require naming a person, typically a spouse, to be the executor: the person in charge of administering the estate. If the physician is not married, a trusted relative or friend can be named. There should also be a second person named, in case the first is unable to serve.

If the physician owns their practice, the estate plan should be augmented with a business succession plan. The will’s executor may need to oversee decisions regarding the sale of the practice. A trusted friend with no business acumen or knowledge of how a medical practice works may not be the best executor. These are all important considerations. Special considerations apply when the “business” is a professional practice, so do not make any moves without expert estate planning assistance.

The will only controls assets in the individual’s name. Assets owned jointly, or those with a beneficiary designation, are not governed by the will.

Without a will, the entire estate may need to go through probate, which is a lengthy and expensive process. For one family, their father’s lack of a will and secrecy took 18 months and cost $30,000 in legal fees for the estate to be settled.

Trusts are an option for protecting assets. By placing assets in trust, they are protected from creditors and provide control in complex family situations. The goal is to create a trust and fund it before any legal actions occur. Transferring assets after a lawsuit has begun or after a creditor has attached an asset could lead to a physician being charged with fraudulent conveyance—where assets are transferred for the sole purpose of avoiding paying creditors.

Estate planning is never a one-and-done event. If a doctor starts a family limited partnership to transfer wealth to the next generation but neglects to properly maintain the partnership, some or all of the funds may be vulnerable.

An estate plan needs to be reviewed every few years and certainly every time a major life event occurs, including marriage, divorce, birth, death, relocation, or a significant change in wealth.

When consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney, a doctor should ask about the potential benefits of revocable living trust planning to avoid probate, maintain privacy and streamline the administration of the estate upon incapacity or at death.

Reference: Medical Economics (Feb. 22, 2022) “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead”

Should I Withdraw more than RMD?

As most know, once a person hits 72, the IRS require you to take a certain minimum amount from your IRA each year. Many do take only the minimum, believing that this will leave more assets to grow tax deferred. However, recent tax changes are a reason to revisit one’s IRA distribution strategy.

MSN’s article entitled “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?” says that although some people are worried about paying more in taxes this year than they need to may want stay to the bare minimum of their required minimum distribution (RMD), others seek to find a broader tax strategy.

Those people may want to consider going big with their RMDs. Let’s look the wisdom of taking more than the required minimum distribution from your IRA.

The article gives us four considerations to help with your RMD decision about possibly taking more than the IRA RMD in any year:

  1. Your tax bracket. Determine the amount of additional income you can recognize this year, while still staying within your current tax bracket. Taxpayers in the 10% and 12% tax brackets should be especially cognizant of maximizing ordinary income in these relatively low tax brackets.
  2. Your income. See what your income’s projected to be next year and consider whether you (or you and your spouse) will have other sources of income in future years, such as an inherited IRA, spouse’s IRA RMD or annuity income to add to the mix.
  3. Your beneficiaries. Look at the way in which your current tax rate compares with the tax rates of your IRA beneficiaries. If you have a large IRA and children with high incomes of their own, your heirs could be pushed into a much higher tax bracket when they start their inherited IRA distributions.
  4. Your Medicare premiums. An increase in income can also result in higher Medicare Part B & D premiums in coming years. As a result, consider this in the context of total savings.

Reference: MSN (Nov. 23, 2021) “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?”

 

Will Moving to a New State Impact My Estate Planning?

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., baby boomers have been speeding up their retirement plans. Many Americans have also been moving to new states. For retirees, the non-financial considerations often revolve around weather, proximity to grandchildren and access to quality healthcare and other services.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First” provides some considerations for retirees who may set off on a move.

  1. Income tax rates. Before moving to a new state, you should know how much income you’re likely to be generating in retirement. It’s equally essential to understand what type of income you’re going to generate. Your income as well as the type of income you receive could significantly influence your economic health as a retiree, after you make your move. Before moving to a new state, look into the tax code of your prospective new state. Many states have flat income tax rates, such as Massachusetts at 5%. The states that have no income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states that don’t have flat income tax rates may be attractive or unattractive, based on your level of income. Another important consideration is the tax treatment of Social Security income, pension income and retirement plan income. Some states treat this income just like any other source of income, while others offer preferential treatment to the income that retirees typically enjoy.
  2. Housing costs. The cost of housing varies dramatically from state to state and from city to city, so understand how your housing costs are likely to change. You should also consider the cost of buying a home, maintenance costs, insurance and property taxes. Property taxes may vary by state and also by county. Insurance costs can also vary.
  3. Sales taxes. Some states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Alaska) have no sales taxes. However, most states have a sales tax of some kind, which generally adds to the cost of living. California has the highest sales tax, currently at 7.5%, then comes Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana, each with a sales tax of 7%. Many other places also have a county sales tax and a city sales tax. You should also research those taxes.
  4. The state’s financial health. Examine the health of the state pension systems where you are thinking about moving. The states with the highest level of unfunded pension debts include Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii. They each have unfunded state pensions at a level of more than 20% of their state GDP. If you’re thinking about moving to one of those states, you’re more apt to see tax increases in the future because of the huge financial obligations of these states.
  5. The overall cost of living. Examine your budget to see the extent to which your annual living expenses might increase or decrease in your new location because food, healthcare and transportation costs can vary by location. If your costs are going to go up, that should be all right, provided you have the financial resources to fund a larger expense budget. Be sure that you’ve accounted for the differences before you move.
  6. Estate planning considerations. If this is going to be your last move, it’s likely that the laws of your new state will apply to your estate after you die. Many states don’t have an estate or gift tax, which means your estate and gifts will only be subject to federal tax laws. However, a number of states, such as Maryland and Iowa, have a state estate tax.

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate and gift tax implications of your move.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2021) “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First”

How Can I Rescue My Retirement?

A 2019 survey by Global Atlantic Financial Group, which sells annuities, asked more than 4,000 Americans, pre-retirees and retirees, about their retirement savings. Of those surveyed, 55% said they had regrets. The top three were that they:

  • Did not save enough.
  • Relied too much on Social Security.
  • Did not pay down debt before retiring.

However, you can avoid some of this remorse, by taking steps now. Let’s look at how you can avoid those major retirement regrets.

  1. Failing to save enough. A recent survey found that 62% of respondents were confident about their current financial health. However, when people looked ahead to their retirement finances, that changed. Part of the issue is planning. Only 18% of the Fidelity survey respondents had a financial plan for retirement. Without planning, it’s hard to know if you have enough saved. See how much you’ll be spending in retirement. Go through your expenses and increase your savings. The most common financial surprises for retirees are inflation and unexpected medical costs.
  2. Depending too much on Social Security. Rather than looking at Social Security as your main source of income in retirement, view it as one of several legs of a stool. Social Security isn’t designed to provide all the necessities of life. It is supplemental. It is not intended to be replacement income. Your planning should include other resources, including:
  • Tax-advantaged retirement plans
  • Pensions
  • Taxable investment accounts
  • Personal savings
  • A health savings account
  • Income from businesses or properties.
  1. Not paying off debt before you retire. For retirees on fixed incomes, debt makes it difficult to really enjoy retirement. Therefore, retire any debt you have before you stop working. You should systematically focus on one debt at a time, while making minimum payments on other debts. Get started by targeting the debt with the highest interest, or perhaps the one with the smallest balance. The goal is to be debt-free in retirement, so your financial resources can go toward helping you enjoy life. However, you shouldn’t concentrate too much on paying down debt and overlooking your retirement savings.

The best way to avoid retirement regret is planning. Start now and evaluate your situation. Then develop a retirement roadmap that helps you get from today to tomorrow.

Reference: Money Talks News (Oct. 13, 2019) “The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them”