Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Do I Have to Pay Taxes during Retirement?

Paying taxes when you aren’t working but are instead receiving income from a lifetime of working and Social Security is a harsh reality of retirement for many people. Figuring out how much of your income will be consumed by taxes is a tricky task, according to the article “What You Need to Know About Taxes and Your Retirement” from Next Avenue. Ignore it, and your finances will suffer.

Most households will pay about six percent of their retirement income in federal income tax, but that number varies greatly, depending upon the size of their retirement income. The lowest income groups may pay next to nothing, but as income rises, so do the taxes. Married couples with an average combined Social Security benefit of about $33,000, 401(k)/IRA balances of $180,790, and personal financial wealth of $87,000 could find themselves paying 10.5% to 20.9%.

Income taxes and health costs are most people’s biggest expenses in retirement. Income taxes are due on pensions and withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts, including traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and similar retirement accounts. The same goes for tax-deferred annuities. Required minimum distributions must be taken starting at age 72.

Roth IRA and 401(k) distributions are tax free, since taxes are paid when the funds go into the accounts, not when they are withdrawn.

If you have investments in addition to your tax-deferred funds, like stocks or bond funds, you also pay taxes on the dividends and interest paid to you. If you sell them, you’ll likely need to pay any capital gains taxes.

Learning that a portion of your Social Security benefits are subject to federal income tax is a shocker to many retirees, but about 40% of recipients do pay taxes on their benefits. The higher your income, the more taxes you’ll need to pay.

There may also be state taxes on your Social Security benefits, depending on where you live.

However, here’s the biggest shocker–if you work part time, you may forfeit benefits, temporarily, if you claim before your Full Retirement Age, while you are working. Claiming before FRA means that your benefits are subject to earnings limits—the most you can make from work before triggering a benefit reduction.

Social Security withholds $1 in benefits for every $2 earned above the annual earnings limitation cap. If you reach your FRA after 2020, that’s $18,240. If you reach your FRA in 2020, the annual exemption amount is $48,600.

Pension, investment income and any government benefits, like unemployment compensation, don’t count towards earned income.

Benefits that are withheld will be returned to you once you hit FRA when Social Security bumps up your monthly benefit to make up for the withholding, but this takes place over time.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 17, 2020) “What You Need to Know About Taxes and Your Retirement”

What If a Sole Beneficiary Wants to Share?

That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, right?

However, Morningstar’s recent article entitled “3 Strategies to Consider When Sole Beneficiaries Want to Share the Wealth” says that there are a few hurdles to clear, such as the IRA administrator’s policies, income tax consequences, transfer tax consequences and the terms of the decedent’s will.

Here’s a scenario: Uncle Buck dies and leaves his IRA to his niece, Hope. Buck’s will leaves all his other assets equally to all three of his nieces: sisters Hope, Faith and Charity. However, the three agree that Buck’s IRA should be shared equally, like the rest of the estate. What do they do?

The Easy Way. Hope keeps the IRA, withdraws from it when she wants (and as required by the minimum distribution rules), pays the income tax on her withdrawals and makes cash gifts to Faith and Charity (either now or as she withdraws from the IRA) in an agreed upon the amount. It would mean giving her two sisters ⅓ of the after-tax value of the IRA. There is no court proceeding or issue with the IRA provider. There are no income tax consequences because Hope will pay the other girls only the after-tax value of the IRA distributions she receives. However, there’s a transfer tax consequence: Hope’s transfers would be considered as gifts for gift tax purposes because she has no legal obligation to share the IRA with the other nieces. Any gift over the annual exclusion amount in any year ($15,000 as of 2020) will be using up some of Hope’s lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. This easy answer may work well for a not-too-large inherited IRA.

The Expensive Method: Reformation. If there is evidence that Buck made a mistake in filling out the beneficiary form, a court-ordered reformation of the document may be appropriate. Therefore, if Hope, Faith, and Charity have witnesses who would testify that the decedent told them shortly before he died, “I’m leaving all my assets equally to my three nieces,” it could be evidence that he made a mistake in completing the beneficiary designation form for the IRA. The court could order the IRA provider to pay the IRA to all three girls, and the IRS would probably accept the result. By accepting the result, the IRS would agree that the nieces should be equally responsible for their respective shares of income tax on the IRA and for taking the required distributions, and that no taxable gift occurred. However, as you might expect, the IRS isn’t legally bound by a lower state court’s order. If the reformation is based on evidence, the parties may want the tax results confirmed by an IRS private letter ruling, which is an expensive and time-consuming task.

The In-Between. The final possible solution is a qualified disclaimer. Hope would “disclaim” two thirds of the IRA (and keep a third). A qualified disclaimer (made within nine months after Buck’s death) would be effective to move two thirds of the IRA (and the income taxes) from Hope without gift taxes. A qualified disclaimer involves a legal fee but no court or IRS involvement. As a result, it can be fairly simple and cost-effective. However, there may be an issue: when Hope disclaims two thirds of the IRA, that doesn’t mean the disclaimed share of the IRA automatically goes to the other nieces. Instead, the disclaimed portion of the IRA will pass to the contingent beneficiary of the IRA. Hope needs to see where it goes next, prior to signing the disclaimer. If there’s no contingent beneficiary named by Buck, the disclaimed portion will pass to the default beneficiary named in the IRA provider’s plan documents. That’s typically the decedent’s probate estate. If the disclaimed portion of the IRA passes to the uncle’s estate, and Hope is a one-third beneficiary of the estate, she will also need to disclaim her estate-derived share of the IRA. A “simple disclaimer” can be complicated, so ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help.

Even if Hope disclaims two thirds of the IRA, so that it passes to Faith and Charity through the estate, the other girls won’t receive as favorable income tax treatment as Hope. Hope inherits her share as designated beneficiary, while an estate (the assumed default beneficiary), which isn’t a designated beneficiary, can’t qualify for that.

Reference: Morningstar (Aug. 13, 2020) “3 Strategies to Consider When Sole Beneficiaries Want to Share the Wealth”

Do I Have to Accept an Inheritance?

Most people don’t use a disclaimer because they’re not entitled to other assets to offset the value of the asset disclaimed. They don’t get to decide who gets their disclaimed asset.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Can I reject an inheritance?” explains that the details can be found in Internal Revenue Code §2518. However, here are some of the basics about disclaimers.

In most states, a qualified disclaimer can be filed within nine months of an asset owner’s death. This disclaimer is irrevocable. Therefore, once it’s done, it’s done. This can create problems with IRAs because they have beneficiary designations, and the death claim can be processed with a few forms. As soon as the funds are transferred to an inherited IRA, disclaiming is no longer an option.

When a person disclaims an asset, the asset is distributed as though that beneficiary had died prior to the date of the benefactor’s death. Therefore, with an IRA, it is pretty simple. If you disclaim all or a part of the IRA, the funds pass on, based on the beneficiary designation.

The IRA usually has a secondary beneficiary named. If the beneficiaries in line to inherit the account are who you would want to inherit the account, disclaiming should transfer the account to them. However, if they’re not who you want to get the funds, you have little leverage to do anything about it.

If there are no other beneficiaries and you disclaimed, the money goes back into the decedent’s estate.

The funds would go through probate and be directed based upon his will. If there was no will (intestacy), the probate laws of the decedent’s state will dictate how the assets are distributed.

Having an IRA go through an estate is inefficient, time consuming and adds additional costs beyond the taxes.

All these drawbacks can be avoided, by properly designating beneficiaries.

Being wise with your beneficiary designations, also provides flexibility in your estate plan.

For example, you can set up beneficiary designations to purposely give an inheritor the option to disclaim to other family members, which is done when the primary beneficiary can disclaim to a family member that is in greater need of funds or is in a lower tax bracket.

Reference: MarketWatch (Aug. 25, 2020) “Can I reject an inheritance?”

Searching for Lower Taxes? Check State Laws

If you are among the many Americans making a move because of economics, a recent article from MarketWatch titled “Thinking about moving to a state with lower taxes? These are the mistake to avoid” has the information you need about the tax impact of your prospective new home state.

Moving to a state with no personal income tax is not the quick and easy answer it seems. You’ve got to look at ALL the taxes that apply to residents, from property taxes to estate and inheritance taxes.

Here’s a good example: Texas has no personal state income tax. Colorado has a flat 4.63% personal state income tax. Therefore, if you are working and have a good income, it makes sense that Texas would be your best option, right? Wrong.

The property tax rate on a home in some Colorado Springs neighborhoods is about 0.49% of the property’s actual value. Let’s say you move to one of these areas and buy a home for $500,000. Your annual property tax bill: $2,450. Let’s say your taxable income is $200,000. Your Colorado state income tax bill would be $9,260, and with the property tax, your tax bill would be $11,710. For that same $500,000 home in Dallas—your property tax would be $21,200 or about $17,800 if you are over age 65 or a surviving spouse. The higher property tax means that your annual tax bill is lower in Colorado.

What about after you die? Seventeen states and the District of Columbia impose their own estate tax or inheritance tax, and Maryland imposes both. Exemptions from the state estate tax are way below the current federal estate tax exemption. However, if you move to the wrong state, your estate could shrink dramatically from the state’s death taxes.

To clarify, an estate tax is charged against the entire taxable estate, regardless of who inherits from the estate. An inheritance tax is charged against people who receive inheritance. The rate usually depends upon their relationship to you.

Here are a few state estate taxes to consider:

  • Connecticut’s top estate tax rate is 12%, with a $5.1 million exemption allowed for 2020. The exemption increases to $7.1 million in 2021, and $9.1 million in 2022. Above $15 million of the estate tax value, the tax rate drops to 0%.
  • Hawaii’s top estate tax rate is 20%, and in 2020, there is a $5.49 million exemption.
  • In Illinois, the top tax rate is 16%, with a $4 million exemption in 2020.

Review the entire tax picture, before making this important decision. You should also confer with your estate planning attorney to learn how your estate’s structure—trusts and other estate planning tools—would work in a different state. Keep in mind that all of these tax exemptions, including the federal one, are likely to change as local, state and federal governments respond to the increased costs and lowered revenues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reference: MarketWatch (Aug. 30, 2020) “Thinking about moving to a state with lower taxes? These are the mistake to avoid”

Should I Take the Early Retirement Package Offered at My Job?

As tempting as an early retirement package sounds, it’s a decision that should be made only after analyzing it carefully. What the early retirement decision boils down to is: “Can I afford to do it?”

AARP’s recent article entitled “What to Consider When You’re Offered an Early Retirement Package” explains that many early retirement packages include salary severance (such as receiving one or two weeks’ pay for each year of service); extended health insurance coverage and a pension-related payout.

However, just because you’re offered an early retirement package, it doesn’t mean you have to retire if you take it.

The first question is whether you’d consider working after taking your company’s early retirement offer. Taking a voluntary buyout when you plan to keep working is a different decision, than if you’re considering retirement. If you have a new job and will still be collecting a paycheck after the buyout, you might save some of that cash.

The analysis is more difficult when your future job prospects are poor, or you’re planning on using the voluntary buyout as retirement funds.

The older you are — and the nearer that the offer is to your planned retirement date — the better. If you are 63½ when you get a buyout offer, if you have enough savings, a well-stocked 401(k) or IRA retirement plan and no large debts, you’d be “within the window” to take the buyout. The reason is that you’re only 18 months from being eligible for Medicare health insurance at age 65. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) allows workers to continue their employer-based health coverage for up to 18 months. This applies even if the termination is involuntary. Most early retirement packages offer COBRA benefits. You’ll have to pay for COBRA, but it will be a bridge to age 65 when your Medicare coverage begins. See if you can get coverage by joining your spouse’s plan, if he or she is employed and has a plan at work. You can also shop for your own private plan through the federal government-run Health Insurance Marketplace. However, don’t attempt to go without health care because you’ll need it.

You’ll need money in retirement to pay your monthly bills. Therefore, you should do an expense audit and figure out what your monthly costs are now and what they’ll be in the future. Based on the expense audit, see if you’ve got enough income or assets to cover your budget.

Look at whether the buyout terms are attractive enough to let you to leave your job and bridge the income gap, until retirement age of 65 or you get a new job. If it doesn’t, you might be better off not taking it. A severance payment of six months to a year might give you enough time to find a new job, but for most, a month or two of severance won’t be enough.

Reference: AARP (Aug. 28, 2020) “What to Consider When You’re Offered an Early Retirement Package”

Gifting Can Help Estate Plans and Heirs Reach Goals

The applicable exclusion amount for gift/estate tax purposes is $11.58 million in 2020, a level that makes incorporating gifting into estate plans very attractive for high net-worth families. If a donor’s taxable gift—one that does not qualify for the annual, medical or education exclusion—is in excess of this amount, or if the value of the donor’s aggregate taxable gifts is higher than this amount, the federal gift tax will be due by April 15 of the following year. The current gift tax rate is 40%.

This presents an opportunity, as described in detail in the article “The Case for Gifting Now (or At Least Planning for the Possibility” from The National Law Review.

If the exclusion is used during one’s lifetime, it reduces the amount of the exemption available at death to shelter property from the estate tax. With proper planning, spouses may currently gift or die with assets totally as much as $23.16 million, with no gift or federal estate tax.

To gain perspective on how high this exclusion is, in 2000-2001, the applicable exclusion amount was $675,000.

The exclusion amount will automatically decrease to approximately $6.5 million on January 1, 2026, unless changes are made by Congress before that time to continue the current exclusion amount. Now is a good time to have a conversation with your estate planning attorney about making gifts in advance of the scheduled decrease and/or any changes that may occur in the future. The following are reasons why this exemption may be lowered:

  • Trillions of dollars in federal stimulus spending necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe economic downturn in the U.S.
  • Past precedent of passing tax legislation mid-year and applying it retroactively to January 1.
  • A possible change in party control for the presidency and/or the Senate
  • The use of the budget reconciliation process to pass changes to taxes.

In the 100-plus year history of the estate tax, the exemption has never gone down. However, the exemption has also never been this high. The possibility of a compressed timeframe for family business owners and wealthy individuals to implement lifetime gifts before any legislative change may make a tidal wave of gifting transactions challenging between now and December 31, 2020. Now is the time to start planning and take action to utilize the exclusion amount.

Reference: The National Review (Aug. 20, 2020) “The Case for Gifting Now (or At Least Planning for the Possibility”

State Laws Have an Impact on Your Estate

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?” notes that first, the fact that the individual from Florida isn’t legally married is important.

However, if she’s a Florida resident, Florida rules will matter in this scenario about the vacation condo.

Florida doesn’t have an inheritance tax, and it doesn’t matter where the beneficiary lives. For example, the state of New Jersey won’t tax a Florida inheritance.

Although New Jersey does have an inheritance tax, the state can’t tax inheritances for New Jersey residents, if the assets come from an out-of-state estate.

If she did live in New Jersey, there is no inheritance tax on “Class A” beneficiaries, which include spouses, children, grandchildren and stepchildren.

However, the issue in this case is the fact that her “daughter” isn’t legally her daughter. Her friend’s daughter would be treated by the tax rules as a friend.

You can call it what you want. However, legally, if she’s not married to her friend, she doesn’t have a legal relationship with her daughter.

As a result, the courts and taxing authorities will treat both persons as non-family.

The smart thing to do with this type of issue is to talk with an experienced estate planning attorney who is well-versed in both states’ laws to determine whether there are any protections available.

Reference: nj.com (July 23, 2020) “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?”

Which Stars Made the Biggest Estate Planning Blunders?

Mistakes in the estate planning of high-profile celebrities are one very good way to learn the lessons of what not to do.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Eight Lessons From Celebrity Estates” discussed some late celebrities who made some serious experienced estate planning blunders. Hopefully, we can learn from their errors.

James Gandolfini. The “Sopranos” actor left just 20% of his estate to his wife. If he’d left more of his estate to her, the estate tax on that gift would have been avoided in his estate. But the result of not maximizing the tax savings in his estate was that 55% of his total estate went to pay estate taxes.

James Brown. One of the hardest working men in show business left the copyrights to his music to an educational foundation, his tangible assets to his children and $2 million to educate his grandchildren. Because of ambiguous language in his estate planning documents, his girlfriend and her children sued and, years later and after the payment of millions in estate taxes, his estate was finally settled.

Michael Jackson.  Jackson created a trust but never funded the trust during his lifetime. This has led to a long and costly battle in the California Probate Court over control of his estate.

Howard Hughes. Although he wanted to give his $2.5 billion fortune to medical research, there was no valid written will found at his death. His fortune was instead divided among 22 cousins. The Hughes Aircraft Co. was bequeathed to the Hughes Medical Institute before his death and wasn’t included in his estate.

Michael Crichton. The author was survived by his pregnant second wife, so his son was born after his death. However, because his will and trust didn’t address a child being born after his death, his daughter from a previous marriage tried to cut out the baby boy from his estate.

Doris Duke. The heir to a tobacco fortune left her $1.2 billion fortune to her foundation at her death. Her butler was designated as the one in charge of the foundation. This led to a number of lawsuits claiming mismanagement over the next four years, and millions in legal fees.

Casey Kasem. The famous DJ’s wife and the children of his prior marriage fought over his end-of-life care and even the disposition of his body. It was an embarrassing scene that included the kidnapping and theft of his corpse.

Prince and Aretha Franklin. Both music legends died without a will or intestate. This has led to a very public, and in the case of Prince, a very contentious and protracted settlement of their estates.

So, what did we learn? Even the most famous (and the richest) people fail to carefully plan and draft a complete estate plan. They make mistakes with tax savings (Gandolfini), charities (Brown and Hughes), providing for family (Crichton), whom to name as the manager of the estate (Duke) and failing to prevent family disputes, especially in mixed marriages (Kasem).

If you have an estate plan, be sure to review your existing documents to make certain that they still accomplish your wishes. Get the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (July 16, 2020) “Eight Lessons From Celebrity Estates”

Take Advantage of Tax Laws Now

The pundits are saying that the if Democrats win the White House and possibly Congress, expect changes to income, gift generation skipping transfer and estate taxes. This recent article from Forbes, “Use It Or Lose It: Locking In the $11.58 Million Unified Credit” says that the time to act is now.

Since 2000, the estate and gift tax exemption has taken a leap from $675,000 and a top marginal rate of 55% to an exemption of $11.58 million and a top marginal rate of 40%. However, it’s not permanent. If Congress does nothing, the tax laws go back in 2026 to a $5.6 million exemption and a top marginal rate of 55%. The expectation is that if Biden wins in November, and if Congress enacts the changes published in his tax plan, the exemption will fall to $3.5 million, and the top marginal rate will jump to 70%.

The current exemption and tax rate may be as good as it gets.

If you make a taxable gift today, you can effectively make the current tax laws permanent for you and your family. The gift will be reported in the year it is made, and the tax laws that are in effect when the gift is made will permanently applicable. Even if the tax laws change in the future, which is always a possibility, there have been proposed regulations published by the IRS that say the new tax laws will not be imposed on taxable gifts made in prior years.

Let’s say you make an outright taxable gift today of $11.58 million, or $23.16 million for a married couple. That gift amount, and any income and appreciation from the date of the gift to the date of death will not be taxed later in your estate. The higher $11.58 million exemption from the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) can also be applied to these gifts.

Of course, you’ll need to have enough assets to make a gift and still be financially secure. Don’t give a gift, if it means you won’t be able to support your spouse and family. To take advantage of the current exemption amount, you’ll need to make a gift that exceeds the reversionary exemption of $3.5 million. One way to do this is to have each spouse make a gift of the exemption amount to a Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT), a trust for the benefit of the other spouse for that spouse’s lifetime.

Be mindful that such a trust may draw attention from the IRS, because when two people make gifts to trusts for each other, which leaves each of them in the same economic position, the gifts are ignored and the assets in the trusts are included in their estate. The courts have ruled, however, that if the trusts are different from each other, based on the provisions in the trusts, state laws and even the timing of the creation and funding of the trusts may be acceptable.

These types of trusts need to be properly administered and aligned with the overall estate plan. Who will inherit the assets, and under what terms?

A word of caution: these are complex trusts and take time to create. Time may be running out. Speak with a skilled estate planning attorney with knowledge of tax law.

Reference: Forbes (July 17, 2020) “Use It Or Lose It: Locking In the $11.58 Million Unified Credit”

Some States are Lowering Taxes to Entice Retires to Relocate

The State of Maryland excludes from taxes up to $31,100 in income from pensions and 401(k) plans. However, its state and local taxes on other types of income—including distributions from IRAs—can run as high as 9%.

Kiplinger’s March article entitled “States Lower Taxes to Court Retirees” explains the good news for Marylanders willing to relocate, is that there are other states which give retirees a break. For example, Delaware and Virginia are both friendlier to tax-conscious seniors, according to Kiplinger’s state-by-state guide to taxes on retirees. Marylanders can move to Florida, which has no income tax and is on Kiplinger’s list of most-tax-friendly states.

To address his state’s image and tax issues, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has introduced a bill that would eliminate state taxes on the first $50,000 of income for retirees making up to $100,000 in federally adjusted gross income. Therefore, retirees with incomes of $50,000 or less would pay no state tax.

Other states are also trying to find ways to keep retirees from heading off to lower-tax states. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed legislation that will make it easier for seniors in Cook County (which includes Chicago) to apply for a property tax break of up to $8,000 a year. Kiplinger has designated Illinois as one of the least tax-friendly states for retirees, mostly due to its high property taxes. West Virginia got a “mixed” rating from Kiplinger for the way it taxes retirees. They are phasing out taxes on Social Security benefits over three years. New Mexico lawmakers are considering several bills that would repeal or reduce taxes on Social Security. The Land of Enchantment also received a “mixed” rating from Kiplinger.

Here are the states where the most retirees are moving, based on the number of people age 60 and older who moved into a state versus the number of people who moved out.

State – Net Migration

  • Florida – 68,918
  • Arizona – 31,201
  • South Carolina – 12,001
  • North Carolina – 9,209
  • Nevada – 8,582
  • Tennessee – 8,259
  • Texas – 8,296
  • Washington – 3,964
  • Idaho – 2,966
  • Delaware – 2,605

Source: Smart Asset analysis of 2017 census data

Whether you’re planning to stay where you are when you retire or move somewhere else, it’s critical that you understand and include the cost of federal and state taxes, when estimating your retirement budget.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 4, 2020) “States Lower Taxes to Court Retirees”