Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

Does New COVID Relief Bill have an Impact on Seniors?

Money Talk News’ recent article entitled “6 Ways the New COVID-19 Relief Law Affects Retirees” provides a look at some of the changes retirees can expect from the new legislation.

  1. Stimulus payments for dependent adults. A first noticeable way in which the third round of stimulus payments is different from the first two is that dependents of all ages can qualify. Therefore, a household that supports a disabled senior will receive an additional $1,400 payment for that senior, if the household claims the person as a dependent on their federal income tax.
  2. Funding for ailing pension plans. The American Rescue Plan Act includes several terms concerning pension plans, one of which calls for the Treasury Department to transfer funds to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. so that certain financially troubled multiemployer pensions can continue to pay out full benefits. That will help more than one million Americans. The PBGC operates insurance programs for single-employer and multiemployer pensions.
  3. Eligibility for the earned income credit for 2021. One of several changes the legislation made to the earned income tax credit — which is for working taxpayers with low to moderate incomes — is striking the maximum age of 64 for the 2021 tax year. As a result, seniors who work may be eligible to claim the earned income credit, when they file their taxes in 2022. The usual eligibility requirements for the credit require you to have at least one qualifying child or, if you don’t have a qualifying child, you must be between 25 and 65.
  4. Higher taxes for some gig workers. However, this COVID-19 relief law isn’t all good news for all taxpayers. Retirees (and anyone else) who earn some extra money with gig work might face more taxes in the future. This will help offset the cost of the American Rescue Plan Act, generating an estimated $8.4 billion in additional tax revenue for the federal government through fiscal year 2031. Companies with gig workers may report more payments than in the past, so the IRS will have a better idea of who is earning income from gig-economy jobs. This change may come as a surprise for some who’ve underreported income in the past.
  5. Tax relief for forgiven student loans. Under the Act, student loan debt that’s forgiven in 2021 through 2025 can be excluded from the debtor’s gross income. That will shield the canceled debt from federal taxation. Prior to this, such canceled debt generally was considered taxable income by the IRS. This will apply to student loan debtors of all ages. However, that group includes a growing number of retirees, as 20% of all student loan debt — around $290 billion — is owed by people age 50 and older, according to a 2019 AARP report. That’s five times more since 2004.
  6. New or expanded tax credits for health premiums. Retirees who aren’t yet 65 and as a result don’t have Medicare health insurance, might benefit from tax credits in the Act that help eligible individuals with two other types of health insurance. The law creates a refundable, advanceable tax credit for COBRA continuation coverage premiums. It is for people who are eligible for COBRA from when the Act was signed into law (March 11) and Sept. 30, 2021.

Reference: Money Talk News (March 16, 2021) “6 Ways the New COVID-19 Relief Law Affects Retirees”

What are Most Costly Mistakes with Social Security?

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “5 Social Security Oversights That Could Cost You Thousands” says that these five Social Security mistakes could cost you thousands in your retirement.

  1. Claiming Social Security early while you’re still working. You can claim your Social Security retirement benefit as young as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced when compared with the amount you would receive if you waited until your full retirement age. Social Security will also penalize you for continuing to work while collecting benefits, if you are younger than your full retirement age.
  2. Failing to claim Social Security by your 70th birthday. Once you hit age 62, your benefit increases the longer you wait to claim, until you reach 70. You don’t have to claim your benefit by your 70th birthday, but there is no more benefit for waiting at that point.
  3. Delaying past your full retirement age to claim Social Security spousal benefits. If you’re claiming Social Security benefits based on your own income record, it’s smart to wait past your full retirement age to start taking benefits. However, if you’re claiming based on your spouse’s benefits, there’s no benefit to delay beyond your full retirement age to claim. As a result, married couples of similar ages who have vastly different earned incomes have a dilemma: for you to claim spousal benefits, your spouse also has to have begun claiming benefits based on his or her own earnings record. This combination makes it less worthwhile for the primary breadwinner spouse to wait to collect benefits, if the spouse is expecting to take spousal benefits.
  4. Taxes on Social Security benefits are not adjusted for inflation. Originally, Social Security benefits weren’t taxed. However, in 1984, the government started taxing Social Security benefits once a person’s combined income reached $25,000. Even now, the income level where Social Security starts to get taxed is still at $25,000. Because there is no adjustment for inflation, this makes more of people’s Social Security income taxable. This easily costs even moderate-income retirees thousands of dollars of spendable income over the course of their retirements.
  5. “Tax free” income counts toward making Social Security taxable. Even traditionally tax-free sources of income, like the interest from in-state municipal bonds, is included in the calculations to see how much of your Social Security will be considered taxable. Therefore, seniors who own tax free municipal bonds as part of their retirement portfolio may be surprised to find that those bonds are what’s causing their Social Security to be taxed. Seniors who find themselves in that situation may want to reevaluate their choice to be invested in those tax-free municipal bonds.

Despite how simple Social Security may appear, these five situations show how mistakes can cost thousands of dollars.

Reference: Motley Fool (March 14, 2021) “5 Social Security Oversights That Could Cost You Thousands”

Would Life Estate Have an Impact Taxes on an Inherited Home?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “My mom added us to her deed and then died. Do we owe taxes?” explains that assuming mom retained an interest in the house or lived in the house after putting her children’s names on the deed, the IRS considers the property to be part of the taxable estate of the mother.

That is a critical point, when it comes to the amount of tax the children may have to pay.

She most likely kept a “life estate” in the home. This is where a person owns the property only through the duration of their lifetime. It is called “a tenant for life” or a “life tenant.”

A life estate is a restriction on the property because it prevents the beneficiary (usually the children) from selling the property that produces the income before the beneficiary’s death.

When the mom passes away, the life estate automatically stops and the children now have all of the rights associated with the property. As to income tax, when the parent dies, the property receives a “step up” in basis to the date of death value.

If the mom in our example had a life estate, the children would receive a “step up” in basis to the fair market value of the property on the date of death.

That means that the capital gain that would be taxed to the children would be the difference between the fair market value of the property when their mother died and the net proceeds of the sale.

Retaining the life estate can help a child avoid the capital gains tax more effectively than a simple transfer of the property outright to the child.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about life estates and taxes, when you inherit a home.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 18, 2021) “My mom added us to her deed and then died. Do we owe taxes?”

Am I Missing Retiree Tax Breaks?

Seniors frequently can miss tax-saving opportunities. In many cases, it’s simply because they just don’t know about them, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “The Most-Overlooked Tax Breaks for Retirees.” Let’s look at some these:

A Larger Standard Deduction. When you turn 65, the IRS offers you a bigger standard deduction. For 2020 returns, a single 64-year-old gets a standard deduction of $12,400 ($12,550 for 2021). A single 65-year-old gets $14,050 in 2020 ($14,250 in 2021). That $1,700 will make it more likely that you’ll take the standard deduction rather than itemizing. If you do, the additional amount will save you more than $400 if you’re in the 24% bracket. Couples in which one or both spouses are age 65+, also get larger standard deductions than younger taxpayers.

Medicare Premium Deduction. If you become self-employed when you leave your job, you can deduct the premiums you pay for Medicare Part B and Part D, plus the cost of supplemental Medicare (Medigap) policies or the cost of a Medicare Advantage plan. It isn’t subject to the 7.5%-of-AGI test that applies to itemized medical expenses. However, you can’t claim this deduction if you’re eligible to be covered under an employer-subsidized health plan offered by either your employer (if you have retiree medical coverage, for example) or your spouse’s employer (if he or she has a job that offers family medical coverage).

Spousal IRA Contribution. You must have earned income to contribute to an IRA, but if you’re married, and your spouse is still working, he or she can contribute up to $7,000 a year to an IRA that you own. Provided your spouse has enough earned income to fund the contribution to your account (and any deposits to his or her own), this is an option.

The RMD Workaround. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) weren’t required in 2020 (due to COVID), but retirees taking RMDs from their traditional IRAs in 2021 and beyond may have an extra option for meeting the pay-as-you-go demand. If you don’t need the RMD during the year, wait until December to take the money. You can ask your IRA sponsor to hold a large part of it for the IRS—enough to cover your estimated tax on both the RMD and your other taxable income as well. If your RMD is more than large enough to cover your tax bill, you can keep your cash safely in its tax shelter most of the year and still avoid the underpayment penalty.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 29, 2020) “The Most-Overlooked Tax Breaks for Retirees”

tax planning

Is a Tax Change a Good Time to Check My Will?

A last will and testament can make certain that your goals for legacy and asset disposition are satisfied and carried out. However, what most people fail to grasp is that a will needs regular review—especially if the document was written or involved the creation of a trust prior to passage of tax reform, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), in 2017, says Financial Advisor’s recent article entitled “Tax Changes Make This A Good Time To Revise A Will.”

Wills can pass on assets, but taxes have come to greatly impact how much money is passed on. People usually understand the primary components, including the tax implications, of their wills.

These include:

  • The unlimited marital deduction
  • Applying current rules to make non-taxable gifts of up to $15,000 per person
  • The current estate tax exemption of $11.58 million
  • Health care directives
  • Naming trustees and executors; and
  • Creating long-term trusts with non-taxable asset transfers.

Wills and trusts were created prior to the passage of the TCJA may not consider that reform changed the amount which can be exempted from estate taxes.

The law more than doubled the amount that can be exempted from estate taxes. The potential tax changes could cause many more Americans to have a taxable estate, and it’s important to have a full understanding of your assets and carefully decide who you want to receive them. You must also decide if you want them passed outright or through a trust.

Privacy is a good reason why some people often prefer trusts. They also like the quick processing and avoiding probate.

Estate plans should be reviewed every few years, and wills should be reviewed more frequently because life changes are the biggest reason for trouble in revising wills.

Divorce, separation or marriage; the birth or adoption of children, as well as a child reaching adulthood; and changes to finances, location and health all can play important roles.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Nov. 9, 2020) “Tax Changes Make This A Good Time To Revise A Will”

sole beneficiary sharing

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”

inheritance acceptance

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?”

early retirement

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”