Disappointing News from Social Security for 2020

The annual Cost of Living Adjustment, aka COLA, for 2020, is a smidge of an increase: 1.6%. That’s only slightly more than half of the 2.8% COLA for 2019. For the average beneficiary that means about $23.50 more per month, says the Globe Gazette’s article “Disappointed in Your Social Security Raise? 3 Steps to Take.” It’s a lot like getting a tiny raise that doesn’t budge the budget needle at all. Remember, there’s also going to be an increase in Medicare Part B, which is expected to rise by $8.80. That puts a raise of just $14.70 per month in benefits, once New Year’s Day passes.

News from Social Security
News of the meager increase in the 2020 COLA from Social Security is disappointing.

The problem is, healthcare costs are continuing to climb. That puts seniors in a bind, especially those who count on Social Security for the bulk of their retirement income. Is there anything you can do to beef up your income despite this bad news from Social Security?

Review and revise your budget. You needed a budget when you were working, and you really need one in retirement. If you are using up all your available income every month, it may be time to make some changes. Maybe it’s finally time to clear out the big sprawling ranch and downside to a two-bedroom condo. Going from a two-car household to a one-car family could net considerable savings. If you eat most of your meals out at restaurants, consider trimming those outings to cut spending.

Work part-time. You may have a lot of time on your hands, as a retired person. Getting a part-time job during retirement has a number of benefits. One, you have less free time to spend money, two, you have income and three, you have more social interactions during working hours. There’s also no need to accept a job that you wouldn’t want. Maybe you are great at baking and can turn that into a side business, or dog walking or crafting. Pet-sitting and babysitting are in demand.

Move somewhere less expensive. The cost of living varies greatly from state to state. Look for states that don’t tax Social Security and that offer a lower cost of living and a relatively low income tax rate. However, check your Medicare benefits. Medicare Advantage and Part D plans vary from state to state. If you have supplemental insurance through Medigap, the cost of your plan may change.

If so much of your retirement income budget is based on Social Security, be prepared to make some changes. You can stretch those benefits and, at the same time, lessen your stress.

Reference: Globe Gazette (October 14, 2019) “Disappointed in Your Social Security Raise? 3 Steps to Take”

Where Not To Retire

Where you live during retirement has financial considerations that may override personal preferences, says Financial Advisor’s article “Bankrates’ Top 10 Worst States to Retire.” Deciding where to live in retirement, proximity to family and friends, affordable living costs, access to excellent health care and hospitals, good weather and a low crime rate are the key factors. That’s according to a 2018 study from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Therefore, here’s a list of where not to retire.

Where Not to Retire
You might want to steer clear of these states in retirement.

10—South Carolina ranked 50th for wellness and 45 for crime. It’s overall ranking in 41st place is a surprise, given how many Northerners are finding their way to the Palmetto State.

9—New Jersey also came in at 41st place, but that’s because it ranked 48th in affordability. It’s expensive to live between New York City and Philadelphia.

8—California dreaming is great when you’re a Silicon Valley billionaire, but despite great weather and a wellness culture, the state ranks at 49th for affordability. It ranks 43rd overall.

7—Oregon has some of the same issues as California – very expensive to live here. The Beaver State ranks sixth in culture, but the price is very high.

6—Nevada is finding its way onto a lot of retirement lists, but at 17th in culture and 27th in weather, crime comes in at 40th and 48th at wellness. Tourism is the anchor of the state, and economic downturns take a big hit on the Silver State.

5—Washington is 41st in affordability and 46th overall. It does rain a lot.

4—Illinois is a nice blend of midwestern wide open spaces and big cities, but if you are planning on retiring near Chicago, bring lots of cash. Illinois ranks at 40th in affordability and 49th in wellness. Overall, the state came in at 47th.

3—Alaska is a chilly place to retire, and far from families living in the lower 48. It has become one of the most expensive, dangerous and inhospitable places to live, according to this article. Ranking 38th in affordability, 49th in crime and 50 in weather, Alaska comes in at 48th overall.

2—New York is wonderful for culture, coming in at 7th place, but so expensive that most people prefer to visit. It comes in at 50th for affordability.

1—Maryland’s closeness to our nation’s capital is expensive, ranking 47th in affordability. The weather is mild, which makes it attractive to many, and there’s always something to do in or near Washington, D.C. However, the cost makes it tough for people on fixed incomes. It ranks 50th overall.

The survey found that almost four in ten retirees say they’ve moved at least once after retirement When it comes to relocating for retirement, do more than visit. Rent for a few months, or even a year. If you do move to another state, make sure to update your estate plan. State laws regarding estate planning vary, and what is legal in one state may not work in another.

Reference: Financial Advisor (October 18, 2019) “Bankrates’ Top 10 Worst States to Retire.”

The Downside of an Inheritance

As many as 1.7 million American households inherit assets every year. However, almost seventy-five percent of all heirs lose their inheritance within a few years. More than a third see no change or even a decline in their economic standing, says Canyon News in the article “Three Setbacks Associated With Receiving An Inheritance.” Receiving an inheritance should be a positive event, but that’s often not the case. What goes wrong?

Problems with inheritance
Inheritances can be great, but they can have a downside too.

Family battles. A survey of lawyers, trust officers, and accountants conducted by TD Wealth found that at 44 percent of all inheritance setbacks are caused by family disagreements. Conflicts often arise, when individuals die without a properly executed estate plan. Without a will, asset distributions are left to the law of the state and the probate court.

However, there are also times when even the best of plans are created and problems occur. This can happen when there are issues with trustees. Trusts are commonly used estate planning tools, a legal device that includes directions on how and when assets are to be distributed to beneficiaries. Many people use them to shield assets from estate taxes, which is all well and good. However, if a trustee is named who is adverse to the interests of the family members, or not capable of properly managing the trust, lengthy and expensive estate battles can occur. Filing a claim against an adversarial trustee can lead to divisions among beneficiaries and take a bite out of the inheritance.

Poor tax planning. Depending upon the inheritance and the beneficiaries, there could be tax consequences including:

  • Estate Taxes. This is the tax applied to the value of a decedent’s assets, properties and financial accounts. The federal estate tax exemption as of this writing is very high—$11.4 million per individual—but there are also state estate taxes. Although the executor of the estate and not the beneficiary is typically responsible for the estate taxes, it may also impact the beneficiaries.
  • Inheritance Taxes. Some states have inheritance taxes, which are based upon the kinship between the decedent and the heir, their state of residence and the value of the inheritance. These are paid by the beneficiary, and not the estate. Six states collect inheritance taxes: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Spouses do not pay inheritance taxes, when their spouse’s die. Beneficiaries who are not related to decedents will usually pay higher inheritance taxes.
  • Capital Gains Tax. In certain circumstances, heirs pay capital gains taxes. Recipients may be subject to capital gains taxes, if they make a profit selling the assets that they inherited. For instance, if someone inherits $300,000 in stocks and the beneficiary sells them a few years later for $500,000, the beneficiary may have to pay capital gains taxes on the $200,000 profit.

Impacts on Government Benefits. If an heir is receiving government benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Social Security (SSS) or Medicaid, receiving an inheritance could make them ineligible for the government benefit. These programs are generally needs-based, and recipients are bound to strict income and asset levels. An estate planning attorney will usually plan for this with the use of a Special Needs Trust, where the trust inherits the assets, which can then be used by the heir without losing their eligibility. A trustee is in charge of the assets and their distributions.

An estate planning attorney can work with the entire family, planning for the transfer of wealth and helping educate the family, so that the efforts of a lifetime of work are not lost in a few years’ time.

Reference: Canyon News (October 15, 2019) “Three Setbacks Associated With Receiving An Inheritance”

What has the Average American Saved for Retirement?

It’s the question we all wonder about, but not very many of us will come out and ask. A 2019 analysis of more than 30 million retirement accounts by Fidelity Investments found that the average balance in corporate sponsored 401(k) plans at the end of 2018 was $95,600. When it came to traditional, Roth and rollover IRAs, the number was $98,400, reports Investopedia in a recent article titled “What Is the Size of the Average Retirement Nest Egg?” A look at 403(b) and other defined contribution retirement plans in the non-profit sector found that it was $78,7000. These numbers were down between 7.8%-8% from the same quarter of the prior year. Blame the stock market for that.

Averages like this only indicate a few things. Younger workers, for example, tend to have less in their retirement accounts than older workers. Their salaries are smaller, and they haven’t had decades to accumulate tax deferred income in their accounts. However, that gap is wide.

A June 2018 report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies looked at a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 workers and broke out retirement savings by generation. The boomer members had estimated median retirement savings of $164,000 in 2017, while Gen Xers had $72,000 and millennials had $37,000.

Aside from age, the big factors in retirement savings success seem to be education and income. People with higher income put more money into their retirement accounts. The Transamerica study shows that households with incomes of under $50,000 had estimated median retirement savings of $11,000. Households with incomes between $50,000 and $99,999 had median savings of $61,000 and those with incomes of $100,000 or more had $215,000.

The higher the level of education, the more money people have set aside for retirement.

Therefore, if you’re wondering how your nest egg compares to the average nest egg, the first thing you’ll want to do is decide to whom you want to compare yourself and your nest egg. You can compare yourself to the U.S. population in general, or to people who are more like you in education, age and income.

Here’s an unnerving thought: no matter if your nest egg is way above your peer group, that doesn’t mean it will be enough when retirement rolls around. Everyone’s situation is different, and life hands us unexpected surprises.

One way to prepare is to have an estate plan. If you don’t already have an estate plan, which includes a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, possibly trusts and other strategic tools for tax planning and wealth transfer, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 24, 2019) “What Is the Size of the Average Retirement Nest Egg?”

How Do I Change My Will?

Many people have wills that were drafted years ago. Now they want to leave some specific items to someone who was not included when their original will was drafted. Making changes to a will doesn’t have to be complicated says nj.com’s recent article, “Does my dad need to pay money to get a new will?” However, making changes on your own can cause trouble for the executor if not done correctly.

How do I change my will?
Making simple changes to a will isn’t difficult as long as the correct procedure is followed.

Many times making changes to a will is as simple as creating a written list that disposes of tangible personal property, not otherwise identified and directly disposed of in the original will.

The list must either be in the testator’s handwriting or it can be typewritten, but it must be signed and dated by the testator. This list also must describe the item and the recipient clearly.

This list can be amended or revoked. It should be kept with the will or given to the executor, so he or she knows about it and can ensure it is followed.

It would not be in the interest of the executor and may be perceived as a breach of fiduciary duty to honor such a list and make such a distribution, if the beneficiaries named in the will object. No one wants to cause a fight over the items on the list, after the parent is gone.

Although this kind of change to your will can be done on your own, it would be much wiser to invest in having the items added to a revised will to protect your wishes. If some of the beneficiaries got into a quarrel over the items on the list, it could result in a family fight that a properly drafted and executed revision or amendment could easily prevent.

Reference: nj.com (October 14, 2019) “Does my dad need to pay money to get a new will?”

Why A Healthcare Power of Attorney Makes Sense

Having a Healthcare Power of Attorney makes sense.  Having it in place before it is needed is one of the best ideas of estate planning, along with having a Power of Attorney in place before it is needed. Why? This is because taking a pro-active approach to both of these documents, means that when the unexpected occurs and that is exactly how things occur—unexpectedly—the person or persons you have named for these important roles will be able to step in quickly and made decisions.

Having a healthcare power of attorney makes sense
A healthcare power of attorney is an often overlooked, but essential part of any good estate plan.

Time is often of the essence, when these documents are needed.

According to the article “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney” from The News Enterprise, a health care power of attorney is a document that grants another person the power to make medical decisions for you, when you no longer have the ability to make those decisions for yourself. It is known by a few other names, depending on the state where you live: health care proxy, a medical power of attorney or a health care surrogate.

It needs to have HIPAA-compliant language, which will allow the person you name the ability to review medical information and discuss protected health information with your health care providers.

A health care power of attorney may also include language for an advance medical directive, which gives instructions for end-of-life decisions. This is often called a “living will,” and is your legal right to reject medical treatment, decisions about feeding tubes and the number of doctors required to determine the probability of recovery and pain management.

A health care power of attorney does not generally empower another person to make decisions, until you are unable to do so. Unlike a general durable power of attorney, which permits another person to make financial or business decisions with you while you are living, as long as you are able to understand your medical situation, you are still in charge of your medical decisions.

A guardianship is completely different from these documents. A guardian may only be appointed, if a judge or jury finds you wholly or partially disabled in such a way that you cannot manage your own finances or your health. The appointment of a guardian is a big deal. Once someone has been appointed your guardian, you do not have any legal right to make decisions for yourself. A court will also appoint a legal fiduciary, who will make your financial decisions.

There are record-keeping requirements with a guardianship that do not exist for a power of attorney. The court-appointed representative is responsible for reporting to the court any actions that they have taken on your behalf.

To have power of attorney documents executed, the person must be capable of understanding what they are signing. This means that someone receiving a diagnosis of dementia needs to have these documents prepared, as soon as they learn that their capacity will diminish in the near future.

If the documents are not prepared and executed in a timely fashion, a guardianship proceeding may be the only option. Planning in advance is the best way to ensure that the people you trust are the ones making decisions for you. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney now to have these documents in place.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Oct. 13, 2019) “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney”

What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have for My Child Who’s at College?

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Documents that Parents and College Students Need,” explains that many parental rights are no longer applicable, when a child legally reaches adulthood (age 18 in most states).  That makes having the right estate planning documents for a child who’s at college vitally important.

College students are adults, which means mom and dad are no longer in control of decision making.

However, with a few of the right estate planning documents in place, you can still be involved in your child’s medical and financial affairs. Many parents don’t know that they need these documents. They think they can access a child’s medical and other information, because their son or daughter is still on the family’s insurance plan and the parents are paying the medical and tuition bills.

Here are four documents you and your son or daughter will need.

HIPAA Authorization Form. This is a federal law that protects the privacy of medical records. You child must sign a HIPPA authorization form to let you to receive information from health care providers, such as the college’s health clinic, about their health and treatment. If your son or daughter doesn’t want to share her entire medical record, he or she can set restrictions on what information you can receive.

Medical Power of Attorney. This lets your son or daughter name a person to make medical decisions, if they are incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. Your child should select both a primary agent and a secondary agent, in the event the first one is unavailable.

Durable Power of Attorney. This lets your son or daughter authorize a person to handle financial or legal matters on his or her behalf. A durable power of attorney is usually written, so it takes effect when a person becomes incapacitated. However, if your child would like you to manage his or her financial accounts or file tax returns while away at school, they can make the document effective immediately.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act Waiver. Once your child is an adult, you’re no longer entitled to see their grades without express permission. It seems a bit crazy that you can be paying for tuition, but you don’t have access to their academic records. This waiver signed by your child will allow you permission to receive his or her academic record. Many colleges provide this form, or you can find it online.

Once you get these documents, make sure you have ready access to them, if required.

Reference: Kiplinger (September 24, 2019) “Documents that Parents and College Students Need”

What Estate Planning Do I Need With a New Baby?

Congratulations, you’re a new mom or dad. There’s a lot to think about, and there is one vital task that should be a priority. That is making an estate plan. People usually don’t worry about estate planning, when they’re young, healthy and starting a new family. However, your new baby is depending on you to make decisions that will set him or her up for a secure future.

What estate planning do I need with a new baby
Having an estate plan is the only way to legally name a guardian for your child.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “If You’re a New Parent, Take These 4 Estate Planning Steps” says there are a few key estate planning steps that every parent should take to make certain they’ve protected their child, no matter what the future holds.

  1. Purchase Life Insurance. If a parent passes away, life insurance will make sure there are funds available for the other spouse to keep providing for the children. If both parents pass away, life insurance can be used to raise the child or to fund the cost of college. For most parents, term life insurance is used because the premiums are affordable, and the coverage will be in effect long enough for your child to grow to an adult.
  2. Draft a Will and Name a Guardian for your Children. For parents of minor children, the most important reason to make a will, is to name a guardian for your children. When you designate a guardian, select a person who shares your values and who will do a good job raising your children. By being proactive and naming a guardian to raise your children, it’s not left to a judge to make that selection. Do this as soon as your children are born.
  3. Update Beneficiaries. Your will should say what happens to most of your assets, but you probably have some accounts with a designated beneficiary, like a 401(k), and IRA, or life insurance. When you have children, you’ll need to update the beneficiaries on these accounts for your children to inherit these assets as secondary beneficiaries, so they will inherit them in the event of your and your spouse’s passing.
  4. Look at a Trust. If you pass away prior to your children turning 18, they can’t directly take control of any inheritance you leave for them. This means that a judge may need to appoint someone to manage assets that you leave to your child. Your child could also wind up inheriting a lot of money and property free and clear at age 18. To have more control, like who will manage assets, how your money and property should be used for your children and when your children should directly receive a transfer of wealth, ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust. With a trust, you can designate an individual who will manage money on behalf of your children and provide instructions for how the trustee can use the money to help care for your children, as they age. You can also create conditions on your children receiving a direct transfer of assets, such as requiring your children to reach age 21 or requiring them to use the money to cover college costs. Trusts are for anyone who wants more control over how their property will help their children, after they’ve passed away.

When you have a new baby, working on your estate planning probably isn’t a big priority. However, it’s worth taking the time to talk to an attorney for the security of knowing your bundle of joy can still be provided for, in the event that the worst happens to you.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 28, 2019) “If You’re a New Parent, Take These 4 Estate Planning Steps”

Having a Will Is Not The Same As Having An Estate Plan

A last will and testament is an important part of an estate plan, and every adult should have one. But, there is only so much that a will can do, according to the article “Estate planning involves more than a will” from The News-Enterprise.

estate plan
Having a Will and having an Estate Plan are as different as apples and oranges.

First, let’s look at what a will does. During your lifetime, you have the right to transfer property. If you have a Power of Attorney it gives someone you name the authority to transfer your property or manage your affairs, while you are alive. In most states, this document expires upon your death.

When you die, a will is one piece of your estate plan that is used to transfer your property, according to your wishes. If you do not have a will, the court must determine who receives the property, as determined by your state’s law. However, only certain property passes through a will.

Individually owned property that does not have a beneficiary designation must be transferred though the process of probate. This includes real property, like house or a land, if there is no right of survivorship provision within the deed. The deed to the property determines the type of ownership each person has.

Couples who purchase property after they are married, usually own the property with the right of survivorship. This means that the surviving owner continues to own the property without it going through probate.

However, when deeds do not have this provision, each owner owns only a portion of the property. When one owner dies, the remaining owner’s portion must be passed through probate to the beneficiaries of the decedent.

Assets that have a designated beneficiary do not pass through probate, but are paid directly to the beneficiary. These are usually life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment and/or bank accounts. Your will does not control these assets.

Beneficiaries through the will only receive whatever property is left over, after all reasonable expenses and debts are paid.

If you wish to ensure that beneficiaries receive assets over time through your estate plan, that can be done through a trust. The trust can be the beneficiary of a payable-on-death account. A revocable trust avoids property going through the probate process and can be established with your directions for distribution.

A will is a good start to an estate plan, but it is not the whole plan. Speak with an estate planning attorney about your situation and they will be able to create a plan that addresses distribution of your assets, as well as protect you from incapacity.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (September 30, 2019) “Estate planning involves more than a will”

Should a Trust Be Part of Your Estate Plan

Regular people have learned that they need to have an estate plan to protect themselves, while they are living and to distribute assets when they pass. Estate planning tools like a Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney are basic documents anyone over 18 needs to have. Trusts, once the province of the wealthy, are now being used by people in many different economic levels, reports the Cleveland Jewish News in the article “Five reasons to incorporate trust into estate plan.”  

Revocable Trust
Revocable Trusts are very flexible estate planning tools

Taxes. While it’s true that the exclusion for estates and prior taxable gifts is now $11.4 million per individual, most estates won’t be taxable at the federal level. However, don’t overlook state estate taxes. What if life insurance proceeds put your estate into a higher bracket? One way to keep the cap on your estate size, is with an irrevocable life insurance trust, also known as an ILIT. It will keep life insurance policy proceeds outside of a probatable estate and minimize the tax hit.

Asset Distribution. Your will controls who receives what assets, but not what happens to them after they are distributed. A trust can ensure that funds are used for specific purposes, such as higher education. It can also control how funds are distributed to an individual. If there are concerns about how an heir might mishandle an inheritance, perhaps because of an addiction or a lack of financial skills, a trust can be used for oversight into when funds are distributed and possibly under what circumstances. You can set benchmarks for trust distribution, like completing college or a rehabilitation program.

Privacy. Heirs are sometimes surprised when they, along with executors, start receiving solicitations after a loved one’s will is probated. That is because once a will goes through probate, the information is public record and available to anyone, including nosy neighbors, scammers or an estranged family member. A trust provides a layer of privacy. It can also do this while you are living. Certain information, like the ownership of a property, can be made less public, if the property is owned by a trust instead of an individual.

Making Estate Settlement More Efficient. Depending upon the jurisdiction, probate matters can take time. The court process does not always move quickly, and sometimes can be difficult to navigate. Probate can also become expensive. An executor or administrator of the estate is generally paid a percentage of the total value of the assets managed. But assets that are held in a trust do not go through the probate process and can be managed far more efficiently and quickly.

An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to determine what kind of trusts will be most appropriate and useful for your situation.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (September 16, 2019) “Five reasons to incorporate trust into estate plan”

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