Retirement Planning

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.”

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?”

Will the RMD Age Be Raised by New Legislation?

RMD Age
The new retirement bill may boost the RMD age to 75.

Senator Ben Cardin and Rob Portman’s Retirement Security and Savings Act of 2019 overlaps with some provisions in the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act (RESA) of 2019. That bill was introduced on April 1, but RESA only raised the RMD age to 72.

Think Advisor reports in the article “New Retirement Bill Would Boost RMD Age to 75” that the RESA bill, which was introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is similar to H.R. 1994, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019. The latter bill is expected to get a vote on the House floor very soon.

The Portman-Cardin bill phases in the RMD age increase over several years. The bill would also update mortality tables to reflect longer life expectancies.

The bill would also broaden the ability of employer-sponsored 403(b) plans to offer collective investment trusts (CITs). A CIT is a mutual fund-like vehicle used in some 401(k)s and pension plans that can help plan sponsors save on expenses.

The Insured Retirement Institute, a lobbying group for the annuity industry, added its support for the bill.

“Section 117 [of the bill] would level the playing field, by providing insurance products with the same exemptions as CITs,” the group said in a letter to senators, sparking “a robust and competitive marketplace which is vital to ensure Americans have access to the appropriate savings option for their financial situation.”

The bill would also let those with Roth accounts in 457(b), 401(k), 401(a), and 403(b) plans roll Roth IRA assets into these plans. It would also allow 457(b), 401(a), 401(k) and 403(b) plan participants to make qualifying charitable distributions. Right now they are only allowed from IRAs.

Reference: Think Advisor (May 14, 2019) “New Retirement Bill Would Boost RMD Age to 75”

Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?

There are as many types of trusts, as there are reasons to have trusts. They all have benefits and drawbacks. What type of trust is best for you? The answer is best discussed in person with an estate planning attorney. However, an article from U.S. News & World Report titled “8 Things to Know About Trusts,” gives a good overview.

Estate Plan
Determining whether your estate plan should include a trust is best done by consulting with an estate planning attorney.

Revocable or Irrevocable? Revocable trusts are usually established for a person (the grantor) during their lifetime, and then pass assets to the named beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The revocable trust allows for a fair amount of flexibility during the grantor’s lifetime. An irrevocable trust is harder to change, and in some cases cannot be changed or amended. Some states do allow the option of “decanting” trusts, that is, pouring over assets from one trust to another. You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure trusts are set up correctly and achieve the goals you want.

Trusts can protect assets. Irrevocable trusts are often used, when a grantor must go into a nursing home and the goal is to protect assets. However, this means that the grantor no longer has access to the money and has fundamentally given it away to the trust. Putting assets into an irrevocable trust is commonly done to preserve assets, when a person will need to become eligible for Medicaid.  The trust must be created and funded five years before applying for benefits. Irrevocable trusts can also be used to obtain veteran’s benefits, if they are asset-based. VA benefits have a three-year look-back period, as compared to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period.

Trusts can’t own retirement accounts. Trusts can own non-retirement bank accounts, life insurance policies, property and securities. However, retirement accounts become taxable immediately, if they are owned by a trust.

Trusts help avoid probate after the grantor’s death. Most people think of trusts for this purpose. Assets in a trust do not pass through probate, which is the process of settling an estate through the courts. Having someone named as a trustee, a trusted family member, friend or a financial institution, means that the assets can be managed for the beneficiaries, if they are not deemed able to manage the assets. Another good part about trusts: you can direct how and when the funds are to be distributed.

Trusts offer privacy. When a will is filed in the courthouse, it becomes part of the public record. Trusts are not, and that keeps assets and distribution plans private. A grantor could put real estate and other personal property into a trust and title of ownership would remain private.

Tax savings. Before the federal estate tax exemptions became so high, people would put assets into trusts to avoid taxation. However, state taxes may still be avoided, if the assets don’t reach state tax levels. You can also transfer funds into an irrevocable trust to transfer it to others, without making it become part of a taxable estate. This is something to discuss in detail with an estate planning attorney.

Irrevocable Trusts can be expensive. If you are considering an irrevocable trust as a means of controlling the cost of an estate, this is not the solution you are looking for. Trusts require careful administration, annual tax filings and other fees. You may also lose the advantage of long-term capital gains by putting assets into trusts, since they are taxed upon withdrawal, and usually based upon current market value. The marginal rates for trust income of all kinds apply at much lower levels, so that the highest marginal taxes will be paid on very low levels of income.

Work with an experienced trusts and estates lawyer. Trusts and their administration can be complex. Seek the help of a trusts and estates attorney, who will be able to factor in tax liability and the impact of the trusts on the rest of your estate plan. Remember that every state has its own laws about trusts. Finally, an estate plan needs to be updated every few years. For example, trusts that were set up for a far lower federal estate tax exemption several years ago are now out of date, and may not work to achieve their intended goal. The laws changes, and the role of trusts also changes.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (March 29, 2019) “8 Things to Know About Trusts”

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Estate Plan Review
You should review your estate plan each time a major life event occurs or every 5 years, whichever comes first.

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

What Happens to Social Security when a Spouse Dies?

Mary is right to be concerned. She is worried about what will happen with their Social Security checks when her spouse dies, who she needs to notify at their bank, how to obtain death certificates and how complicated it will be for her to obtain widow’s benefits. Many answers are provided in the article “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies” from Tuscon.com.

What happens to Social Security after a spouse dies
Trying to figure out what happens to Social Security after a spouse dies can be complicated.

First, what happens to the Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in March, for example, is the benefit payment for February.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66, and actually turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

On the other hand, if your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

Therefore, when a spouse dies, the social security monies for that month might have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary, if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that Henry dies on April 3. Because he lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, and that is paid in April. Once again, it depends upon the date and it is likely that even if the check is not issued or sent back, it will eventually be reissued. More on that later.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director, or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

A claim for widow’s or widower’s benefits must be made in person. You can call the Social Security Administrator’s 800 number or contact your local Social Security office to make an appointment. What you need to do, will depend upon the kind of benefits you had received before your spouse died.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, then you have to file for widow’s benefits. It’s not too complicated, but you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate.

Widow’s benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due widow’s benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow for three days of the month. Following the example above, where the proceeds of a check were withdrawn, those proceeds will be sent to your account. Finally, no matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit.

For more on this topic and how to make sure your wishes are carried out and your assets are protected after you pass away visit the Mastry Law website.

Reference: Tuscon.com (March 13, 2019) “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies”

Suggested Key Terms: Social Security, Benefits, Widow, Widower, Full Retirement Age, Death Certificate

Why Is Everyone Retiring to Florida?

A recent report by WalletHub ranks Florida as the best place to retire in terms of affordability, health-related factors and overall quality of life. According to the U.S. Census’ 2017 Population Estimates Program, roughly a half-million Miami-Dade County residents are over the age of 65, and by 2040, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, according to the annual report produced by the Administration for Community Living.

It is no surprise to us that people would want to retire in Florida.

Advances in medicine are helping with longevity, but various improvements in diet and lifestyle have also helped, says The Miami Herald in the article “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement.”

It’s important to keep your lifestyle through retirement, and it’s an essential part of any financial plan. You’ll need to budget for plans or services that help you in your later years, such as everyday tasks, medical care, or even where you live.

Take some time to consider how you want your later years to look, like where you would want to live—whether that’s at home (possibly with live-in help) or in an assisted-living facility. With our longer life spans, we encounter more significant health risks, like cognitive issues. According to research, 37% of people over the age of 85 have some mild impairment and about one-third have dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association says that 540,000 people aged 65 and older reported living with Alzheimer’s in Florida in 2018. Roughly 15% of those in Florida hospice care had a diagnosis of dementia in 2015. Therefore, you can see why it is critical to think about this now and communicate your long-term needs to your family.

As we get older, the ability to maintain a lifestyle we like, can become a financial challenge. This is especially true, if we also face an unexpected health condition. Making wise decisions now, can have a dramatic impact on what those later years will look like. Saving for a lengthy retirement can help you prepare to face any potential issues that may arise.

Making provisions for your family and leaving a legacy, isn’t always an easy task. However, the financial security of your family may depend not only on how you manage your wealth today, but also on how you protect and preserve it for the future. Your estate plan can help you prepare now to provide for your loved ones in the future.

Talk to your family and your estate planning attorney about these issues and ensure that your legacy planning is up to date, by regularly updating your will, trust, or advanced medical directives.

Reference: Miami Herald (February 1, 2019) “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement”

Why You Need to Review Your Estate Plan

One of the most common mistakes in estate planning is thinking of the estate plan as being completed and never needing to review your estate plan again after the documents are signed. That is similar to taking your car in for an oil change and then simply never returning for another oil change. The years go by, your life changes and you need an estate plan review.

Review your estate plan periodically to insure that it will work the way you want it to

The question posed by the New Hampshire Union Leader in the article “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan” is not if you need to have your estate plan reviewed, but when.

Most people get their original wills and other documents from their estate planning attorney, put them into their safe deposit box or a fire-safe file drawer and forget about them. There are no laws governing when these documents should be reviewed, so whether or when to review the estate plan is completely up to the individual. That often leads to unintended consequences that can cause the wrong person to inherit assets, fracture the family, and leave heirs with a large tax liability.

A better idea: review your estate plan on a regular basis. For some people with complicated lives and assets, that means once a year. For others, every four or five years works just fine. Some reviews are triggered by major life events, including:

  • Marriage or divorce
  • Death
  • Large changes in the size of the estate
  • A significant increase in debt
  • The death of an executor, guardian or trustee
  • Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren
  • Change in career, good or bad
  • Retirement
  • Health crisis
  • Changes in tax laws
  • Changes in relationships to beneficiaries and heirs
  • Moving to another state or purchasing property in another state
  • Receiving a sizable inheritance

What should you be thinking about, as you review your estate plan? Here are some suggestions:

Have there been any changes to your relationships with family members?

Are any family members facing challenges or does anyone have special needs?

Are there children from a previous marriage and what do their lives look like?

Are the people you named for various roles—power of attorney, executor, guardian and trustees—still the people you want making decisions and acting on your behalf?

Does your estate plan include a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a valid living will, or if you want this, a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order?

Do you know who your beneficiary designations are for your accounts and are your beneficiary designations still correct? (Your beneficiaries will receive assets outside of the will and nothing you put in the will can change the distribution of those assets.)

Have you aligned your assets with your estate plan? Do certain accounts pass directly to a spouse or an heir? Have you funded any trusts?

Finally, have changes in the tax laws changed your estate plan? Your estate planning attorney should look at your state, as well as federal tax liability.

Just as you can’t plant a garden once and expect it to grow and bloom forever, you need to review your estate plan so it can protect your interests as your life and your family’s life changes over time.

Reference: New Hampshire Union Leader (Jan. 12, 2019) “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan”

Celebrated Your 50th Birthday? Here’s What You Need to Do Next

The 50s are the time of life when your kids are starting to become more independent and may have moved out. If that’s true, you may have a little more disposable income. That presents a good opportunity to ramp up your retirement savings, advises Sioux City Journal in the article “In Your 50s? Do These 3 Things to Plan for Your Retirement.”

Unfortunately, many people who turn 50 start thinking now is the time to retire early, go on extravagant vacations or buy themselves big ticket items that they’ve always wanted. A better approach: consider this a time to make the most of your income, keep saving for retirement and stay on a steady course.

Use the catch-up options available to you. The federal government knows that many people don’t have the means or the motivation to save for retirement until later in their careers. That’s why there are several provisions in the tax laws that let you catch up, once you reach 50.

  • You can put away an additional $1,000 above the annual contribution limit to an IRA.
  • You can add $6,000 in annual contribution to 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored plans after age 50.
  • Once you pass your 55th birthday, you can make an additional $1,000 annual contribution to health savings accounts.

If you’ve got the cash to spare, these are great opportunities.

Educate yourself about Social Security. Many people rely on Social Security for their retirement, while others use it as a safety net. You’ll want to start learning about the rules.

When you take your first benefits has an impact on how much you’ll receive over your lifetime. Yes, you can start at age 62, but the difference in the amount you’ll get at 62 versus 70 is substantial. If you plan to keep working indefinitely, maximizing earnings is the best way to boost your Social Security benefits.

Get access to savings in the early years of retirement. If you can afford to retire in your 50s, know when you can tap your retirement savings. If you’ve used regular taxable accounts to invest your savings, it won’t matter when you make withdrawals. However, if your money is locked up in 401(k)s, SEPs, IRAs and other tax favored accounts, you’ll need to know the rules. Penalties for taking withdrawals before the specified age, can take a big bite out of your retirement accounts.

It is hard to think about working every day for another 15 or 20 years, once you’ve celebrated your 50th birthday.  However, keeping these three key ideas in mind as you plan for the future will help put you in the best financial state possible.

Another post-50th birthday task? Meet with an estate planning attorney and make sure you have a will, Power of Attorney and other legal documents to protect yourself and your loved ones in case something unexpected should happen.

Reference: Sioux City Journal (Aug. 25, 2018) “In Your 50s? Do These 3 Things to Plan for Your Retirement”

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