Retirement Planning

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”

A Four Decade Retirement Plan? Here’s How

Not everyone gets the good genes or good fortune that has Orville Rogers flying around the country to attend master’s level track meets, but he is an inspiring example to follow. Money describes Rogers in a title that says it all: “This 100-Year-Old Has Been Retired for 40 Years, Has a Healthy Savings Account and Is a Track Champion. Here’s His Impressive Path to a Rich Retirement”

Longevity in savings that aligns with his years is a powerful force. He started saving in 1952, 25 years before the creation of the retirement savings plan, we know today as a 401(k). Back in the day, companies provided their employees with pension plans and those without a pension plan lived on Social Security when they retired. Life expectancies were shorter, so you didn’t need quite so much money. Rogers was born in 1917, and his peer group’s life expectancy was about 48.4 years old.

By saving for retirement and using his downtime between flights to educate himself about money, he started investing and says that his account is now worth around $5 million. He says he wasn’t particularly frugal either and supported his church and other Christian causes throughout his life. However, he had time on his side, making periodic investments over an extended period of time.

Another practice that extends life: exercise. Rogers took up running at age 50 and hasn’t stopped yet. Studies have shown that anyone, at any age or stage, is helped by a regular schedule of physical activity, tailored to your personal needs. Even people who are wheelchair bound and living in a nursing home can benefit from a chair exercise program. Among older seniors, the ability to walk a quarter mile (one lap around a track), is linked to better health outcomes.

Until recently, Rogers ran five to six miles a week. He’s in rehab now and working his way back to his prior running and training schedule.

When you live as long as Rogers has, you outlive a lot of family members and friends. Rogers moved into a retirement community two years after his wife died, making new friends because, as he says, “… if I don’t, I’d have none left.”

Faith has also been a strong force in his life over these many years. At 98, he wrote a book, The Running Man: Flying High for the Glory of God. When he was starting out in his retirement years, he flew church missions in Africa.

“I’m enthusiastic about life,” Rogers says. That kind of inspiration is a lesson to us all.

Reference: Money (Nov. 2018) “This 100-Year-Old Has Been Retired for 40 Years, Has a Healthy Savings Account and Is a Track Champion. Here’s His Impressive Path to a Rich Retirement”

Can I Trade Options in My Roth IRA?

There are opportunities to trade options using Roth IRAs, but investors must follow many of the same rules that apply to traditional IRAs.

From the time they were introduced, Roth IRAs were quickly adopted by many Americans. The appealing features: you pay taxes on contributions, but generally not on withdrawals, and not on capital gains in the future. It’s a good option for those who expect taxes to be higher after retirement. However, there’s even more that you can do with a Roth IRA.

MP900422543In Investopedia’s article,“Trading Options in Roth IRAs,” the use of options in Roth IRAs and some important considerations for investors are examined. Unlike stocks themselves, options can lose their entire value if the underlying security price doesn’t reach the strike price. This makes them much more risky than the traditional stocks, bonds, or mutual funds that are typically in Roth IRA retirement accounts.

Although risky, there are situations when they might be good for a retirement account. Put options can be used to hedge a long stock position against short-term risks, by locking in the right to sell at a certain price. Covered call option strategies can be used to generate income, if an investor is okay selling her stock.

Many of the riskier strategies in options aren’t permitted in Roth IRAs, because retirement accounts are designed to help individuals save for retirement—not become a tax shelter for risky speculation. Investors should understand these restrictions to avoid issues that could have potentially costly consequences. IRS Publication 590 has several of these prohibited transactions for Roth IRAs. The most important is that funds or assets in a Roth IRA can’t be used as security for a loan. Since it uses account funds or assets as collateral by definition, margin trading usually isn’t allowed in Roth IRAs to comply with the IRS’ tax rules and avoid any penalties.

Roth IRAs also have contribution limits that may prevent the depositing of funds to make up for a margin call, placing more restrictions on the use of margin in these accounts. In addition, the IRS rules imply that many different strategies are off-limits, such as call front spreads, VIX calendar spreads and short combos. These all involve the use of margin.

It’s also important to note that different brokers have different regulations, when it comes to what options trades are permitted in a Roth IRA. The brokers permitting some of these strategies, have restricted margin accounts, where some trades that traditionally require margin are permitted on a limited basis.

A word of caution: these strategies depends on separate approvals for certain types of options trades, and some may not be permitted. Traders need to have substantial knowledge and experience to avoid taking on too much risk. Remember that Roth IRAs were not designed for active trading. An experienced investor may be able to use stock options to hedge their portfolios against losses, or generate income. However, if you are using your Roth IRA funds as a speculative tool, you may want professional input to ensure that you are not creating problems with the IRS, or putting your retirement at risk.

Reference: Investopedia “Trading Options in Roth IRAs”

Scroll to Top