Financial Planning

How can I Avoid Taxes on Social Security Income?

You may be aware that if you work while collecting benefits prior to hitting your full retirement age, it can mean you’ll get a reduced benefit. However, if you earn too much money, just by making withdrawals from some types of retirement plans, you also can also wind up owing income taxes on your Social Security benefits.

Avoid taxes on Social Security
Earning too much money while receiving social security may result in owed taxes.

Money Talk News’s article from last December entitled “5 Ways to Avoid Taxes on Social Security Income,” reported that according to the Social Security Administration (SSA):

“Some of you have to pay federal income taxes on your Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income in addition to your benefits (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return).”

Whether you owe taxes on these benefits depends on your “combined income.” The SSA defines this as the sum of your:

  • Adjusted gross income
  • Non-taxable interest; and
  • Half of your Social Security benefits.

If you file an individual tax return and your income is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may owe income taxes on up to 50% of your Social Security benefits. If you make more, up to 85% of your benefits could be subject to taxes. If you file a joint return, and your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000, you may owe taxes on up to 50% of your benefits. Go over, and up to 85% could be taxable. However, there are ways to reduce your income and lower — or even avoid paying — taxes owed on your Social Security benefits:

  1. Delay collecting benefits. If you wait to collect your Social Security benefits until your full retirement age (or beyond), it may be the simplest way to avoid paying taxes on your Social Security benefits—at least for a while. Waiting to file for benefits also means you will get a larger check each month once you finally do start receiving benefits.
  2. Don’t work or work less in retirement. Every dollar you earn doing part-time work can inch you a bit closer to owing taxes on your Social Security benefits. Don’t quit a job you enjoy or need, just to cut your tax bill. However, if it’s a low-paying job that’s no fun, you might be better off quittin,g so you can reduce your income in exchange for lowering or eliminating taxes on your Social Security benefits.
  3. Avoid municipal bonds. Many people buy municipal bonds to lower their tax bill because the interest earned from these types of bonds typically isn’t taxable. However, municipal bond interest is included in the formula that determines whether you pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.
  4. Withdraw money from a Roth. If you’ve saved money in a traditional IRA or 401(k), the IRS will want some of that during your retirement. After years of deferring taxes on those contributions, the bill is due when you start making withdrawals. The withdrawals will increase your combined income, which could make the difference in whether or to what extent your benefits are taxed. To avoid taxes, withdraw only as much money as the government requires you to take each year (the required minimum distribution or RMD) and take any additional cash that you need from a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), if you have one. No taxes are due on Roth distributions, and these withdrawals won’t affect your combined income. Keep in mind that RMDs don’t apply to Roth IRAs.
  5. Distribute your RMD to a charity. Giving money to charity can lower the chances that your Social Security benefit will be taxed. If you’re at least 70½, you can take up to $100,000 of your annual RMD, give it to a charity and avoid income taxes on the money. It’s called a qualified charitable distribution. Because this money isn’t taxed, it won’t boost your adjusted gross income. However, you must direct the money to a qualified 501(c)(3) organization, and you can’t use funds from a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan to make this type of distribution. There are workarounds but speak with an attorney.

Reference: Money Talk News (Dec. 22, 2019) “5 Ways to Avoid Taxes on Social Security Income”

Mistakes New Parents Make with Money

The prospect of becoming a parent is exciting, but it’s also stressful, due to the sleepless nights and the never-ending expenses associated with caring for a child. The latest research from the USDA found that the average middle-income family spends about $12,300 to $13,900 on child-related expenses annually.  With the cost of raising a child as high as it is, it’s important to avoid the mistakes new parents make with money.

Mistakes New Parents Make with Money
Avoiding mistakes new parents make with money starts with knowing what those mistakes are.

The Street’s recent article entitled “Biggest Money Mistakes New Parents Make” says that with the current economic issues from the coronavirus pandemic, 59% of U.S. households are seeing a reduction in income since March. That’s why it’s more important than ever for families to carefully create a budget, anticipate all potential expenses and watch their spending. To do this, young parents should avoid five common money mistakes made by new parents.

  1. Getting Big. Upgrading your home and car for a new baby seems practical. However, this adds an unnecessary financial burden during an already tough time. Little babies don’t require much space. Because there are many new expenses in caring for an infant, such as diapers and unanticipated medical bills, try to settle into your new life first and adjust to the new budget prior to making major upgrades.
  2. Lowballing Childcare Costs. Parents can pay about $565 per week for a nanny and $215 for a daycare center says Care.com. However, in addition to the working day, parents can miss planning for the additional care they may need on nights and weekends. This can add up, with the average hourly rate for a babysitter at $15. You can save by setting up a babysitting exchange with other families in your neighborhood or with relatives who have children around the same age.
  3. No life insurance or estate planning. It’s not a fun topic, but life insurance and estate plans provide financial safety nets for your family. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, and when looking into term life insurance, try to buy five to 10 times your annual salary in coverage.
  4. Too much spending on gadgets. New parents can go crazy shopping for new clothing and infant gear, thinking that these things will make caring for baby easier. However, many of these items are only used for a short while, so it’s better to borrow or buy used. For essentials, you can’t avoid buying items like a car seat or crib, but search for deals online first.
  5. Delaying Saving for College. College is way off but the earlier you start saving, the easier it will be to meet your savings goal. The longer you delay beginning to save, the more money you’ll need to put away each month. Saving a little bit is better than nothing, even if it’s just $20 a month. You can also start a 529 College Savings Plan to help your savings grow like a retirement fund.

Reference: The Street (Sep. 9, 2020) “Biggest Money Mistakes New Parents Make”

How Do I Keep My Son-in-Law from Getting the Money I Give my Daughter in My Estate?

Say that you were to name your daughter as the beneficiary on your Roth IRA and 401(k) accounts, as well as your house and other investments. Her husband would not be a beneficiary.

His only source of income is a monthly stipend that he receives from a trust and income he earns from being a rideshare driver.

Can you use a trust to prevent her son-in-law from inheriting or getting her money when she dies?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I protect my daughter’s inheritance from her husband?” explains that trusts are very effective at accomplishing this goal.

Note first that retirement assets can’t be re-titled to a trust. However, a home can be, and investments can be, if they’re not tax deferred.

For assets that can’t be re-titled to the bloodline trust during your lifetime, you can name the trust as the payable-on-death (POD) beneficiary of those assets.

You also should take care in deciding on who you choose as a trustee.

In the situation above, depending on applicable law for your state, your daughter may not be the sole trustee and the sole beneficiary under this form of trust arrangement. However, in all instances, a bank or attorney can be a co-trustee.

This trust arrangement ensures that assets distributed to your daughter aren’t commingled with the assets of her husband with extravagant tastes and an open checkbook. In addition, those assets would not be subject to equitable distribution in the event of a divorce.

If the daughter is the sole trustee over a trust, then all the planning will be out the window, if the daughter does not agree to this set-up.

For example, if she takes distributions from the trust and deposits them in a joint account with her husband, the money is available for equitable distribution.

This means the daughter arguably has indicated that she does not think of her inheritance as a non-marital asset.

A divorce court would see it the same way and award a portion to the husband in a break-up.

Reference: nj.com (July 21, 2020) “Can I protect my daughter’s inheritance from her husband?”

What Do I Do with My Late Mom’s Stimulus Check?

What do you do with a stimulus check delivered to your loved one who has passed away?

The word is that these checks will have to be returned. However, right now there’s been no official guidance on how to go about doing this.

U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying heirs should be returning money sent in the name of someone who passed away.

However, that’s it. No one has elaborated, says KOMO’s April article entitled “Heirs may have to return stimulus money sent to the deceased, but how and when?”

Payments to the dead have been trouble ever since the stimulus checks started to be sent out. The federal government isn’t telling anyone the number of dead people who got the checks, but consumers are reporting them from across the U.S.

Even with the published reports that the government would like heirs to return the economic impact payments sent to the deceased, there’s still been no official comment and no information addressing the issue on either the U.S. Treasury or the IRS websites.

Add to this, the fact that some people are receiving conflicting information from tax professionals about their rights to the money.

Some people say they were informed that if the person was living as of January 2, then their survivors could keep the cash. However, in a transcript of an April 17 White House briefing, President Trump was asked about checks to dead people.

Trump said, “we’ll get that back.”

If you still have stimulus money sent to someone who has passed away, don’t spend it. Keep it and monitor the IRS and Treasury websites for instructions on what to do with the stimulus check.

Reference: KOMO (April 29, 2020) “Heirs may have to return stimulus money sent to the deceased, but how and when?”

Do I Need an Estate Plan with a New Child in the Family?

When a child is born or adopted, the parents are excited to think about what lies ahead. However, in addition to all the other new-parent tasks on the list, parents must also address a more depressing task: making an estate plan.

When a child comes into the picture, it’s important for new parents to take the responsible step of making a plan, says Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “As a New Parent, I Took These 3 Estate Planning Steps.”

Life insurance. To be certain that there’s money available for your child’s care and to fund a college education, parents can buy life insurance. You can purchase a term life insurance policy that’s less expensive than a whole-life policy and you’ll only need the coverage until the child is grown.

Create a will. A will does more than just let you direct who should inherit if you die. It gives you control over what happens to the money you leave to your child. If you were to pass and he wasn’t yet an adult, someone would need to manage the money left to him or her. If you don’t have a will, the court may name a guardian for the funds, and the child might inherit with no strings attached at 18. How many 18-year-olds are capable of managing money that’s designed to help them in the future?

Speak to an experienced lawyer to get help making sure your will is valid and that you’re taking a smart approach to protecting your child’s inheritance.

Designate a guardian. If you don’t name an individual to serve as your child’s guardian, a custody fight could happen. As a result, a judge may decide who will raise your children. Be sure that you name someone, so your child is cared for by people you’ve selected, not someone a judge assigns. Have your attorney make provisions in your will to name a guardian, in case something should happen. This is one step as a new parent that’s critical. Be sure to speak with whomever you’re asking to be your child’s guardian and make sure he or she is okay with raising your children if you can’t.

Estate planning may not be exciting, but it’s essential for parents.

Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to create a complete estate plan to help your new family.

Reference: Motley Fool (Feb. 23, 2020) “As a New Parent, I Took These 3 Estate Planning Steps”

What Should I Know about Beneficiary Designations?

A designated beneficiary is named on a life insurance policy or some type of investment account as the designated recipient of those assets, in the event of the account holder’s death. The beneficiary designation doesn’t replace a signed will but takes precedence over any instructions about these accounts in a will. If the decedent doesn’t have a will, the beneficiary may see a long delay in the probate court.

If you’ve done your estate planning, most likely you’ve spent a fair amount of time on the creation of your will. You’ve discussed the terms with an established estate planning attorney and reviewed the document before signing it.

FEDweek’s recent article entitled “Customizing Your Beneficiary Designations” points out, however, that with your IRA, you probably spent far less time planning for its ultimate disposition.

The bank, brokerage firm, or mutual fund company that acts as custodian undoubtedly has a standard beneficiary designation form. It is likely that you took only a moment or two to write in the name of your spouse or the names of your children.

A beneficiary designation on account, like an IRA, gives instructions on how your assets will be distributed upon your death.

If you have only a tiny sum in your IRA, a cursory treatment might make sense. Therefore, you could consider preparing the customized beneficiary designation form from the bank or company.

You can address various possibilities with this form, such as the scenario where your beneficiary predeceases you, or she becomes incompetent. Another circumstance to address, is if you and your beneficiary die in the same accident.

These situations aren’t fun to think about but they’re the issues usually covered in a will. Therefore, they should be addressed, if a sizeable IRA is at stake.

After this form has been drafted to your liking, deliver at least two copies to your custodian. Request that one be signed and dated by an official at the firm and returned to you. The other copy can be kept by the custodian.

Reference: FEDweek (Dec. 26, 2019) “Customizing Your Beneficiary Designations”

How Do I Incorporate My Business into My Estate Plan?

When people think about estate planning, many just think about their personal property and their children’s future. If you have a successful business, you may want to think about having it continue after you retire or pass away.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later” says that many business owners believe that estate planning and getting their affairs in order happens when they’re older. While that’s true for the most part, it’s only because that’s the stage of life when many people begin pondering their mortality and worrying about what will happen when they’re gone. The day-to-day concerns and running of a business is also more than enough to worry about, let alone adding one’s mortality to the worry list at the earlier stages in your life.

Business continuity is a big concern for many entrepreneurs. This can be a touchy subject, both personally and professionally, so it’s better to have this addressed while you’re in charge rather than leaving the company’s future in the hands of others who are emotionally invested in you or in your work. One option is to create a living trust and will that outs parameters in place for a trustee to carry out. With these decisions in place, you’ll avoid a lot of stress and conflict for those you leave behind.

Let them be upset with you, rather than with each other. This will give them a higher probability of working things out amicably at your death. The smart move is to create a business succession plan that names a successor to be in charge of operating the business, if you should become incapacitated or when you pass away.

A power of attorney document will nominate an agent to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, but you should also ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust to provide for the seamless transition of your business at your death to your successor trustees. The transfer of the company to your trust will avoid the hassle of probate and will ensure that your business assets are passed on to your chosen beneficiaries.

Estate planning may not be on tomorrow’s to do list for young entrepreneurs and business owners. Nonetheless, it’s vital to plan for all that life may bring.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 30, 2019) “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later”

What Do I Tell My Kids About Their Inheritance?

knowing whether to tell your kids about their inheritance can be tough decision

For some parents, it can be difficult to discuss family wealth with their children and knowing whether to tell your kids about their inheritance can be tough decision. You may worry that when your kid learns they’re going to inherit a chunk of money, they’ll drop out of college and devote all their time to their tan.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “To Prepare Your Heirs for Future Wealth, Don’t Hide the Truth,” says that some parents have lived through many obstacles themselves. Therefore, they may try to find a middle road between keeping their children in the dark and telling them too early and without the proper planning. However, this is missing one critical element, which is the role their children want to play in creating their own futures.

In addition to the finer points of estate planning and tax planning, another crucial part of successfully transferring wealth is honest communication between parents and their children. This can be valuable on many levels, including having heirs see the family vision and bolstering personal relationships between parents and children through trust, honesty and vulnerability.

For example, if the parents had inherited a $25 million estate and their children would be the primary beneficiaries, transparency would be of the utmost importance. That can create some expectations of money to burn for the kids. However, that might not be the case, if the parents worked with an experienced estate planning attorney to lessen estate taxes for a more successful transfer of wealth.

Without having conversations with parents about the family’s wealth and how it will be distributed, the support a child gets now and what she may receive in the future, may be far different than what she originally thought. With this information, the child could make informed decisions about her future education and how she would live.

Heirs can have a wide variety of motivations to understand their family’s wealth and what they stand to inherit. However, most concern planning for their future. As a child matures and begins to assume greater responsibility, parents should identify opportunities to keep them informed and to learn about their children’s aspirations, and what they want to accomplish.

The best way to find out about an heir’s motivation, is simply to talk to talk to your kids about their inheritance.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 22, 2019) “To Prepare Your Heirs for Future Wealth, Don’t Hide the Truth”

Complete Your Financial Plan with Estate Planning

Here at Mastry Law we’ve always referred to estate planning as the final piece of your financial planning puzzle.  If you are among those who haven’t put together a basic estate plan, you should make every effort to accomplish this in 2019. Your family and friends will thank you.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s recent article, “No financial plan is complete without a basic estate plan” reports that, while Americans are living longer, it was emphasized in a session at the American Society on Aging’s 2019 conference in New Orleans that 56% of Americans don’t have a will.

Estate Planning is the final piece of your financial planning puzzle.

The basic list isn’t particularly daunting. Talk to an experienced estate planning lawyer to create a will to get your affairs in order.

You should also sign a health care directive and a durable power of attorney. It is also important to decide where you want to be buried or cremated.

You should discuss your late-life goals and desires with your family, relatives and close friends. This gives everyone a better idea about your values and thinking. An estate plan makes things much less stressful on your family.

Many people want to leave at least some money to their loved ones. However, instead of waiting for death to pass on assets, more people are now deciding to “give while living.”

For example, grandparents can help to fund their grandchildren’s education expenses. Nearly two-thirds of people 50 years and older are giving some financial support to family members, according to a survey by the financial services firm Merrill Lynch and demographic consulting firm Age Wave.

Since you are already thinking about your life while devising an estate plan, it is important to understand that far more valuable than your money and assets is your accumulated experience, knowledge and skills. You can tap into your experience later in life to help others succeed.  Your experience and judgment can help family members decide how to have both purpose and a paycheck.

Perhaps you can serve as a mentor for those in your community in areas where you have some expertise?

The desire to leave our families with a legacy is powerful. Don’t leave them without an estate plan.  Remember that giving of our experience can make a significant difference to the community around us.

Reference: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (May 4, 2019) “No financial plan is complete without a basic estate plan”

What is a Transfer on Death (TOD) Account?

Transfer on Death accounts allow for assets to avoid probate and be transferred directly to a beneficiary after the death of the account holder.

Most married couples share a bank account from which either spouse can write checks and add or withdraw funds without approval from the other. When one spouse dies, the other owns the account. The deceased spouse’s will can’t change that.

This account is wholly owned by both spouses while they’re both alive. As a result, a creditor of one spouse could make a claim against the entire account, without any approval or say from the other spouse. Either spouse could also withdraw all the money in the account and not tell the other. This basic joint account offers a right of survivorship, but joint account holders can designate who gets the funds, after the second person dies.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “How Transfer-on-Death Accounts Can Fit Into Your Estate Planning,” explains that the answer is transfer on death (TOD) accounts (also known as Totten trusts, in-trust-for accounts, and payable-on-death accounts).

In some states, this type of account can allow a TOD beneficiary to receive an auto, house, or even investment accounts. However, retirement accounts, like IRAs, Roth IRAs, and employer plans, aren’t eligible. They’re controlled by federal laws that have specific rules for designated beneficiaries.

After a decedent’s death, taking control of the account is a simple process. What is typically required, is to provide the death certificate and a picture ID to the account custodian. Because TOD accounts are still part of the decedent’s estate (although not the probate estate that the will establishes), they may be subject to income, estate, and/or inheritance tax. TOD accounts are also not out of reach for the decedent’s creditors or other relatives.

Account custodians (such as financial institutions) are often cautious, because they may face liability if they pay to the wrong person or don’t offer an opportunity for the government, creditors, or the probate court to claim account funds. Some states allow the beneficiary to take over that responsibility, by signing an affidavit. The bank will then release the funds, and the liability shifts to the beneficiary.

If you’re a TOD account owner, you should update your account beneficiaries and make certain that you coordinate your last will and testament and TOD agreements, according to your intentions. If you fail to do so, you could unintentionally add more beneficiaries to your will and not update your TOD account. This would accidentally disinherit those beneficiaries from full shares in the estate, creating probate issues.

TOD joint account owners should also consider that the surviving co-owner has full authority to change the account beneficiaries. This means that individuals whom the decedent owner may have intended to benefit from the TOD account (and who were purposefully left out of the Last Will) could be excluded.

If the decedent’s will doesn’t rely on TOD account planning, and the account lacks a beneficiary, state law will govern the distribution of the estate, including that TOD account. In many states, intestacy laws provide for spouses and distant relatives and exclude any other unrelated parties. This means that the TOD account owner’s desire to give the account funds to specific beneficiaries or their descendants would be thwarted.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney, if a TOD account is suitable to your needs and make sure that it coordinates with your overall estate plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 18, 2019) “How Transfer-on-Death Accounts Can Fit Into Your Estate Planning”

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