retirement

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird

The interstates get busy in September, when retirees take to the highways to leave the north behind and head to their southern homes, reports Next Avenue in “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.” Some snowbirds have a more enjoyable experience than others, in part because of their preparation.

Here are a few lessons from the experienced snowbirds:

Choose a location that suits you. Don’t confuse a cold-weather home with a vacation spot. You’ll be living your daily life here. Therefore, you want to find the activities that you enjoy on a regular basis. If your regular life at home is busy and you like it that way, moving to a laid-back beach town or an isolated cabin in the woods may not be a good fit for more than a few days.

Look before you leap. Rent a place for a month or two, before committing to spending an entire winter there. You can’t know if you love a place before you live there for an extended period of time. If you’re not happy, you can try someplace else. Once you find the right spot, book the whole winter. Book the whole next winter as well. Good spots go fast.

Switch bills to be paid online. Before everything was online, it was tricky to take care of your home bills while living somewhere else. Make all your bills payable online or put them on autopay. If your bank doesn’t have a branch nearby, open an account in a nearby bank and link with your home bank, so you can easily move money between accounts.

Don’t overbook your time with out-of-town guests. You may love having friends come down, but being a frequent host takes a lot of time and energy. Don’t turn your winter residence into a bed and breakfast. Don’t be afraid to limit the number of nights for your houseguests. This is your home, not a hotel.

Make it a second home if you own it. If you buy rather than rent, it’s easier to keep some things there. Therefore, you are not lugging quite as much back and forth. However, even in a rental, you may be able to store some items, or rent a small storage unit nearby. Doing so will make travelling easier, and your snowbird nest will feel more like home.

Enjoy the ride back and forth. There’s no need to rush, if you’re going to be staying for a few months. If you’ve always travelled by interstate, maybe a side trip along local roads will break up the monotony and create some new memories. Stop by to visit with relatives along the way, or the national park that you’ve been meaning to experience. Make the ride an enjoyable part of your journey.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 13, 2019)  “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.”

Estate Planning Is for Everyone

As we go through the many milestones of life, it’s important to plan for what’s coming, and also plan for the unexpected. An estate planning attorney works with individuals, families and businesses to plan for what lies ahead, says the Cincinnati Business Courier in the article “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.” For younger families, it’s important to remember that estate planning is for everyone, and having an estate plan is like having life insurance: it is hoped that the insurance is never needed, but having it in place is comforting.

Estate planning is for everyone
Estate planning is the most effective way to protect against life’s unforeseen events, no matter what stage of life you may be in.

For others, in different stages of life, an estate plan is needed to ensure a smooth transition for a business owner heading to retirement, protecting a spouse or children from creditors or minimizing tax liability for a family.

Here are some milestones in life when an estate plan is needed:

Becoming an adult. It is true, for most 18-year-olds, estate planning is the last thing on their minds. However, as proof that estate planning is for everyone, at 18 most states consider them legal adults, and their parents no longer control many things in their lives. If parents want or need to be involved with medical or financial matters, certain estate planning documents are needed. All young adults need a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow their parents to step in and help, if something happens.

That can be as minimal as a parent talking with a doctor during an office appointment or making medical decisions during a crisis. A HIPAA release should also be prepared. A simple will should also be considered, especially if assets are to pass directly to siblings or a significant person in their life, to whom they are not married.

Getting married. Marriage unites individuals and their assets. For newly married couples, estate planning documents should be updated for each spouse, so their estate plans may be merged, and the new spouse can become a joint owner, primary beneficiary and fiduciary. In addition to the wills, power of attorney, healthcare directive and beneficiary designations also need to be updated to name the new spouse or a trust. This is also a time to start keeping a list of assets, in case someone needs to access accounts.

When a child is born. When a new child joins the family, having an estate plan becomes especially important. Choosing guardians who will raise the children in the absence of their parents is the hardest thing to think about, but it is critical for the children’s well-being. A revocable trust may be a means of allowing the seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets to benefit the children and other family members.

Part of business planning. Estate planning should be part of every business owner’s plan. If the unexpected occurs, the business and the owner’s family will also be better off, regardless of whether they are involved in the business. At the very least, business interests should be directed to transfer out of probate, allowing for an efficient transition of the business to the right people without the burden of probate estate administration.

If a divorce occurs. Divorce is a sad reality for about half of today’s married couples. The post-divorce period is the time to review the estate plan to remove the ex-spouse, change any beneficiary designations, and plan for new fiduciaries. It’s important to review all accounts to ensure that any beneficiary designations are updated. A careful review by an estate planning attorney is worth the time to make sure no assets are overlooked.

Upon retirement. Just before or after retirement is an important time to review an estate plan. Children may be grown and take on roles of fiduciaries or be in a position to help with medical or financial affairs. This is the time to plan for wealth transfer, minimizing estate taxes and planning for incapacity.

Reference: Cincinnati Business Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.”

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”

Common Estate Planning Mistakes That You Can Avoid

The number one estate planning mistake is failing to have or to update an estate plan, says the Times Herald in the article “Top six estate planning mistakes.” Therefore, start by working with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan, and you’ll be way ahead of most Americans. Why does this matter?

An estate plan allows you to stay in control of your assets while you are alive, provide for your loved ones and for yourself in the event you become mentally or physically incapacitated, and when you die, give what you have worked to achieve to those you wish. It costs far less to take care of all of this while you are alive. It’s a gift to those you love, who are spared a lot of stress and costs if it must be figured out after you have passed.

Once you have a plan in place, you have to keep it updated. An estate plan is like a car: it needs gas, oil changes, and regular maintenance. If your family experiences significant changes, then your estate plan needs to be reviewed. If you change jobs, have a change in your financial status, or if you receive an inheritance, it’s time for a review. When there are changes to the law, regarding taxes or non-tax matters, you’ll want to make sure your plan still works.

The second biggest mistake we make is failing to plan for retirement. If you start thinking about retirement when it is five or 10 years away, you’re probably going to be working for a long time. When you are in your twenties, it is the ideal time to start saving for retirement. Most people don’t start thinking about retirement until their thirties, and many don’t plan at all.

There are many different “rules” for how to save for retirement and how to calculate how much income you’ll need to live during retirement. However, not all of them work for every situation. Advisors are now telling Americans they need to plan for living until and past their ninetieth birthday. That means you could be living in retirement for four decades.

Mistake number three—failing to fund trusts. Trust funding is completely and correctly aligning your assets with your trust. If you don’t fund the trust, which means putting assets into the trust by retitling assets that include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, insurance policies and other assets, adding the trust as an additional insured to home and auto insurance policies and have every change verified, you have an incomplete estate plan. Your heirs will have to clean up the mess left behind.

Fourth, failing to communicate your estate plan to your executor, beneficiaries and heirs is a common and easily avoidable mistake. Talk with everyone who is a part of your estate plan and explain what their roles are. Speak with the person you have named as Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy on a regular basis. Make sure they continue to be willing and able to perform the tasks you need them to do on your behalf. Make sure they know where your documents are.

Fifth, don’t neglect to make arrangements for bills to be paid and financial matters to be handled, when you are not able to do so. There are many studies which show that after age 60, our financial abilities decrease about 1% per year. Expect to need help at some point during your later years and put a plan in place to protect yourself and your spouse. If you are the main bill-payer, make sure your spouse can take care of everything as well as you, before any emergency strikes.

Finally, talk with your successors about what you would like to happen if and when you become mentally unable to make good decisions, including caregiving options. As we age, the likelihood of needing to be in a nursing home or other care facility increases. You can’t necessarily rely on your spouse living long enough to take care of you. Make sure that your financial power of attorney contains the appropriate gifting language, your assets are titled properly, and your successor financial agents know about the plan you have created. If you don’t have a long-term care policy now, try to buy one. They are less expensive than having to pay for care.

Protect yourself, your family and your loved ones by addressing these steps. You’ll be giving yourself, your spouse and your loved ones peace of mind.

Reference: Times Herald (Dec. 14, 2018) “Top six estate planning mistakes”

More Information Equals A Better Outcome in Retirement Planning

Most people who work for a living dream of retirement. However, for many workers, the idea of retirement comes with its own worries. Will there be enough money? Will I be healthy enough to enjoy it?

Money and health are the two biggest worries about retirement. There are other unknowns: where will we live? How long will we be able to travel? What’s all this about paying estimated taxes, and how does Medicare work? Getting prepared for retirement will be less stressful, says the article “3 Ways to Approach Retirement More Confidently,” from The Motley Fool, if you follow these steps:

MP900398819Start with a budget. The chances are that you don’t know how much money you spend every month. You’re working, money comes in and it goes out. However, if you know how much money you are spending, and what you are spending it on, you’ll be able to have a handle on how much money you’ll need for retirement. You’ll also be able to see where your discretionary dollars are going and make a conscious decision, as to whether those are dollars that should be going into long-term savings for your retirement.

Remember that while some expenses may go down—like commuting—others will stay the same. You won’t be going to the office every day, but you will want to enjoy yourself. What will your leisure and entertainment activities be, and how much will they cost? How will you handle health care costs?  You should also remember that there will be quarterly taxes to be paid.

The more information you can pull together about your spending, savings and unavoidable costs like taxes and health care, the better you’ll be able to plan for this next phase of your life.

How much income will your retirement accounts provide? We tend to focus on how much we need to save, but we should really focus on how much income our retirement savings will generate. How much will your IRA or 401(k) provide on a monthly basis?

Let’s say you’ve saved $500,000 in time for retirement. If you use an annual 4% withdrawal rate, which is the going rule these days, you’ll only have $20,000 a year generated for annual income. If you add Social Security to that amount, you may find that it’s not enough to enjoy the lifestyle you’ve anticipated for retirement. You may find that part-time employment can fill the gap, or you may need to work for a few more years.

Be smart about Social Security. Despite your years of saving, you will likely come to rely on Social Security to pay some of your bills. The smarter you are about your filing strategy, the better positioned you’ll be to maximize your Social Security benefits. If you wait until your Full Retirement Age, you’ll get the full monthly benefit you’re entitled to. If you can hold off claiming your benefits until age 70, you’ll max out as the monthly benefits increase every year you delay claiming.

One of your key resources as you move towards your retirement years will be your estate planning attorney. The process of creating an estate plan will also answer some of your questions about what retirement will bring and planning for aging now will give you a lot more confidence about enjoying your early years of retirement.

Reference:The Motley Fool(September 23, 2018) “3 Ways to Approach Retirement More Confidently.”

What Happens to a Business When the Owner Retires?

There are steps to take when business owners decide to actively engage in planning for their business to continue to thrive after they step down.

It takes time to build a business, and it can take just as long to create a strong succession plan.

MP900402613Many business owners can’t imagine a life without the business they built, so they often postpone planning for their own retirement and the sale or transfer of the business. That doesn’t work out well.

There are steps to take when business owners decide to actively engage in planning for their business to continue to thrive after they step down. This article from Forbes“Eight Factors To Consider Before Retiring From Your Business,” offers some useful tips.

  1. Plan Ahead. A good plan is to prepare, in this case, years in advance. Pinpoint the major areas that could hamper the sale.
  2. Identify A Successor. Have a detailed succession plan in place. Identifying your successor(s) early in the process will allow you time to gradually place them in their new responsibilities and give them the benefit of your wisdom and experience.
  3. Make the Business Work for You. If your business would break down the second you step away, you’re working for your business rather than your business working for you. The time to think about your exit strategy, is when you start your business, not when you’re ready to exit.
  4. Prepare an Exit Plan. Because most owners depend on their businesses for income, a lack of planning could put their main source of income at risk. It’s critical for a business owner to meet with her legal and financial team to decide on the best exit strategy. Learn your options and make an informed—rather than an emotional—decision.
  5. Keep Working After the Exit. Stay on for a few years through the exit to let your buyer have some time to transition and structure better buyout terms for you, as you help them grow through the transition.
  6. Make Sure the Systems and Processes are Solid. With processes and systems in place, a leadership change will be more likely to proceed smoothly. Any business that is successful should have these in place anyway: best practices, key performance indicators, job and responsibility descriptions and an organizational chart. Clarity for employees and managers is crucial for a transition.
  7. Delegate Responsibilities. Confirm that all logistical areas are covered, and that there are backup plans in place. Make sure the person who will be leading the business, is focused on maintaining the corporate culture during the transition.
  8. Instill Your Values During the Transfer Process.If the transfer is planned well in advance, responsibilities and value systems can be transferred to the new owners and managers. Some owners decide to maintain some shares in the business, so that they can keep an eye on—and have a say in—how the transition is taking place.

Reference: Forbes (August 27, 2018)“Eight Factors To Consider Before Retiring From Your Business”

Making the Right Decision on Social Security Benefits

When you file for Social Security benefits has a big impact on overall lifetime benefits

When you file for Social Security benefits has a big impact on overall lifetime benefits, especially for couples. Make sure you understand the details before deciding.

Bigstock-Senior-Couple-8161132Mapping out your financial situation for retirement? Social Security benefits undoubtedly play a big part in your calculations. But do you know what your best options are? Filing early for benefits—like as soon as you turn 62—is rarely the best move. You may be eligible, but, according to this article from CNBC,“Here's when it makes sense to claim Social Security early,”taking benefits this early will reduce not only your lifetime earnings overall, but your monthly checks as well.

If you can wait and delay claiming benefits until your full retirement age (either 66 or 67, depending on when you were born), you’ll receive 100% of the benefit available to you based on your personal work record. If you wait until age 70, your retirement benefits will be even more. Delaying past full retirement age allows your benefits to grow by roughly 8% per year, until you reach that age. Therefore, waiting until 70 could increase your benefit amount to 132%. As a result, most experts recommend that you hold off on claiming for as long as you can. That can be a gamble.

The bet is that you’ll live longer and get more money. The government is asking you to make a calculated risk decision on what you had been mandated to pay into, while taking a risk on the back end.

Taking Social Security at 62 may be wise if you're single and terminally ill, and know for a fact that you’re not going to live very long. However, in most other situations, it doesn't make sense to claim early and take that permanent reduction. If you're married, claiming early could decrease the amount of benefits your spouse will have, after you're gone. The spouse’s survivor benefit is permanent.

Survivor benefits are determined by the age a person dies and the amount of Social Security credits they’ve accrued. If you wait to claim benefits, you’ll have a greater number of credits, and thus a larger benefit to pass on when you die. How much of that amount survivors can access, is based on when they claim the benefit. A person can file for widow or widower benefits starting at age 60. However, that benefit amount will be reduced. If a surviving spouse waits until his full retirement age, he is eligible to receive 100% of their spouse's benefit amount.

Those eligible for survivor benefits can decide between claiming those funds and their own retirement benefits, if they are eligible for them. That can include taking the survivor benefit, while letting their own benefit grow up to age 70. Those born before January 2, 1954 and who’ve reached full retirement age, can opt to receive their spousal benefit and delay taking their own retirement benefit. That would allow their retirement benefit to continue to grow. However, if you’re born after that date, you don’t have that option. You must choose between one benefit and the other.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to determine how Social Security fits in with your overall estate plan and tax liability. There are many moving parts here, and you don’t want to make an expensive mistake.

Reference: CNBC (March 10, 2018)“Here's when it makes sense to claim Social Security early”

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