Surviving Spouse Needs An Estate Plan

When one spouse dies after meticulously titling assets to pass through joint tenancy to the surviving spouse, estate planning attorneys flinch. There are occasions when everything works smoothly, but they are the exception. As this article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel warns “After husband’s death, wife needs to create revocable trust.” Actually, she needs more than a revocable trust: she needs an estate plan.

Most of the assets in the plan created by her husband, in this case, did pass to the wife outside of probate. However, there are a number of details that remain. She needs to obtain date-of-death values for any non-IRA securities the couple owned, and she should also have their home’s value determined, so that a new cost basis for the house will be established. She also needs an appointment with an estate planning attorney to create a will and an estate plan.

If she dies without a will, her children will inherit the estate in equal shares by intestate succession. However, if any of her children pass before she does, the estate could be distributed to her grandchildren. If they are of legal age, there is no control over how the assets will be managed.  Making matters worse, if a child or grandchild is disabled and receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for Social Security and Medicaid benefits, unless the inheritance is held within a Special Needs Trust.

Another reason for an estate plan: a will details exactly how assets are distributed, from the set of pearls that great aunt Sarah has kept in the family for decades to the family home. A durable power of attorney is also part of an estate plan, which lets a named family member or trusted friend make financial decisions on your behalf, if you become incapacitated. An estate plan also includes an advance health care directive, so a loved one can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not able.

These are the basics of an estate plan. They protect loved ones from having to go to court to obtain the power to make decisions on your behalf, as well as protect your family from outsiders making claims on your estate.

A revocable trust is one way to avoid probate. An estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate your own unique situation and determine what the best type of trust would be for your situation, or if you even need a trust.

You may be thinking of putting your home, most families’ biggest asset, into joint tenancy with your children. What if one or more of your children have a divorce, lawsuit or bankruptcy? This will jeopardize your control of your home. A revocable trust will allow your assets to remain in your control.

The last piece in this estate is the IRA. If you are the surviving spouse, you’ll want to roll over your spouse’s IRA into your own. Make sure to update the beneficiary designation. If you neglect this step and the IRA pays into your estate when you pass, then the IRA has to be cashed in within five years of your death. Your children will lose the opportunity to stretch IRA distributions over their lifetimes.

An estate planning attorney can help guide you through this entire process, working through all the details. If your goal is to avoid probate, they can make that happen, while protecting you and your loved ones at the same time.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 24, 2019) “After husband’s death, wife needs to create revocable trust”

How Do I Plan for a Blended Family?

A blended family (or stepfamily) can be thought of as the result of two or more people forming a life together (married or not) that includes children from one or both of their previous relationships, says The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a recent article, “You’re in love again, but consider the legal and financial issues before it’s too late.”

Research from the Pew Research Center study reveals a high remarriage rate for those 55 and older—67% between the ages 55 and 64 remarry. Some of the high remarriage percentage may be due to increasing life expectancies or the death of a spouse. In addition, divorces are increasing for older people who may have decided that, with the children grown, they want to go their separate ways.

It’s important to note that although 50% of first marriages end in divorce, that number jumps to 67% of second marriages and 80% of third marriages end in divorce.

So if you’re remarrying, you should think about starting out with a prenuptial agreement. This type of agreement is made between two people prior to marriage. It sets out rights to property and support, in case there’s a divorce or death. Both parties must reveal their finances. This is really helpful, when each may have different income sources, assets and expenses.

You should discuss whose name will be on the deed to your home, which is often the asset with the most value, as well as the beneficiary designations of your life insurance policies, 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts.

It is also important to review the agents under your health care directives and financial powers of attorney. Ask yourself if you truly want your stepchildren in any of these agent roles, which may include “pulling the plug” or ending life support.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about these important documents that you’ll need, when you say “I do” for the second (or third) time.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (February 24, 2019) “You’re in love again, but consider the legal and financial issues before it’s too late”

What Do Parents Need to Know About Writing a Will?

Who wants to think about their own mortality? No one. However, it’s a fact of life. Failing to plan for your eventual death by preparing a will—especially as a parent—can result in issues for your loved ones. If you die without a will, it can mean conflict among your survivors, as they attempt to see how best to divide up your assets.

Fatherly’s recent article, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know” says that families can battle over big assets like cars to small assets like a collection of supposedly rare books. They can fight over anything and everything. Therefore, remember to prepare and sign a last will and testament to dispose of your property the way you want.

Dying without a will means your estate will be disposed of according to the intestacy laws. That could leave your loved ones in the lurch. For instance, in some states, your spouse may only get half your estate, with the remainder going to your parents.

Writing a will is essential, and you should not try to do it yourself. Instead, hire an experienced estate planning lawyer. Along with this, keep these items in mind.

Plan for Every Scenario. When doing your estate planning, consider the various scenarios and contingencies that can happen after you’re gone. A well prepared will includes when and where you want your assets to go. Be wise in how to distribute your assets, to whom they will be going and the timing.

Family Dynamics. You must be very specific when drafting up a will, especially if family circumstances are unique, such when there are children from previous marriages who aren’t legally adopted by a spouse. They could be disinherited. Work with an attorney to make sure they receive what you intend with specific details. If you and your partner aren’t legally married, your significant other could find himself or herself disinherited from your assets after you’re dead.

Designating Your Children’s Guardian. If you don’t name a guardian for your children (in cases of either single parenthood or where both parents pass away), the state will determine who gets your children.

Specificity. Your will is a chance to say who gets what. If you want your brother to get the baseball card collection, you should write it down in your will or it’s not enforceable. In some states, you can attach a written list of these personal items to your will.

Health Care. Begin planning your will when you’re healthy so that, in the event of disaster, you will have a financial power of attorney and a health care agent in place. If you become too ill to make decisions yourself, you’ll need to appoint someone to make those decisions for you.

Rules for Minors. Minors can own property, but they’ll have no control over it until they turn 18. If parents leave their home to their minor child, the surviving spouse will have issues if they want to sell it. Likewise, if a child is named the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, IRA, or 401(k), those assets will go into a protected account.

Don’t Do It Yourself. This cannot be emphasized enough. It’s tempting to create a will from a generic form online. But this may be a recipe for disaster. If your will is drafted poorly, your family will suffer the consequences. Generic forms found online are just that—generic. Families are not generic. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with what can be a complex process.

Reference: Fatherly (February 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Letter of Last Instruction, Probate Court, Inheritance, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Directive, Intestacy, Life Insurance Policy, IRA, 401(k)

Empty Nest? Time to Focus on the Nest Egg

After decades devoted to rearing children, it happens: parents realize that they’ve neglected their own retirement savings. Once the nest empties out, says USA Today, it’s time to refocus on building up savings accounts. How do you do it? The answers are in the article “5 ways empty nesters can boost their savings and turbocharge their 401(k)s.”

Here’s a five-step plan for making this happen.

Up the savings side. Once you’re not spending cash on your kids for clothes, college funds, cars and car insurance, that cash can move into retirement savings. The maximum for a 401(k) in 2019 is $19,000, and if you are over age 50, you can add $6,000 as a “catch-up” contribution. For annual IRA contributions, the limit is $5,000 with a catch-up of $1,000. Increase your paycheck deductions to the percentage, that will get you to the IRS limits. Put savings first.

If there’s a match, don’t miss it. Lucky enough to work for a company that matches all or part of your retirement savings? Do whatever you can to take full advantage of that free money. The most common company match is 50 cents per dollar on 6% of pay, according to Vanguard Group, which says that 70% of 401(k) plans had this match in place in 2017. Let’s say you earn $75,000 and save 6% of your pay. The company would give you $2,250, which means you’d be boosting your savings to $6,750.

Max out savings. The more money that is saved, the faster the nest egg grows. A married couple that socks away a combined $50,000 in pretax dollars every year in their 401(k)s, can find themselves with an additional $250,000 in five years. That’s not counting company matches or any investment growth.

Catch-up as fast as you can. Over 50? The IRS promotes savings by allowing catch-up contributions. An additional $6,000 is allowed in a 401(k). Parents who were paying for summer sleep away camp or riding lessons, can move those dollars into their own retirement accounts.

Control spending. The natural inclination when cash flow loosens up, is to spend more. Many people decide to live it up during these years, feeling like they deserve to enjoy themselves after dedicating so many years to their children. There’s a balance that needs to be found between enjoying and over-spending. Most families increase their retirement savings when the children are gone, but not by enough. Ramping up spending, instead of saving, means years of missed opportunities to build your retirement accounts.

The best advice is to take the long view. Savings instead of putting a convertible in the garage or taking lavish vacations, when a more modest approach is equally enjoyable, could change the nature of your retirement.

Reference: USA Today (Jan. 14, 2019) “5 ways empty nesters can boost their savings and turbocharge their 401(k)s”

Who Pays What Taxes on an Inherited IRA?

The executor of a person’s estate must take on the important responsibility of ensuring that the deceased person’s last wishes are carried out, concerning the disposition of their property and possessions. There are times when investments and savings are part of that estate.

An individual may have an IRA that designates the beneficiary or her estate as her heir. Inherited IRAs are not like other assets. Executors must be aware of what to do when withdrawing the IRA into the estate account, particularly about how will these funds will be taxed.

nj.com’s recent article asks “Who pays taxes on this inherited IRA?” It explains that the distributions from an IRA are treated as ordinary income by the federal tax code.

The will must be probated, and it may stipulate that the money from the IRA is to be given to the deceased’s children.

These distributions to the children are taxed at their marginal tax rates. However, it is important to note that when an estate is an IRA beneficiary, the entire account must be withdrawn within five years.

If the executor moves the IRA directly into inherited IRAs for each of the beneficiary children, the beneficiaries would be responsible for paying the taxes.

If the executor withdraws the IRA assets, then the executor would pay the taxes from the estate assets.

You will need to speak with the custodian of the IRA to find out what is and is not permitted in terms of distribution: are they allowed to roll the IRA into a beneficiary IRA, or can they divide the account into separate IRAs for the beneficiaries? The distribution must take place within five years, so keep that in mind when discussing options and goals for the IRA and the heirs. An estate planning attorney will be able to determine your best tax options for the inherited IRA when settling the estate.

Reference: nj.com (January 7, 2019) “Who pays taxes on this inherited IRA?”