Category: Retirement Accounts

Prevent some Common Beneficiary Errors

Prevent some Common Beneficiary Errors

Planning for one’s eventual death can be a somber task. However, consider what would occur if you failed to plan: loved ones trying to figure out your intentions, a long and expensive legal battle with unintended heirs and instead of grieving your loss, wondering why you didn’t take care of business while you were living. Planning suddenly becomes far more appealing, doesn’t it? There are ways to prevent some common beneficiary errors.

A recent article from yahoo! finance, “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid,” explains how to avoid some of the issues regarding beneficiaries.

You haven’t named a beneficiary for your retirement accounts. This is a common estate planning mistake, even though it seems so obvious. A beneficiary can be a person, a charity, a trust, or your estate. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify likely beneficiaries and ensure they are eligible.

You forgot to review your beneficiary designations for many years. Most people have changes in relationships as they move through the stages of life. The same person who was your best friend in your twenties might not even be in your life in your sixties. However, if you don’t check on beneficiary designations on a regular basis, you may be leaving your retirement accounts to people who haven’t heard from you in decades and disinheriting loved ones. Every time you update your estate plan, which should be every three to five years, check your beneficiary designations.

You didn’t name your spouse as a primary beneficiary for a retirement account. When Congress passed the 2019 SECURE Act, the bill removed a provision allowing non-spousal beneficiaries to stretch out disbursements from IRAs over their lifetimes, also known as the “Stretch IRA.” A non-spouse beneficiary must empty any inherited IRA within ten years from the death of the account holder. If a minor child is the beneficiary, once they reach the age of legal majority, they are required to follow the rules of a Required Minimum Distribution. Having a spouse named as beneficiary allows them to move the inherited IRA funds into their own IRA and take out assets as they wish.

You named an estate as a beneficiary. You can name your estate as a beneficiary. However, it creates a significant tangle for the family who has to set things right. For instance, if you have any debt, your estate could be attached by creditors. Your estate may also go through probate court, a court-supervised process to validate your will, have your final assets identified and have debts paid before any remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

You didn’t create a retirement plan until late in your career. Retirement seems very far away during your twenties, thirties and even forties. However, the years pass and suddenly you’re looking at retirement without enough money set aside. Creating an estate plan early in your working life shifts your focus, so you understand how important it is to have a retirement plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you prevent some common beneficiary errors as part of your overall estate plan. The best time to start? How about today? If you would like to learn more about beneficiary designations, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 19, 2022) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

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Secure 2.0 Act has new features

SECURE 2.0 Act has New Features

SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 is an extension of the original SECURE Act, which was enacted in 2019, reports Forbes’ recent article, entitled “SECURE 2.0 Passes—Here’s What It Means To Your Retirement.” An American Retirement Association press release notes the Secure 2.0 Act has new features including:

  • A Starter 401(k)—that could provide more than 19 million new American workers with access to the workplace-based retirement system through a brand new super simple, safe harbor 401(k) plan
  • A 100% tax credit for new plans to incentivize the creation of new workplace retirement programs by small businesses; and
  • A Saver’s Match Program that would incentivize retirement savings by giving a 50% match on up to $2,000 in retirement savings annually for lower- and middle-income Americans.

About 108 million Americans would be eligible for the Saver’s Match that would be directly deposited into their retirement account—upping the savings of moderate-income earners.

“We are grateful to the many members of Congress and staff who worked tirelessly to get SECURE 2.0 included in the omnibus legislation enacted this week,” noted Brian Graff, CEO of the American Retirement Association in Washington, DC.

“This important legislation will enhance the retirement security of tens of millions of American workers—and for many of them, give them the opportunity for the first time to begin saving.”

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 first introduced the concept of automatic 401(k) enrollment. This shifted the then-current 401(k) practice of requiring workers to opt-in before being allowed to participate in their company’s 401(k) plan to requiring them to opt-out only if they did not want to participate.

The new legislation now has a number of provisions meant to encourage companies to create retirement savings plans for their workers.

For older workers who find themselves behind in their savings, SECURE 2.0 grants them higher “catch-up” provisions. The new features in the Secure 2.0 Act may be a benefit to you or your loved ones. If you would like to learn more about the SECURE Act, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 23, 2022) “SECURE 2.0 Passes—Here’s What It Means To Your Retirement”

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Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Burden

Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Burden

Assets held in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are unquestionably the best assets to gift to charity, since IRAs are loaded with taxes. One way to relieve this tax burden is by using the IRA for charitable giving during your lifetime, says a recent article, “Giving funds in IRAs to charity with QCDs,” from Investment News. Qualified charitable distributions can help reduce your tax burden.

Most people who give to charity don’t receive the taxable benefit because they don’t itemize deductions. They instead use the higher standard deduction, which offers no extra tax deduction for charitable giving.

Older taxpayers are more likely to use the standard deduction, since taxpayers aged 65 and older receive an extra standard deduction. In 2022, the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly when each of the spouses are 65 and older is $28,700. The exceptions are couples with large medical expenses or those who make large charitable gifts.

Here’s where the IRA for charitable giving comes in. IRAs normally may not be given to charity or anyone in the owner’s life (except in the case of divorce). There is one exception: giving IRAs to charity with a QCD.

The QCD is a direct transfer of traditional IRA funds to a qualified charity. The QCD is an exclusion from income, which reduces Adjusted Gross Income. AGI is the most significant number on the tax return because it determines the availability of many tax deductions, credits and other benefits. Lowering AGI with a QCD could also work to reduce “stealth” taxes–taxes on Social Security benefits or Medicare premium surcharges.

QCDs are limited to $100,000 per person, per year (not per IRA). They can also satisfy RMDs up to the $100,000, but only if the timing is right.

There are some limitations to discuss with your estate planning attorney. For instance, QCDs are only available to IRA owners who are 70 ½ or older. They can only be made once you turn age 70 ½, not anytime in the year you turn 70 ½. The difference matters.

QCDs are not available from 401(k) or other employer plans. They also aren’t allowed for gifts to Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) and private foundations, and they can’t be made from active SEP or SIMPLE IRAs, where contributions are still being made.

Appreciated stocks can also be gifted to qualified charities and itemized deductions taken for the fair market value of the stock, if it was held for more than one year. There’s no tax on appreciation, as there would be if the stock were sold instead of gifted.

There are some tax traps to consider, including the SECURE Act, which allows traditional IRAs to be made after age 70 ½. However, it pairs the provision with a poison pill. If the IRA deduction is taken in the same year as a QCD, or any year before the QCD, the QCD tax exclusion could be reduced or lost. This can be avoided by making Roth IRA contributions instead of tax-deductible IRA contributions after age 70 ½.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about whether using qualified charitable distributions to help reduce your tax burden makes sense for your estate planning and tax situation. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Investment News (Dec. 9, 2022) “Giving funds in IRAs to charity with QCDs”

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Preparing an estate inventory is critical

Preparing an Estate Inventory is Critical

The executor’s job includes gathering all of the assets, determining the value and ownership of real estate, securities, bank accounts and any other assets and filing a formal inventory with the probate court. Preparing an estate inventory is critical to having a smooth probate. Every state has its own rules, forms and deadline for the process, says a recent article from yahoo! Finance titled “What Do I Need to Do to Prepare an Estate Inventory for Probate,” which recommends contacting a local estate planning attorney to get it right.

The inventory is used to determine the overall value of the estate. It’s also used to determine whether the estate is solvent, when compared to any claims of creditors for taxes, mortgages, or other debts. The inventory will also be used to calculate any estate or inheritance taxes owed by the estate to the state or federal government.

What is an estate asset? Anything anyone owned at the time of their death is the short answer. This includes:

  • Real estate: houses, condos, apartments, investment properties
  • Financial accounts: checking, savings, money market accounts
  • Investments: brokerage accounts, certificates of deposits, stocks, bonds
  • Retirement accounts: 401(k)s, HSAs, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, pensions
  • Wages: Unpaid wages, unpaid commissions, un-exercised stock options
  • Insurance policies: life insurance or annuities
  • Vehicles: cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats
  • Business interests: any business holdings or partnerships
  • Debts/judgments: any personal loans to people or money received through court judgments

Preparing an estate inventory is critical for probate, but it may take some time. If the decedent hasn’t created an inventory and shared it with the executor, which would be the ideal situation, the executor may spend a great deal of time searching through desk drawers and filing cabinets and going through the mail for paper financial statements, if they exist.

If the estate includes real property owned in several states, this process becomes even more complex, as each state will require a separate probate process.

The court will not accept a simple list of items. For example, an inventory entry for real property will need to include the address, legal description of the property, copy of the deed and a fair market appraisal of the property by a professional appraiser.

Once all the assets are identified, the executor may need to use a state-specific inventory form for probate inventories. When completed, the executor files it with the probate court. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with the process and be able to speed the process along without the learning curve needed by an inexperienced layperson.

Deadlines for filing the inventory also vary by state. Some probate judges may allow extensions, while other may not.

The executor has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of the estate to file the inventory without delay. The executor is also responsible for paying off any debts or taxes and overseeing the distribution of any remaining assets to beneficiaries. It’s a large task, and one that will benefit from the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about probate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 3, 2022) “What Do I Need to Do to Prepare an Estate Inventory for Probate”

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Managing your Inherited Retirement Account

Managing your Inherited Retirement Account

The SECURE Act of 2019 reset the game for IRAs and other tax deferred retirement accounts, says a recent article from Financial Advisor titled “IRAs, Taxes and Inheritance: Planning Becomes a Family Affair.”  Managing your inherited retirement account can be tricky. Prior to SECURE, investors paid ordinary income tax rates on withdrawals, whether they were voluntary or Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from these accounts, except for Roths. When individuals stopped working and their income dropped, so did the tax rate on their withdrawals. All was well.

Then the SECURE Act came along, with good intentions. The time period for payouts of IRAs and similar accounts after the death of the account owner changed. Non-spouse beneficiaries now have only 10 years to empty out the accounts, setting themselves up for potentially huge tax bills, possibly when their own incomes are at peak levels. What can be done?

Heirs of individual investors or couples with hefty IRAs and investment accounts are most likely to face consequences of the new tax regulations for RMDs and inheritances from the SECURE Act.

A widowed spouse faces the lower of either their own or the partner’s RMD rate—it’s tied to birth years. However, there is a pitfall: the widowed spouse files a single tax return, which cuts available deductions in half and changes tax brackets. Single or married, consider accelerating IRA withdrawals as soon as taxable income lowers early in retirement. Taking withdrawals from IRAs at this time voluntarily often means the ability to defer and as a result, optimize Social Security benefits to age 70.

For non-spousal beneficiaries of inherited IRAs, there’s no way around that 10-year rule. Their tax rates will depend on income, whether they file single or joint and any deductions available. If a beneficiary dies while the account still owns the assets, those assets may be subject to estate taxes, which are high.

Here’s where tax planning is could help. IRA owners may try to “equalize” inheritances among heirs with tax consequences in mind. For instance, a lower earning child could be the IRA beneficiary, while a higher earning child could receive assets from a brokerage account or Roth IRAs. Alternatively, an IRA owner could establish trusts or make charitable bequests to empty the IRAs before they become part of the estate.

Your estate planning attorney will help you create a road map for distributing IRA and other tax deferred assets based on the tax and timing for beneficiaries or what you want to fund after you pass.

Another strategy, if you don’t expect to exhaust your IRA assets in your lifetime, is to systematically withdraw money early in retirement to fund Roth IRAs, known as a Roth conversion. The advantage is simple: inherited Roth IRAs need to be drawn down in ten years, but the money isn’t taxable to beneficiaries.

Decumulation planning is complicated to do. However, your estate planning attorney will help you manage your inherited retirement account. He or she will evaluate your unique situation and create the optimal income sourcing plan for your family based on their assets, including taxable and tax-advantaged accounts, Social Security benefits, pensions, life insurance and annuities. If you would like to learn more about retirement accounts and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Financial Advisor (Sep. 29, 2022) “IRAs, Taxes and Inheritance: Planning Becomes a Family Affair”

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IRAs can be used to make Charitable Bequests

IRAs can be used to make Charitable Bequests

While death is a certainty, some taxes aren’t. IRAs can be used to make charitable bequests, explains a thought-provoking article titled “Win an Income-Tax Trifecta With Charitable Donations” from The Wall Street Journal. For those who are philanthropically minded and tax-savvy, this is an idea worth consideration.

There are few better ways to leave funds to a charity than through traditional IRAs. The strategy is especially noteworthy now, given the growth in traditional IRA values over the last decade, even with the recent selloffs in bond and stock markets. At the end of 2022’s first quarter, traditional IRAs held about $11 trillion, more than double the $5 trillion in IRAs at the end of 2012.

With the demise of defined benefit pensions, traditional IRAs are now the largest financial account many people own, especially boomers. Therefore, it’s wise to know about applicable tax strategies.

The first advantage is tax efficiency. Donors of IRA assets at death win a three-way tax prize: no tax on the contributions going to the charity, no tax on annual growth and no tax on assets at death.

Compare this to donations of cash or investments, such as a stock held in a taxable account. For example, let’s say Jules wants to leave a total of $20,000 to several charities upon her death. She expects to have more than $20,000 in each of three accounts at this time. One account is cash, the other is a traditional IRA, holding stocks and funds, and the third is a taxable investment account holding stocks purchased decades ago.

A charitable bequest of assets from any of these three accounts will bring a federal estate-tax deduction. However, Jules’ estate will be smaller than the current estate tax exemption of about $12 million, so there are no federal estate taxes to consider.

Jules should focus on minimizing heirs’ income taxes on any assets she’s leaving them and donating traditional IRA assets is the way to go. If she leaves the IRA assets to heirs, they will have to empty the IRA within ten years and withdrawals will be taxable.

Giving IRA assets gets pretax dollars directly to the charities, which don’t pay taxes on the donation. A cash donation would be after tax dollars.

Donating the IRA assets to charity is also typically better than giving stock held in a taxable account. Because of the step-up provision, there is no capital gains on such investment assets held at death. If Jules bought the now $20,000 stock for $5,000, the step-up could save heirs capital gains tax on $15,000 when they sell the shares. If she donates the stock, heirs won’t get this valuable benefit.

Next, IRA donations allow for great flexibility. Circumstances in life change, so a will that is drawn up years before death could be changed over time, to give a bequest of a different size or to a different charity. It’s easier to make these changes with an IRA. One way is to set up a dedicated IRA naming one or more charities as beneficiaries and then moving assets from other IRAs into it via direct (and tax-free) transfers. Beneficiaries and the percentages can be easily changed, and the IRA owner can raise or lower the donation by transferring assets between IRAs.

If the IRA owner is 72 or older and has to take required minimum distributions, the owner can take out donations from different IRAs. Note the funds must go directly to the charity when making the donation. Speak with your estate planning attorney about how IRAs can be used to make charitable bequests. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Sep. 2, 2022) “Win an Income-Tax Trifecta With Charitable Donations”

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Mistakes to Avoid with Beneficiary Designations

Many people don’t know that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they die. Some assets pass by beneficiary designation. Assets like life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts all pass by beneficiary designation. There are mistakes to avoid with beneficiary designations.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid” lists five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to designate any beneficiary at all. Many people forget to name a beneficiary for retirement accounts or life insurance. They may forget, didn’t know they had to, or just never got around to filling out the forms. If you don’t name a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement accounts, the company will apply its rules about where the assets will go after you die. For life insurance, the proceeds will typically be paid to your probate estate. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely receive the assets. However, if you’re unmarried, the retirement account will likely be paid to your probate estate, which has negative income tax ramifications.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every family member should get an asset directly. This includes minor children, those with specials needs and people who can’t manage assets or with creditor issues.
  3. Misspelling a beneficiary’s name. Beneficiary designation forms can be filled out incorrectly and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names through marriage or divorce, or assumptions can be made about a person’s legal name that later prove incorrect. Failing to have names match exactly can cause delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, it can result in a court case.
  4. Forgetting to update your beneficiaries. Your choice of beneficiary may likely change over time as circumstances change. Naming a beneficiary is part of an overall estate plan, and just as life changes, so should your estate plan. Beneficiary designations are an important part of that plan—make certain that they’re updated regularly.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary choices with legal and financial advisers. How beneficiary designations should be completed is a component of an overall financial and estate plan. Involve your legal and financial advisers to determine what’s best for your circumstances. Note that beneficiary designations are designed to guarantee that you have the ultimate say over who will get your assets when you pass away. Taking the time to carefully (and correctly) choose your beneficiaries and then periodically reviewing those choices and making any necessary updates will allow you to remain in control of your money.

Your estate planning attorney will help you avoid any mistakes with your beneficiary designations, and make sure your choices are in line with your overall estate plan. If you would like to learn more about beneficiary designations, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 6, 2022) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

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Special Needs Trusts can Protect disabled Child

Special Needs Trusts can Protect disabled Child

Parents with disabled children worry about how their offspring will manage when parents are no longer able to care for them. Leaving money directly to a child receiving means-tested government benefits, like Social Security Supplemental Income or Medicaid, could make them ineligible for these programs, explains an article from Kiplinger titled “Estate Planning: A Special Trust for a Special Need.” In most states, beneficiaries of either program are only allowed to have a few thousand dollars in assets, with the specific amount varying by state. However, the financial support from government programs only goes so far. Many families opt to have their own family member with special needs live at home, since the benefit amount is rarely enough. A Special Needs Trust can protect your disabled child.

The solution is a Special Needs Trust, which provides financial support for a disabled individual. The SNT owns the assets, not the individual. Therefore, the assets are excluded from asset limit tests. The funds in the trust can be used to enhance quality of life, such as a cell phone, a vacation or a private room in a group living facility. The SNT is a means of making sure that a vulnerable family member receives the money and other relatives, such as a sibling, don’t have a financial burden.

SNTs can only be created for those who are younger than age 65 and are meant for individuals with a mental or physical disability so severe they cannot work and require ongoing support from government agencies. A disabled person who can and does work isn’t eligible to receive government support and isn’t eligible for an SNT, although an estate planning attorney will be able to create a trust for this scenario also.

Each state has its own guidelines for SNTs, with some requiring a verification from a medical professional. There are challenges along the way. A child with autism may grow up to be an adult who can work and hold a job, for instance. However, estate planning attorneys recommend setting up the SNT just in case. If your family member qualifies, it will be there for their benefit. If they do not, it will operate as an ordinary trust and give the person the income according to your instructions.

SNTs require a trustee and successor trustee to be responsible for managing the trust and distributing assets. The beneficiary may not have the ability to direct distributions from the trust. The language of the trust must state explicitly the trustee has sole discretion in making distributions.

Because every state has its own system for administering disability benefits, the estate planning attorney will tailor the trust to meet the state’s requirements. The SNT also must be reported to the state. If the beneficiary moves to another state, the SNT may be subjected to two different sets of laws and the trustee will need to confirm the trust meets both state’s requirements.

SNTs operate as pass-through entities. Tax treatment favors ongoing distributions to beneficiaries. Any earned investment income goes to the beneficiary in the same year, with distributions taxed at the beneficiaries’ income tax rate. Trust assets may be used to pay for the tax bill.

As long as all annual income from the trust is distributed in a given year, the trust will not owe any tax. However, a return must be filed to report income. For any undistributed annual investment income, the trust is taxed at one of four levels of tax rates. These range from 10% and can go as high as 37%, depending on the trust income.

An SNT can be named as the beneficiary of a traditional IRA on the death of the parent. Investments grow tax deferred, as long as they remain in the retirement account and the SNT collects the required minimum distributions for the retirement account each year, with the money passing as income. However, any undistributed amount of the required distribution will be taxed at the trust’s highest tax rate. Using a Special Needs Trust can protect your disabled child and ensure they have a quality of life for years to come. If you would like to learn more about SNTs, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (June 8, 2022) “Estate Planning: A Special Trust for a Special Need”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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