Category: 401(k)

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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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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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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Several Ways to Avoid Probate

Several Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate can tie up the estate for months and be an added expense. It can be a financial and emotional nightmare if you have not planned ahead. Some states have a streamlined process for less valuable estates, but probate still has delays, extra expense and work for the estate administrator. A probated estate is also a public record anyone can review. There are, however, several ways to avoid probate.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “7 Ways To Avoid Probate Without A Living Trust” says that avoiding probate often is a big estate planning goal. You can structure the estate so that all or most of it passes to your loved ones without this process.

A living trust is the most well-known way to avoid probate. However, retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, avoid probate. The beneficiary designation on file with the account administrator or trustee determines who inherits them. Likewise, life insurance benefits and annuities are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the contract.

Joint accounts and joint title are ways to avoid probate. Married couples can own real estate or financial accounts through joint tenancy with right of survivorship. The surviving spouse automatically takes full title after the other spouse passes away. Non-spouses also can establish joint title, like when a senior creates a joint account with an adult child at a financial institution. The child will automatically inherit the account when the parent passes away without probate. If the parent cannot manage his or her affairs at some point, the child can manage the finances without the need for a power of attorney.

Note that all joint owners have equal rights to the property. A joint owner can take withdrawals without the consent of the other. Once joint title is established you cannot sell, give or dispose of the property without the consent of the other joint owner.

A transfer on death provision (TOD) is another vehicle to avoid probate. You might come across the traditional term Totten trust, which is another name for a TOD or POD account (but there is no trust involved). After the original owner passes away, the TOD account is transferred to the beneficiary or changed to his or her name, once the financial institution gets the death certificate.

You can name multiple beneficiaries and specify the percentage of the account each will inherit. However, beneficiaries under a TOD have no rights in or access to the account while the owner is alive. An estate planning attorney will be able to identify several ways for you to avoid a costly probate. If you would like to read more about probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (March 28, 2022) “7 Ways To Avoid Probate Without A Living Trust”

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Strategies to Reduce Taxes

Strategies to Reduce Taxes

With numerous bills still being considered by Congress, people are increasingly aware of the need to explore options for tax planning, charitable giving, estate planning and inheritances. Tax sensitive strategies for the near future are on everyone’s mind right now, according to the article “Inheritance, estate planning and charitable giving: 4 strategies to reduce taxes now” from Market Watch. These are the strategies to reduce taxes that you should be aware of.

Offsetting capital gains. Capital gains are the profits made from selling an asset which has appreciated in value since it was first acquired. These gains are taxed, although the tax rates on capital gains are lower than ordinary income taxes if the asset is owned for more than a year. Losses on assets reduce tax liability. This is why investors “harvest” their tax losses, to offset gains. The goal is to sell the depreciated asset and at the same time, to sell an appreciated asset.

Consider Roth IRA conversions. People used to assume they would be in a lower tax bracket upon retirement, providing an advantage for taking money from a traditional IRA or other retirement accounts. Income taxes are due on the withdrawals for traditional IRAs. However, if you retire and receive Social Security, pension income, dividends and interest payments, you may find yourself in the enviable position of having a similar income to when you were working. Good for the income, bad for the tax bite.

Converting an IRA into a Roth IRA is increasingly popular for people in this situation. Taxes must be paid, but they are paid when the funds are moved into a Roth IRA. Once in the Roth IRA account, the converted funds grow tax free and there are no further taxes on withdrawals after the IRA has been open for five years. You must be at least 59½ to do the conversion, and you do not have to do it all at once. However, in many cases, this makes the most sense.

Charitable giving has always been a good tax strategy. In the past, people would simply write a check to the organization they wished to support. Today, there are many different ways to support nonprofits, allowing for better tax advantages.

One of the most popular ways to give today is a DAF—Donor Advised Fund. These are third-party funds created for supporting charity. They work in a few different ways. Let’s say you have sold a business or inherited money and have a significant tax bill coming. By contributing funds to a DAF, you will get a tax break when you put the funds into a DAF. The DAF can hold the funds—they do not have to be contributed to charity, but as long as they are in the DAF account, you receive the tax benefit.

Another way to give to charity is through your IRA’s Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) by giving the minimum amount you are required to take from your IRA every year to the charity. Otherwise, your RMD is taxable as income. If you make a charitable donation using the RMD, you get the tax deduction, and the nonprofit gets a donation.

Giving while living is growing in popularity, as parents and grandparents can have pleasure of watching loved ones benefit from the impact of a gift. A person can give up to $16,000 to any other person every year, with no taxes due on the gift. The money is then out of the estate and the recipient receives the full amount of the gift.

All of these strategies to reduce taxes should be reviewed with your estate planning attorney with an eye to your overall estate plan, to ensure they work seamlessly to achieve your overall goals. If you would like to learn more about tax planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Market Watch (Feb. 18, 2022) “Inheritance, estate planning and charitable giving: 4 strategies to reduce taxes now”

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Bypass Trust gives Flexibility in managing Taxes

Bypass Trust gives Flexibility in managing Taxes

A bypass trust gives more flexibility in managing taxes. A bypass trust removes a designated portion of an IRA or 401(k) proceeds from the surviving spouse’s taxable estate, while also achieving several tax benefits, according to a recent article titled “New Purposes for ‘Bypass’ Trusts in Estate Planning” from Financial Advisor.

Portability became law in 2013, when Congress permanently passed the portability election for assets passing outright to the surviving spouse when the first spouse dies. This allows the survivor to benefit from the unused federal estate tax exemption of the deceased spouse, thereby claiming two estate tax exemptions. Why would a couple need a bypass trust in their estate plan?

  • The portability election does not remove appreciation in the value of the ported assets from the surviving spouse’s taxable estate. A bypass trust removes all appreciation.
  • The portability election does not apply if the surviving spouse remarries, and the new spouse predeceases the surviving spouse. Remarriage does not impact a bypass trust.
  • The portability election does not apply to federal generation skipping transfer taxes. The amount could be subject to a federal transfer tax in the heir’s estates, including any appreciation in value.
  • If the decedent had debts or liability issues, ported assets do not have the protection against claims and lawsuits offered by a bypass trust.
  • The first spouse to die loses the ability to determine where the ported assets go after the death of the surviving spouse. This is particularly important when there are children from multiple marriages and parents want to ensure their children receive an inheritance.

This strategy should be reviewed in light of the SECURE Act 10-year maximum payout rule, since the outright payment of IRA and 401(k) plan proceeds to a surviving spouse is entitled to spousal rollover treatment and generally a greater income tax deferral.

Bypass trusts are also subject to the highest federal income tax rate at levels of gross income of as low as $13,550, and they do not qualify for income tax basis step-up at the death of the surviving spouse.

However, the use of IRC Section 678 in creating the bypass trust can eliminate the high trust income tax rates and the minimum exemption, also under Section 678, so the trust is not taxed the way a surviving spouse would be. There is also the potential to include a conditional general testamentary power of appointment in the trust, which can sometimes result in income tax basis step-up for all or a portion of the appreciated assets in the trust upon the death of the surviving spouse.

A bypass trust gives more flexibility in managing taxes. Every estate planning situation is unique, and these decisions should only be made after consideration of the size of the IRA or 401(k) plan, the tax situation of the surviving spouse and the tax situation of the heirs. An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to review each situation to determine whether or not a bypass trust is the best option for the couple and the family. If you would like to learn more about bypass trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 1, 2022) “New Purposes for ‘Bypass’ Trusts in Estate Planning”

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moving to a new state impacts estate planning

Moving to a New State Impacts Estate Planning

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., baby boomers have been speeding up their retirement plans. Many Americans have also been moving to new states. For retirees, the non-financial considerations often revolve around weather, proximity to grandchildren and access to quality healthcare and other services. It is important to understand how moving to a new state impacts estate planning.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First” provides some considerations for retirees who may set off on a move.

  1. Income tax rates. Before moving to a new state, you should know how much income you’re likely to be generating in retirement. It’s equally essential to understand what type of income you’re going to generate. Your income as well as the type of income you receive could significantly influence your economic health as a retiree, after you make your move. Before moving to a new state, look into the tax code of your prospective new state. Many states have flat income tax rates, such as Massachusetts at 5%. The states that have no income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states that don’t have flat income tax rates may be attractive or unattractive, based on your level of income. Another important consideration is the tax treatment of Social Security income, pension income and retirement plan income. Some states treat this income just like any other source of income, while others offer preferential treatment to the income that retirees typically enjoy.
  2. Housing costs. The cost of housing varies dramatically from state to state and from city to city, so understand how your housing costs are likely to change. You should also consider the cost of buying a home, maintenance costs, insurance and property taxes. Property taxes may vary by state and also by county. Insurance costs can also vary.
  3. Sales taxes. Some states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Alaska) have no sales taxes. However, most states have a sales tax of some kind, which generally adds to the cost of living. California has the highest sales tax, currently at 7.5%, then comes Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana, each with a sales tax of 7%. Many other places also have a county sales tax and a city sales tax. You should also research those taxes.
  4. The state’s financial health. Examine the health of the state pension systems where you are thinking about moving. The states with the highest level of unfunded pension debts include Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii. They each have unfunded state pensions at a level of more than 20% of their state GDP. If you’re thinking about moving to one of those states, you’re more apt to see tax increases in the future because of the huge financial obligations of these states.
  5. The overall cost of living. Examine your budget to see the extent to which your annual living expenses might increase or decrease in your new location because food, healthcare and transportation costs can vary by location. If your costs are going to go up, that should be all right, provided you have the financial resources to fund a larger expense budget. Be sure that you’ve accounted for the differences before you move.
  6. Estate planning considerations. If this is going to be your last move, it’s likely that the laws of your new state will apply to your estate after you die. Many states don’t have an estate or gift tax, which means your estate and gifts will only be subject to federal tax laws. However, a number of states, such as Maryland and Iowa, have a state estate tax.

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about how moving to a new state impacts your estate and tax planning. If you would like to learn more about estate planning after a move, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2021) “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First”

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holidays are a good time to have a family meeting

Holidays are a good time for a Family Meeting

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is” recommends that families talk about money with an elderly parent. The holidays are a good time for a family meeting. If it’s really too late, you should know where to find the following:

Get the most recent tax return. This will have the name and contact information of the accountant who prepared the tax return. The tax return will also document income. If you find the income, you can find the assets. The reason is that earned interest, dividends, pension income and withdrawals from retirement accounts will be reported on the tax return. You should also call his or her employer’s human resources department to see if there’s a company life insurance benefit or 401(k) balance.

When a senior is admitted to the hospital, their health can sometimes deteriorate quickly. It’s one example of how everyone needs to have their estate plan updated and make sure their financial affairs are in order at all times. Someone must know all of the financial details and how to access the money, life insurance and other important documents. Here are some actions to consider taking now to ensure this situation doesn’t occur with you or a family member.

Collect key financial documents. During the family meeting, ask your parents to collect copies of the following documents:

  • Their wills;
  • Any trusts;
  • Their financial power of attorney;
  • All bank and brokerage account information;
  • Social Security statements;
  • Their website log-ins for any financial assets and insurance policies;
  • A list of beneficiaries for IRAs, annuities and life insurance policies;
  • A list of any other assets and debts; and
  • Their most recent tax returns.

As you begin gathering these documents, the most crucial one to help uncover current assets is the tax return. It can help describe the parent’s assets and the income they have from pensions, annuities, real estate investments, business interests and Social Security. A Schedule B is filed to report the interest and dividends received each tax year. If you’re unable to locate any paper statements or log-in information to financial websites to track down an asset, ask the tax preparer for a copy of the 1099 form for each asset, so you will know which company to contact.

Make certain key documents are signed. These are a will, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney and any trust documents. Put these in a safe place, along with a copy of the Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates. You should also provide copies and access to files to people who serve as professional advisers, such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners and insurance agents. In addition, share contents of this collection with your parent’s executor, financial and health care agent and/or another relative who lives nearby. With everyone gathered together, the holidays are a good time to have a family meeting and make sure everyone is on the same page. If you would like to learn more about planning for elderly loved ones, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 1, 2021) “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is”

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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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