Category: Social Security

Best Uses of Life Insurance Benefits

Best Uses of Life Insurance Benefits

The loss of a spouse is an extremely stressful event. It comes with many emotions that can be overwhelming for the bereaved. Hopefully, life insurance is one thing that was put in place to allow those remaining to process their loss without fretting over their finances. But what are the best uses of life insurance benefits, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

Life insurance death benefits can be paid within 30 days after you submit a claim. To do this, you need a certified death certificate, which is generally issued in less than a week by the funeral home. You should also order plenty of copies (about 15) for closing accounts.

The best use of the money is different for each widow and her unique situation.

Funeral Costs. Use life insurance money to cover these costs to decrease your financial strain.

Ongoing Expenses. When your spouse dies, living expenses do not stop. Your income is frequently reduced. In fact, after the death of a spouse, household income generally declines by about 40% due to changes in Social Security benefits, spouse’s retirement income and earnings. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can help provide the funds you need to help cover your mortgage, car payment, utilities, food, clothing and health care premiums.

Debts. You are generally not personally responsible for paying off the debts of your husband, provided they are in his name alone. When an estate does not have enough funds to pay all the debts, any gifts that were supposed to be paid out to beneficiaries will most likely be reduced. Note that you may be responsible for certain types of debt, such as debt that is jointly owned or a loan that you have co-signed. Talk to an experienced elder law attorney to understand the laws of your state, so that you know where you stand concerning all debts.

Create an Emergency Fund. Life insurance can help build a liquid emergency fund, which should cover three to six months of expenses.

Supplement Your Retirement. When a woman loses her spouse, she becomes much more vulnerable to poverty. To retire, a person typically needs 80% of their preretirement income to live comfortably.

Education. If you are a young widow, the life insurance proceeds can be used to pay for going back to school to augment your earning abilities. These funds could also cover the cost of college for your children. However, you should only save for college educational costs after your retirement savings is secure.

It is up to beneficiary to decide the best uses of life insurance benefits going forward. It is a good idea to consult an estate planning and probate attorney to make sure you have a full grasp of the benefits provided. If you would like to learn more about life insurance and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 17, 2021) “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

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Addressing Financial Issues in a Remarriage

Addressing Financial Issues in a Remarriage

When it comes to addressing financial issues in a remarriage, couples should look at the past.  This should include the way in which each person handled finances, and their pre-marital liabilities and assets, along with the present (e.g., new benefit options) and the future. This means how they’ll handle finances as a unit or protect themselves and loved ones in case of death or divorce.

CNBC’s recent article entitled “Remarrying? Here are financial considerations to keep in mind before saying ‘I do’” says that it’s important to release any financial skeletons from the closet. Here are some smart financial moves for new parents:

It’s critical that blended families have similar talks with their children. The children were most likely brought up in different financial circumstances, so it’s important to talk as a family about new financial expectations.

After the prospective spouses identify their collective financial situation, there are a few topics to consider. For instance, if you were previously married for more than 10 years and collecting Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s account, you may forfeit those payments if you remarry.  Your new combined income may also result in a higher tax bill. This is sometimes called a “marriage penalty.”

Moreover, financial communication is a crucial best practice to achieve financial success in a relationship. After you remarry, look at the impact on benefits.

Marriage is a recognized life event, so you may be allowed to change your insurance options outside the regular autumn time window.

You should also be aware that if you were previously divorced and getting substantially discounted insurance via the healthcare.gov exchange, when you remarry, your insurance costs may go up if your joint income goes up.

It’s also smart to consider protecting pre-marital assets that were in your name only. You should consult an experienced estate planning attorney prior to addressing financial issues in a remarriage. They may advise against commingling some or all assets, and suggest a trust, segregating pre-marital assets from marital assets, to protect you in the event of divorce.

Estate planning is vitally important, if you have a new family with children. These are the documents that will take care of the people you love. If you would like to learn more about remarriage issues in estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: CNBC (March 7, 2022) “Remarrying? Here are financial considerations to keep in mind before saying ‘I do’”

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consider delaying Social Security benefits

Consider delaying Social Security Benefits

You might want to consider delaying Social Security benefits. Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “3 Reasons to Wait Until 70 to Start Taking Your Social Security Benefits” provides three reasons why delaying taking your Social Security benefit to age 70 is a decision you may want to consider.

  1. You’ll Receive a Larger Monthly Social Security Check If You Wait Until 70. Claiming Social Security prior to full retirement age (FRA) means a reduction in benefits — as much as 25% to 30% less than you would have received if you had waited. This is permanent.

However, if you wait to take your benefits until after your FRA, Social Security will add an 8% delayed retirement credit to your eventual monthly payout each year you hold off, up until age 70.

  1. You May Be Receiving these Benefits for a Long, Long Time. Life expectancy is a significant factor in Social Security planning. While you can’t predict how long you’ll live, the CDC’s most recent figures say the average American who makes it to age 65 can expect to live another 19 years. Note that if your Social Security benefit at 70 is more than 75% higher than your benefit at 62, you’re going to have a lot more money to take care of your needs as you age.

If you’re married, the lower Social Security payment will go away when one of you dies. If the spouse with the greater Social Security wage history delays as long as possible to file for benefits, he or she will leave behind a bigger benefit for the surviving spouse.

  1. You Could Help Lower Your Taxes. Many people don’t realize that they could wind up paying federal income taxes on as much as 85% of their Social Security benefits. If you don’t have much taxable income in retirement, you may not have to pay any federal taxes on your Social Security benefits.

However, if you’re like many Baby Boomers — you may have a sizeable amount of your retirement savings in tax-deferred IRAs or 401(k)s — and the federal income taxes on those savings could be hefty. Therefore, it might be best to consider delaying Social Security benefits.

If you aren’t sure which Social Security claiming strategy is the best fit for your needs and goals, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about retirement income planning and, specifically, Social Security benefits. If you would like to learn more about social security benefits, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 9, 2021) “3 Reasons to Wait Until 70 to Start Taking Your Social Security Benefits”

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What should women know about long-term care

What Should Women Know about Long-Term Care?

A longer retirement increases the odds of needing long-term care. An AARP study found more than 70% of nursing home residents were women, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care.”  What should women know about long-term care?

Living longer also increases the chances of living it alone because living longer may mean outliving a spouse. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, “In 2018, women comprised 74% of solo households age 80 and over.”

The first step is to review your retirement projections. It’s wise to look at “what-if” scenarios: What-if the husband passes early? How does that impact their retirement? What if a female client lives to 100? Will she have enough to live on? What if a single woman needs long-term care for dementia? Alzheimer’s and dementia can last for years, eating up a retiree’s nest egg.

Medicare and Medicaid. Government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are complicated. For instance, Medicare may cover some long-term care expenses, but only for the first 100 days. Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial care (at home long-term care). Medicaid pays for long-term care. However, you must qualify financially.

Planning for long-term care. If a woman has a high retirement success rate, she may want to self-insure her future long-term care expenses. This can mean setting up a designated long-term care investment account solely to be used for future long-term care expenses. If a woman has a modest degree of retirement success, she may want to lower her current expenses to save more for the future. She may also want to look at long-term care insurance.

Social Security. Women can also think about waiting to claim Social Security until age 70. If women live longer, the extra benefits accrued by waiting can help with long-term care. Women with a higher-earning husband may want to ask the higher-earning spouse to delay until age 70, if possible. When the higher-earning spouse dies, the widow can step into the higher benefit. The average break-even age is generally around 77-83 for Social Security. If an individual can live longer than 83, the more dollars and sense it makes to delay collecting until age 70.

Estate Planning. Having a comprehensive estate plan is a must. Women (and men) should have a power of attorney (POA). A POA gives a trusted agent the ability to write checks and send money to pay for long-term care.

When it comes to long-term care, women should know their own health and the potential drain on the retirement savings. Work with a financial advisor and estate planning attorney to make sure your later years are secure.

If you would like to learn more about long-term care, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 11, 2021) “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care”

 

Estate planning for couples with big age differences

Estate Planning for Couples with Big Age Differences

Estate planning becomes more complicated for couples with big age differences. Seniors who are married to younger spouses have a special situation for estate planning, a situation that’s become more common, according to Barron’s recent article “Couples with Big Age Gaps Require Special Attention.”

This kind of family requires planning for the older spouse’s retirement needs and healthcare costs, while determining how much of the older spouse’s wealth should go to the children from any previous marriages while balancing the needs of a future child with a younger spouse. Beneficiaries for all financial accounts, last wills and all estate documents need to be updated to include the new spouse and child. The same goes for medical directives and power of attorney forms.

Social Security and retirement account considerations differ as well. The younger spouse may begin receiving their own Social Security at age 62, or a portion of the older spouse’s Social Security, whichever is greater. If the older spouse can wait to file for Social Security benefits at age 70, the younger spouse will receive more spousal benefits than if the older spouse claims earlier. Social Security pays the survivor’s benefit, typically based upon the older spouse’s earnings.

Pension plans need to be reviewed for a younger spouse. If the pension plan allows a survivor benefit, the surviving spouse will receive benefits in the future. IRAs have different beneficiary distribution rules for couples with significant age differences. Instead of relying on the standard Uniform Lifetime Tables, the IRS lets individuals use the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy Table, if the sole beneficiary is a spouse who is more than ten years younger. This allows for smaller than normally Required Minimum Distributions from the IRA, allowing the account a longer lifetime.

Families that include children with special needs also benefit from trusts, as assets in the trust are not included in eligibility for government benefits. Many families with such family members are advised to use an ABLE Savings Account, which lets the assets grow tax free, also without impacting benefit eligibility. There are limits on the accounts, so funds exceeding the ABLE account limits may be added to special needs trusts, or SNTs.

A trustee, who may be a family member or a professional, uses the SNT assets to pay for the care of the individual with special needs after the donor parents have passed. The child is able to maintain their eligibility.

For same sex couples, revocable or irrevocable trusts may be used, if the couple is not married. Nontraditional families of any kind with children require individual estate plans to protect them,  which usually involves trusts.

Trusts are also useful when there are children from different marriages. They can protect the children from the first marriage and subsequent marriages. Estate planning is more complicated for couples with big age differences. A wisely constructed estate plan can do more than prevent legal battles among children—they can preserve family harmony in the non-traditional family after parents have passed.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning for older couples, or those in second marriages, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Barron’s (July 27, 2021) “Couples with Big Age Gaps Require Special Attention”

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women should plan for long-term care

Women should plan for Long-Term Care

Women face some unique challenges as they get older. The Population Reference Bureau, a Washington based think tank, says women live about seven years longer than men. This living longer means planning for a longer retirement. While that may sound nice, a longer retirement increases the chances of needing long-term care. Thus, women should consider how to plan for long-term care.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care” explains that living longer also increases the chances of going it alone and outliving your spouse. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, in 2018 women made up nearly three-quarters (74%) of solo households age 80 and over.

Ability to pay. Long-term care is costly. For example, the average private room at a long-term care facility is more than $13,000/month in Connecticut and about $11,000/month in Naples, Florida. There are some ways to keep the cost down, such as paying for care at home. Home health care is about $5,000/month in Naples, Florida. Multiply these numbers by 1.44 years, which is the average duration of care for women. These numbers can get big fast.

Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare may cover some long-term care expenses, but only for the first 100 days. Medicare does not pay for custodial care (at home long-term care). Medicaid pays for long-term care, but you have to qualify financially. Spending down an estate to qualify for Medicaid is one way to pay for long-term care but ask an experienced Medicaid Attorney about how to do this.

Make Some Retirement Projections. First, consider an ideal scenario where perhaps both spouses live long happy lives, and no long-term care is needed. Then, ask yourself “what-if” questions, such as What if my husband passes early and how does that affect retirement? What if a single woman needs long-term care for dementia?

Planning for Long-Term Care. If a female client has a modest degree of retirement success, she may want to decrease current expenses to save more for the future. Moreover, she may want to look into long-term care insurance.

Waiting to Take Social Security. Women can also consider waiting to claim Social Security until age 70. If women live longer, the extra benefits accrued by waiting can help with long-term care. Women with a higher-earning husband may want to encourage the higher-earning spouse to delay until age 70, if that makes sense. When the higher-earning spouse dies, the surviving spouse can step into the higher benefit. The average break-even age is generally around age 77-83 for Social Security. If an individual can live longer than 83, the more dollars and sense it makes to delay claiming benefits until age 70.

Estate Planning. Having the right estate documents is a must. Both women and men should have a power of attorney (POA). This legal document gives a trusted person the authority to write checks and send money to pay for long-term care.

Living longer means women should plan for long-term care. Work with your estate planning attorney and financial advisor to craft a plan that ensures you are well cared for should long-term care be needed.

If you would like to learn more about long-term care, and other related issues, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 11, 2021) “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care”

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Who pays tax on a Special Needs Trust?

Who Pays Tax on a Special Needs Trust?

One of the reasons to use a Special Needs Trust (SNT) or open an ABLE account is to prevent federal or state benefits for a disabled person to be put at risk. The SNT is a way to hold property for someone without interfering with their eligibility. However, there are no tax advantages to the trust, according to a recent article titled  “How To Factor In Taxes When Considering Special Needs Trusts, Accounts” from Financial Advisor. So who pays the tax on a Special Needs Trust?

Tax results depend on who creates the trust, the terms of the trust and how it’s administered. The trust pays no taxes on any income it earns, as long as that income is passed on to the beneficiary. Trust tax rates are generally higher than individual tax rates. The income to the beneficiary will be taxable at their income tax rate. In some cases, all of the income of a trust might be taxed to the beneficiary, while in others the parent or person who created the trust might bear a tax burden, or the trust itself may be responsible for the tax liability.

An ABLE account is also a tax-favored vehicle, similar to a 529 college saving account. For a person to qualify for an ABLE account, they must have a disability that began before age 26 or be a recipient of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security disability insurance benefits or meet other disability requirements.

The ABLE account will not reduce the major part of SSI benefits under the dollar-for-dollar SSI direct support rules, and it won’t be counted as an asset. The disabled person may also use their ABLE account to save earned income. The ABLE account can be inherited, and new rules allow funds in a 529 college savings account to be rolled into an ABLE account.

You can only contribute $15,000 a year to most ABLE accounts, and if the account plus other resources exceeds $100,000, SSI benefits will be suspended. These accounts must be managed carefully to protect eligibility.

The ABLE account varies, depending on the requirements and rules of the state where it is established. Some states offer additional tax benefits, if the person uses the ABLE accounts offered by their home state.

Depending on the state where you open the account, there can be deductions for contributions to an ABLE account. Earnings in the account are generally not subject to taxes, but the funds in the ABLE account may only be used tax-free for qualified expenses that result from living with a disability. Those include education, housing, employment training and special assistance.

The ABLE account is a useful financial tool for disabled individuals, but it does not completely replace a Special Needs Trust or trust planning.

When there are substantial funds, such as those from an inheritance, litigation settlement or a major gift, most estate planning attorneys recommend that those funds go into a Special Needs Trust. So remember that the person creating the trust pays the tax on a Special Needs Trust.

If you would like to read more about special needs planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Financial Advisor (July 12, 2021) “How To Factor In Taxes When Considering Special Needs Trusts, Accounts”

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protect assets and maintain Medicaid eligibility

Protect Assets and maintain Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid is a welfare program with strict income and wealth limits to qualify, explains Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How.” This is a different program from Medicare, the national health insurance program for people 65 and over that largely doesn’t cover long-term care. There are a few ways to protect assets and maintain Medicaid eligibility.

If you can afford your own care, you’ll have more options because all facilities don’t take Medicaid. Even so, couples with ample savings may deplete all their wealth for the other spouse to pay for a long stay in a nursing home. However, you can save some assets for a spouse and qualify for Medicaid using strategies from an Elder Law or Medicaid Planning Attorney.

You can allocate as much as $3,259.50 of your monthly income to a spouse, whose income isn’t considered, and still maintain Medicaid eligibility. Your assets must be $2,000 or less, with a spouse allowed to keep up to $130,380. However, cash, bank accounts, real estate other than a primary residence, and investments (including those in an IRA or 401(k)) count as assets. However, you can keep a personal residence, non-luxury personal belongings (like clothes and home appliances), one vehicle, engagement and wedding rings and a prepaid burial plot.

However, your spouse may not have enough to live on. You could boost a spouse’s income with a Medicaid-compliant annuity. These turn your savings into a stream of future retirement income for you and your spouse and don’t count as an asset. You can purchase an annuity at any time, but to be Medicaid compliant, the annuity payments must begin right away with the state named as the beneficiary after you and your spouse pass away.

Another option is a Miller Trust for yourself, which is an irrevocable trust that’s used exclusively to maintain Medicaid eligibility. If your income from Social Security, pensions and other sources is higher than Medicaid’s limit but not enough to pay for nursing home care, the excess income can go into a Miller Trust. This allows you to qualify for Medicaid, while keeping some extra money in the trust for your own care. The funds can be used for items that Medicare doesn’t cover.

These strategies are designed to protect assets or income for couples; leaving an asset to other heirs is more difficult. Once you and your spouse pass away, the state government must recover Medicaid costs from your estate, when possible. This may be through a lien on your home, reimbursement from a Miller Trust, or seizing assets during the probate process, before they’re distributed to your family.

Note that any assets given away within five years of a Medicaid application date still count toward eligibility. Property transferred to heirs earlier than that is okay. One strategy is to create an irrevocable trust on behalf of your children and transfer property that way. You will lose control of the trust’s assets, so your heirs should be willing to help you out financially, if you need it. Work with an estate planning attorney to craft a plan that protects assets and maintains Medicaid eligibility.

If you would like to learn more about Medicaid planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (May 24, 2021) “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How”

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social security mistakes could cost thousands

Social Security Mistakes could cost Thousands

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “5 Social Security Oversights” says that these five Social Security mistakes could cost thousands in your retirement.

  1. Claiming Social Security early while you’re still working. You can claim your Social Security retirement benefit as young as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced when compared with the amount you would receive if you waited until your full retirement age. Social Security will also penalize you for continuing to work while collecting benefits, if you are younger than your full retirement age.
  2. Failing to claim Social Security by your 70th birthday. Once you hit age 62, your benefit increases the longer you wait to claim, until you reach 70. You don’t have to claim your benefit by your 70th birthday, but there is no more benefit for waiting at that point.
  3. Delaying past your full retirement age to claim Social Security spousal benefits. If you’re claiming Social Security benefits based on your own income record, it’s smart to wait past your full retirement age to start taking benefits. However, if you’re claiming based on your spouse’s benefits, there’s no benefit to delay beyond your full retirement age to claim. As a result, married couples of similar ages who have vastly different earned incomes have a dilemma: for you to claim spousal benefits, your spouse also has to have begun claiming benefits based on his or her own earnings record. This combination makes it less worthwhile for the primary breadwinner spouse to wait to collect benefits, if the spouse is expecting to take spousal benefits.
  4. Taxes on Social Security benefits are not adjusted for inflation. Originally, Social Security benefits weren’t taxed. However, in 1984, the government started taxing Social Security benefits once a person’s combined income reached $25,000. Even now, the income level where Social Security starts to get taxed is still at $25,000. Because there is no adjustment for inflation, this makes more of people’s Social Security income taxable. This easily costs even moderate-income retirees thousands of dollars of spendable income over the course of their retirements.
  5. “Tax free” income counts toward making Social Security taxable. Even traditionally tax-free sources of income, like the interest from in-state municipal bonds, is included in the calculations to see how much of your Social Security will be considered taxable. Therefore, seniors who own tax free municipal bonds as part of their retirement portfolio may be surprised to find that those bonds are what’s causing their Social Security to be taxed. Seniors who find themselves in that situation may want to reevaluate their choice to be invested in those tax-free municipal bonds.

Despite how simple Social Security may appear, these five situations show how mistakes could cost thousands of dollars. If you would like to learn more about Social Security, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Motley Fool (March 14, 2021) “5 Social Security Oversights”

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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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