Five Top Reasons to Add Beneficiaries to Investment Accounts – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

One way to show loved ones that you care, is by having an estate plan and communicating your wishes to them clearly, notes the article “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now” from The Street. That includes adding beneficiaries to your retirement and investment accounts. This simple step will help save heirs time, money and emotional stress at a time when they are likely to be overwhelmed with grief and paperwork.

They will retain more of your estate and get it faster too. When beneficiaries are assigned to investment and retirement accounts, the assets pass directly to them. If there are no beneficiaries, the asset may have to go through probate, the legal process of settling an estate when someone dies.

Probating an estate usually involves going to court, which is something your beneficiaries would probably prefer not to deal with during a challenging time. A typical probate case could last a year, sometimes longer, depending on where you live. During this time, your beneficiaries are not able to access their inheritance. Going to court also means court fees, attorney fees, lost time, and additional stress.

Let us not leave out how much of a bite probate can take out of your estate. Depending on its complexity, probate can consume anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of the estate.

Removes one stress for loved ones. Having assets transfer directly to beneficiaries lessens what can be an intense burden for heirs, while they are grieving. Once the account provider is notified of the death of the account holder, the provider typically notifies beneficiaries. The beneficiaries have to provide the correct documentation, like a death certificate, but that is a whole lot easier than going through probate. Obtaining death certificates is usually part of the executor’s responsibility and does not cost very much.

Beneficiary designations override your last will and testament. By law, a beneficiary designation determines who receives assets, regardless of what is in your will. That is why it is so important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. What happens if you neglect to update your beneficiaries on a life insurance policy purchased when your children were young? For instance, what if you are divorced from their father, but you forget to replace him as the policy beneficiary? In that case, your ex-spouse will receive the policy proceeds, no matter how many years you have been divorced.

It is easy and relatively painless. Updating or establishing beneficiaries is one of the easiest parts of estate planning. Start by making a list of your accounts, which you should have anyway and contact the account custodian to find out who is listed as a beneficiary. If no one has been named, get directions on how to establish the beneficiary designation and if possible, name a secondary beneficiary.

If you have an IRA or a 401(k), your account will typically offer a beneficiary form within the account. If you have investment accounts, you will need to request a form from the custodian.

Special rules for retirement account beneficiaries. There are rules about leaving retirement plan assets to a spouse, so if you want to leave those assets to children or grandchildren, your spouse will have to sign off on that, with a waiver. Depending upon where you live, a spouse may be entitled to have of the assets in an IRA, even if other beneficiaries are listed, unless there is written consent.

Reference: The Street (June 12, 2020) “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What You Need to Know about Drafting Your Will – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A last will and testament is just one of the legal documents that you should have in place to help your loved ones know what your wishes are, if you cannot say so yourself, advises CNBC’s recent article entitled, “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will.” In this pandemic, the coronavirus may have you thinking more about your mortality.

Despite COVID-19, it is important to ponder what would happen to your bank accounts, your home, your belongings or even your minor children, if you are no longer here. You should prepare a will, if you do not already have one. It is also important to update your will, if it is been written.

If you do not have a valid will, your property will pass on to your heirs by law. These individuals may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will. If you pass away with no will —dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, a judge says who will care for them. As a result, if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but have no legal no will, your assets may not go to them.

The courts will typically pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, despite the fact that it would not have been your first choice.

Your will is just one part of a complete estate plan. Putting a plan in place for your assets helps ensure that at your death, your wishes will be carried out and that family fights and hurt feelings do not make for destroyed relationships.

There are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Therefore, the individual designated as beneficiary on those accounts will receive the money, despite any directions to the contrary in your will. If there is no beneficiary listed on those accounts, or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate—the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

If you own a home, be certain that you know the way in which it should be titled. This will help it end up with those you intend, since laws vary from state to state.

Ask an estate planning attorney in your area — to ensure familiarity with state laws—for help with your will and the rest of your estate plan.

Reference: CNBC (June 1, 2020) “Here’s what you need to know about creating a will”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How a Charitable Remainder Trust Works – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The least popular beneficiary is almost always the federal government. Most people are concerned that their estate will need to pay taxes and do what they can through estate planning to keep federal estate tax liability to a minimum. However, with federal estate and gift tax exemptions at $11.58 million per person this year, and twice that when properly used with the spousal exemption, most people do not need to worry about the federal estate tax, explains The News Enterprise in the article “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust.”

The passage of the SECURE Act, effective January 1, 2020, made big changes in how we need to plan for taxes for beneficiaries. Federal estate and gift tax exemptions did not change, but anyone who inherits a retirement account is likely to find fewer options than before the SECURE Act.

Charitable remainder trusts have been used for many years to avoid high capital gains taxes on appreciated assets. Appreciated assets are placed into trusts and no taxes are due on the transfer.  The donor also gets a charitable tax deduction. The amount in the trust grows, while paying out a small amount to beneficiaries in installment payments.

With the passage of the SECURE Act, non-spousal beneficiaries, with certain exceptions, must withdraw the entire amount of the qualified retirement account within ten years. Generally, beneficiaries may not roll the account into their own qualified account, and there are no required annual distributions. However, there is a ten-year window to empty the account. Taxes are due on every withdrawal, whether it takes place over ten years or as a single withdrawal.

By using a CRT, the full amount of the account may be transferred into the CRT, no taxes are due, and the donor (or the donor’s estate) gets a charitable deduction.

The trust is simply an instrument created, so that a beneficiary may receive regular payments, which may include the donor, beneficiaries or multiple beneficiaries, over the span of their lives, or in a set number of years, with the remainder interest of at least ten percent of the initial contribution paid to a qualified charity at the end of the trust.

This effectively creates a stretch for the IRA, with withdrawals being taxed to the beneficiary, over a longer time span. With only ten percent being required to be donated to a charity, those who plan on making a donation to a charity anyway receive a benefit, and their beneficiaries can receive a lifetime income stream.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn how a CRT could be part of your estate plan.

Reference: The News Enterprise (June 2, 2020) “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Elder Financial Abuse Fraud Occurs, When No One’s Watching – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The case of Nice vs. U.S. is a dramatic example of what can happen when there are no professionals involved in an elderly person’s finances and one person has the power to make transactions without supervision. In the article “Tax case reveals possible intrafamily fraud” from Financial Planning, a trusted son allegedly decimated his mother’s IRA and left her estate with $500,000 tax bill.

Mrs. Nice and her husband had been married for more than 60 years. Before he died in 2002, her husband arranged to leave significant assets for his wife’s care. Their son Chip was named executor of the husband’s estate and moved in with his mother. In 2007, she was diagnosed with dementia. As her condition deteriorated, Chip allegedly began fraudulent activities. He gained access to her IRAs, causing distributions to be made from the IRAs and then allegedly taking the funds for his own use.

Chip also filed federal income tax returns for his mother, causing her to execute a fraudulent power of attorney. The federal tax returns treated the IRA distributions as taxable income to Mrs. Nice. She not only lost the money in her IRA but got hit with a whopping tax bill.

In 2014, Mrs. Nice’s daughter Julianne applied for and received a temporary injunction against Chip, removing him from her mother’s home and taking away control of her finances. Chip died in 2015. A court found that Mrs. Nice was not able to manage her own affairs and Mary Ellen was appointed as a guardian. Julianne filed amended tax returns on behalf of her mother, claiming a refund for tax years 2006-07 and 2009-13. The IRS accepted the claim for 2009 but denied the claims for 2006 and 2010-2013. The appeal for 2009 was accepted, but the IRS never responded to the claim for 2007. Julianne appealed the denials, but each appeal was denied.

By then, Mrs. Nice had died. Julianne brought a lawsuit against the IRS seeking a refund of $519,502 in federal income taxes plus interest and penalties. The suit contended that because of her brother’s alleged fraudulent acts, Mrs. Nice never received the IRA distributions. Her tax returns for 2011-2014 overstated her actual income, the suit maintained, and she was owed a refund for overpayment. The court did not agree, stating that Julianne failed to show that her mother did not receive the IRA funds and denied the claim.

There are a number of harsh lessons to be learned from this family’s unhappy saga.

When IRA funds are mishandled or misappropriated, it may be possible for the amounts taken to be rolled over to an IRA, if a lawsuit to recover the losses occurs in a timely manner. In 2004, the IRS issued 11 private-letter rulings that allow lawsuit settlements to be rolled over to IRAs. The IRS allowed the rollovers and gave owners 60 days from the receipt of settlement money to complete the rollover.

Leaving one family member in charge of family wealth with no oversight from anyone else—a trustee, an estate planning attorney, or a financial planner—is a recipe for elder financial abuse. Even if the funds had remained in the IRA, a fiduciary would have kept an eye on the funds and any distributions that seemed out of order.

One of the goals of an estate plan is to protect the family’s assets, even from members of their own family. An estate plan can be devised to arrange for the care of a loved one, at the same time it protects their financial interests.

Reference: Financial Planning (March 6, 2020) “Tax case reveals possible intrafamily fraud”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Tapping an Inherited IRA? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people are looking at their inherited IRAs this year, when COVID-19 has decimated the economy. The rules about when and how you can tap the money you inherited changed with the passage of the SECURE Act at the end of December 2019. It then changed again with the passage of the CARES Act in late March in response to the financial impact of the pandemic.

Things are different now, reports the article “Read This Before You Touch Your Inherited IRA Funds” from the News & Record, but one thing is the same: you need to know the rules.

First, if the owner had the account for fewer than five years, you may need to pay taxes on traditional IRA distributions and on Roth IRA earnings. This year, the federal government has waived mandatory distributions (required minimum distributions, or RMDs) for 2020. You may take out money if you wish, but you can also leave it in the account for a year.

Surviving spouses who do not need the money may consider doing a spousal transfer, rolling the spouse’s IRA funds into their own. The RMD does not occur until age 72. This is only available for surviving spouses, and only if the spouse is the decedent’s sole beneficiary.

The federal government has also waived the 10% early withdrawal penalty for taxpayers who are under 59½. If you are over 59½, then you can access your funds.

The five-year method of taking IRA funds from an inherited IRA is available to beneficiaries, if the owner died in 2019 or earlier. You can take as much as you wish, but by December 31 of the fifth year following the owner’s death, the entire account must be depleted. The ten-year method is similar, but only applies if the IRA’s owner died in 2020 or later. By December 31 of the tenth year following the owner’s death, the entire IRA must be depleted.

Heirs can take the entire amount in a lump sum immediately, but that may move their income into a higher tax bracket and could increase tax liability dramatically.

A big change to inherited IRAs has to do with the “life expectancy” method, which is now only available to the surviving spouse, minor children, disabled or chronically ill people and anyone not more than ten years younger than the deceased. Minor children may use the life expectancy method until they turn 18, and then they have ten years to withdraw all remaining funds.

There is no right or wrong answer, when it comes to taking distributions from inherited IRAs. However, it is best to do so, only when you fully understand how taking the withdrawals will impact your taxes and your long-term financial picture. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how the inherited IRA fits in with your overall estate plan.

Reference: News & Record (May 25, 2020) “Read This Before You Touch Your Inherited IRA Funds”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Do Beneficiaries of a Will Get Notified? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In most instances, a will is required to go through probate to prove its validity.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified” explains that there are exceptions to the requirement for probate, if the assets of the diseased are below a set dollar amount. This dollar amount depends on state law.

For example, in Alabama, the threshold is $3,000, and in California, the cut-off is an estate with assets valued at less than $150,000. If the assets are valued below those limits, the family can divide any property as they want with court approval.

The beneficiaries of a will must be notified after the will is filed in the probate court, and in addition, probated wills are placed in the public record. As a result, anyone who wants to look, can find out the details. When the will is proved to be valid, anyone can look at the will at the courthouse where it was filed, including anyone who expects to be a beneficiary.

However, if the will is structured to avoid probate, there are no specific notification requirements.  This is pretty uncommon.

As a reminder, probate is a legal process that establishes the validity of a will. After examining the will, the probate judge collects the decedent’s assets with the help of the executor. When all of the assets and property are inventoried, they are then distributed to the heirs, as instructed in the will.

Once the probate court declares the will to be valid, all beneficiaries are required to be notified within a certain period established by state probate law.

There are devices to avoid probate, such as setting up joint tenancy or making an asset payable upon death. In these circumstances, there are no formal notification requirements, unless specifically stated in the terms of the will.

In addition, some types of assets are not required to go through probate. These assets include accounts, such as pension assets, life insurance proceeds and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

The county courthouse will file its probated wills in a department, often called the Register of Wills.

A will is a wise plan for everyone. Ask a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft yours today.

Reference: Investopedia (Nov. 21, 2019) “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Should I Use My 401(k) Now in the Pandemic? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many Americans are struggling with what to do with their retirement savings, as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic. Many do not know if they should stand pat or cash in their savings.

The new CARES Act makes it easier for us to tap our 401(k) and retirement accounts. However, there may be significant long-term effects for your financial security.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The law provides more than $2 trillion in economic relief to protect the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The Act provides fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses, as well as preserving jobs for American industries.

CNBC’s recent article entitled “Tapping Your 401(k): Is now the right time to do it?” says that if you need emergency cash, and your 401(k) is your only source of funds in this pandemic, taking a short-term loan from your retirement account as a “last resort” may be a wise option.

While you will be repaying yourself rather than paying 11% interest on average on a personal loan, know that you are borrowing from your financial future and possibly risking your financial security in retirement.

The CARES Act lets you to borrow up to $100,000 (double the previous loan limit of $50,000) from your 401(k) and delay repayment for up to a year. After you borrow, you will typically have to repay the loan within five years, depending on the terms of your 401(k) plan. Under the CARES Act, loan payments due in 2020 can be delayed for up to a year from the time you take out the loan. However, if you cannot pay back the loan within the time frame designated by your plan, your outstanding balance will be taxed like a withdrawal. That means you will also pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

If you leave your job — regardless of  whether by choice — there is a good chance your plan will require you to repay the money back quickly. If you do not, your account balance will be decreased by the amount owed and considered a taxable distribution. This choice must factor in the length of time before you need your money, your ability to save, and your comfort level with risk.

You can also take a penalty-free distribution from your IRA or 401(k) of up to 100% of your balance or $100,000, whichever is less. You are not required to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty, if you are under age 59½ and you can pay taxes on the money you take out over a period of three years or pay no tax, if you pay it all back. However, your employer must agree to adopt these new rules for your existing 401(k) plan.

Reference: CNBC (April 20, 2020) “Tapping Your 401(k): Is now the right time to do it?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How the CARES Act has Changed RMDs for 2020 – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Before the CARES Act, most retirees had to take withdrawals from their IRAs and other retirement accounts every year after age 72. However, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, has made some big changes that help retirees. Whether you have a 401(k), IRA, 403(b), 457(b) or inherited IRA, the rules have changed for 2020. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report, “How to Skip Your Required Minimum Distribution in 2020,” explains how it works.

For starters, remember that taking money out of any kind of account that has been hit hard by a market downturn, locks in investment losses. This is especially a hard hit for people who are not working and will not be able to put the money back. Therefore, if you do not have to take the money, it is best to leave it in the retirement account until markets recover.

RMDs are based on the year-end value of the previous year, so the RMD for 2020 is based on the value of the account as of December 31, 2019, when values were higher.

Remember that distributions from traditional 401(k)s and IRAs are taxed as ordinary income. A retiree in the 24% bracket who takes $5,000 from their IRA is going to need to pay $1,200 in federal income tax on the distribution. By postponing the withdrawal, you can continue to defer taxes on retirement savings.

Beneficiaries who have inherited IRAs are usually required to take distributions every year, but they too are eligible to defer taking distributions in 2020. Experts recommend that if at all possible, these distributions should be delayed until 2021.

Automatic withdrawals are how many retirees receive their RMDs. That makes it easier for retirees to avoid having to pay a huge 50% penalty on the amount that should have been withdrawn, in addition to the income tax that is due on the distribution. However, if you are planning to skip that withdrawal, make sure to turn off the automated withdrawal for 2020.

If you already took the distribution before the law was passed (in March 2020), you might be able to roll the money over to an IRA or workplace retirement account, but only within 60 days of the distribution. You can also only do that once within a 12-month period. If the deadline for a rollover contribution falls between April 1 and July 14, you have up to July 15 to put the funds into a retirement account.

For those who have contracted COVID-19 or suffered financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, the distribution might qualify as a coronavirus hardship distribution. Talk with your accountant about classifying the distribution as a COVID-19 related distribution. This will give you an option of spreading the taxes over a three-year period or putting the money back over a three-year period.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 4, 2020) “How to Skip Your Required Minimum Distribution in 2020”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys 

What Do I Need to Retire? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Confidence Survey shows a lack of preparation in retirement planning. According to the annual survey, 66% of those 55 years and older said they were confident they had sufficient savings to live comfortably throughout retirement. However, just 48% within the same age group have not figured out their retirement needs.

Kiplinger’s article entitled “Ready to Retire? Not Until You’ve Done These 3 Things” says knowing where you are now and knowing what you will need and want in retirement are important to protect your portfolio throughout your golden years. If you want to retire at 65, then age 55 is when you will want to start making some important decisions.

Let us look at three steps to take in your last decade of your working years to help create a safety net for a long retirement:

At 10 years or more before retirement, you should diversify your tax exposure. You may have a large portion of your portfolio in an employer sponsored 401(k) or in IRAs. These tax-deferred accounts give you plenty of benefits now, because you are not taxed on the contributions. At age 50 and older, you can make additional catch-up contributions that let you put away $26,000 in 2020 in your 401(k) each year. Because you are probably going to pay a lower tax rate in retirement when you begin taking taxable withdrawals, it gives you a nice tax advantage today.

In the years before your retirement, build assets in tax-free accounts for flexibility, so you can keep tax costs down in retirement. Assets in a Roth IRA or a Roth account within your 401(k) can give you a source of tax-free income in retirement. You paid taxes on the money you put into a Roth, so it grows tax-free and withdrawals after age 59½ are income tax free. If you are over 50, then you can add up to $7,000 into the account this year.

When you are five years from retirement, create a health care plan. A huge expense in retirement is health care. Plan for out-of-pocket health care costs as well as long-term care. Taking advantage of a health savings account, if you are in a high-deductible health insurance plan is a good way to save for the out-of-pocket health care expenses that will not be covered by Medicare or your private health insurance. You can fund an HSA up to $7,100 for families ($8,100 if you’re 55 or older). Contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, so your account grows tax free, and withdrawals are tax- and penalty-free, if used for qualified health care expenses. You should also look at long-term care insurance.

When you are just a year from retirement, start spending as if you are already retired. Be sure you can live comfortably, when spending at your retirement budget.

No one can see the future, but you may be able to limit the effects of shocks to your retirement savings.  Adding in these layers of protection at least 10 years prior to retirement, can help you secure your retirement goals.

Reference: Kiplinger (Jan. 24, 2020) “Ready to Retire? Not Until You’ve Done These 3 Things”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Am I Making One of the Five Common Estate Planning Mistakes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You do not have to be super-wealthy to see the benefits from a well-prepared estate plan. However, you must make sure the plan is updated regularly, so these kinds of mistakes do not occur and hurt the people you love most, reports Kiplinger in its article entitled “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes.”

An estate plan contains legal documents that will provide clarity about how you would like your wishes executed, both during your life and after you die. There are three key documents:

  • A will
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters
  • A health care power of attorney or similar document

In the last two of these documents, you appoint someone you trust to help make decisions involving your finances or health, in case you cannot while you are still living. Let us look at five common mistakes in estate planning:

# 1: No Estate Plan Whatsoever. A will has specific information about who will receive your money, property and other property. It is important for people, even with minimal assets. If you do not have a will, state law will determine who will receive your assets. Dying without a will (or “intestate”) entails your family going through a time-consuming and expensive process that can be avoided by simply having a will.

A will can also include several other important pieces of information that can have a significant impact on your heirs, such as naming a guardian for your minor children and an executor to carry out the business of closing your estate and distributing your assets. Without a will, these decisions will be made by a probate court.

# 2: Forgetting to Name or Naming the Wrong Beneficiaries. Some of your assets, like retirement accounts and life insurance policies, are not normally controlled by your will. They pass directly without probate to the beneficiaries you designate. To ensure that the intended person inherits these assets, a specific person or trust must be designated as the beneficiary for each account.

# 3: Wrong Joint Title. Married couples can own assets jointly, but they may not know that there are different types of joint ownership, such as the following:

  • Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS) means that, if one joint owner passes away, then the surviving joint owners (their spouse or partner) automatically inherits the deceased owner’s part of the asset. This transfer of ownership bypasses a will entirely.
  • Tenancy in Common (TIC) means that each joint owner has a separately transferrable share of the asset. Each owner’s will says who gets the share at their death.

# 4: Not Funding a Revocable Living Trust. A living trust lets you put assets in a trust with the ability to freely move assets in and out of it, while you are alive. At death, assets continue to be held in trust or are distributed to beneficiaries, which is set by the terms of the trust. The most common error made with a revocable living trust is failure to retitle or transfer ownership of assets to the trust. This critical task is often overlooked after the effort of drafting the trust document is done. A trust is of no use if it does not own any assets.

# 5: The Right Time to Name a Trust as a Beneficiary of an IRA. The new SECURE Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020 gets rid of what is known as the stretch IRA. This allowed non-spouses who inherited retirement accounts to stretch out disbursements over their lifetimes. It let assets in retirement accounts continue their tax-deferred growth over many years. However, the new Act requires a full payout from the inherited IRA within 10 years of the death of the original account holder, in most cases, when a non-spouse individual is the beneficiary.

Therefore, it may not be a good idea to name a trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account. It is possible that either distributions from the IRA may not be allowed when a beneficiary would like to take one, or distributions will be forced to take place at a bad time and the beneficiary will be hit with unnecessary taxes. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney and review your estate plans to make certain that the new SECURE Act provisions don’t create unintended consequences.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 20, 2020) “Is Anything Wrong with Your Estate Plan? Here are 5 Common Mistakes”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys