What Happens when You Inherit a Retirement Account? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

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.” 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 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.

Contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys who 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 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.

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

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

What Factors Impact Social Security Check? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The amount of your Social Security retirement check and how much can you keep are the subjects of Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “9 Factors That Impact the Size of Your Social Security Check.” It examines the deciding factors behind the size of your check and how much goes into your pocket.

  1. Your work history. As far as Social Security, your retirement age isn’t when you quit work but when you start taking Social Security benefits. To calculate the size of your monthly benefit check, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a formula that takes into account your 35 highest-earning years and when you start receiving Social Security benefits.
  2. Your earning history. The size of your Social Security checks also depends on the amount you earned in each of those 35 top-earning years. The formula measures earnings, not work. If you don’t have 35 years’ worth of earnings, Social Security assigns a $0 value for each non-earning year. The $0 years lower your benefit amount. However, working more than 35 years can’t hurt this calculation. In fact, you can grow your monthly retirement check if: (i) you add earning years to replace zero-earning years; and (ii) you replace lower-income years with higher-earning years.
  3. When you were born. The year of your birth determines your “full retirement age,” which is a benchmark for your benefits set by the Social Security Administration. For those born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1960 or later, your full retirement age is 67.
  4. Your age when you claim. Social Security allows retirees to claim benefits and receive retirement checks as soon as 62. However, you can’t earn the full amount you are due at that time. You have to wait until your full retirement age. Claiming sooner permanently lowers your monthly benefit amount. If you wait even longer than your full retirement age, you can increase your Social Security benefit, which is also permanent. You increase your monthly benefit for each month you delay claiming until 70. The most your monthly benefit can grow is 8%. You’ll get that by waiting for your 70th birthday before claiming benefits. The increases stop at that age.
  5. A spouse who worked. There’s a “spousal benefit.” If your spouse earned more than you (and is receiving benefits), you might be eligible for a higher payout. It’s up to half of your spouse’s “primary insurance amount,” depending on what age she or he claimed Social Security. Usually, you must be at least 62 to do this. The benefit increases if you delay claiming until your full retirement age.
  6. The state of the economy. Once you’re getting Social Security, your monthly benefit is typically fixed. However, inflation affects those on fixed incomes. As a result, Social Security law tries to compensate with automatic cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments (a boost to the monthly benefit). These are based on the national rate of inflation.
  7. Whether you keep working. This is an exception to the rule of thumb that Social Security payments are fixed after you claim benefits. Working after you start collecting benefits can increase your Social Security payment. Your benefit formula is recalculated once a year to include your new earnings, and if your latest year of earnings is one of your highest years, the SSA recalculates your benefit and pays you any increase due. With each year of higher earnings, Social Security replaces a lower-earning year in the formula. However, if you’re younger than full retirement age, you could end up temporarily lowering your benefit if you earn too much at work. When you reach your full retirement age, the penalty stops, and your benefit amount is adjusted to compensate you for the period benefits were withheld.
  8. Whether you have other income. If your income is under $25,000 for a single filer or under $32,000 for a couple filing jointly, you don’t pay federal income tax on your benefit checks. If not, your benefit is taxed on up to 50% or 85% of the total amount.
  9. Your location. If you live in one of the 12 states that tax Social Security benefits, you may also owe state income tax on your benefit check.

Reference: Money Talks News (Sep. 19, 2022) “9 Factors That Impact the Size of Your Social Security Check”

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

Does a Supplemental Needs Trust have an Impact on Government Benefits? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Supplemental Needs Trusts allow disabled individuals to retain inheritances or gifts without eliminating or reducing government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are cases where the individual is vulnerable to exploitation or unable to manage their own finances and using an SNT allows them to receive additional funds to pay for things not covered by their benefits.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney properly create the SNT is critical to preserving the individual’s benefits, according to a recent article titled “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts” from Mondaq.

Disabled individuals who receive SSI must be careful, since the rules about assets from SSI are far more restrictive then if the person only received Medicaid or Social Security Disability and Medicaid.

The trustee of an SNT makes distributions to third parties like personal care items, transportation (including buying a car), entertainment, technology purchases, payment of rent and medical or therapeutic equipment. Payment of rent or even ownership of a home may be paid for by the trustee.

The SNT may not make cash distributions to the beneficiary. Payment for any items or services must be made directly to the service provider, retailers, or other entity, for benefit of the individual. Not following this rule could lead to the SNT becoming invalid.

SNTs may be funded using the disabled person’s own funds or by a third party for their benefit. If the SNT is funded using the person’s own funds, it is called a “Self-Settled SNT.” This is a useful tool if the disabled person inherits money, receives a court settlement or owned assets before becoming disabled.

If someone other than the disabled person funds the SNT, it is known as a “Third-Party SNT.” These are most commonly created as part of an estate plan to protect a family member and ensure they have supplementary funds as needed and to preserve assets for other family members when the disabled individual dies.

The most important distinction between a Self-Settled SNT and a Third-Party SNT is a Self-Settled SNT must contain a provision to direct the trust to pay back the state’s Medicaid agency for any assistance provided. This is known as a “Payback Provision.”

The Third-Party SNT is not required to contain this provision and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of the disabled person’s death may be passed on to residual beneficiaries.

Many estate planning attorneys use a “standby” SNT as part of their planning, so their loved ones may be protected, in case an unexpected event occurs and a family member becomes disabled.

References: Mondaq (May 27, 2022) “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts”

 

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

What Happens Financially when a Spouse Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Losing a beloved spouse is one of the most stressful events in life, so it is one we tend not to talk about. However, planning for life after the passing of a spouse needs to be done, as it is an eventuality. According to a recent article from AARP Magazine, “The Financial Penalty of Losing Your Spouse,” the best time to plan for this is before your spouse dies.

You will have the most options while your spouse is still living. Estate plans, wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations can still be updated, as long as your spouse has legal capacity. You can make sure you will still have access to savings, retirement, and investment accounts. Create a list of assets, including information needed to access digital accounts.

Make sure that your credit cards will be available. Many surviving spouses only learn after a death whether credit cards are in the spouse’s name or their own name.

Get help from professionals. Review your new status with your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor. This includes which accounts need to be moved and which need to be renamed. Can you afford to maintain your home? An experienced professional who works regularly with widows or widowers can provide help, if you are open to asking.

A warning note: Be careful about new “friends.” Widows are key targets of scammers, and thieves are very good at scamming vulnerable people.

Be strategic about Social Security. If both partners were drawing benefits, the surviving spouse may elect the higher benefit going forward. If you have not claimed yet, you have options. You can take either a survivor’s benefit based on your spouse’s work history, or the retirement benefit based on your own work history. You will be able to switch to the higher benefit, if it ends up being higher, later on.

Be careful about your spouse’s 401(k) and IRA. If you are in your 50s, you are allowed to roll your spouse’s 401(k) or IRA into your own account. However, do not rush to move the 401(k). You can make a withdrawal from a late spouse’s 401(k) without penalty. However, it will be taxable as ordinary income. If you move the 401(k) to a rollover IRA, you will have to pay taxes plus a 10% penalty on any withdrawals taken from the IRA before you reach 59 ½. Your estate planning attorney can help with these accounts.

Use any advantages available to you. The IRS will still let you file jointly in the year of your spouse’s death. Tax rates are better for married filers than for singles. Any taxable withdrawals you’ll need to take from 401(k)s or IRAs may be taxed at a lower rate during this year. You may decide to use the money to create a rollover Roth IRA or to put some funds into a non-tax deferred account.

Do not rush to do anything you do not have to do. Selling your home, writing large checks to children, or moving are all things you should not do right now. Decisions made in the fog of grief are often regretted later on. Take your time to mourn, adjust to your admittedly unwanted new life and give yourself time for this major adjustment.

Reference: AARP Magazine (May 13, 2022) “The Financial Penalty of Losing Your Spouse”

 

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

How Do I Plan with a Special Needs Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The three main structures a family should put in place to provide future protection for their child relate to money management, self-care and housing, says CNBC’s recent article entitled “If you have a child with special needs, here’s how to plan for their life after you pass.”

Money Management: If the child gets government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid, parents will usually establish a special needs trust to shield assets to allow the child continued access to those benefits. A trustee oversees the funds and other trust provisions not under the child’s control.

Life Insurance. This is the cheapest way to fund a trust. That is because you need to know what is left over from your estate to care for the child, and this creates that certain bucket of money.

Self-Care: Parents must arrange the services their child will need to live independently or semi-independently, which may be overseen by a court-appointed conservator (or guardian). This person makes all decisions regarding an individual’s financial and/or personal affairs. In the alterative, decisions may be made by a person with power of attorney, as well as the individual.

Parents may want to write a “letter of intent,” which is a guide for those who will care for the child in the future. This letter can cover family history, medical care, benefits, daily routines, diet, behavior management, residential arrangements, education, social life, career, religion and end-of-life decisions, according to the Autism Society.

Housing: With respect to future housing for the child, location is more important than the house itself. Parents should consider options beyond keeping their loved one in the family home. It is more important to look at the individual and the interests and supports they might require. Parents may think of retiring to a community that supports the interests of the child. There is a trend toward more community-based living. State-administered Medicaid HCBS waiver programs allow people with disabilities to live in a house or apartment. The state, in turn, provides staffing for a group of similar residents. Sometimes, a group of families will purchase a collection of houses or condominiums. Also, people are rehabbing houses for roommate living, resulting in neighborhoods of people with special needs.

It is critical to work with specialists in this type of planning, such as an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 6, 2021) “If you have a child with special needs, here’s how to plan for their life after you pass”

 

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

Will My Social Security Benefits Be Taxed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “These 13 States Tax Social Security Income” says the federal government can tax plenty of types of retirement income — including Social Security benefits.

The taxation does not necessarily stop with the federal government because there are a number of state governments that also expect a cut from your Social Security income. In fact, there are 13 states that tax Social Security benefits:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia

Whether your Social Security retirement benefits are subject to federal income taxes is determined by your tax filing status and what the U.S. Social Security Administration calls your “combined income.” This is your wages and self-employment income, interest and dividends and other taxable income. If your benefits are subject to federal taxes, the federal government will tax up to 85% of your benefits.

States that tax Social Security benefits do so according to their own rules, which can vary from state to state and differ from the federal tax code. Therefore, even if your benefits are not subject to federal taxes, they could still be subject to state income taxes — or vice versa. It depends on how a state taxes income and whether it offers any tax breaks that apply to Social Security income.

For example, Connecticut offers some residents a full exemption from state income tax for benefits. These residents pay no taxes on Social Security income, if one of the following situations applies: (i) their federal filing status is single or married filing separately, and their federal adjusted gross income is less than $50,000; or (ii) their federal filing status is married filing jointly, head of household or qualifying widow/widower and their federal adjusted gross income is less than $60,000.

Reference: Money Talks News (Sep. 22, 2021) “These 13 States Tax Social Security Income”

 

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

What Happens If I Take a Bigger RMD? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Once you celebrate your 72nd birthday, the IRS requires you to take a minimum amount from IRAs or other tax-deferred retirement accounts. Most people take the minimum, says a recent article from Kiplinger titled “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?” However, taking the minimum is not always the right strategy.

Looking at the broader picture might lead you to go bigger with your RMDs. For example, Bill and Betty are ages 75 and 71. Bill has an IRA worth $850,000. Their retirement income consists of a pension totaling $34,000, dividends of $8,000 and combined Social Security benefits of $77,000. Bob’s 2021 IRA RMD is $37,118. Using the standard deduction of $28,100 (for a married couple where both are over age 65 plus a $300 charitable contribution deduction), their taxable income is $116,468. Federal taxes are $16,560.

Bill and Betty could recognize another $65,000 of ordinary income from his IRA before they land in the 24% tax bracket. In 2022, Betty will have to start taking RMDs on her IRA—did we mention that her IRA is worth $1.5 million?—which will bump them into the 24% tax bracket. Bill should take another $64,000 from his IRA, filing up the 22% ordinary income bracket and reducing his RMD for 2022.

Another example: Alan Smithers is 81 and remarried ten years after his first wife passed. His IRA is worth $1.3 million, and his daughter is the beneficiary. His IRA RMD is $66,000 and he intends to be generous with charity this year, using about $30,000 for a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCS). Based on a projection of his 2021 tax return, Alan could take another $22,000 from his IRA, taxable at 12%. His daughter Daphne is 51, has a high income and significant assets. He should consider filling up his own 12% marginal ordinary income bracket, because when Daphne starts taking her own beneficiary distributions, she will be facing high taxes.

Here is what you need to consider when making RMD decisions:

Your tax bracket. How much more income can you realize while staying within your current tax bracket? Taxpayers in the 10-12% brackets should be extra careful of maxing out on ordinary income.

Your income. What does 2022 look like for your income? Will there be other sources of income, such as an inherited IRA, spouse’s IRA RMD, or annuity income to be considered?

Beneficiaries. How does your own tax rate compare with the tax rates of your beneficiaries? If you have a large IRA and your children have high incomes, could an inheritance push them into a higher tax bracket?

Medicare Premiums. Increases in income can lead to higher Medicare Part B and D premiums in coming years, so also keep that in mind.

It is best to take the broader view when planning for RMDs and taxes. A short-sighted approach could end up being more costly for you and your heirs.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 23, 2021) “Should You Take an Extra Big RMD This Year?”

 

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

What Should I Do when Spouse Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Mourning the loss of a spouse can be one of the hardest experiences one can face. The emotional aspects of grief can also be difficult enough without having to concern yourself whether you are financially unprepared.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Financial planning considerations after the loss of a spouse” says that when a spouse passes away, there can be many impacts to the financial picture. These can include changes in income, estate planning and dealing with IRA and insurance distributions. The first step, however, is understanding and quantifying the financial changes that may happen when your spouse dies.

Income Changes – Social Security. A drop in income is frequently an unforeseen reality for many surviving spouses, especially those who are on Social Security benefits. For retirees without dependents that have reached full retirement age, the surviving spouse will typically get the greater of their social security or their deceased spouse’s benefits – but not both. For example, let’s assume Dirk and Melinda are receiving $2,000 and $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits, respectively. In the event Dirk dies, Melinda will no longer receive her benefit and will only receive Dirk’s $2,000 benefit. That is a 42% reduction in total social security income received.

Social Security benefits typically start at 62, but a widow’s benefit can be available at age 60 for the survivor or at 50 if the survivor is disabled within seven years of the spouse’s death. Moreover, unmarried children under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) of a worker who passes away may also be eligible to get Social Security survivor benefits.

Income Changes – Pension Benefits. This is another type of income that may be decreased because of a spouse’s death. Those eligible to receive a pension often choose little or no survivorship benefits, which results in a sudden drop in income. Therefore, a single life annuity pension payment will end at the worker’s death leaving the survivor with no additional benefits. However, a 50% survivor option will pay 50% of the worker’s benefit to the surviving spouse at their death. A surviving spouse needs to understand what, if any pension benefits will continue and the financial effect of these changes.

Spousal IRA Benefits. Spouses must understand their options for inherited retirement accounts. A spousal beneficiary can roll the funds to their own IRA account, which lets the spousal beneficiary delay Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) until age 72. In this case, the spousal beneficiary’s life expectancy is used to calculate future RMDs. This may be appropriate for those over 59½, but spousal beneficiaries under that age that require retirement account distributions may subject themselves to early withdrawal penalties, including a tax and a 10% early withdrawal penalty, even on inherited funds. Spouses younger than 59½ may consider rolling the account to a beneficial or inherited IRA for more flexibility. In this case, RMDs will be taken annually based upon the life expectancy of the beneficiary, with distributions avoiding the 10% penalty. Distributions greater than the RMD may also be taken, while still avoiding early withdrawal penalties. Inherited IRAs can be a great tool for spousal beneficiaries who need income now to help support their lifestyle but have not reached 59½.

Updating the Estate Plan of the Surviving Spouse. It is easy to forget to review your estate plan drafted before your spouse passed away. Check on this with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Updating Financial Planning Projections. You do not want to make any major decisions after the loss of a loved one, you can still review the numbers. Create a new financial plan to help provide clarity.

Reference: nj.com (Jan. 9, 2021) “Financial planning considerations after the loss of a spouse”

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