What Happens Next, When You’ve Become a Widow? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The loss of a spouse after decades of marriage is crushing enough, but then comes a tsunami of decisions about finances and tasks that demand attention when we are least able to manage it. Even highly successful business owners can find themselves overwhelmed, says The New York Times in the article “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

Most couples tend to divide up financial tasks, where one handles investments and the other pays the bills.  However, moving from a team effort to a solo one is not easy. For one widow, the task was made even harder by the fact that her husband opted to keep his portfolio in paper certificates, which he kept in his desk. His widow had to hire a financial advisor and a bookkeeper, and it took nearly a year to determine the value of the nearly 120 certificates. That was just one of many issues.

She had to settle the affairs of the estate, deal with insurance companies, and handle banks and credit cards that had to be cancelled. Her husband was also a partner in a business, which added another layer of complexity.

She decided to approach the chaos as if it were a business. She worked on it six to eight hours a day for many months, starting with organizing all the paperwork. That meant a filing system. A grief therapist advised her to get up, get dressed as if she was going to work and to make sure she ate regular meals. This often falls by the wayside when the structure of a life is gone.

This widow opened a consulting business to advise other widows on handling the practical aspects of settling an estate and also wrote a book about it.

A spouse’s death is one of the most emotionally wrenching events in a person’s life. Women live longer statistically, so they are more likely than men to lose a spouse and have to get their financial lives organized. The loss of a key breadwinner’s income can be a big blow for those who have never lived on their own. The tasks come fast and furious in a terribly emotional time.

Widows may not realize how vulnerable they are after the death of their long-time spouse. They should hold off on any big decisions and attack their to-do list in stages. The first tasks are to contact the Social Security administration, call the life insurance company and pay important bills, like utilities and property insurance premiums. If your husband was working, contact his employer for any unpaid salary, accrued vacation days and retirement plan benefits.

Next, name your adult children, trusted family members, or friends as agents for your financial and health care power of attorney.

How to take the proceeds from any life insurance policies depends upon your immediate cash needs and whether you can earn more from the payout by investing the lump sum. Make this decision part of your overall financial strategy, ideally after talking with a trusted financial advisor.

Determining a Social Security claiming strategy comes next. Depending on your age and income level, you may be able to increase your benefit. If you wait until your full retirement, you can claim the full survivor benefit, which is 100% of the spouse’s benefit. You could claim a survivor benefit at age 60, but it will be reduced for each month you claim before your full retirement age. If both spouses are at least 70 when the husband dies, a widow should switch to taking a survivor benefit if her benefit is smaller than her husband’s.

Expect it to be a while until you feel like you are on solid ground. If you were working when your spouse passed, consider continuing to work to keep yourself out and about in a familiar world. Anything that you can do to maintain your old life, like staying in the family home, if finances permit, will help as you go through the grief process.

Reference: The New York Times (April 11, 2019) “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

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

Big Mistakes Add Up Big Time for Retirement – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Retirement is a theoretical event happening way off in the future — until you celebrate your 55th birthday, when it starts to become all too real. When that lightening bolt strikes, says The Street, some mistakes may become obvious, as described in the article “Avoid These Big Mistakes in Your Retirement Planning.”

The biggest, most obvious and perhaps least followed lesson: do as much of the planning in advance as possible. Don’t wait until you wake up on your first day of retirement to figure it out.

Here are the top four mistakes people make:

Overlooking the impact of healthcare costs. Inflation in healthcare is more than three times the Consumer Price Index’s annual increase. Medical inflation hit an average of 6.8% in 2018, and it’s not likely going down any time soon. Medicare covers hospitalization (Part A) and doctor visits (Part B) but it does not cover many other critical costs. You’ll need to pay for long-term care, vision, dental, co-pays and deductibles.

As we age, our healthcare costs go up. When you are in the early stages of retirement, active, busy and healthy, it rises around 5%. But as you age, if you are lucky enough to do so, your health insurance costs could leap by 15% annually.

Planning for Medicare is very important.  It is where many retirees make big mistakes. You’ll need Medigap insurance to cover areas that Medicare does not. You’ll also want Part D to cover prescriptions.

The bigger Medicare mistake is failing to enroll at age 65. If you miss it, you’ll have to pay a penalty just to get enrolled in the program. It’s not easy to figure it out, and the instruction book is 130 pages long. The website is also confusing. However, you have to do it and do it right.

Neglecting to save. Really save. It’s next to impossible if you are twenty-something, have enormous student loans and have not gotten your career on track, to even think about retirement. It’s not easy and it’s not the first thing younger people are thinking about. However, the sooner you start putting money away for retirement, the more time you have for the money to grow. If your company offers a retirement plan, start putting something away, even if it’s a small amount. Over time, that company retirement account will grow, your income will grow and you will be better positioned for retirement. Automatic deductions will make this more likely to happen. If your parents are nagging you about retirement, make them happy: sign up for the plan at work and go for the auto deductions. It’s one less thing for them — and you — to worry about.

Poor investments. People who take a do-it-yourself approach to their investment portfolio vary in levels of success. Some devote a lot of time to it, including educating themselves about industry sectors and market performance, and others follow the ‘brother-in-law’ school, which usually tanks. That’s when your brother-in-law boasts about how much money he made in a particular stock. However, he neglects to tell you about how many losses he’s taken along the way. A team approach of an educated investor with a professional financial advisor is a better way to go.

Thinking you know it all. Overconfidence has sunk many retirements. People who are highly successful in life think that career success will automatically translate into retirement and financial planning. It’s also very hard for these types of people to accept that there’s something they do not know and cannot control. It is even harder for them to ask for help.

Failing to plan includes the failure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney in creating an estate plan that addresses tax planning, incapacity, transferring wealth to the next generation and asset distribution. Just like early savings make a big difference, having an estate plan created early in your life and updating as you go through life will help protect you and your loved ones.

Reference: The Street (April 11, 2019) “Avoid These Big Mistakes in Your Retirement Planning.”

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

Gen Xers Are the New Sandwich Generation – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Balancing careers, children, college funds and aging parents present the same-old scenario, but this time to a new generation with a different value system.

Members of Generation X, who straddle a fairly wide age range, from late 30s to early 50s, are feeling the crunch of being responsible for their children and their parent’s needs. How will they ever get a handle on their savings for retirement?

U.S. News & World Report reminds us in its article “Essential Strategies for Generation X” that with the right strategies, Gen Xers can find a money-life balance.

Keep in mind that Gen X has been financially devastated twice: when the tech bubble burst and again during the financial crisis. This makes these individuals dubious about the future.

Let’s look at three strategies for those in the new sandwich generation to help make certain that the financial needs of their aging parents and children are met, and at the same time, ensuring that they don’t sacrifice their own financial future.

For You. Determine your financial health by calculating your net worth. This includes your savings, personal investment accounts, retirement plan accounts, and real estate, minus credit card debts, your mortgage and miscellaneous debt. Take off any items that won’t appreciate or be consumed in retirement, like a car or jewelry. Then review investments to be sure they’re performing consistently with your needs and expectations. Develop a plan to tackle debt and identify existing and projected expenses. Once you have all this information, use a basic retirement calculator to see if you’re on track to meet your retirement spending needs.

A basic calculator probably won’t let you input different scenarios or make detailed assumptions. Most will assume that you will need 70-80% of your current salary in retirement, but this may not be the case if you’re a big saver.

Create a contingency plan for premature death and disability. Ask an attorney to draft your will and other estate planning documents. Make sure that your will includes naming a guardian for your minor children so that you get to name the person who raises them. Have the attorney create powers of attorney and powers of attorney for health care so that you and your partner are prepared for incapacity.

For Your Children. Look at the resources available to fund your children’s education. Don’t put your retirement plan in jeopardy by paying for an expense you can’t afford, including your children’s college. Be open minded about state schools, or having your kids attend a local college for two years, then transfer to another college for a “brand name” diploma.

For Your Parents. See where your parents are financially because you may need to factor unexpected expenses into your plan if your parents need financial assistance. This will save time in the future if you know where to track down this information. Ask if they have an estate plan, and if they do not, have them meet with your estate planning attorney to have a plan created. Find out what kind of long-term care insurance they have in place.

With their somewhat pessimistic outlook—which is not undeserved—many Gen Xers are more focused on a work-life balance than amassing wealth. That’s good, but they need to develop good financial habits on a realistic scale.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (March 28, 2019) “Essential Strategies for Generation X”

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

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane Frankel Sims

410-828-7775

Contact: Frank Campbell

410-263-1667

Sims & Campbell Estates and Trusts

Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell
Merge to Form Sims & Campbell

Firm will offer comprehensive Trusts & Estates services through offices in Towson and Annapolis

TOWSON, Md. (April 26,2019)  Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell have jointly announced the merger of their firms to create a boutique Trusts & Estates law firm providing comprehensive services in the fields of Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Administration and Charitable Giving. The combined firm will be named Sims & Campbell and have offices in Towson, Md. and Annapolis, Md.  Jane Frankel Sims and Frank Campbell will lead and hold equal ownership stakes in the firm.

Sims & Campbell will have 9 attorneys and 15 legal professionals that handle every facet of estate and wealth transfer planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate and gift tax advice, and charitable giving strategies.  The firm will focus solely on Trusts & Estates but will serve a wide range of clients, from young families with modest resources to ultra-high net worth individuals.  This allows clients to remain with the firm as their level of wealth and the complexity of related estate and tax implications change over time. 

“By joining forces, we have expanded our footprint to conveniently serve clients in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia” said Jane Frankel Sims.  We are seeing some of the greatest wealth transfer in our country’s history, and we want to continue to be on the leading edge of helping our clients maintain and enhance their family’s wealth.  In addition, we aim to serve our clients for years to come, and the new firm structure will allow Sims & Campbell to thrive even after Frank and I have retired.”    

“Jane and I have always admired each other’s firms and recognized the need to provide even greater depth and breadth of focused expertise to help families amass and protect their wealth from generation to generation,” said Frank Campbell.  “Now we have even greater capabilities to make a real difference for our clients.” 

The Sims & Campbell Towson office is located at 500 York Road, on the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Towson.  The Annapolis office is currently located at 716 Melvin Avenue, and is moving to 181 Truman Parkway in August, 2019.  For more information, visit www.simscampbell.law.