Most Are Taking Social Security at the Wrong Time

Most Are Taking Social Security at the Wrong Time: A new report finds that almost no retirees are making financially optimal decisions about when to take Social Security and are losing out on more than $100,000 per household in the process. The average Social Security recipient would receive 9 percent more income in retirement if they made the financially optimal decision.

When claiming Social Security, you have three options: You may begin taking benefits between age 62 and your full retirement age, you can wait until your full retirement age, or you can delay benefits and take them anytime up until you reach age 70. If you take Social Security between age 62 and your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced to account for the longer period you will be paid. If you delay taking retirement, depending on when you were born, your eventual benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay, in addition to any cost-of-living increases.

The new report, conducted by United Income, an online investment management and financial planning firm, found that only 4 percent of retirees make the financially optimal decision about when to claim Social Security. Nearly all of the retirees not optimizing their benefits are claiming benefits too early. The study found that 57 percent of retirees would build more wealth if they waited to claim until age 70. However, currently more than 70 percent of retirees claim benefits before their full retirement age. Claiming before full retirement is the financially best option for only 6.5 percent of retirees, according to United Income.

The consequences of claiming Social Security too early can be big. The report found that collecting benefits at the wrong time causes retirees to collectively lose $3.4 trillion in potential income (an average of $111,000 per household). The report also estimates that elderly poverty could be cut in half if retirees claimed benefits at the financially optimal time.

One reason most people do not optimize Social Security is because waiting to collect benefits means their overall wealth may fall during their 60s and 70s. They also may not be aware that collecting benefits before full retirement age means that their benefits will be permanently reduced. According to the report’s authors, policy changes are necessary to get retirees to wait to claim benefits. The report recommends that early claiming be made the exception and reserved for those who have a demonstrable need to collect early. Another recommendation is to change the label on early retirement and call it the “minimum benefit age.”

To read the full report, click here.

For a CBS News article on the report, click here.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Special Ownership for Married Couples: Tenancy by the Entirety

Special Ownership for Married Couples: Tenancy by the Entirety: Married couples have a special way to jointly own property in some states that has advantages over regular joint ownership. If you are married and own property jointly, you should make sure you have the right form of ownership.

Joint tenants must have equal ownership interests in the property. If one of the joint tenants dies, his or her interest immediately ceases to exist and the remaining joint tenant owns the entire property. The advantage to joint tenancy is that it avoids having an owner’s interest probated upon his death. The disadvantage is that creditors can attach one tenant’s property to satisfy the other’s debt.

Some states give married couples another option to own property jointly and avoid probate, but also have protection from creditors. Tenancy by the entirety has the same right of survivorship as a joint tenancy, but one spouse cannot sell his or her interest without the other spouse’s permission. The creditors of one spouse cannot attach the property or force its sale to recover debts unless both spouses consent. Creditors may place a lien on property held in tenancy by the entirety, but if the debtor dies before the other spouse, the other spouse takes ownership of the property free and clear of the debt. This is why if you have a tenancy by the entirety, both the husband and wife are required to sign the mortgage on their property for the mortgage to be valid.

Tenancy by the entirety is available in half of all states and the District of Columbia. Some states recognize it for all property; other states only recognize it for real estate. States with tenancy by the entirety are: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

If you own joint property with a spouse in a state with tenancy by the entirety, you should check to make sure the property is owned as tenants by the entirety. In addition, unmarried couples who buy property and subsequently marry each other should check if they can re-title the deed as tenants by the entirety to avail themselves of the greater protections this form of tenancy offers.

For more information about joint ownership, click here.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Six Things to Consider Before Making Gifts to Grandchildren

Six Things to Consider Before Making Gifts to Grandchildren: Grandparents often are particularly generous to grandchildren as they see their family’s legacy continuing on to a new generation. In many cases, grandparents feel they have ample resources and their children or grandchildren may be struggling financially. Assistance with summer camp fees, college tuition, wedding costs or the down payment on a first home, can relieve pressure on the next generation and permit grandchildren to take advantage of opportunities that otherwise would be out of reach. Some grandparents also don’t feel it’s right that children and grandchildren should need to wait for an inheritance, when they have more than they need.

Helping out family members is to be encouraged, but can raise a number of legal issues involving taxes and eligibility for public benefits, as well as questions of fairness among family members. Here are six issues grandparents should consider before making gifts to family members:

  • Is it really a gift? Does the grandparent expect anything in return, for example that the funds be repaid or that the money is an advance on the grandchild’s eventual inheritance? In most cases, the answer is “no.”  But if it’s “yes,” this should be made clear, preferably in writing, whether in a letter that goes with the check or, in the case of a loan, a formal promissory note.
  • Is everyone being treated equally? Not all grandchildren have the same financial needs, and grandparents don’t feel equally close to all of their grandchildren. While it’s the grandparent’s money and she can do what she wants with it, if she’s not treating all of her grandchildren equally, she might want to consider whether unequal generosity will create resentment within the family. Many elder law clients say that what they do with their money during their lives is their business. They may help out some children and grandchildren more than others based on need, with the expectation that this will be kept private. But they treat all of their children equally in their estate plan.
  • Beware taxable gifts. While this is academic for most people under today’s tax law, since there’s no gift tax for the first $11.4 million each of us gives away (in 2019), any gift to an individual in excess of $15,000 (in 2019) per year must be reported on a gift tax return. Two grandparents together can give up to $30,000 per recipient per year with no reporting requirement. And there’s no limit or reporting requirement for payments made directly to medical and educational institutions for health care expenses and tuition for others.
  • 529 plans. Many grandparents want to help pay higher education tuition for grandchildren, especially given the incredibly high cost of college and graduate school today. But not all grandchildren are the same age, making it difficult to make sure that they all receive the same grandparental assistance. Some grandchildren may still be in diapers while others are getting their doctorates. A great solution is to fund 529 accounts for each grandchild. These are special accounts that grow tax deferred, the income and growth never taxed as long as the funds are used for higher education expenses. Click here to read more about 529 accounts.
  • Don’t be too generous. Grandparents need to make sure that they keep enough money to pay for their own needs. While small gifts probably won’t make any difference one way or another, too many large gifts can quickly deplete a lifetime of scrimping and saving. It won’t do the family much good if a grandparent is just scraping by because he’s done too much to support his children or grandchildren.
  • Beware the need for long-term care. In terms of making certain that they have kept enough of their own savings, grandparents need to consider the possibility of needing care, whether at home, in assisted living or in a nursing home, all of which can be quite expensive. In addition, those seniors who can’t afford to pay for such care from their own funds need to be aware that any gift can make them ineligible for Medicaid benefits for the following five years.  For details, click here.

There are even more issues to consider that may involve specific family situations. Some grandchildren shouldn’t receive gifts because they will use them for drugs, or the gifts may undermine the parents’ plans for the grandchild or their authority. In some instances, grandparents may want to consider “incentive” trusts, which provide that the funds will be distributed when grandchildren reach certain milestones, such as graduation from college or holding down a job for a period of time. Communication with the middle generation can be key to making certain that gifts achieve the best results for all concerned.

Talk to your attorney about devising the best plan for yourself and for your grandchildren.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

What To Do When a Loved One Passes Away

What To Do When a Loved One Passes Away: Whether your spouse has just passed away or you have lost your mom or dad, the emotional trauma of losing a loved one often comes with a bewildering array of financial and legal issues demanding attention. It can be difficult enough for family members to handle the emotional trauma of a death, let alone taking the steps necessary to get these matters in order.

If you are the executor or representative of the will, you first should secure the tangible personal property, meaning anything you can touch such as silverware, dishes, furniture or artwork. Then, take your time while bills need to be paid. They can wait a week or two without any real repercussions. It is more important that you and your family have time to grieve.

When you are ready, you should meet with an attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the will. While the exact rules of estate planning differ from state to state, the key actions include:

  • File the will and petition in probate court in order to be appointed executor.
  • Collect the assets. This means that you need to find out about everything the deceased owned and file a list of inventory with the court.
  • Pay the bills and taxes. If an estate tax return is due, it must be filed within nine months of the date of death.
  • Distribute property to the heirs. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period for creditors to make claims runs out which can be as long as a year.
  • Finally, you must file an account with the court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions.

While some of these steps can be avoided through trusts or joint ownership arrangements, whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns and distribute the property to the rightful heirs.

For more information about an executor’s duties, click here.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

What to Do If You Are Appointed Guardian of an Older Adult

What to Do If You Are Appointed Guardian of an Older Adult: Being appointed guardian of a loved one is a serious responsibility. As guardian, you are in charge of your loved one’s well-being and you have a duty to act in his or her best interest.

If an adult becomes mentally incapacitated and is incapable of making responsible decisions, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, often called a “guardian,” but in some states called a “conservator” or other term. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (the “guardian”) and a person who because of incapacity is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs (the “ward”).

If you have been appointed guardian, the following are things you need to know:

  • Read the court order. The court appoints the guardian and sets up your powers and duties. You can be authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship and state practices, you may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions. If you aren’t sure what you are allowed to do, consult with a lawyer in your state.
  • Fiduciary duty. You have what’s called a “fiduciary duty” to your ward, which is an extremely high standard. You are legally required to act in the best interest of your ward at all times and manage your ward’s money and property carefully. With that in mind, it is imperative that you keep your finances separate from your ward’s finances. In addition, you should never use the ward’s money to give (or lend) money to someone else or for someone else’s benefit (or your own benefit) without approval of the court. Finally, as part of your fiduciary duty you must maintain good records of everything you receive or spend. Keep all your receipts and a detailed list of what the ward’s money was spent on.
  • File reports on time. The court order should specify what reports you are required to file. The first report is usually an inventory of the ward’s property. You then may have to file yearly accountings with the court detailing what you spent and received on behalf of the ward. Finally, after the ward dies or the guardianship ends, you will need to file a final accounting.
  • Consult the ward. As much as possible you should include the ward in your decision-making. Communicate what you are doing and try to determine what your ward would like done.
  • Don’t limit social interaction. Guardians should not limit a ward’s interaction with family and friends unless it would cause the ward substantial harm. Some states have laws in place requiring the guardian to allow the ward to communicate with loved ones. Social interaction is usually beneficial to an individual’s well-being and sense of self-worth. If the ward has to move, try to keep the ward near loved ones.

For a detailed guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on being a guardian, click here.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

How Current is Your Estate Plan?

How Current is Your Estate Plan? If “nothing has changed” in your life, then you shouldn’t need to update your will. However, estate planning is more than your will. The chances that “nothing” truly has changed after even a few years is unlikely.

Forbes’ recent article, “Old Estate Plans May Be Harmful To Your Wealth,” explains that if you haven’t updated your planning after the 2017 Tax Act, a more accurate comment would be to say that “everything” has changed. That legislation made significant changes by increasing the estate tax exemption, eliminating personal itemized deductions and many other details.

There could be another change in the state or federal tax or probate law.

On your end, you or an heir may experience marriage or divorce—or a death in the family or of a vital person named in documents. Maybe you moved to a new state or welcomed a new child or grandchild. Another change is a substantial change in economic circumstances, like a change in jobs or careers. You may now have new or worsening health issues. Finally, you may have second thoughts about a bequest, or there’s been a change in relationship with a fiduciary or beneficiary.

Don’t focus on a list of the changes that should trigger an update to your estate plan. Those types of changes are often obvious. It’s the less obvious changes that don’t make the lists and that you might not even consider as requiring you to update your planning and documents.

You might not even be aware of a major change in your state’s tax laws or whether it applies to your circumstances.

It’s best to meet with your estate planning attorney any time you believe something important has occurred, like one of the events listed above. However, regardless of having a particular reason, you should meet every few years.

The bigger and more complex your estate is, the more complex your family, the more often that should be. For many, meeting every year is very prudent, certainly every year or two makes sense.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Forbes (September 27, 2019) “Old Estate Plans May Be Harmful To Your Wealth”

 

The 2020 Social Security Increase Will Be Smaller than 2019’s

The Social Security Administration has announced a 1.6 percent increase in benefits in 2020, nearly half of last year’s change. The small rise has advocates questioning whether the government is using the proper method to calculate the cost of living for older Americans and those with disabilities.

Cost-of-living increases are tied to the consumer price index, and a modest upturn in inflation rates and gas prices means Social Security recipients will get only a small boost in 2020. The 1.6 percent increase is lower than last year’s 2.8 percent rise and the 2 percent increase in 2018. The average monthly benefit of $1,479 in 2019 will go up by $24 a month to $1,503 a month for an individual beneficiary, or $288 yearly.

The cost-of-living change also affects the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will grow from $132,900 to $137,700.

For 2020, the monthly federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment standard will be $783 for an individual and $1,175 for a couple.

The smaller increase may mean that additional income will be entirely eaten up by higher Medicare Part B premiums. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees is forecast to rise $8.80 a month to $144.30. According to USA Today, advocates are questioning the method used to calculate cost-of-living increases. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers to set the inflation rate. This method looks at prices for gasoline, electronics, and other items that younger workers rely on. The advocates suggest using a different index (the Consumer Price Index for Elderly) that puts greater emphasis on medical and housing expenses.

Most beneficiaries will be able to find out their cost-of-living adjustment online by logging on to my Social Security in December 2019. While you will still receive your increase notice by mail, in the future you will be able to choose whether to receive your notice online instead of on paper.

For more on the 2020 Social Security benefit levels, click here.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Five Tips for Starting Retirement Planning in Your 50s

When it comes to retirement planning, many Americans find themselves underprepared. A majority of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation X’ers (born between 1965 and 1978) often end up without retirement savings or don’t have realistic expectations about post-retirement costs. According to the Insured Retirement Institute, only 25 percent of boomers are confident of having sufficient savings in retirement. If you are in your 50s and nearing retirement without substantial savings or a plan, don’t despair — it is never too late to start planning.

Although every working professional should contribute towards retirement from their early days, for various reasons they often delay the process. If you are nearing your 50s without a post-retirement plan and see yourself working for another 10 to 15 years, this is an opportunity to plan judiciously and save for your retirement right away.

Here are five strategic steps for achieving the best retirement plan:

1. Set Specific and Practical Goals

Proper retirement planning begins with setting specific goals. Calculate your current income, total savings, and ongoing investments to understand how much you could save, and be sure to set realistic goals.

While providing for emergency expenses and paying off a mortgage can be your short-term and intermediate goals, saving up for retirement should be your long-term goal. An annual financial review is helpful in evaluating your past goals and understanding your earnings as well as liabilities.

2. Plan a Realistic Budget Focusing on Retirement

Review your monthly and yearly expenses and list the factors that are likely to remain constant for the next few years. Now allocate funds to each category in a way that will allow you to save more for your retirement.

According to financial experts, if you are saving for retirement after 50, it is best to contribute 30 percent of your salary towards this end. If you find that goal difficult to meet, look at your budget list and reduce optional expenses.

3. Pay Off Debts

Paying off debts early will help you meet your retirement budgets and ease the financial burden. According to an AARP report, 44 percent of Americans continue to pay for their home after they retire.

Clearing off outstanding debts, credit card bills, loans, and mortgages will make it much easier to prioritize retirement funds.

4. Invest in Retirement Plans

401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs are some of the retirement plans available in the U.S.  While 401(k)s are one of the most popular plans, not all companies offer them and those that do have their own, often restrictive, investment rules. Then there are two types of IRAs:  traditional and Roth IRAs.

To make the best choice among the many retirement plan options, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of IRA vs 401(k), Roth IRA vs 401(k) and other investment alternatives, as well as  contribution limits.

5. Diversify Your Investments

Investment diversification will help keep you on a firm financial footing. Do not stash all your money in banks; instead, create an investment portfolio and explore your options.

It is important to diversify and distribute your money among multiple sectors. Considering the volatility of markets, diversification of your investment portfolio safeguards your capital and helps it grow.

It’s Time to Step Up a Gear

A concrete retirement plan with emphasis on savings is essential to ensure a comfortable and healthy post-retirement life. Saving for your retirement is the first priority and the sooner you start, the better your chances of achieving your retirement goals.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Rick Pendykoski is the owner of Self Directed Retirement Plans LLC, a retirement planning firm based in Goodyear, Arizona. He regularly writes for blogs at MoneyForLunch, Biggerpocket, SocialMediaToday, NuWireInvestor and his own blog for Self Directed Retirement Plans. Email rick@sdretirementplans.com or visit www.sdretirementplans.com.

Protect Your Pets After You’re Gone

Protect Your Pets After You’re Gone:  Currently, 67% of American households own at least one pet, and many people now consider long-term planning for them just as important as they would for two-legged family members, says The Atlanta Journal Constitution in the article “When you’re gone, what happens to your pets?”

If you think about it, our animal companions are completely vulnerable. They can’t take care of themselves. If something happens to their owners, it is possible that they could be taken to a shelter and euthanized. If you don’t want to be kept up at night worrying about this, a pet trust should be part of your conversation with an estate planning attorney.

Pets are viewed as valued members of the family in many homes. They provide companionship, and there have been studies showing that their presence helps to reduce stress. They often sleep in the same bed as their owners and go on vacations with their human family.

A 2018 Realtor.com survey found that 79% of millennials who purchased a home, said that they would pass on a home, no matter how perfect, if it did not meet the needs of their pets.

How can you protect your pets?

Understand that pets are considered property and have no legal rights. It’s entirely up to their owners to plan for their care. Some questions to consider:

  • What’s the difference between a pet trust and a will?
  • Do pet trust laws vary by state?
  • Is a trust independent from a will?
  • What happens to any funds left over, when the pet dies?
  • Can you tap 401(k) or other retirement funds to care for a pet?

To begin, look at the life expectancy of each pet and factor the average vet bill, food bill and any additional money in case of an emergency. The ASPCA says that the annual cost to care for a dog is between $737 to $1,404. Caring for a cat averages about $800. Of course, caring for cats or dogs depends upon the age, breed, weight and whether the animal has any medical needs. Some pets can live a very long time, like horses, and certain birds can live more than seventy years.

Next, identify caregivers who will commit to caring for your pets. You should then talk with your estate planning attorney. If you rely on an informal plan, your pet may be out of luck, if something happens to the caregivers, or if they have a change of heart.

A pet trust allows you to leave money to a loved one or friend to care for the pet in a trust that is legally binding. That means the money must be used for the pet’s care. It can be very specific, including how often the pet should go to the vet and what its standard of living should be. The executor or lawyer could go to court to enforce the contract.

Typically, the trustee holds property “in trust” for the benefit of the pet. Payments to a designated caregiver are made on a regular basis. The trust, depending upon the state in which it is established, continues for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever comes first. Some states allow the pet trusts to continue beyond 21 years.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about protecting your pet. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve put a plan into place for your beloved furry friends.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: The Atlanta Journal Constitution (September 24, 2019) “When you’re gone, what happens to your pets?”