President Trump has signed a spending bill that makes major changes to retirement plans. The new law is designed to provide more incentives to save for retirement, but it may require workers to rethink some of their planning.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act changes the law surrounding retirement plans in several ways:
Stretch IRAS. The biggest change eliminates “stretch” IRAs. Under current law, if you name anyone other than a spouse as the beneficiary of your IRA, the beneficiary can choose to take distributions over his or her lifetime and to pass what is left onto future generations (called the "stretch" option). The required minimum distributions are calculated based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy. This allows the money to grow tax-deferred over the course of the beneficiary’s life and to be passed on to his or her own beneficiaries. The SECURE Act requires beneficiaries of an IRA to withdraw all the money in the IRA within 10 years of the IRA holder’s death. In many cases, these withdrawals would take place during the beneficiary’s highest tax years, meaning that the elimination of the stretch IRA is effectively a tax increase on many Americans. This provision will apply to those who inherit IRAs starting on January 1, 2020.
Required minimum distributions. Under prior law, you have to begin taking distributions from your IRAs beginning when you reach age 70 ½. Under the new law, individuals who are not 70 ½ at the end of 2019 can now wait until age 72 to begin taking distributions.
Contributions. The new law allows workers to continue to contribute to an IRA after age 70 ½, which is the same as rules for 401(k)s and Roth IRAs.
Employers. The tax credit businesses get for starting a retirement plan is increased and the new law makes it easier for small businesses to join multiple-employer plans.
Annuities. The newly enacted legislation removes roadblocks that made employers wary of including annuities in 401(k) plans by eliminating some of the fiduciary requirements used to vet companies and products before they can be included in a plan.
Withdrawals. The new law allows an early withdrawal of up to $5,000 from a retirement account without a penalty in the event of the birth of a child or an adoption. Currently, there is a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawals in most circumstances.
Given these changes, workers need to immediately reevaluate their estate plans. Some people have used stretch IRAs as an estate planning tool to pass assets to their children and grandchildren. One way of doing this has been to name a trust as the IRA’s beneficiary, and these trusts may have to be reformed to conform to the new rules. If a stretch IRA is part of your estate plan, consult with your attorney to determine if you need to make changes.
Congratulations, you have finally signed your estate planning documents. Now, where do you keep them?
Most people prefer for their attorney to hold the original documents. This prevents these important documents from being misplaced in your house. It also keeps the documents away from meddling family members and nosy house staff.
Due to the high costs of storage and the move to paperless offices, some attorneys are now having their clients hold the original documents. While this reduces the overhead cost for the attorney to handle and store the documents, it leaves the client with the dilemma of where to put the original documents.
If your attorney is in that camp, or if you just prefer to hold the originals yourself, you will need a safe and secure place for them. Here are some options.
Skip the safe deposit box. Do not put the original documents in a safe deposit box because the authority to get into the box is in the box. If you die or are incapacitated and no one else has access to the safe deposit box, they will need court authority to get into the box. To obtain that court authority, they need the documents in the box. It’s like a chicken or egg scenario.
Invest in a fireproof safe. You can keep your original documents in a file cabinet in your home or office, but a fireproof safe is your best bet.
Make sure you have copies. You should also have a set of hard copies in another location easily accessible to you. A safe deposit box is a great place for a set of copies of your documents. Your attorney should maintain a set of hard copies as well.
What subjects in a will are interchangeable among all states? Is guardianship the same no matter where you live? How about real estate? If I move frequently due to my company, is there anything in my will I know will always be valid or do I have to make changes every time I move? What are the big topics that change when you move?
Due to the full faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, which reads "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State," your will executed in one state will be honored if you move to another state. So you don't have to get a new will every time you move. This is also true of revocable trusts; they will be honored in all states.
This is less true of durable powers of attorney and health care directives. While they should be honored from state to state, sometimes banks, medical professionals, and financial and health care institutions don't accept documents and forms with which they are not familiar. In addition, for some purposes the execution requirements may be different. You ask about real estate. Some states require witnesses on durable powers of attorney and others don't. A state requiring witnesses may not allow a power of attorney without them to be used to convey real estate even though the document is perfectly valid in the state in which it was executed.
A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents, but when one sibling is named in a power of attorney, there is the potential for disputes with other siblings. No matter which side you are on, it is important to know your rights and limitations.
A power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person -- an "attorney-in-fact" or “agent” -- to act in place of him or her -- the “principal” -- if the principal ever becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: financial and medical. Financial powers of attorney usually include the right to open bank accounts, withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, and cash checks. They could also include the right to give gifts. Medical powers of attorney allow the agent to make health care decisions. In all of these tasks, the agent is required to act in the best interests of the principal. The power of attorney document explains the specific duties of the agent.
When a parent names only one child to be the agent under a power of attorney, it can cause bad feelings and distrust. If you are dealing with a sibling who has been named agent under a power of attorney or if you have been named agent under a power of attorney over your siblings, the following are some things to keep in mind:
Right to information. Your parent doesn't have to tell you whom he or she chose as the agent. In addition, the agent under the power of attorney isn't required to provide information about the parent to other family members.
Access to the parent. An agent under a financial power of attorney should not have the right to bar a sibling from seeing their parent. A medical power of attorney may give the agent the right to prevent access to a parent if the agent believes the visit would be detrimental to the parent's health.
Revoking a power of attorney. As long as the parent is competent, he or she can revoke a power of attorney at any time for any reason. The parent should put the revocation in writing and inform the old agent.
Removing an agent under power of attorney. Once a parent is no longer competent, he or she cannot revoke the power of attorney. If the agent is acting improperly, family members can file a petition in court challenging the agent. If the court finds the agent is not acting in the principal's best interest, the court can revoke the power of attorney and appoint a guardian.
The power of attorney ends at death. If the principal under the power of attorney dies, the agent no longer has any power over the principal's estate. The court will need to appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent's property.
If you are drafting a power of attorney document and want to avoid the potential for conflicts, there are some options. You can name co-agents in the document. You need to be careful how this is worded or it could cause more problems. The best way to name two co-agents is to let the agents act separately. Another option is to steer clear of family members and name a professional fiduciary.
Sibling disputes over how to provide care or where a parent will live can escalate into a guardianship battle that can cost the family thousands of dollars. Drafting a formal sibling agreement (also called a family care agreement) is a way to give guidance to the agent under the power of attorney and provide for consequences if the agreement isn't followed. Even if you don't draft a formal agreement, openly talking about the areas of potential disagreement can help. If necessary, a mediator can help families come to an agreement on care.
To determine the best way for your family to provide care, consult with your attorney.
How frequently you should review your estate plan depends on how old you are and whether there has been a significant change in your circumstances. If you are over age 60 and you haven't updated your estate plan in many decades, it's almost certain that you need to update your documents. After that, you should review your plan every five years or so. But if you're younger, you don't need to do so nearly as often.
Here are a few age ranges and what they mean in terms of estate planning:
18-30 Everyone needs a durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release so that they have people they choose to step in and make decisions for them in the event of incapacity.
30-40 Once you begin accumulating assets, get married, and have children, it's important to create an estate plan to care for your loved ones in the event of your death. It also can't hurt to update your durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release, since the people you may have appointed at 18 (your parents?) may not be the people you want in these roles at 35.
40-60 Unless there's been a change in your circumstances, and assuming you've set a good plan in place during your 30s, you probably don't need to review your estate plan during your 40s and 50s.
60-70 Once you've hit your 60s, it's time to take a look. Your children are probably grown. You may have grandchildren. And, hopefully, you've accumulated some wealth. The people you appointed to step in in the event of incapacity when you were 35 may not be in a position to assist when you're 65. You may have retired or are contemplating doing so. And, unfortunately, the chances of disability or death increase with every year.
70+ Now it's time to review your plan every three years or so. Changes happen -- to your health and that of your loved ones, to the tax laws, to the programs supporting long-term care or disability care. It's important to have a plan in place and to adjust it as circumstances change.
Change in Circumstances
While the timeline above outlines when you should review and perhaps update your estate plan, it needs to be supplemented by the following potential changes in circumstances that would warrant a review of your plan to see if it still meets your goals and needs:
Marriage. You're likely to want your assets to go to your spouse and to name him or her to be your agent in the event of incapacity.
Divorce. Likewise, if you get divorced, you probably won't want your assets to go to your ex-spouse or to rely upon him or her to step in if you were to become incapacitated.
Children. Once you have children, you'll want to provide for them and to name someone to step in as guardian in the event of your death or incapacity and that of their other parent, if any. Generally, once you have a plan in place you do not have to update it unless you have more children.
Disability. If you or someone who would inherit from you becomes disabled, you will need to plan to protect and manage your assets, whether for yourself or for your beneficiaries.
Wealth. If you accumulate sufficient assets to exceed the thresholds for state and federal estate taxes -- $11.4 million federally -- you may want to plan to reduce or eliminate such taxes.
Moving. If you move to a new state or country, it will be important to have your estate plan reviewed to make sure it works in the new jurisdiction.
In short, until you reach age 60 or 70, reviewing your estate plan every five years probably is overkill. But do so whenever you have a change in circumstances such as those listed above. If you're over 60 and haven't updated your estate plan in many years, now's the time. Then, having a review every five years is definitely a good rule of thumb.
“Does your ability to pass on your wealth to your heirs depend on where you live … and die? Indeed, it does. Federal estate taxes apply no matter where you live within the U.S. However, eighteen states subject their citizens to estate taxes or inheritance taxes.”
It’s safe to say that most people decide where they want to live during their retirement years, based on lower costs of living, a lower general tax environment and where their loved ones live, among other factors. If your retirement plan includes finding the place where your heirs will pay the least amount of taxes, says moneytips, then you’ll want to read the article “Best States to Die In… For Taxes.”
The difference between federal estate taxes and state inheritance taxes, is that estate taxes are subtracted from the estate before it’s dispersed to heirs. However, the inheritance tax applies to heirs. It doesn’t matter if they live in another state, they still have to pay the inheritance tax.
There are only six states that still maintain an inheritance tax: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Your surviving spouse won’t have to pay inheritance taxes, and New Jersey exempts a domestic partner. Children and siblings are sometimes exempt from paying inheritance taxes, in some of these states.
Nebraska and Pennsylvania are the only states where children and grandchildren are not exempt. In Nebraska, if you’re an immediate relative, you get hit with a 1% inheritance tax on anything above $40,000. In the Keystone State (Pennsylvania), inheritance tax rates start at 4.5% for children and lineal heirs.
Nebraska has the highest top inheritance tax rate of all the states, at a whopping 18%, while the others generally range from 10% to 16%.
Each state has its own exemptions, based on the amount of the inheritance and the relationship of the heir to the deceased. Therefore, you’ll need to check with a local estate planning attorney to learn what your obligations will be (or your heir’s obligations). States categorize heirs into different types for assigning both exemptions and tax rates. Maryland keeps it simple, with only two categories, while Iowa has seven.
That leaves 32 other states to consider dying in, because of the lack of applicable state taxes. Maryland imposes a 16% tax on estates above $4 million for decedents dying in calendar year 2018. New Jersey no longer imposes an estate tax on the estates of decedents, who died on or after Jan. 1, 2018.
As stated previously, tax rates vary by state, and they do change, so speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state or the state of your loved ones to find out what the tax rates are and any exemptions available.
Since inheritances usually pass to spouses and children, and the exemption rates are fairly high in most states, many people won’t have to pay large sums or any estate taxes. However, prior planning is always appreciated by your heirs. If they don’t have the cash on hand to pay the taxes, they may end up with little or no inheritance. Plan ahead, for their sake.
“If you were to receive a sizable inheritance, what should you do with it? This money could help you achieve some of your important financial goals , so you’ll want to think carefully about your choices.”
While there’s no one way that is right for everyone, there are some basic considerations about receiving a large inheritance that apply to almost anyone. According to the article “What should you do with an inheritance?” from The Rogersville Review, the size of the inheritance could make it possible for you to move up your retirement date. Just be mindful that it is very easy to spend large amounts of money very quickly, especially if this is a new experience.
Here are some ways to consider using an inheritance:
Get rid of your debt load. Car loans, credit cards and most school loans are at higher rates than you can get from any investments. Therefore, it makes sense to use at least some of your inheritance to get rid of this expensive debt. Some people believe that it’s best to not have a mortgage, since now there are limits to deductions. You may not want to pay off a mortgage, since you’ll have less flexibility if you need cash.
Contribute more to retirement accounts. If the inheritance gives you a little breathing room in your regular budget, it’s a good idea to increase your contributions to an employer-sponsored 401(k) or another plan, as well as to your personal IRA. Remember that this money grows tax-free and it is possible you’ll need it.
Start college funding. If your financial plan includes helping children or even grandchildren attend college, you could use an inheritance to open a 529 account. This gives you tax benefits and considerable flexibility in distributing the money. Every state has a 529 account program and it’s easy to open an account.
Create or reinforce an emergency fund. A recent survey found that most Americans don’t have emergency funds. Therefore, a bill for more than $400 would be difficult for them to pay. Use your inheritance to create an emergency fund, which should have six to 12 months’ worth of living expenses. Put the money into a liquid, low-risk account, so that you can access it easily if necessary. This way you don’t tap into long-term funds.
Review your estate plan. Anytime you have a large life event, like the death of a parent or an inheritance, it’s time to review your estate plan. Depending upon the size of the estate, there may be some tax liabilities you’ll need to deal with. You may also want to set some of the assets aside in trust for children or grandchildren. Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide you with experienced counsel on the use of the inheritance for you and future generations.
“A family from the United Kingdom has made international news, as a result of an alleged will forgery fueled by a mother-in-law’s disdain for her daughter’s husband.”
When Gillian Williams died in May 2017, it’s unlikely that she expected to be at the center of an international spotlight on her family’s life. She left behind a married daughter, Julie Fairs, who is accused, along with her husband Brian, of falsifying a signature on her mother’s last will and testament. The mother’s own sister testified that her sister would never have left her daughter anything, because of how much she disliked her son-in-law, reports Above the Law in the article “What To Do When You Hate Your Son-In-Law: A Practical Lesson in Estate Planning.”
The matter became public when it went to trial. There’s been a lot of nasty family business being shared. Most people avoid going to trial for will contests, since the underlying emotions come out in full view.
Not everyone has friendly family relationships with in-laws. Frequently, the in-law relationship is prickly at best. There is no law that you must like your son-in-law. However, the law presumes that you like your child enough to include her in your estate, regardless of how you feel about her spouse. That means that if there is no surviving spouse, children are permitted to be the “natural object of your bounty.” In other words, these are the individuals who will receive your assets when you die, based on social and public policy and the law.
There are issues in estate planning, when a person wants to exclude a child because of their dislike of the child’s spouse. You may want to exclude a child out of concern that the spouse will mishandle the money or benefit from the money in a divorce. Sometimes parents can’t get past their dismay over a child marrying against their wishes. Disinheritance is not an unusual punishment. However, increased scrutiny is going to be applied to the review of a will, when a child is excluded.
When one child is disinherited, it colors their relationship with their siblings. The beneficiaries and the executor are left to defend the decedent’s decision. That is not easy to do, unless an explanation of why this happened was done beforehand.
There are options to disinheritance, if the child’s spouse is an issue. A beneficiary’s share can be held in a continuing trust, so the spouse does not have access to the funds. The assets can be protected and preserved, in the event of a divorce or just for general money security. It should be recognized that while inheritances are generally protected in divorce, the second the monies are co-mingled, they become joint property. A trust is often the best way to protect an inheritance in this situation.
Another tactic is for the person to skip a generation and instead make a bequest to the grandchildren. The option works best when the funds are not significant, since the parent may be insulted by the decision to leave a bequest to their children and this could pit the child against their own child (the grandchild).
Dividing the estate among the children in unequal shares can be done so as not to completely disinherit a child, but to leave less money. This also holds the potential for creating bad feelings between family members.
The last will and testament is a very permanent document and may not be the right forum to be used to let feelings be expressed or take a stand about an unfavorable life decision by an adult child. The impact of this decision can also have long lasting effects, including lawsuits and family fighting. It is also likely to create a battle between the child and their spouse.
A conversation with an estate planning attorney, who has likely seen this situation hundreds of times in their practice, should be able to help sort out the best solution. There may be a way to avoid conflict, or at least to make sure everyone is clear from the get-go, as to what is going to happen in the future, and why.