When Should I Claim Social Security?

It’s kind of hard to know exactly when you should file for social security—even if you only consider age (which you shouldn’t). You can take your benefits as early as 62. However, the earlier you claim, the less you’ll get. You can delay until 70 and you’ll get 8% more for each year you wait past your full retirement age.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Social Security Timing Should Be Part of Larger Financial Plan,” notes that some people don’t have much choice and claim at 62, because they need the money. In addition, there’s the question of whether Social Security will be solvent, when it’s time for you to start collecting. There are also those who really don’t give it much thought. They’re tired of working and file before their full retirement age.

Most people like to think there’s some magical calculation that will give them their exact “break-even point,” so they don’t claim too soon or wait too late. You can find this by using calculators provided at www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators/ and www.aarp.org/tools/.

There are several factors that can greatly impact what you, as an individual, actually receive. Consider these points to help you make a smarter decision about when to file:

Health and family history. If you’re unhealthy or have a family history of some illness, you may want to retire and take your benefits as early as possible. However, if you’re healthy and/or most of your family members have had a long life, you may want to delay filing and get the maximum benefit to see you through, what could be a decades-long retirement.

Spouse. If you’re married, one of your primary concerns is what will happen to your spouse, if you die first. When one spouse dies, the lower of the two Social Security payments is eliminated. If you have a pension, based on which survivorship option you choose at retirement, he or she also could lose that income. Therefore, it’s critical to maximize the higher earners benefit when possible, especially if Social Security will be a major part of that income. If the higher earner in the family is one with a poor family history of longevity, you should plan early, if delaying is not an option and you have to claim a smaller benefit.

Taxes. The IRS measures your “provisional income” to determine whether you must pay taxes on your benefits. It’s calculated by adding your adjusted gross income, any tax-free interest you received and half of your Social Security benefits. If the sum is more than the designated threshold ($25,000 and up annually for singles, and $32,000 and up for those married filing jointly), based on your filing status, your Social Security benefits could be taxed up to 50% to 85%. If you’re receiving Social Security and withdrawing from your IRA at the same time, you may pay more in taxes. You might want to wait to claim and withdraw from your tax-deferred accounts at a lower rate.

Other assets. Before you decide to delay claiming to save on taxes or to get a higher Social Security payment in the future, be certain you have enough income to cover your current expenses without drawing too much from your retirement savings. You’ll want to leave some money there to keep growing, in case you need it later in retirement.

Your legacy. If leaving behind something for your children is a priority, you could use your Social Security income for that purpose. You could claim your benefits (which they can’t inherit) and leave more in your IRA (which they can). Or, if you are wealthy and don’t need Social Security to support your lifestyle, you could might claim your Social Security benefits and use that money to purchase life insurance.

Remember that your Social Security filing decision should not be made in a vacuum, but should be an important part of an overall financial plan.

Take your time, think it through and get some help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 15, 2019) “Social Security Timing Should Be Part of Larger Financial Plan”

Smart Women Protect Themselves with Estate Planning

The reason to have an estate plan is two-fold: to protect yourself, while you are living and to protect those you love, after you have passed. If you have an estate plan, says the Boca Newspaper in the article titled “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning,” your wishes for the distribution of your assets are more likely to be carried out, tax liabilities can be minimized and your loved ones will not be faced with an extended and expensive process of settling your estate.

Here are some action items to consider, when putting your estate plan in place:

If you have an estate plan but aren’t really sure what’s in it, it’s time to get those questions answered. Make sure that you understand everything. Don’t be intimidated by the legal language: ask questions and keep asking until you fully understand the documents.

If you have not reviewed your estate plan in three or four years, it’s time for a review. There have been new tax laws that may have changed the outcomes from your estate plan. Anytime there is a big change in the law or in your life, it’s time for a review. Triggering events include births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, purchases of a home or a business or a major change in financial status, good or bad.

If you don’t have an estate plan, stop postponing and make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, as soon as possible.

Your estate plan should include advance directives, including a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and a Living Will. You may not be capable of executing these documents during a health emergency and having them in place will make it possible for those you name to make decisions on your behalf.

Anyone who is over the age of 18, needs to have these same documents in place. Parents do not have a legal right to make any decisions or obtain medical information about their children, once they celebrate their 18th birthday.

Make a list of your trusted professionals: your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, your insurance agent and anyone else your executor will need to contact.

Tell your family where this list is located. Don’t ask them to go on a scavenger hunt, while they are grieving your loss.

List all your assets. You should include where they are located, account numbers, contact phone numbers, etc. Tell your family that this list exists and where to find it.

If you have assets with primary beneficiaries, make sure that they also have contingent beneficiaries.

If you have assets from a first marriage and remarry, be smart and have a prenuptial agreement drafted that aligns with a new estate plan.

If you have children and assets from a first marriage and want to make sure that they continue to be your heirs, work with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to make this happen. You may need a will, or you may simply need to have your children become the primary beneficiaries on certain accounts. A trust may be needed. Your estate planning attorney will know the best strategy for your situation.

If you own a business, make sure you have a plan for what will happen to that business, if you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Who will run the business, who will own it and should it be sold? Consider what you’d like to happen for long-standing employees and clients.

Smart women make plans for themselves and their loved ones. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate through an estate plan. Remember that an estate plan needs upkeep on a regular basis.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (March 4, 2019) “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning”

The Big Eight: Don’t Risk Your Retirement with These Mistakes

During our working lives, we have a cash flow called a “paycheck” that we rely on. A similar cash flow occurs when we retire and start the process of “deaccumulation” or creating income streams from sources that include our retirement funds. However, generating enough income to enjoy a comfortable retirement requires managing that cash flow successfully, says CNBC.com in the article “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

Preparing for the risk of a bear market. If markets take a nosedive the year you retire and you stick with your plan to withdraw four percent from your portfolio, your plan is no longer sustainable. Better: have an emergency fund in place, so you don’t have to tap investment accounts until the market recovers.

Investing with inflation in mind. We have been in such a low inflation environment for so long, that many have forgotten how devastating this can be to retirement portfolios. You may want to have some of your money in the market, so you can continue to get rates above any inflation. If inflation runs about 3.5% annually, a moderate portfolio returning 6% or 7% keeps up with inflation, even after withdrawals.

Be ready for longevity. Worries about outliving retirement savings are due to a longer overall life expectancy. There’s a good chance that many people alive today, will make it to 95. One strong tactic is to delay taking Social Security benefits until age 70, to maximize the monthly benefit.

What about interest rates and inadequate returns on safer investments? This is a tricky one, requiring a balance between each person’s comfort zone and the need to grow investments. Current fixed-income returns lag behind historical performance. Some experts recommend that their clients look into high-dividend stocks, as an alternative to bond yields.

Prepare NOT to dump stocks in a temporary downturn. Without strong stomachs and wise counsel, individual investors have a long history of dumping stocks when markets turn down, amplifying losses. We are emotional about our money, which is the worst way to invest. Try working with a financial advisor to remove the emotion from your investments.

Don’t withdraw too much too soon. It looks like a lot of money, doesn’t it? However, even 4% may be too much to take out from your investments and retirement accounts. It all depends upon what other sources of income you have and how markets perform. Be careful, unless going back to work in your seventies is on your bucket list.

Prepare for cognitive decline. This is way harder to conceive of than inflationary risks, but it becomes a real risk as we age. Even a modest level of age-related cognitive impairment, can make managing investments a challenge. Have a discussion with family members, your estate planning attorney and a financial advisor about deciding who will manage your investments, when you are no longer able.

Are you ready for health care costs? If at all possible, wait until 65 to retire, so you will be eligible for Medicare. Even when you have this coverage in place, there may still be considerable expenses that are not covered by Medicare. If you don’t have long-term care insurance, get it as soon as possible.

Reference: CNBC.com (March 5, 2019) “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

Why Would a Guy Like Me Need a Will?
Wills do not have to be complicated, but they should be done correctly.

Why Would a Guy Like Me Need a Will?

Wills don’t have to be complicated, but it’s best to work with a seasoned estate planning attorney. Wills must be dated, signed, witnessed and notarized. If you don’t have a will, it delays the process considerably and may delay payment of the deceased’s assets to his or her heirs. To eliminate some of the mystery from the will creation process, here are several items that all wills need to have to be legally binding. The Daily Advertiser’s recent article, “Where there is a will, there is a plan in place“ provides some definitions for key concepts and reminders for the estate planning process.

Testator. The creator of the will must provide his name, address and intention to create a distribution process for his assets. He must also state that the will being made is his last will and testament, revoking any other prior wills. Revocation of prior wills is important to show that the decisions made in the current will are final and the recent date on the will evidences how current the will is and to know which will (if there are others) supersedes all others.

Debts. The will must explain how any outstanding bills will be paid. These include the funeral costs, medical costs, taxes, court costs for settling the estate, and any other expenses the deceased may have at his death.

Heirs. A will should detail who gets what. Specific bequests should state a full description of the physical asset or, if money is to be distributed, then a percentage of the estate’s value or specific amount should be listed. Most testators don’t know the effect that death taxes or final expenses will have on an estate. Therefore, percentages work better, because it’s a percentage of what is available to be distributed.

Executor. This is the person who will take the will through the probate process, account for the decedent’s personal property, pay taxes and debts, and distribute the assets to the heirs, according to the will. Choosing an executor is an important decision. He or she should be trustworthy and knowledgeable about financial matters.

Guardian. A guardian needs to be named to care for minor children. This person should mirror the parents’ values and ideas as to the care and raising of the minor children. A relative or parent shouldn’t be selected just based on kinship. If a guardian isn’t selected, the court will choose one, and that person may not be capable of handling young children over the long-term.

Funeral Arrangements. You may not want a big expensive funeral, but without specific instructions, your funeral arrangements might be overly grand and out of character with your personality. Just add a paragraph detailing your wishes.

Reference: Daily Advertiser (March 10, 2019) “Where there is a will, there is a plan in place“

Are You Retiring in 2019? Here’s What You Need to Know

There are more than few steps you’ll need to complete, before packing up your desk, cubicle or locker and saying good bye to your work family. Even if your 401(k) and IRA is in order, there are things you need to during the last few months of working, says Next Avenue in the article “Tips to Prepare for Retiring This Spring or Summer.”

There’s detailed planning, organization of documents, and additional financial details that need attending. You may also want to start creating your “bucket list” — a list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time to do while you were working. Getting all of this in order, will speed your waiting time and prepare you better, when the last day of your working life does finally arrive.

Whether you are three months or six months from retirement, here are some tips for your to-do list:

Social Security. Figure out when the best time for you to take Social Security benefits will be. Can you delay it until age 70? That’s when you’ll get the biggest payout. The earlier you start collecting benefits, the smaller your monthly check will be. Take it early, and you are locked in to this lower rate.

Health Care. Figuring out how to manage health care costs, is the single biggest worry of retirement for most Americans. An injury that puts you in a nursing care facility can make a huge dent in your retirement funds, even if it’s just for a short while. This is the time of your life, when focusing on your health is most important, even if you’ve been careless in earlier decades. Evaluate your health status and get check ups with your regular physician and your dentist.

Investments. Check with your HR department about when you’ll need to roll over your 401(k) plan. If you transfer the funds into a low-cost IRA, you may save in fees. Work with your financial advisor to determine what your withdrawal rate will be. You may need to reevaluate some of your retirement goals or consider working part time during retirement for a few years.

Medicare. If you’re almost 65, you can start enrolling in Medicare now. The government lets you start the process within three months of your 65th birthday. Start this process, so you are covered, once you are not on the company’s health care plan.

Expectations. The first six months to a year of retirement can be both wonderful and terrible. While enjoying freedom, many people find it hard to withdraw money from the same accounts they spent so many years building. What if they don’t have enough for a long life? Take a realistic look at your lifestyle, budget, and spending habits, before you retire to make sure you are financially ready to do so. If you think you might work part time, look into the positions that are available in your area and what they pay.

Lifestyle. Often, we are so busy planning for the financial side of retirement, that we forget to plan for the “soft” side: what will you do in retirement? Will you volunteer with an organization that has meaning for you? Write the novel you’ve started on a dozen times? Spend more time with your grandchildren? Travel? What will make you feel like your time is being well-spent, and what will make you fulfilled?

Don’t forget the legal plan. Retired or not, you need to have a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney to protect your family, whether you are preparing for retirement or in the middle of your career. Speak with an estate planning attorney to ensure that these important documents are in place.

Reference: Next Avenue (March 6, 2019) “Tips to Prepare for Retiring This Spring or Summer”

Plan Before a Health Crisis Strikes

A woman wakes up to hear her husband gasping for breath, unresponsive and in full cardiac arrest. He was only 55, he biked 25 to 50 miles every day, he ate right and was one of the healthiest people she knew. Yet, he was having a heart attack. He did not have a health care directive in place, and she did not know what his wishes were in the case of a health crisis.

The story, as related in “START WITH A PLAN (not a heart attack)” from OakPark.com, is not as unusual as one would think. What does make it unusual, was that both of these individuals are attorneys. They had never had an estate plan created or drafted documents.

As the woman sat by his hospital bed in the critical care unit after his surgery, she started thinking about the practical realities. If he remained unconscious for some time, how would she access his individual finances, his paycheck or pay the monthly bills? She would need to hire an attorney and seek guardianship from the court to handle his financial affairs. If he died, she’d have to hire an attorney and open a probate case.

Without a will in place, her husband’s estate would be deemed intestate, and the laws of the state, in her case, Illinois, would be applied to distribute his property. Half of his property would be distributed to his children and the other half to her.

That might mean she would have to borrow money from her own children to pay bills and cover their college tuition.

Her husband responded well to the surgery, but at one point he needed to be transferred to another hospital. As they travelled by ambulance to another hospital, a terrible thought occurred to her: what if the ambulance were in an accident and they were both killed? Who would rear their children? How long would it take to settle the estate, with no will?

Thankfully, the ambulance arrived safely at the hospital, her husband recovered from his heart attack and the first thing they attended to when he recovered was their estate plan.

It’s a dramatic story, but a telling one: everyone, no matter how healthy, needs to have an estate plan in place. That means a will, power of attorney, healthcare proxy, HIPAA release form and any other planning tools that each family’s situation may need.

Make an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney to put your plan in place. Don’t wait until you have time, because you never know when you may run out of time or when a health crisis may strike.

Reference: Oak Park.com (Feb. 27, 2019) “START WITH A PLAN (not a heart attack)”

Photo Credit: 123rf.com-42402908

Digital Assets in Estate Planning: The Brave New World of Estate Planning

Cryptocurrency is almost mainstream, despite its complexity, says Insurance News Net in the article “Westchester County Elder Law Attorney… Sheds Light on Cryptocurrency in Estate Planning.” The IRS has made it clear that as far as federal taxation is concerned, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are to be treated as property. However, since cryptocurrency is not tangible property, how is it incorporated into an estate plan?

For starters, recordkeeping is extremely important for any cryptocurrency owner. Records need to be kept that are current and income taxes need to be paid on the transactions every single year. When the owner dies, the beneficiaries will receive the cryptocurrency at its current fair market value. The cost basis is stepped up to the date of death value and it is includable in the decedent’s taxable estate.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The name of the Bitcoin or cryptocurrency owner is not publicly recorded. Instead, ownership is tied to a specific Bitcoin address that can only be accessed by the person who holds two “digital keys.” These are not physical keys, but codes. One “key” is public, and the other key is private. The private key is the secret number that allows the spending of the cryptocurrency.

Both of these digital keys are stored in a “digital wallet,” which, just like the keys, is not an actual wallet but a system used to secure payment information and passwords.

One of the dangers of cryptocurrency is that unlike other financial assets, if that private key is somehow lost, there is no way that anyone can access the digital currency.

It should also be noted that cryptocurrency can be included as an asset in a last will and testament as well as a revocable or irrevocable trust. However, cryptocurrency is highly volatile, and its value may swing wildly.

The executor or trustee of an estate or trust must take steps to ensure that the estate or the trust is in compliance with the Prudent Investor Act. The holdings in the trust or the estate will need to be diversified with other types of investments. If this is not followed, even ownership of a small amount of cryptocurrency may lead to many issues with how the estate or trust was being managed.

Digital currency and digital assets are two relatively new areas for estate planning, although both have been in common usage for many years. As more boomers are dying, planning for these intangible assets has become more commonplace. Failing to have a plan or providing incorrect directions for how to handle digital assets, is becoming problematic for many individuals.

Speak with an estate planning attorney who has experience in digital and non-traditional assets to learn how to protect your heirs and your estate from losses associated with these new types of assets.

Reference: Insurance News Net (Feb. 25, 2019) “Westchester County Elder Law Attorney… Sheds Light on Cryptocurrency in Estate Planning”

Iconic Designer Leaves a Fortune for Beloved Cat

The Burmese cat owned by Lagerfeld stands to inherit a sizable amount of the designer’s fortune, estimated at some $300 million, according to a report from CBS News titled “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet.” The cat, named Choupette, was written into his will in 2015, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Before Lagerfeld died on Feb. 19, the cat already had an income of her own, appearing in ads for cars and beauty products. She has nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram and is an ambassador for Opel, the French car maker. She is also the subject of two books. Choupette has had her own line of makeup for the beauty brand Shu Uemura.

Lagerfeld was a German citizen, but he and Choupette were residents of France, where the law prohibits pets from inheriting their human owner’s wealth. German law does permit a person’s wealth to be transferred to an animal.

There are three approaches that Lagerfeld might have taken to ensure that his beloved cat would be assured of her lifestyle, after his passing. One would have been to create a foundation, whose sole mission is to care for the cat, with a director who would receive funds for Choupette’s care.

A second way would be to donate money to an existing nonprofit and stipulate that funds be used for the cat’s care. A third would be to leave the cat to a trusted individual, with a gift of cash that was earmarked for her care.

It is not uncommon today for people to have pet trusts created to ensure that their furry friends enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, after their humans have passed. Estate laws in the U.S. vary by state, but they always require that a human have oversight over any funds or assets entrusted to a pet. Courts also have a say in this. There are reasonable limits on what a person can leave to a pet. A court may not honor a will that seeks to leave millions for the care of a pet. However, it has happened before.

Real estate tycoon Leona Hemsley left many people stunned, when she left $12 million for her Maltese dog. In 1991, German countess Carlotta Liebenstein left her dog Gunther IV a princely sum of $80 million. To date, Gunther remains number one on the “Top Richest Pets” list.

For pets who are beloved parts of regular families and not millionaires in their own right, an estate planning attorney will be able to help you plan for your pet’s well-being, if it should outlive you. Some states permit the use of a pet trust, and a no-kill shelter may have a plan for lifetime care for your pet. You’ll need to make a plan for a secure place for your pet and provide necessary funds for food, shelter, and medical care.

Reference: CBS News (Feb. 21, 2019) “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet”

Challenges for Women Facing Retirement are Especially Daunting

Add to the challenges facing women in retirement are the rising costs of health care, as well as other deeply-rooted economic factors, says Next Avenue in the article “What Could Help Women Facing financial Challenges for Retirement.” This issue is top-of-mind for many, with a focus from the Senate and the EBRI pushing this public policy matter into the spotlight.

The barriers for women to accumulate wealth are very real. At the Senate hearing, Linda Stone, a WISER member (Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement) presented some hard facts: there are 5.7 million more women than men at age 65, and of those who are over 85, 67% are female. One out of two women alive right now, will live until age 90. However, many people over age 85, and especially women, end up living in poverty or in near poverty, even if they were never poor throughout their lives.

The longer lifespan of most women comes with a resulting need for more income. Women traditionally have nine years with zero earnings, usually because they are rearing children or caring for elderly parents. Women’s careers also average 29 years compared to 39 years for men.

The gender mortality difference and the tendency for women to marry older men, leads to them outliving their partners and be more likely to live alone. This increases their chances of descending into poverty. Couples’ finances are also often exhausted by caring for the husband’s medical needs.

How can women be helped to achieve financial security in retirement?

  • Study ways to offer retirement protection to women, who spend significant time as caregivers, including considering providing Social Security credits for those years.
  • Encourage employers to offer retirement plans.
  • Allow part-time and temporary workers to participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

A briefing presented by the EBRI looked into the reasons why women tend to save less than men. The program referenced a blog post from Kimberly Blanton, of the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, which noted that “if the difference between paychecks for men and women is a gap, then the difference in wealth can be described as a chasm.”

The median net worth for women age 45 to 65 adjusted for inflation has actually declined in recent years. Older women of color have seen the largest decline in their net worth. The study was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work and the nonprofit Asset Funders Network.

The takeaway: there is a strong need for more public policy initiatives to help women save more for retirement.

Reference: Next Avenue (February 12, 2019) “What Could Help Women Facing financial Challenges for Retirement”