Some Surprising Facts about Retirement

It’s crucial to have a plan for your retirement, so let’s get educated. There are some facts you might not know about retirement, like the way in which your Social Security benefit can be taxed and how to factor in travel expenses.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “5 Surprising Facts to Know About Retirement” gives us five important facts to learn about retirement.

Your Social Security May Be Taxed. Your Social Security benefit can be taxed, up to 85% of it. If your provisional income as an individual is more than $34,000 or over $44,000 as a couple, the IRS says that up to 85% of your benefit is taxable. You only have to receive $25,000 in provisional income as an individual or $32,000 as a couple for 50% of your benefit to be taxed. What’s more, there are several states that impose taxes on some or all Social Security benefits including: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

No Age Limit for Contributing to a Roth IRA. You are able to contribute earned income to a Roth IRA for the rest of your life. You also never have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a Roth. Note that after-tax dollars are contributed to a Roth and qualified distributions are tax-free.

Those 65+ Can Take a Larger Tax Deduction. You don’t have to be retired to get a slightly larger standard deduction. When you turn 65, your standard deduction as an individual goes up by $1,300 and for a couple filing jointly where both members are 65 or older, it increases by $2,600 for the 2019 tax year.

Many Don’t Include Travel Expenses. Many retirees want to travel after they stop working. However, a Merrill Lynch survey found that 66% of those 50 and older say they haven’t saved anything for a trip.

Roughly a Third of Retirees Who Live Independently Also Live by Themselves. Older adults who live outside of a nursing home or hospital are living independently, but about 33% of these adults live alone, according to a study from the Institute on Aging. The study found that the older people get, the more likely they are to live alone. Women are also twice as likely as older men to live alone. This has financial implications, considering the high cost of and likelihood of needing long-term care.

Understanding what your expenses and your income will be in retirement, are the first steps in making a comprehensive plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 11, 2019) “5 Surprising Facts to Know About Retirement”

Why Is a Power of Attorney Important?

A son who is preparing to help his mother with her legal and financial affairs asks what legal documents he needs to obtain in the article “Tips for becoming a power of attorney” in Hometown Life. He is concerned about a sibling who is estranged from the family and could cause problems in the future. Can he protect his mother and himself?

The first thing he needs to do is obtain a medical power of attorney for the mother, and a durable power of attorney. These are two separate powers of attorney that will give the son the legal right to handle both her financial affairs and her medical care.

With the documents, he will be able to speak directly to her healthcare providers, including her doctors, and to make end-of-life decisions on her behalf. An unhappy family member could indeed cause problems, especially when it comes to major decisions.

The durable power of attorney is geared for legal or financial issues, including handling the mother’s day-to-day money tasks and making decisions about her investments and assets, including the family home.

Having both of these documents, gives the son the ability to do what is necessary for his mother, while also protecting him from an uncooperative family member. However, there are more tasks to be done.

First, he needs to find out if she has an estate plan, including a will, a trust or even any other powers of attorney. He should find out if they are current, and if they still reflect her wishes.

If she has an estate plan, he’ll need to find out when it was last updated and see if it needs to be revised. If she does not, she needs to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan to distribute assets according to her wishes and create any needed trusts.

He should also collect her medical information, so he knows who her doctors are and what medications she is taking. He also needs to understand her medical insurance coverage and see if she has the protection that she needs from health care costs.

For her financial affairs, the son needs to gather up information about her accounts, including passwords and login information. The mother should add the son as a signatory to her bank accounts and brokerage houses.

He should also get the names and contact information of any financial professionals she works with. That includes financial advisors, insurance agents and CPAs. It would be wise to get the last two years of her tax returns. This could be invaluable in helping to understand her assets.

Reference: Hometown Life (Dec. 6, 2019) “Tips for becoming a power of attorney”

What Is an Advance Care Directive?

People start out with good intentions at the start of the year, and then fail to follow through.  This makes difficult situations even worse for their family. The process begins with discussions about your care wishes, explains the Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southdown in the article “Talk to your family now about advance care directives.”

That conversation should include who you would trust as a health care agent. This person would be named in the medical power of attorney, an advance directive legal document that gives that person the power to make medical and care decisions on your behalf if you are not able to.

That person needs to know, from you, what’s important to you when it comes to quality of life, or length of life.

This is a very important document, as the person has the power to make life and death decisions on your behalf.

It also covers whether you want to be an organ donor. If an unexpected accident occurred and your organs were still healthy and working, would you want to give them to someone who needs a kidney or a heart? If that would be your goal, you need to make your wishes known to your health care proxy and health care providers, as well as to your family.

A living will is also important to have in place. This is used in cases of incurable or irreversible injury, disease, or illness. It expresses your wishes for end-of life care. It gives you the ability to refuse any death-delaying treatment and allow you to die naturally.

These are family matters that should be discussed, but often are not. The topics are hard, as they are centered on our mortality, the mortality of those we love and the reality of death. However, when family members know what their loved one’s wishes are, it provides the family with a tremendous relief.

Without a medical power of attorney or living will, the family may end up fighting over what each member thinks their loved ones wanted. Without clear direction from the family and the correct legal documents, the health care provider must take steps to prolong life, even if that is not what the person wanted.

When naming a health care agent, think about someone who you trust completely. That person will have access to your medical records and be able to approve who else sees them. They may also authorize tests and treatment, decide where you will receive care, which physicians will provide care and whether to accept, withdraw or decline treatment.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney for more information about these important documents.

Reference: Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southdown (Dec. 30, 2019) “Talk to your family now about advance care directives”

Medications That Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

A recent study has found there is an entire classification of medications that can raise your risk of dementia. Doctors prescribe these drugs frequently for seniors. The patients do not have to take the medications long-term to be significantly more likely to develop dementia.

The research focused on nearly 300,000 people, age 55 and older, over a 12-year period. The scientists found an association between the drugs and dementia risk. If, indeed, these medicines cause dementia, the statistics indicate these drugs could be responsible for about 10 percent of the cases of dementia. Since so many older adults take the types of medications now associated with a higher risk of dementia, this information could impact the lives of millions of people and their loved ones.

Types of Drugs That Increase Your Risk of Dementia

The category of medications found to have an association with a higher likelihood of dementia is anticholinergic drugs. The medical community has known about a link between these substances and memory issues or confusion for quite some time. The new study took the matter a step further to exploring dementia risk.

The anticholinergic drugs with the strongest association with dementia include:

  • Antidepressants, for example, amitriptyline and paroxetine
  • Treatments for overactive bladder, using bladder antimuscarinics like tolterodine and oxybutynin
  • Anti-seizure medications for epilepsy, like carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine
  • Anti-psychotic drugs, such as olanzapine and chlorpromazine

Doctors prescribe anticholinergic medications to treat a wide range of maladies, including motion sickness, vertigo and the conditions named above.

The Dosage Required to Affect Your Dementia Risk

According to the study, you would only have to take one pill a day for three years to have a higher risk of dementia. The drugs studied can increase the likelihood of dementia by almost 50 percent at that dosage.

Drugs That Do Not Increase Your Risk of Dementia

Some types of anticholinergic medications do not appear to increase the risk of dementia. For example, the researchers found no association between dementia risk and these anticholinergics:

  • Anti-arrhythmic drugs
  • Antimuscarinic bronchodilators
  • Skeletal muscle relaxants
  • Antihistamines
  • Gastrointestinal antispasmodics

The study did not give an explanation for why some classifications of anticholinergic drugs have an association with a higher likelihood of dementia and other types do not. In response to the article that published the study results, some medical experts call for research to determine if a patient can reverse the increased risk factor by stopping the drugs.

What You Should Do If You Take Anticholinergic Drugs

There is a wide variety of increased dementia risk, depending on which type of anticholinergic medication you take. Medical experts warn you should not stop taking your medicine without talking with your doctor first. The type of drug you take might have a low association with dementia.

It can also be harmful to stop taking a medication suddenly. Drugs that prevent seizures, depression, or psychosis should never get discontinued, without medical intervention and monitoring. Work with your doctor to evaluate the risk of the specific medicine you take and consider switching to another drug that could treat your condition without as much chance of developing dementia.

Your state might have different regulations than the general law of this article. You should talk with an elder law attorney in your area.

References:

CNN. “Commonly prescribed drugs tied to nearly 50% higher dementia risk in older adults, study says.” (accessed December 19, 2019) https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/24/health/dementia-risk-drug-study/index.html

If You Plan to Retire This Year, Be Prepared

If you’re sure that you are going to leave the working world and start your retirement life in 2020, better not put in your notice at work until you’ve done your homework. The Motley Fool article “Retiring in 2020? 3 Things You Need to Know” covers three important steps.

If you were born in 1958, then this is the year you celebrate your 62nd birthday—which means you are eligible to collect Social Security. However, if you do, your benefits will be reduced as you have not yet reached your “Full Retirement Age” or FRA. People born in 1958 need to be 66 and eight months to reach that important milestone. At that point, you can collect your full benefit. Collect earlier, and your monthly benefit is reduced for the rest of your life.

Born in 1954 or earlier? Full retirement age for you is 66, if you were born between 1943 and 1954. If if you were born at the tail end of this range, then you can collect your full Social Security benefit this year. However, it still may pay to hold off on claiming benefits.

The longer you can delay tapping your Social Security benefits, the better. From the time you reach your FRA until age 70, your monthly benefit grows by about 8% each year. Few investments today have that kind of guaranteed yield. Some advisors recommend tapping retirement accounts first and delaying Social Security benefits as long as possible. It’s worth taking a closer look to see how this can be of benefit.

If you are planning to retire, but you’re not 65, you’ll need to find and pay for health insurance until you celebrate your 65th birthday. You can enroll in Medicare a few months before your 65th birthday, but if you’re 62, then you have a three-year health insurance gap. Private health insurance is extremely expensive, there’s no way around it. Before putting in that letter to HR that you’re retiring, get some real numbers on this cost. If your employer will consider having you work part-time so that you can maintain your employer-covered health insurance, it may be a good idea.

If you’re closer to age 65, then COBRA is a consideration, although it may still be expensive. Typically, COBRA allows you to retain your existing health coverage if you change jobs, or are fired, for a certain amount of time. However, you have to pay for the full cost of health coverage.

If your gap is only three months, then COBRA might make sense. However, if your gap is a year or more, then you need to be realistic about health coverage options. Pre-existing conditions and a limited marketplace for individual coverage may make this the reason you keep working until 65. You should also check the rules of going from COBRA to Medicare—they may not be the same as going from an employee plan to Medicare.

The more prepared you are for retirement, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy this new phase of your life. If these three points have made it clear that you’re not yet able to retire, understand that it is better to work a little longer to reach your eventual goal of retirement, then to find yourself struggling to pay bills and jeopardize a lifetime of savings because of unexpected expenses.

Reference: The Motley Fool (Dec. 28, 2019) “Retiring in 2020? 3 Things You Need to Know”

Why a Will Is the Foundation of an Estate Plan

An estate planning lawyer has many different tools to achieve clients’ estate planning goals. However, at the heart of any plan is the will, also known as the “last will and testament.” Even people who are young or who have modest levels of assets should have a will—one that is legally valid and up to date. For parents of young children, this is especially important, says the article “Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan” from the Sparta Independent. Why? Because in most states, a will is the only way that parents can name guardians for their children.

Having a will means that your estate will avoid being “intestate,” that is, having your assets distributed according to the laws of your state. With a will, you get to determine who is to receive your property. That includes your home, car, bank and investment accounts and any other assets, including those with sentimental value.

Without a will, your property will be distributed to your closest blood relatives, depending upon how closely related they are to you. Few individuals want to have the state making these decisions for their property. Most people would rather make these decisions for themselves.

Property can be left to anyone you choose—including a spouse, children, charities, a trust, other relatives, a college or university, or anyone you want. There are some limits imposed by law that you should know about: a spouse has certain rights to your property, and they cannot be reversed based on your will.

For parents of young children, the will is used to name a legal guardian for children. A personal guardian, who takes personal custody of the children, can be named, as well as a property guardian, who is in charge of the children’s assets. This can be the same person, but is often two different people. You may also want to ask your estate planning attorney about using trusts to fund children’s college educations.

The will is also a means of naming an executor. This is the person who acts as your legal representative after your death. This person will be in charge of carrying out all of your estate settlement tasks, so they need to be someone you trust, who is skilled with managing property and the many tasks that go into settling an estate. The executor must be approved by the probate court, before they can start taking action for you.

There are also taxes and expenses that need to be managed. Unless the will provides directions, these are determined by state law. To be sure that gifts you wanted to give to family and loved ones are not consumed by taxes, the will needs to indicate that taxes and expenses are to be paid from the residuary estate.

A will can be used to create a “testamentary trust,” which comes into existence when your will is probated. It has a trustee, beneficiaries and directions on how distributions should be made. The use of trusts is especially important, if you have young children who are not able to manage assets or property.

Note that any assets distributed through a will are subject to probate, the court-supervised process of administering and proving a will. Probate can be costly and time-consuming, and the records are available to the public, which means anyone can see them. Many people chose to distribute their assets through trusts to avoid having large assets pass through probate.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a will and the many different functions that the will plays in settling your estate. You’ll also want to explore planning for incapacity, which includes having a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Medical Directives. Estate planning attorneys also work on tax issues to minimize the taxes paid by the estate.

Reference: Sparta Independent (Dec. 19, 2019) “Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan”

Mistakes to Avoid when Planning Estates

Because estate planning has plenty of legal jargon, it can make some people think twice about planning their estates, especially people who believe that they have too little property to bother with this important task.

Comstock’s Magazine’s recent article entitled “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate” warns that without planning, even small estates under a certain dollar amount (which can pass without probate, according the probate laws in some states) may cause headaches for heirs and family members. Here are five mistakes you can avoid with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney:

Getting Bad Advice. If you want to plan an estate, start with a qualified estate planning attorney. There are plenty of other “experts” out there ready to take your money, who don’t know how to apply the law and strategies to your specific situation.

Naming Yourself as a Sole Trustee. You might think that the most trustworthy trustee is yourself, the testator. However, the estate plans can break down, if dementia and Alzheimer’s disease leave a senior susceptible to outside influences. In California, the law requires a certificate of independent review for some changes to trusts, like adding a nurse or an attorney as a beneficiary. However, this also allows family members to take advantage of the situation. It’s wise to designate a co-trustee who must sign off on any changes — like a trusted adult child, financial adviser, or licensed professional trustee, providing an extra layer of oversight.

Misplacing Assets. It’s not uncommon for some assets to be lost in a will or trust. Some assets, such as 401(k) plans, IRAs, and life insurance plans have designated beneficiaries which are outside of a last will and testament or trust document. Stocks and securities accounts may pass differently than other assets, based upon the names on the account. Sometimes people forget to change the beneficiaries on these accounts, like keeping a divorced spouse on a life insurance policy. When updating your will or trust, make certain to also update the beneficiaries of these types of assets.

Committing to a Plan Without Thinking of Others. When it comes to estate planning, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For example, for entitlement or tax reasons, it may make sense to transfer assets to beneficiaries, while the testator is still living. This might also be a terrible idea, depending on the beneficiaries’ situation and ability to handle a sum of money. He or she may have poor spending habits. Remember that estate planning is a personal process that depends on each family’s assets, needs and values. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure to consider all the angles.

Reference: Comstock’s Magazine “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate”

Key Health Document Most Americans Don’t Have but Should

You may not like the idea of contemplating your own mortality, or that of a loved one. You may procrastinate all year long about putting your final wishes in place. However, this one document is important for yourself, your loved ones and your life. You shouldn’t put it off any longer. Forbes’ recent article titled “Two-Thirds of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document” explains why.

A health care directive is a legal document that an individual will use to give specific directions for caregivers, in case of dementia or illness. It directs end of life decisions. It also gives directions for how the person wishes their body to be cared for after their death.

This document is known by several different names: living wills, durable health care powers of attorney or medical directives. However, the purpose is the same: to give guidance and direction on making medical and end-of-life decisions.

This document itself is a relatively new one. The first was created in California in 1976, and by 1992, all fifty states had similar laws. The fact that the law was accepted so fast across the country, indicates how important it is. The document provides control when a person is impaired and after their death. That is at the heart of all estate planning.

Yet just as so many Americans don’t have wills, only a third have a health care directive. That’s a surprise, since both estate planning attorneys and health care professionals regularly encourage people to have these documents in place.

A key part of a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a person who will act as the proxy to make decisions for another person, consistent with their wishes. They will also have to advocate for the person with respect to having treatment continue or shifting to pain management and palliative care. The spouse is often the first choice for this role. An adult child or other close and trusted family or friends can also serve.

The agent’s role does not end at death but continues to ensure that post-mortem wishes are carried out. The agent takes control of the person’s body, making sure that any organ donations are made, if it was the person’s wish.

Once any donation wishes are carried out, the agent also makes sure that funeral wishes are done according to the person’s wishes. Burial is an ancient tradition, but there are many different choices to be made. The health care directive can have as many details as possible, or simply state burial or cremation.

Having a health care directive in place permits an individual to state his or her wishes clearly. Talk with your estate planning attorney about creating a health care directive as part of your comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”

Money Mistakes Retirees Can Avoid

By the time retirement comes, most people have gained a certain amount of insight and wisdom.  However, this doesn’t always translate into financial savvy. The article “5 Common Money Mistakes Retirees Make” from Next Avenue aims to help retirees steer clear of mistakes that are easy to make—and just as easy to avoid.

Thinking You’re Smarter than the Market. Even professionals who buy and sell individual stocks, or the money managers who run billion-dollar funds rarely outperform the market. Don’t forget the millions of artificial intelligence programs now operating in markets world-wide. Moving in and out of individual stocks, known as an “active strategy,” is a recipe for financial risk. Here’s why:

  • Betting on an individual stock is not betting on the company’s performance, as much as it is betting it will go up more than the professionals believe it will, and betting that you know more than the supercomputers that run today’s markets.
  • Higher volatility strategies may look better than the market some years. However, even if you’ve done well for ten years, you may be up against a big upset. Do you have time to recover those losses? Not if you’re over 65.

Sticking with an All Cash Portfolio. The opposite of the person who trades stocks, is the one who keeps everything in cash, money-market mutual funds or CDs. However, health care costs are rising, at some point inflation will start to ramp up and money that doesn’t grow can’t keep up.

Putting a Little Bit Here, a Little Bit There. Diversification is the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean having multiple accounts at numerous financial institutions. Many people think they are playing it safe by keeping some money in a high-risk mutual fund, while other money is in a risk-avoiding mutual fund. The strength of diversification is in the underlying assets—stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. Having money in multiple mutual funds in different financial services accounts may mean all of your money is invested in exactly the same way. Ask your financial advisor for a look-through analysis to review underlying assets to be sure that your investments really are diversified.

Not Touching Savings. Not Even a Little Bit. Is your plan to leave money for children, or charity? Don’t be afraid to dip into your savings accounts during retirement. Many people live too frugally, afraid that they will outlive their money. However, if you have a good handle on your spending and investments, you should enjoy the money you worked hard to accumulate. There are numerous ways to make donations or bequests that can protect your money, while enjoying your retirement. Talk with an estate planning attorney about the use of charitable donations as a means of reducing taxes, or how trusts can help.

Letting Real Estate pin You in a Financial Corner. The family home is many people’s biggest asset. Selling it to finance your retirement may create many unknowns. Will the sale generate enough profit to cover your cost of living for the next few decades? You’ll need to crunch the numbers to figure out what the best strategy will be. If you can sell your home, buy something smaller and use the proceeds to enjoy your retirement, you might actually end up with more money, not less.

How do you pull your retirement finances together? Consider the risks, like long-term care costs, medical expenses, or outliving your savings. Figure out a strategy to address them. Use a simple, broad-based investment approach, and finally, figure out how much money you need to live on. Then, use that money in the best way possible, so that you are managing your costs of living and enjoying your life.

Reference: Next Avenue (November 14, 2019) “5 Common Money Mistakes Retirees Make”

How Does a Conservatorship Work?

Millennials, now in their 30s, need to begin thinking about caring for their boomer parents, as medical, financial and mental health needs come up. For lucky families, this will mean conversations with travel agents and financial advisors. For those not so fortunate, it will mean conversations with doctors, nursing home staff and, in some cases, with lawyers regarding conservatorships, says KAKE.com in the article “What is a Conservatorship and How Does It Work?”

A conservatorship is a form of legal guardianship of an adult. The conservator has legal authority over certain parts of the person’s life. It may be a “limited conservatorship,” where only specific matters are under the conservator’s control, like health or finances. The “full conservatorship” gives the conservator complete control over the person’s life, in the same way that a parent has legal control over a child.

Conservatorship is granted when the person no longer has the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf. In almost all cases, this is based on their mental capacity. While it can happen, physical incapacity rarely is acceptable for conservatorship to be awarded.

Some of the common reasons for conservatorship by way of mental incapacity, include if the person is in a coma, suffers from Alzheimer’s, dementia or severe mental illness, or has a permanent or genetic mental disability that prevents them from ever reaching legal maturity or independence.

Conservatorship is a legal proceeding, which must be granted by an officer or appointee of the court. It’s typically handled by a state probate court or family court. Hearings are usually held by a judge or a magistrate. A conservatorship may be part of estate planning. Most conservatorships require medical paperwork, but in all instances, the potential ward must have the opportunity to be heard by the decision maker and to present their case, if they wish, as to why conservatorship should not be granted. An individual also has the right to challenge the conservatorship, in court, at any time, if they disagree.

Power of Attorney may be used to accomplish some of the things that would be accomplished by a conservatorship. A POA gives a person the ability to make legally binding decisions for someone else, and the scope can be narrow or broad. The POA, however, is granted at the discretion of the person giving another person this power.

An estate planning attorney will be able to discuss all of the rights, responsibilities and fiduciary obligations of a conservatorship. Most have had experience with conservatorship and will be able to help the family and the individual make informed decisions in the best interest of the individual.

Reference: KAKE.com (December 11, 2019) “What is a Conservatorship and How Does It Work?”