myths about retirement

Contributing to an IRA After Retirement

One of our clients had a question a while back: Can a retired person keep contributing to an IRA? Take a moment and learn about the logistics of contributing to an IRA after retirement.

Can a retired person keep contributing to an IRA?

There are many types of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), but they all exist to help you save for retirement. Once you’ve reached retirement though, can you keep contributing to your IRA?

Yes and no. If you are earning a salary based on work you are doing, then you can contribute to an IRA account. This is because you generated earned income. Earned income includes wages earned by working for yourself or wages earned by working for someone else. The IRS describes earned income as earnings from self-employment, wages, salaries, tips, union strike benefits, and long-term disability benefits that are received prior to retirement. The amount of earned income you create affects the maximum amount you can contribute to your IRA account. You cannot contribute more than your earned income if your earned income is less than your maximum contribution. The maximum you can contribute is $5,500 if you are under 50 and $6,500 if you are over 50.

Not everyone works for themselves or others to generate income. You may generate unearned income through interest, dividends, investment income, pensions, and social security. Unearned income may not contribute to an IRA account. While you may financially depend on unearned income, you cannot contribute to an IRA in a year when you have only that type of income.

There are exceptions to these rules. If you are married, you can take advantage of a Spousal IRA. This IRA account aims to help save for retirement by allowing a working spouse to contribute to a nonworking spouse’s IRA account. As long as the working spouse has a high enough earned income, he or she can contribute equal maximums into both IRA accounts.

All in all, working for wages allows you to generate earned income and contribute to an IRA account. If your income comes from alternative sources other than work, it generally cannot be used to contribute to an IRA account.

Read more about IRAs using these links:

6 IRA Planning Tips

7 IRA Planning Traps to Consider

Other IRA articles here…

5 Problems Caused by VA Financial Planners

There are financial planners out there who hold themselves as VA planners offering “free” VA benefit advice, but their “free” advice often comes with a hidden price.

Non-attorney Planning Tactics Can Backfire

David and Chris were in Atlanta a few months ago at the Academy of VA Pension Planners. It’s one of many professional organizations that David belongs to in order to make sure the firm serves our clients better than anyone else. The AVAPP solely focuses on helping Veterans, and their families, get the benefits they earned in service to their country.

Did you know that only 28% of Veterans who qualify use their benefits? And as one of the only law firms in Central Illinois to be accredited by the VA, we want to make sure that everyone who has served our country gets to age with dignity and receive the best care possible.

There are some financial planners who hold themselves out as VA planners offering “free” VA benefit advice. Some are very knowledgeable, but there are some problems with the “free” advice that you need to watch out for.

5 Tactics that Non-attorney VA Planners Use

1. Transferring the house to the kids

Maximizing VA benefits sometimes means rearranging assets. One mistake we have seen is transferring a house to the children. While this will help work for VA benefits (allowing the house to be sold without messing up benefits), there are problems with this strategy. One problem is when the house is later sold, the kids will pay capital gains taxes that could have been avoided. By putting the house in a Veterans Asset Protection Trust, we could get the VA benefits but also avoid the capital gains tax later.

2. IRAs and taxes

Because the VA has asset limits, sometimes IRA accounts must be moved to qualify for benefits. Without proper tax planning, some families incur a huge tax bill that could have been avoided. Instead, working with an experienced attorney can help you consider all the planning options and the tax impact.

3. Annuities with long surrender charges

Often, the “free” VA advice comes with a recommendation to tie up assets in an annuity with long surrender periods. Is anything really “free” in this world? Unfortunately, some families do not realize that the VA financial planner they are relying on is ultimately trying to sell them costly and expensive annuities that tie up their assets far into the future. (This is how the financial planner makes his living.) Instead, a Veterans Asset Protection Trust can help you protect and arrange assets, while allowing your family free access to the investments held in the trust. You need to consider all of the legal and financial tools to see which is best. Unfortunately, non-attorneys often ignore legal tools, such as trusts, even though they may be the best option to help qualify for benefits.

4. Transferring assets to children

Some non-attorney planners transfer assets to the kids so the client can get VA benefits. So, what is the problem with that? If the client needs more care down the road, the funds may have already been spent by the kids. Plus, the gift could keep them from qualifying for Medicaid. (And 70% of nursing home residents use Medicaid to pay for their care.) Transfers of assets must consider both the current goal (VA benefits) and future needs (such as Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing care). By working with an attorney experienced in both VA and Medicaid planning, you can have a flexible plan that considers future health needs.

5. Messing up wishes

Another strategy that non-attorney planners use that can backfire is to transfer the parent’s money to one child in order to qualify for VA benefits. However, that strategy then changes the entire estate plan because one child legally ends up with all the money (unless they voluntarily share it with their siblings, and sadly, we’re experienced enough to know this happens much less often than you think). Instead, once again, the Veterans Asset Protection Trust is a great tool to preserve your wishes after death, but still help you qualify for VA benefits now.

Most of these issues (and more) are discussed in our Elder Law Packet, on pages 7-9: 12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property to Your Kids Now.

To request your free Elder Law Packet, call 217-726-9200. And, as always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to give our office a call. We will be more than happy to talk with you.

6 IRA Planning Tips

Here are 6 IRA planning tips you should consider for your family:

1. Help your grandkids with their own IRA

Anyone who starts an IRA early, in their teens or 20’s, will see it grow to huge amounts by retirement. But young people often don’t have the funds to put into an IRA in the early years. The solution? If you have the means, help your grandchildren put money into an IRA as soon as they start working their first part-time job, or as soon as you can. What do I mean? If you have the means, give each grandchild with a job (they have to have income to do an IRA) $5500 with the stipulation that they put it into a Roth IRA. Even if you only do this for a few years, it will make a HUGE difference in their retirement later.

2. Use your IRA for charitable giving

Do you plan to leave money to a charity or church at your death? If so, use IRA funds to do it. If you leave the IRA to charity, there will be no tax on the IRA because the charity is tax exempt. Uncle Sam will be out of luck. How do you do this? Name a charity on your IRA beneficiary designation or consider using a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln (to direct funds to the charities you choose).

3. Explode your wealth with those unwanted RMD’s

Once you are age 70, you have to take out a minimum amount (RMD) from your traditional IRA each year. What do you plan to do with that money? Do you need it? If not, what about using it to create more wealth for your family? One option is to buy a life insurance policy using your RMD every year to pay the premium. The benefits? More money at death, plus the life insurance death benefit is income tax free! (Unlike the IRA that has a built-in tax bill for your family.)

4. Again, consider your grandchildren (and children)

Why not leave some (or all) of your IRA to your grandchildren? Worried about skipping your children? What about getting life insurance to make up the difference? The result? Save income taxes, bless the grandkids, and leave your kids tax-free life insurance funds (instead of an IRA with a tax bill).

5. Consider a trust for your IRA

Want to avoid your kids or grandkids IRA “blowout” (taking IRA quickly and incurring a lot of tax)? Leave the IRA instead to a trust, so the trustee will make sure the “stretch out” happens. Read more about “blowouts” and “stretch outs” in last week’s blog post.

6. Convert to a Roth IRA

If your family will stretch the IRA, the biggest bang is to use the Roth IRA. Convert the IRA now to a Roth, avoid the RMD’s during your life, then give your family tax free distributions for years or decades. Poor Uncle Sam will be left out! (But remember to consult your tax advisor regarding the timing and amount of those Roth conversions.)

IRA

7 IRA Planning Traps to Consider

When it comes to your IRA, there are some planning traps you need to look out for…

Here are 7 IRA planning problems to consider:

1. Incorrect beneficiaries – This is very basic, but often overlooked. Confirm that the beneficiaries are set up correctly. If you lack a beneficiary, then the account will go to your estate, limiting your “stretch” to as little as 5 years. Have you named the wrong beneficiaries or are you missing someone (like a new grandchild)? If you have named a trust as the beneficiary, was that done as part of a detailed plan with an attorney experienced in IRA trust planning?

2. A “blow out” instead of a “stretch out” – Remember, a big goal of IRA planning is to pay the taxes later by doing a “stretch” IRA. This means that we want your child to be able to take out the IRA over their life expectancy. But many kids don’t do it. In fact, the vast majority of kids take out the entire IRA within a couple years of death. Why do kids take it out (and pay the taxes now)? Here are a few reasons:

  • They want to spend it!
  • They don’t know the benefit of the stretch.
  • They wrongly think they can roll it into their own IRA (so they take it all out, triggering tax, then it’s too late to put back in).
  • They cash out a Roth IRA because it’s tax free, not realizing they are missing out on years of tax free growth in the future.

3. Not getting good advice – Many families have cashed out retirement funds or annuities and are later surprised by a big tax bill. Good advice from your attorney and tax advisor after death will help the family understand the options.

4. Not considering younger generations – Do you like your grandkids? Well, what about saving tax while helping out your grandchildren? The younger the beneficiary of your IRA, the longer the stretch and the bigger the tax savings. You might consider giving your IRA’s (or part of them) to your grandchildren.

5. Naming grandchildren as direct beneficiaries – What if someone took our advice about younger generations and decided to name grandchildren as IRA beneficiaries? That’s good, right? Well, yes, but there could also be problems. If you name a minor child as beneficiary, the IRA company may require a court guardianship before the grandchild can benefit from the IRA. Then, at age 18, the grandchild gets control of the IRA, regardless of the remaining amount. (And we all know what happens when 18-year-olds inherit large sums of money.)

6. Not considering a trust to hold IRA funds after death – Many people incorrectly think that leaving an IRA to a trust will trigger tax on the entire IRA. But this is not true. IRA funds and trusts require special expertise and planning, but a properly drafted trust can hold an IRA and still benefit from the stretch out. And using a trust can help avoid the “blow out” mentioned in #2, while protecting the money from young heirs, future divorces or other unforeseen risks.

7. Not converting to a Roth IRA – Converting to a Roth IRA means you pay taxes now and then future growth of the IRA is tax free. If you don’t need the money, and you can afford to pay the taxes, converting to a Roth may give your family more money later. Let’s ay you convert to a Roth at age 70. A Roth IRA has no RMD (required minimum distributions) so if you live to be age 95, you will have had 25 years of tax free growth that you can leave to the family. And the kids (or grankids) can have another 30-50+ years of tax-free growth if they “stretch” the Roth IRA. Converting to a Roth IRA is a great tool, but please consult your tax advisor first. Make you know how much tax will be owed before you move funds to the Roth IRA.

Are you ready to find out what you should do when it comes to your IRA? And not just what to avoid? Read our article, 7 Questions to Ask in Order to Do Effective IRA Planning.

The Lifecycle of an IRA: 4 Stages

There are 4 stages in the lifecycle of your IRA, and each one gets progressively more complicated.

The last stage is “What happens when I’m gone?”

Here is what you need to know about each stage leading up to the last:

Before age 59 1/2, you are usually paying into the IRA. But if you try to take anything out, you pay the taxes plus a 10% penalty.

After 59 1/2, you can take funds from your IRA if you like, and pay the tax. But you can also just leave it in and let it grow

After you turn 70 1/2, then you must start taking funds out. How much you take out is based on your age. The term for this is the “Required Minimum Distribution” or RMD. This requires that you take out a certain percentage every year, based on your age. The IRS has a table that says how much you have to take out. To calculate your first RMD, take the value of your IRA at the beginning of the year and divide by 27.4. The second year you divide by 26.5 and so on, based on the table. The good news is that even at age 100, the IRS table still estimates that you have over 6 years to live!

So, what’s the next stage of your IRA?

After you die. At that point, the IRA will take one of two forms:

1) If you leave it to your spouse, then the spouse can just take it and add it to their IRA.

2) If you leave it to your kids or others, then they can’t put it in their IRA. Instead, they will keep it separate as an inherited IRA. At that point, they are required to begin taking those minimum distributions (RMD’s) based on their life expectancy. It doesn’t matter what age your child is, they have to begin taking money out annually after your death. For instance, if you leave your IRA to a child who is 47-years-old, then she has to take out at least 1/37th of the IRA the first year, 1/36th the next year, 1/35th the next, and so on.

With IRA planning, the key is how we handle this after-death stage. There are quite a few planning tricks that can help, plus plenty of traps for the unwary. We will address some of those traps in next week’s post.

IRAs: The Best Time to Pay Your Taxes

“When is the second best time to pay your taxes?”

Many of our clients have retirement accounts, such as an IRA, 401(k) or a 403(b). These accounts take careful planning. Why? Because the accounts typically have never been taxed, and how you plan for them will determine how and when your family will have to pay the taxes on them. That planning often involves the SECOND BEST time to pay taxes.

You may be wondering at this point, “when is THE BEST time to pay your taxes?” Well that would be NEVER, right? If you can avoid taxes altogether, that would be great. But if you can’t avoid it altogether, then the next best time is…

LATER. Not today, but at some later date. Maybe in a few months, or a few years, or a few decades. This is one situation where it pays to procrastinate because the money continues to grow while you wait. (And in many cases you’re waiting years or decades.) So, the longer we put off paying the tax, the better off we are. On the other hand, if your family has to pay the tax immediately after your death, that is the worst case scenario. Good planning will help your family avoid that worst case scenario. Good planning will help your family avoid that worst case scenario and pay the IRA taxes LATER instead of immediately.

To read more about IRAs, click here.

 

IRA

7 Questions to Ask In Order to Do Effective IRA Planning

IRA planning can be tricky. In order to make sure you plan as best as you can, you should discuss the following questions with your attorney and other advisors:

1. Will you need the IRA funds during your life? If not, you may want to convert to a Roth or use the RMD’s to purchase life insurance to grow the wealth going to your family.

2. Will your heirs need it shortly after your death? If so, then the stretch out is not relevant.

3. Are you doing any charitable giving? If so, use the IRA to do it, if possible. That way the contribution is tax free.

4. Do you want to protect what you are leaving to family from their future divorces, lawsuits, creditors, poor judgment, wild spending, etc.? If so, you need protective trusts for each of your heirs. An IRA can go to a properly set up trust and still get the “stretch out”.

5. Are you facing estate tax at your death? If so, you need careful planning to avoid a double tax. An IRA subject to both estate tax and income tax can sometimes lose 75% or more to taxes!

6. Are you in a 2nd marriage? His kids and her kids? If so, be careful leaving your IRA to your spouse. You want to balance out your wishes for your kids with your desire to provide for your spouse. You can’t assume you can leave the IRA to your spouse who will later leave it to your kids. First, it may be spent and gone. Second, your spouse has every legal right to change the beneficiary after your death (to his/her own children).

7. Is your IRA (or other tax deferred retirement plan) a large percentage of your total estate? If so, then even more is at risk. You need careful planning, and it’s vitally important you consult with a professional.

Effective IRA planning is very important in effective estate planning. Give us a call today at 217-726-9200 if you have any questions, or check out one of our upcoming workshops to find out more about effective planning.

bad heir day

A Bad Heir Day: When Beneficiary Designations Trump Your Will

Download our Beneficiary Designations Form Now

Many people incorrectly assume that all their assets will be distributed through their will. Unfortunately, this is a big misconception. A good example of this is retirement savings, such as an IRA or 401(k). These accounts are passed on to the person or persons who were designated on the form when the account was started. Many people don’t give much thought to these forms, especially after they first fill them out, but that can cause huge problems down the road. (Read about how such a mistake cost the adult children of Leonard Smith $400,000.)

Just recently, here at Edwards Group, we had this sort of situation arise as well. A client had an old 401(k) from a previous job in which his parents were named as beneficiaries. Unfortunately, they had passed away so the 401(k) had no beneficiaries listed. When the client died, we had to go through the expensive process of probate court to get the 401(k) into the hands of the right people.

Improper beneficiary designations can also jeopardize nursing home care if Medicaid is paying for that care. Recently we had a case where the spouse of someone in nursing care died leaving money to the disabled spouse instead of their adult children. This large amount of money is now jeopardizing the surviving spouse’s benefits.

I cannot emphasize enough how important these beneficiary designations are! It is not enough to just fill out the form once and then leave them be. It is vitally important that you check these designations yearly as a part of the regular upkeep of your plan. (Download our Beneficiary Designations form here.)

So, what types of assets with beneficiary designations trump a Will?

  • Life insurance polices
  • Annuities
  • Retirement accounts such as 401 (k)s and IRAs
  • Bank accounts with a payable on death provision
  • Investment accounts with a transfer on death provision

And what kind of life changes should trigger a review of beneficiary designations? After the following life changes, you need to double check who you put on your beneficiary designation forms:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Births
  • Deaths
  • Job changes, including retirement
  • Long-term care needs of one spouse
  • Disability of a child or grandchild

Now, here’s what to do to make sure this doesn’t make a mess for you or your family:

Make a list of all retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities and investment accounts. To the right of those specific assets, write who the beneficiary is and the date you last designated them. Review this list once a year (like on April 15). Or join the Dynasty program where we help you keep up with all of this. We’ve also included a PDF you can download to help make the process easier.

This whole issue highlights why Laura and Liis are so important to the clients at Edwards Group. Many of you may wonder why we need two Asset Coordinators, but it is a big job and it is a critically important job. One of the biggest mistakes people (and even other attorneys) make is not properly handling assets within an estate plan. You cannot have an effective plan if the assets have not been properly titled, designated and coordinated.

As always, if you have any questions about beneficiary designations or any other estate planning or elder law issues, please call us at 217-726-9200. We will be happy to speak with you and answer any questions we can.

Save Your Family Extra Anguish After You Die: Prepare a Will

Tarina, our Client Coordinator, hears it all the time, “I wish I hadn’t put off planning for so long. I just feel so much better now that we have a plan in place.”

Do you want to make things easier on your family?  Or more difficult?  Good planning will spare your family stress, conflict, and expense later.  I will never forget this article from Today.com by reporter Sharon Epperson where she talked about her father passing away and what his planning meant for her and her sisters, “By making some important decisions while living, my father helped to lessen the overwhelming stress of coping with [his] sudden loss.”

Sadly, loved ones left behind bear the burden of lack of planning.

So, what happens when you die without an effective plan or even a will?

In the US courts, if someone dies without a will it is called intestate, which basically means the state will decide what to do with any assets. There will be a lot of paperwork, court appearances, etc.

One of the most difficult things is making a list of all assets and debts. Since these types of things are not typically discussed freely, this can be a real headache for your loved ones left behind. During a time of grief they have to play detective trying to hunt down what you may own or owe.

There are also many assets that aren’t determined by a will. For these type of assets your loved ones will have to gather the necessary paperwork to prove whom the beneficiary or new owner is. Assets that aren’t passed down by will are:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Jointly owned assets, such as real estate or bank accounts
  • Property held in a living trust
  • Funds in IRAs, 401(k)s, or other retirement accounts
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Residential real estate with a “Transfer on Death Instrument” recorded with the county

We know there are a lot of reasons people don’t plan. Tarina says a lot people admit (after planning) that they were really intimidated by the process or didn’t feel they knew Dave well enough, but none of them regret finally taking the leap and planning. At Edwards Group we’ve worked really hard to make the process as painless and effective as possible. We also offer a money-back guarantee. Now, what attorney do you know of who does that?

If you’re ready to stop gambling on what will transpire if the unthinkable happens, here are the next steps to take:

1) Our free, no pressure workshops are a great way to learn more about the planning needs your family may have. They are also a great way to get to know our firm better.

2) If, after attending a workshop, you would like to take the next step, you will receive $200 off your initial meeting fee, and you can read more about that process here.

3) Not ready to talk to a person yet? We have put a lot of our time into developing a website that contains helpful information about all aspects of planning. You’ll find hundreds of articles about estate planning, trust, Veterans benefits, Medicaid and Medicare on our website. Feel free to use the search button to quickly get to what you need.

No matter what, I hope that you will take the time to learn about ways to protect your family and your assets. The other side of our practice involves helping people who didn’t plan properly clean up the mess that’s left behind. My sincere desire would be for every family to have effective planning strategies in place and for no family to have go through the consequences of bad planning. Take a step in the right direction today by attending a workshop, giving us a call at 217-726-9200, or signing up for our weekly email newsletter.

in-home caregiver agreement

9 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help With In-Home Care

Because of the popularity of this post, we created a handout to go with it. Download the handout now.

Navigating the challenges of in-home care can be a little easier with an experienced guide by your side.

Here are 9 ways an elder law attorney can help:

 

1. Set up caregiver agreements and in-home caregivers.

There are a lot of pitfalls to watch out for with in-home care. As elder law attorneys, we are familiar with all these pitfalls and help people plan for, and avoid, these pitfalls everyday. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of a caregiver agreement.

2. Analyze how long your funds will last.

Because elder law attorneys do this sort of thing all the time, we are very familiar with what aging costs, the resources available to fund it, and how best to use the tools available to get good care for as long as possible.

3. Set up trusts for protection.

Years ago trusts were only thought of for the very rich, but that is no longer the case. These days, trusts are one of the most powerful tools in our legal toolbox. They can be used to help qualify for VA or Medicaid benefits, which translates to more resources to pay for care for you or your loved ones.

4. Draft powers of attorney or revocable living trusts.

These powerful and necessary documents help guide decisions during a disability – that time when we need to take away your checkbook because of a stroke or dementia. These legal tools help preserve dignity and quality of life. They also help you to stay in control as long as possible.

5. Help you qualify for VA benefits.

VA planning can be complicated, but qualifying for benefits can really make it worthwhile. Many people don’t realize they are eligible for in-home benefits through the VA, or how to prepare legally and financially to get the maximum benefit as soon as possible. We help families every month to qualify for VA benefits. We know the ins and outs of getting you qualified for the benefits you earned in service to your country. Learn more about that here.

6. Give feedback on care options.

Like I’ve said before, many people go to friends for advice on these issues, but chances are your friends have only dealt with these issues once or twice. We work in this field everyday which means we are very familiar with, not only legal issues surrounding in-home care, but other issues like which facilities and companies are the best to work with — and we’d love to be your resource in situations like this.

7. Plan for potential nursing home costs.

While everyone wants to stay in their own home as long as possible, the reality these days is that most people will spend some time in a nursing facility. Planning ahead now can help you be prepared for later. Suddenly being surprised by the need for Medicaid is not the kind of surprise you want.

8. Understand tax implications.

Sometimes good planning for long term care requires rearranging your finances. With IRAs and annuities, those changes could result in income tax. Working with your accountant, we help you understand the tax impact of long term care planning options.

9. Preserve your wishes upon death.

Sometimes, as we age, our current reality can jeopardize any plans we might have  for the future. Consulting with an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney can help maximize benefits now, providing good care during life, without jeopardizing your wishes for the future after you are gone.

Download the handout now

There is a lot to keep in mind when considering home healthcare, but we help guide people in these decisions everyday, weighing the pros and cons. If you need to speak to someone right away about your current situation, Tarina would be more than happy to talk with you at 217-726-9200.

If you’d like to learn more, call us and ask for our Elder Law Information Packet. This free guide covers 13 Costly Misconceptions About Healthcare for Your Aging Parents, the 6 Stages of Life Care Planning, 12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property Away Right Now, 7 Essential Questions to Ask So Your Parents Have an Effective Plan for the Last Decade of Life, 6 Ways to Get Good Care Without Going Into a Nursing Home, and MUCH MORE. We also offer free workshops on the above topic. Check here for upcoming workshop dates.

Keep learning: 7 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help Even if Your Loved One is Already in a Nursing Facility