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Elder Law Estate Planning

Big Eight: Retirement Mistakes to Avoid

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” George Bernard Shaw.

“Living each day as if it were your last doesn’t mean your last day of retirement on a remote island. It means to live fully, authentically and spontaneously with nothing being held back.” Jack Canfield.

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.”

Big Eight: 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.

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.

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.

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. In the event you are not qualified plan to qualify for medicaid to assist with long term care costs.

Please review the Big Eight: Retirement Mistakes to Avoid with your financial adviser and estate planning attorney.

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Elder Law Estate Planning Probate

Why Do I Need an Executor?

What would happen if someone you were close to, asked you to be their Executor? Would you be honored, or would you be uncomfortable with the responsibility? What do you need to do, when do you need to handle these tasks and how much time will it take?

These are the questions often asked about the role of an Executor, as reported in The Huntsville Item in the article “Role of an executor.”

A person having a will prepared is called the “Testator” if male and a “Testatrix” if female. The person they appoint to take care of distributing their assets and carrying out the instructions in their will is called the “Executor” if male and the “Executrix” if female. That person also pays the estate’s debts and taxes. Note that the debts and taxes are not paid from the Executor’s personal accounts, but from the proceeds of the estate.

Why Do I Need an Executor? The Executor has several responsibilities and power. Therefore, it’s important to choose an individual who is organized, good with finances and knows how to get things done. An Executor could be a person or an institution, like a bank. Here are some things to consider when selecting an Executor:

  • Are they good with handling their own personal business?
  • Do they have some familiarity with your business, finances and property?
  • Are they willing and able to act as your Executor?
  • Do they have the time to devote to serving as Executor?
  • Can they work with your estate planning attorney and your accountant?
  • If you own a business, will they be able to keep it going during a transition period?

There should always be a Plan “B” and perhaps even a Plan “C,” if the first person you wish either cannot or will not serve as Executor. If you do not have a Plan “B” or “C,” the court may name an Executor. That may be a person you don’t know, who does not know you, your family or your business.

Why Do I Need an Executor? The Executor’s tasks vary, depending upon the laws of the state. However, in general, these are the Executor’s tasks. Note that an estate planning attorney usually assists with this process.

  • The will is probated, which requires filing an application with the probate court in the decedent’s jurisdiction.
  • The court issues Letters Testamentary to the individual designated in the will as the Executor.
  • A general notice is given to unsecured creditors within 30 days of being appointed Executor.
  • Notice is given to each secured creditor, by certified or registered mail.
  • Documents need to be gathered, including insurance policies, bank statements, income tax returns, car titles, leases, home deeds, home titles, mortgage paperwork, property tax bills, birth, death and marriage certificates and unpaid bills.
  • The post office, relatives, friends, employers, insurance agents, religious, fraternal, veterans’ organizations, unions, etc., all need to be notified.
  • The personal property of the estate needs to be collected, preserved and appraised.
  • The residence needs to be secured and maintained, including a review of insurance coverage.
  • An inventory of the estate’s assets needs to be prepared.
  • The Executor needs to apply for Social Security benefits and an employee identification number (EIN) for the estate’s bank account.
  • Once the EIN number has been created, open a bank account on behalf of the estate and pay all valid debts from the estate account.
  • Determine any tax liability and prepare for a final tax return to be filed.
  • Distribute the assets and property of the estate, according to the directions in the will.

Usually the estate planning attorney handles many of these tasks and works closely with the Executor. Some Executors are compensated by the estate for their time and effort, but that is not always the case. Talk with your estate planning attorney in advance, about any compensation for your Executor.

Reference:

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Elder Law Estate Planning Probate

A Big Red Binder of Information

Life happens, when we’re not prepared. A woman is recovering at home from minor surgery when her older sister dies unexpectedly, thousands of miles away. She can’t fly from her home to her sister’s home for weeks. What will happen, asks Considerable in the article “This is the most helpful thing you can do for the people who love you” ? If you’re not prepared, the result is a mess for those you love.

The task of untangling someone’s financial responsibilities and their legal matters is emotionally and mentally draining, when they have not prepared any kind of plan to convey the information. It’s not just making the calls and explaining who you are and why you are calling but having to constantly be starting at the death certificate of someone you love. That’s why people should consider making themselves a Big Red Binder.

That’s the name many people give to their folder of names and numbers and important documents that are assembled for such an occurrence, a reference book for their lives that contains every bit of information that their loved ones will need, in the event of a sudden death or illness.

It’s admittedly old school, but there are advantages to using a large three-ring binder. You can put documents in pocket pages and use loose-leaf paper for your important information. Consider going whole-hog and also buying dividers—anything you can do to make it easier for the person who is going to have to tackle all of these tasks.

Don’t rely on digital only: if your family can’t get into your computer or access your cloud storage, they won’t be able to help. You could keep a copy of the information in a secure location in the cloud or on your computer, in addition to on paper.

Tell at least two people about the Big Red Binder of Information and let them where you have located it. If possible, give one of them a copy, so that they have it available. This is what you should include in it:

Medical Information: Include surgeries, medications, recent test results, treatments and the name and contact information of healthcare providers.

Health Insurance Info: The name of the company, a copy of your health insurance card, your Medicare card and any recent bills.

Recurring Bills: Recent bills and contact information about your mortgage payments or rent, utilities, car lease or loan and life insurance policies. You should do the same for regular bills and for subscriptions, memberships.

Insurance Contacts: A list of all insurance agents, policy numbers and the agent’s contact information.

Investment Information: Your financial adviser’s contact information and account numbers.

Financial and Legal Information: Contact information for your estate planning attorney and your CPA. I t should include where your prior year’s tax records can be found. Make a copy of the front and back of your credit and bank cards. Include recent credit card bills and note when payments are generally due.

Pet Care: Contact info for the vet, any medication information and info for a trusted friend who can care for a pet on a short-term basis. A pet trust, if you have one.

Personal Lists: Who should be notified in the event of a serious illness or death? A list of names, phone numbers and email addresses will be invaluable.

A personal binder like this relieves children or friends, who are in probably still in shock, and gives them the ability to have the information they need right at their fingertips, without having to dig through files or drawers of paper. It’s a gift to those you love.

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Elder Law Estate Planning

What Happens to Social Security when Your Spouse Dies?

The United States Social Security Administration is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits. Wikipedia.

If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen. Roger Ebert.

Millie is right to be concerned. She is worried about what will happen with their Social Security checks, who she needs to notify at their bank, how to obtain death certificates and how complicated it will be for her to obtain widow’s benefits. Many answers are provided in the article Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies” from Tuscon.com.

First, what happens to the Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in March, for example, is the benefit payment for February.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66, and then turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

If your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

Therefore, when a spouse dies, the monies for that month might have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary, if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that Henry dies on April 3. Because he lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, and that is paid in April. Once again, it depends upon the date and it is likely that even if the check is not issued or sent back, it will eventually be reissued. More on that later.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director, or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

A claim for widow’s or widower’s benefits must be made in person. You can call the Social Security Administrator’s 800 number or contact your local Social Security office to make an appointment. What you need to do, will depend upon the kind of benefits you had received before your spouse died.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, then you have to file for widow’s benefits. It’s not too complicated, but you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate.

What Happens to Social Security when Your Spouse Dies? Widow’s benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due widow’s benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow for three days of the month. Following the example above, where the proceeds of a check were withdrawn, those proceeds will be sent to your account. Finally, no matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit.