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Retirement Planning

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Pooled Income Trusts and Public Assistance Benefits

A Pooled Income Trust is a special kind of trust that is established by a non-profit organization. A Pooled Income Trust allows individuals of any age (typically over 65) to become financially eligible for public assistance benefits (such as Medicaid home care and Supplemental Security Income), while preserving their monthly income in trust for living expenses and supplemental needs.  All income received by the beneficiary must be deposited into the Pooled Income Trust.

In order to be eligible to deposit your income into a Pooled Income Trust, you must be disabled as defined by law. For purposes of the Trust, "disabled" typically includes age-related infirmities and special needs. The Trust may only be established by a parent, a grandparent, a legal guardian, the individual beneficiary (you), or by a court order. 

Typical individuals who use a Pooled Income Trust are: (1) elderly persons living at home who would like to protect their income while accessing Medicaid home care; (2) recipients of public benefit programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid; (3) persons living in an Assisted Living Community under a Medicaid program who would like to protect their income while receiving Medicaid coverage.

Medicaid recipients who deposit their income into a Pooled Income Trust will not be subject to the rules that normally apply to "excess income," meaning that the Trust income will not be considered as available income to be spent down each month.  The Trust can pay for supplemental needs, medical procedures not provided through government assistance, and some other expenses not provided by government assistance programs.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

(Grand)Parenting 2.0

According to the National Census Bureau, grandparent-headed homes are among the fastest growing household types in the United States. Grandparent-headed homes are defined as living arrangements where the primary financial and caregiving responsibilities are held by one or more grandparents rather than a parent. Though the reasons that lead to this type of arrangement vary, many speculate that a difficult job market and economy has led to an increase in the past few years.

At the height of the financial crisis, the Wall Street Journal published an article describing the financial strain placed on grandparent-headed households. For grandparents who have already retired, finding a job at an advanced age can be next to impossible. The unemployment rates for this demographic are disproportionately high as are levels of ‘discouragement,’ or the part of the population is so frustrated with trying to find work that they are driven from the workforce. The degree of financial hardship is exacerbated by the increase in the price of everyday goods and necessities, like food and clothing.

Beyond the financial strain, taking care of a young child can also have a significant impact on a grandparent’s mental and physical well-being. If an infant is placed in the grandparent’s care, he or she may have disrupted sleep due to nightly feedings. Grandparents raising young children are also frequently exposed to diseases and infections common in childhood. Depression and anxiety disorders are not uncommon and for children with developmental delays or behavioral problems, the demands placed on caregivers are that much greater.

In some cases, grandparents may become the head of a household even when parents are present. In situations where a parent has become unemployed or otherwise cannot care for the children, he or she may move the entire family into his or her parents’ home. In addition to grandparent-headed homes, other types of arrangements where the parent is not the primary caregiver are on the rise. These may include instances where an aunt or uncle takes responsibility for a nephew or niece.

Fortunately, many federal and state governments have started to recognize this trend and are putting resources in place to assist non-parent-headed homes. The American Association of Retired Persons has also created a comprehensive guide and resource center for grandparents parenting a child.



Monday, February 17, 2014

8 Things to Consider When Selecting a Caregiver for Your Senior Parent

As a child of a senior citizen, you are faced with many choices in helping to care for your parent. You want the very best care for your mother or father, but you also have to take your personal needs, family obligations and finances into consideration.

When choosing a caregiver for a loved one, there are a number of things to keep in mind during the selection process:

  1. Time. Do you require part- or full-time care for your parent? Are you looking for a caregiver to come into your home? Will your parent live with the caregiver or will your parent live in a senior care facility? According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 58 percent of care recipients live in their own home and 20 percent live with the caregiver. You should consider your current arrangement but also take time to identify some alternatives in the event that the requirements of care should change in the future.
  2. Family ties. If you have siblings, they probably want to be involved in the decision of your parent’s care. If you have a sibling who lives far away, sharing in the care responsibilities or decision-making process may prove to be a challenge. It’s important that you open up the lines of communication with your parents and your siblings so everyone is aware and in agreement about the best course of care.
  3. Specialized care. Some caregivers and care facilities specialize in specific conditions or treatments. For instance, there are special residences for those with Alzheimer’s and others for those suffering from various types of cancer. If your parent suffers from a disease or physical ailment, you may want to take this into consideration during the selection process
  4. Social interaction. Many seniors fear that caregivers or care facilities will be isolating, limiting their social interaction with friends and loved ones. It’s important to keep this in mind throughout the process and identify the activities that he or she may enjoy such as playing games, exercising or cooking. Make sure to inquire about the caregiver’s ability to allow social interaction. Someone who is able to accommodate your parent’s individual preferences or cultural activities will likely be a better fit for your mother or father.
  5. Credentials. Obviously, it is important to make sure that the person or team who cares for your parent has the required credentials. Run background checks and look at facility reviews to ensure you are dealing with licensed, accredited individuals. You may choose to run an independent background check or check references for added peace of mind.
  6. Scope of care. If you are looking for a live-in caregiver, that person is responsible for more than just keeping an eye on your mother or father—he or she may be responsible for preparing meals, dispensing medication, transporting your parent, or managing the home. Facilities typically have multidisciplinary personnel to care for residents, but an individual will likely need to complete a variety of tasks and have a broad skill set to do it all.
  7. Money. Talk to your parent about the financial arrangements that he or she may have in place. If this isn’t an option, you will likely need to discuss the options with your siblings or your parent’s lawyer—or check your mother’s or father’s estate plan—to find out more about available assets and how to make financial choices pertaining to your parent’s care.
  8. Prepare. Upon meeting the prospective caregiver or visiting a facility, it is important to have questions prepared ahead of time so you can gather all of the information necessary to make an informed choice. Finally, be prepared to listen to your parent’s concerns or observations so you can consider their input in the decision. If he or she is able, they will likely want to make the choice themselves.

Choosing a caregiver for your parent is an important decision that weighs heavily on most adult children but with the right planning and guidance, you can make the best choice for your family. Once you find the right person, make sure to follow up as care continues and to check in with your mother or father to ensure the caregiver is the perfect fit.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Common Estate Planning Mistakes Regarding Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

For many people, retirement savings accounts are among the largest assets they have to bequeath to their children and grandchildren in their estate plans.  Sadly, without professional and personally tailored advice about how best to include IRAs in one’s estate plan, there may be a failure to take advantage of techniques that will maximize the amount of assets that will be available for future generations.

Failure to Update Contingent Beneficiaries

Assets in an IRA account usually transfer automatically to the named beneficiaries upon the death of the account holder, outside of the probate process.  If the account holder’s desired beneficiaries change, due to marriage, divorce, or other major life events, it is critically important to update the named beneficiaries as quickly as possible to prevent the asset from passing to an outdated beneficiary.  When updating beneficiaries, account holders should not neglect contingent beneficiaries – those individuals named to receive the asset if the primary named beneficiary is already deceased when the account holder dies.

Example:  Sarah’s IRA documents name her husband, Harold, as the primary beneficiary of her IRA.  The contingent beneficiary is Harold’s son, George, from Harold’s first marriage.  Sarah and Harold divorce.  Harold dies.  If Sarah dies before changing her IRA beneficiaries, George will receive the IRA.  This may no longer be the result Sarah would have wanted.

Failure to Consider a Trust as the Contingent Beneficiary of an IRA

There are three main advantages of naming a trust as the contingent beneficiary of your IRA: 

  1. It avoids the problem described above of having incorrect contingent beneficiaries named at death.
  2. It protects the IRA if the desired beneficiary is a minor, has debt or marital troubles, or is irresponsible with money.
  3. It protects the IRA from intentional or unintentional withdrawal.

Since 2005, the IRS has allowed a type of trust created specifically to be the beneficiary of an IRA.  The IRA Beneficiary Trust is also known as an IRA trust, an IRA stretch trust, an IRA protection trust, or a standalone IRA trust.

The main advantage of using an IRA Beneficiary Trust is that the IRA trust can restrict distributions to ensure compliance with tax rules and minimum distribution requirements – thus maximizing the amount of tax-free growth of the investments. 

Another advantage is that the IRA stretch trust has a framework that allows it to be structured in a way that guarantees protection of the distributions from the IRA as well as protection of the principal of the IRA.  When you first establish the IRA protection trust, you structure the trust as either a conduit trust or an accumulation trust.  A conduit trust will pass the required minimum distributions directly to your named beneficiaries, maximizing the tax deferral benefits.  An accumulation trust passes the required minimum distributions into another trust over which a named trustee has discretion to accumulate the funds, resulting in greater asset protection for the benefit of the beneficiary.

During your lifetime, the IRS allows you to switch between the conduit trust and accumulation trust for each of your beneficiaries, as circumstances change.  Furthermore, you may name a “trust protector” who may change the type of trust one last time after your death.  This change may be made on a beneficiary-by-beneficiary basis, so that some of your intended heirs have accumulation trusts for their portion of the IRA and others have conduit trusts.

IRA Beneficiary Trusts are complicated legal documents with intricate IRS rules and tremendous implications for your family’s wealth accumulation for future generations.  It is wise to seek advice specific to your family’s unique circumstances when considering the establishment of this powerful type of trust.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Retirement Accounts and Estate Planning

For many Americans, retirement accounts comprise a substantial portion of their wealth. When planning your estate, it is important to consider the ramifications of tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as 401(k) and 403(b) accounts and traditional IRAs. (Roth IRAs are not tax-deferred accounts and are therefore treated differently). One of the primary goals of any estate plan is to pass your assets to your beneficiaries in a way that enables them to pay the lowest possible tax.

Generally, receiving inherited property is not a transaction that is subject to income tax. However, that is not the case with tax-deferred retirement accounts, which represent income for which the government has not previously collected income tax. Money cannot be kept in an IRA indefinitely; it must be distributed according to federal regulations. The amount that must be distributed annually is known as the required minimum distribution (RMD). If the distributions do not equal the RMD, beneficiaries may be forced to pay a 50% excise tax on the amount that was not distributed as required.

After death, the beneficiaries typically will owe income tax on the amount withdrawn from the decedent’s retirement account. Beneficiaries must take distributions from the account based on the IRS’s life expectancy tables, and these distributions are taxed as ordinary income. If there is more than one beneficiary, the one with the shortest life expectancy is the designated beneficiary for distribution purposes. Proper estate planning techniques should afford the beneficiaries a way to defer this income tax for as long as possible by delaying withdrawals from the tax-deferred retirement account.

The most tax-favorable situation occurs when the decedent’s spouse is the named beneficiary of the account. The spouse is the only person who has the option to roll over the account into his or her own IRA. In doing so, the surviving spouse can defer withdrawals until he or she turns 70 ½; whereas any other beneficiary must start withdrawing money the year after the decedent’s death.

Generally, a revocable trust should not be the primary beneficiary of a tax-deferred retirement account, as this situation normally limits the potential for income tax deferral. However, a trust may be the preferred option under certain circumstances, such as if a life expectancy payout option or spousal rollover are unimportant or unavailable, or when it’s used as a contingent beneficiary designation after the surviving spouse’s death, but this should be discussed in detail with an experienced estate planning attorney. Additionally, there are situations where income tax deferral is not a consideration, such as when an IRA or 401(k) requires a lump-sum distribution upon death, when a beneficiary will liquidate the account upon the decedent’s death for an immediate need, or if the amount is so small that it will not result in a substantial amount of additional income tax.

The bottom line is that this is a complex area of law involving inheritance and tax implications that should be fully considered with the aid of an experienced estate planning lawyer.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Are Misconceptions Keeping You From Planning for Retirement?

Planning for retirement can be tricky business.  When we discuss our clients’ estate plans and assets with them we can’t help touching on retirement plans, so we hear a lot about the worries that go along with preparing for an uncertain future.  There are many variables and unknowns that can crop up between starting out in your 20s or 30s and your eventual retirement at 60 or 70; and there are a lot of myths about retirement which are daunting, discouraging, or just plain misleading.

U.S. News and World Report recently published an article which attempts to address some of these myths and set readers back on the right track to retirement.  We hope that all of our readers are already saving for retirement, but because we know just how important it is to save early and save often we’d like to list some of the myths here for our readers:

#1 You don’t make enough money to save for retirement.

#6 You need to be debt free before you can invest for retirement.

#8 Social Security benefits will be enough to retire on.

#9 You have to retire at age ___.

These are only 4 of the 10 myths covered in the article.  Click on the link above for a full list of commonly-held assumptions about retirement that may be preventing you from making the most of your retirement savings.

At our office we help our clients protect and plan for the future, retirement is often a part of that future.  If you have any questions about how to protect your retirement investments, or how to ensure that they transfer properly to your heirs if anything should happen to you, please call our office.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Preparing Boomers for the Finance Sandwich Squeeze

Baby-boomers are called the sandwich generation—and with good reason.  They were expecting to pay for their own retirement and their children’s college education; but now recession upon recession has toppled their elderly parents’ savings, and Boomers find that they are faced with the prospect of shouldering the financial burden of their parents’ final years as well.  The pressure of providing for so many people at once can quickly become overwhelming, and using one’s own savings or retirement fund can begin to look like an easy solution to immediate financial concerns.

Although it may seem like an easy fix to looming financial debt, don’t give in to the temptation to use your own savings.  Before you give in to fear and drain your retirement, get some professional financial advice.  This special edition recently released in the New York Times shows that it is possible to prepare for what’s coming—both for your parents and yourself.

Ourfirst recommendation is to discuss your situation with a trusted financial advisor.  After that, one of the primary suggestions offered in the Times is to talk to your parents about their situation.  It may not be easy; be prepared for your initial advances to be met with resistance.  Aging parents often worry that they will lose control of their own finances, or that giving decision-making capacity to one child will lead to anger or hurt feelings among their other children.  Instead of gearing up for a fight, the article mentions a few ways to gently lead into the conversation (including talking about family philanthropic projects.)

Another discussion you won’t want to skip is one about Long-Term Care Insurance.  This article by Ron Leiber discusses different kinds of insurance, whether or not you’ll need it (you will), and how to pay for it. 

The world of “old age” is changing.  People are living longer, experiencing more long-term health issues, and without the same ability to rely on government “entitlement” programs as their predecessors. Serious discussion and serious planning are essential to surviving the challenges of the “new” old age. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Find the Best Long-Term Care Policy

As the average life-span increases—and the cost of medical care along with it—more and more people are beginning to see the need for long-term care insurance.  Simply having a retirement plan isn’t enough anymore. Saving for retirement now means not only saving for your living expenses, it means preparing and saving for your health care expenses as well; expenses which will most likely include major medical procedures, eventual in-home care, and perhaps even long-term nursing care.

The idea of long-term care insurance is no longer a new and strange one, but it’s still not a concept most people feel completely comfortable with. What kind of long-term care insurance should you be looking at?  Can you get coverage for your entire life? (Probably not.) What types of care and services will be covered? (Each policy will vary.) Can you get a policy that goes into effect right away, or is there a waiting period? (There is often a waiting period.)

Not all long-term care policies are created equal.  The U.S. News and World Report recently published an article advising 7 things to look at when choosing a long-term care policy. Some of the things you’ll want to pay attention to include the benefit amount, the benefit period, which services are covered, and inflation protection, just to name a few.

Choosing a long-term care policy is an important step, and not one to be taken blindly.  If you are confused about long-term care policies, or unsure of which one may be right for you, don’t hesitate to ask the advice of a professional. Insurance agents, financial advisors and estate planners may all be able to help answer your questions or point you in the right direction.  


Friday, September 17, 2010

Those Who Hesitate Can Still Achieve the Liberation of Retirement

In spite of all the advice you see out there to start saving early for your eventual retirement, we’re realistic.  We know that many people—either out of choice, neglect or necessity—put off saving for their retirement, only to find themselves up against a wall of anxiety when they realize that retirement isn’t very far away.  However, according to Carla Fried of CBS Money Watch, it may not be as bad as you think. In fact, according to Fried, “he who hesitates can in fact win at retirement.”

The article suggests that due to the recent economic downturn many people are choosing to put off their retirement until they feel more secure... a feeling that may never materialize.  But that hesitation can serve a purpose: It provides the opportunity to take a good look at your finances and your choices, “take a deep breath and make some smart tweaks to your plan [so] you can still pull off a successful retirement.”

These are some of the tweaks Fried recommends:

Put Off Your Retirement Date.  At best you give yourself a few more years to bulk up your savings account, at worst you’ve eased some of the pressure on the savings you already have.

Consider Downsizing Your Home.Moving into a more economical home not only gives you some breathing room on the monthly mortgage once you retire, but you may be able to put some of the proceeds from the sale into your savings.

And there’s one more that isn’t included in the article, but that you won’t want to overlook:

Talk to Your Attorney About Estate Planning.  You may not expect it, but estate planning includes thinking about health care, long-term care, and how to work with the departments of Social Security and Medicaid instead of against them. Making a plan before you retire can relieve a lot of stress.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Women and Retirement: Your Money, Your Future, Your Plan

You have a longer life expectancy than a man, different ideas about what constitutes risk, often work for a different pay-scale... and if you’re a woman, you likely need a different kind of retirement plan as well.

You may think that the financial advisor recommended by your husband/father/brother will suit you just fine, but this new article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that what works financially for men doesn’t always work for women—and this includes old-school financial advisors. According to the article, when women start seriously planning for retirement, “many find that the financial-services industry is an obstacle, not an ally. In a recent Boston Consulting Group survey of women investors, respondents said they routinely feel underserved by the financial-services industry, with more than 70% expressing dissatisfaction with the service they're getting. Among the complaints: disrespectful advisers, narrower investment choices based on the assumption that women can't handle risks and patronizing pitches.”

This isn’t just a case of emotional discomfort; it also hits women in the pocket-book, where it’s likely to hurt the most. “A recent survey by financial-services company MassMutual found that women's retirement accounts were, on average, just two-thirds the size of men's.”

Not all of this can be blamed on financial advisors though. Women have a dangerous (if generous) tendency to put their spouses and families first, with little thought for their own financial security until it’s too late. In addition, married women often count on their husband’s retirement plan to take care of the both of them—only to find that his plan works for his life expectancy, leaving her without a plan when he’s no longer around.

What can women do?  The first thing each woman should do is have is her own retirement account, and contribute to it each month.  Make sure your financial advisor recognizes your unique needs and listens to your hopes and concerns.  You can plan with your partner for golden years spent together, but it’s your responsibility to save for yourself.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Women and Finances: How Estate Planning Can Help

When it comes to family matters, women are often the head (and sometimes the sole member) of the planning committee.  Vacations, dinner parties, school activities and celebrations... many of these wouldn’t happen at all if the women of the family didn’t take the lead.  Estate Planning tends to be no different: Many first phone calls, appointments, and attendance at estate planning or elder law seminars are initiated by women.  However, studies suggest that this tendency in women to plan ahead may not apply to financial planning.

A recent article from CBS news suggests that although women are actively involved in family and household finances, they are less likely to be involved in long-term financial decisions. According to the article, although many women “know how to spend and get by on a short term basis... they have a time getting a grip on their long term saving and planning." Of course this is a generalization, and won’t apply to everyone; but considering the importance of the topic, it is definitely a worthwhile subject for discussion.

Here are a few statistics to consider that impact women and their long-term financial decisions:

  • Older women (65+) outnumber older men by 22.4 million to 16.5 million. (Administration on Aging)
  • Poverty rates are higher among older women than older men by 20.4 to 13.1. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • The median weekly earnings of full-time wage-earning women is $657, or 80 percent of men’s $819. (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
  • Not to mention that on average, it is the woman of the family who will end up putting her career on hold for caregiving duties at various times in her life (either to care for young children or aging parents.)

Put all of this together and it means that women need to take control of their finances, not the other way around!  Luckily, this may not be as difficult as you think. The CBS news article mentioned above has some suggestions on how to take charge of your finances; but beyond that, planning your estate can be a huge step toward planning for your financial future as well, because any estate planning includes taking stock of of your financial assets—including savings accounts, retirement assets, individually owned assets as well as those owned jointly by a married couple.

We encourage women (and their families) to let their estate planning contribute to their financial future—it’s not just about how your assets will be distributed after your death, but also what steps you’d like to take to preserve those assets during your lifetime.


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