Social Security and Medicare and the Impact on Retiree Taxes

Retiree Taxes – A 70% increase in Medicare premiums to $559 was a complete surprise to a woman who became a single taxpayer when her husband died. She felt like she was being punished for being a widow, she said in a recent article titled “Retirees, Beware These Tax Torpedoes” from Barron’s. With a 2018 modified adjusted gross income of $163,414, a combination of required minimum distributions, Social Security and her husband’s pensions, she went from being in the third-highest Medicare bracket into the second highest Medicare bracket. All it took was $414 dollars to exceed the $163,000 limit.

This is not the only Retiree taxes trap awaiting unwary retirees. Lower- and middle-income taxpayers get hit by what’s commonly referred to as “tax torpedoes,” as rising income during retirement triggers new taxes. That includes Social Security income, which is taxed after reaching a certain limit. The resulting marginal tax rate—as high as 40.8%—is made worse by a Medicare surtax of 0.9% on couples with taxable income exceeding $250,000. Capital gains taxes also increase, as income rises.

It may be too late to make changes for this tax-filing year, even with a three-month extension to July 15. However, there are a few steps that retirees can take to avoid or minimize these taxes for next year. The simplest one: delay spending from one year to the next and be extra careful about taking funds from after-tax accounts.

What hurts most is if you’re on the borderline of a bracket. Just one wrong move, like selling a stock or taking a distribution, puts you into the next bracket. You need to plan carefully for retiree taxes.

One thing that won’t be a concern for 2020 taxes: required minimum distributions. While many retirees get pushed into tax traps because of taking large RMDs, the emergency legislation passed in response to the coronavirus crisis (the CARES Act) eliminated RMDs for this year.

However, the RMDs will be back in 2021, so now is a good time to start thinking about how to avoid any of the typical tax torpedoes. RMDs used to start at age 70½; the SECURE Act changed that to 72.

If you don’t need the money from an RMD in 2021, one workaround is to take it as a qualified charitable distribution. That avoids triggering higher taxes or higher future Medicare premiums. The administrator of the tax-deferred account needs to be instructed to make a donation directly to a charity.

An even better strategy: take steps long before Medicare income limits or tax torpedoes hit. If you can, live on after-tax savings, Roth IRA accounts or inherited money. Spend that money first, before tapping into tax-deferred accounts. You can then take advantage of being in a lower tax bracket to convert money from tax-deferred money to convert to Roth IRAs.

Another story of a tax hit that was avoided: a man with an income of about $80,000 prepared to take $4,000 from a tax-deferred account for a vacation. The couple’s normal top tax bracket was 12%, but they hit the income limit on Social Security taxes. The $4,000 in additional income would have caused $3,400 in Social Security income to be taxed, making his marginal tax rate 22.2% instead of 12%. With the help of a good advisor, the couple instead took $3,000 from a Roth IRA and sold a stock position for $1,000, where there were practically no capital gains generated.

Incomes at all levels can be hit by these tax and Medicare torpedoes. A skilled advisor can help protect your retirement and Social Security funds.

Reference: Barron’s (July 6, 2020) “Retirees, Beware These Tax Torpedoes”

 

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How Is the Inheritance Tax on My Estate Paid?

If your state has an inheritance tax, you should have an idea how it will be paid when you pass away.

Financial institutions may not withhold the tax before the inheritances are paid, and if there won’t be enough in the residue of your estate to pay the tax, you need some options.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled, “How can I be sure the inheritance tax is paid when I die?” says that, while it’s admirable to try to avoid trouble for your executors, there’s a simple solution.

The article suggests that you can remove all beneficiary designations from your financial accounts. When you add beneficiary designations to your financial accounts, you create non-probate assets, or assets that aren’t distributed pursuant to your will.

If you do this, those assets will become probate assets, or assets that pass through your will. As a result, you can then state in your will how these assets should be distributed.

For instance, it can be based on percentages of your estate or based on which financial institution holds the assets, or another method.

With these assets now being probate assets, the executor of your will is now able to withhold the inheritance tax on each of the distributions, before distributing the rest.

The amount of inheritance tax paid by the beneficiary is the same whether the distribution is made as a probate asset or a non-probate asset, except for life insurance.

However, if the financial account is a retirement account, by having it paid to the estate instead of directly to a beneficiary, the payout period may be lessened. Therefore, you should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (May 5, 2020) “How can I be sure the inheritance tax is paid when I die?”

 

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What’s the Difference Between an Inter Vivos Trust and a Testamentary Trust ?

Trusts can be part of your estate planning to transfer assets to your heirs. A trust created while an individual is still alive is an inter vivos trust, while one established upon the death of the individual is a testamentary trust.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Inter Vivos Trust vs. Testamentary Trust: What’s the Difference?” explains that an inter vivos or living trust is drafted as either a revocable or irrevocable living trust and allows the individual for whom the document was established to access assets like money, investments and real estate property named in the title of the trust. Living trusts that are revocable have more flexibility than those that are irrevocable. However, assets titled in or made payable to both types of living trusts bypass the probate process, once the trust owner dies.

With an inter vivos trust, the assets are titled in the name of the trust by the owner and are used or spent down by him or her, while they’re alive. When the trust owner passes away, the remainder beneficiaries are granted access to the assets, which are then managed by a successor trustee.

A testamentary trust (or will trust) is created when a person dies, and the trust is set out in their last will and testament. Because the creation of a testamentary trust doesn’t occur until death, it’s irrevocable. The trust is a created by provisions in the will that instruct the executor of the estate to create the trust. After death, the will must go through probate to determine its authenticity before the testamentary trust can be created. After the trust is created, the executor follows the directions in the will to transfer property into the trust.

This type of trust doesn’t protect a person’s assets from the probate process. As a result, distribution of cash, investments, real estate, or other property may not conform to the trust owner’s specific desires. A testamentary trust is designed to accomplish specific planning goals like the following:

  • Preserving property for children from a previous marriage
  • Protecting a spouse’s financial future by giving them lifetime income
  • Leaving funds for a special needs beneficiary
  • Keeping minors from inheriting property outright at age 18 or 21
  • Skipping your surviving spouse as a beneficiary and
  • Making gifts to charities.

Through trust planning, married couples may use of their opportunity for estate tax reduction through the Unified Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemption. That’s the maximum amount of assets the IRS allows you to transfer tax-free during life or at death. It can be a substantial part of the estate, making this a very good choice for financial planning.

Reference: Investopedia (Aug. 30, 2019) “Inter Vivos Trust vs. Testamentary Trust: What’s the Difference?”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Trustee, Revocable Living Trust, Irrevocable Trust, Beneficiary Designations, Charitable Donation, Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption

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Extended Deadlines – Massive Changes to RMDs from Stimulus Plan

Extended Deadlines – Several of the provisions that were signed into law in the relief bill can taken advantage of immediately, reports Financial Planning in the article “Major changes in RMDs and retirement contributions in $2T stimulus plan.” Here are some highlights.

Extended deadline for 2019 IRA contributions. With the tax return filing date extended to July 15, 2020 from April 16, the date for making 2019 contributions to IRA and Roth IRA contributions has also been extended to the same date. Those contributions normally must be made by April 15 of the following year, but this is no normal year. There have never been extensions to the April 15 deadline, even when taxpayers filed for extensions.

When this tax return deadline was extended, most financial professionals doubted the extension would only apply to IRA contributions, but the IRS responded in a timely manner, issuing guidance titled “Filing and Payment Deadlines Questions and Answers.” These changes give taxpayers more time to decide if they still want to contribute, and how much. Job losses and market downturns that accompanied the COVID-19 outbreak have changed the retirement savings priorities for many Americans. Just be sure when you do make a contribution to your account, note that it is for 2019 because financial custodians may just automatically consider it for 2020. A phone call to confirm will likely be in order.

RMDs are waived for 2020. As a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARE Act), Required Minimum Distributions from IRAs are waived. Prior to the law’s passage, 2020 RMDs would be very high, as they would be based on the substantially higher account values of December 31, 2019. If not for this relief, IRA owners would have to withdraw and pay tax on a much larger percentage of their IRA balances. By eliminating the RMD for 2020, tax bills will be lower for those who don’t need to take the money from their accounts. For 2019 RMDs not yet taken, the waiver still applies. It also applies to IRA owners who turned 70 ½ in 2019. This was a surprise, as the SECURE Act just increased the RMD age to 72 for those who turn 70 ½ in 2020 or later.

IRA beneficiaries subject to the five- year rule. Another group benefitting from these the rules are beneficiaries who inherited in 2015 or later and are subject to the 5-year payout rule. Those beneficiaries may have inherited through a will or were beneficiaries of a trust that didn’t qualify as a designated beneficiary. They now have one more year—until December 31, 2021—to withdraw the entire amount in the account. Beneficiaries who inherited from 2015-2020 now have six years, instead of five.

Additional relief for retirement accounts. The new act also waives the early 10% early distribution penalty on up to $100,000 of 2020 distributions from IRAs and company plans for ‘affected individuals.’ The tax will still be due, but it can be spread over three years and the funds may be repaid over the three-year period.

Many changes have been implemented from the new legislation. Speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure that you are taking full advantage of the changes and not running afoul of any new or old laws regarding retirement accounts.

Reference: Financial Planning (March 27, 2020) “Major changes in RMDs and retirement contributions in $2T stimulus plan”

Suggested Key Terms: RMDs, Required Minimum Distribution, IRAs, Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, CARE Act, Extended Deadlines

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C19 UPDATE: Tax Filing Deadline Extended to July 15

Tax Filing Deadline Extended to July 15 – There has been some confusion about the tax filing / tax payment deadline extensions. On Friday, March 20 we got clarity that both the filing and the payment deadlines have been extended from April 15 to July 15 giving all taxpayers and businesses additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.

If you are expecting a refund, however, the Treasury Department encourages you go ahead and file as soon as possible – the sooner you file, the sooner you will get your refund.

Resource: Tax filing deadline moved to July 15, the latest measure to battle coronavirus downturn, The Washington Post, March 30, 2020

 

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A 2020 Checklist for an Estate Plan – Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption

Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption – The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for those who haven’t started the process of getting an estate plan started. For those who already have a plan in place, now is a great time to review these documents to make changes that will reflect the changes in one’s life or family dynamics, as well as changes to state and federal law.

Houston Business Journal’s recent article entitled “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” says that by partnering with a trusted estate planning attorney, you can check off these four boxes on your list to be certain your current estate plan is optimized for the future.

  1. Compute your financial situation. No matter what your net worth is, nearly everyone has an estate that’s worth protecting. An estate plan formalizes an individual’s wishes and decreases the chances of family fighting and stress.
  2. Get your affairs in order. A will is the heart of the estate plan, and the document that designates beneficiaries beyond the property and accounts that already name them, like life insurance. A will details who gets what and can help simplify the probate process, when the will is administered after your death. Medical questions, provisions for incapacity and end-of-life decisions can also be memorialized in a living will and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney also gives a trusted person the legal authority to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.
  3. Know the 2020 Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption. The Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, an increase from $11.4 million in 2019. The exemption eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s passing. New York has additional rules.
  4. Understand when the exemption may decrease. The Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption amount will go up each year until 2025. There was a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to someone who uses the $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026—when the exemption reverts to the $5 million range. However, the IRS has issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of the exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increased exemption limits, when the gifts are actually made.

It’s a great idea to have a resolution every January to check in with your estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is set for the year ahead.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

 

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Not a Billionaire? Trusts Can Still Be Beneficial

Irrevocable Trusts- You don’t have to be wealthy to benefit from the use of a trust. A trust is a legal arrangement by which one person transfers his or her assets to a trustee who will hold those assets in trust for third parties, explains the Stamford Advocate’s article “Trusts are not for the wealthy only.” As the person who created the trust, referred to as “the settlor,” you determine who the trustee is, as well as naming the beneficiaries.

There are many different types of trusts which serve different purposes. However, the two basic categories of trusts are revocable (also known as “living” trusts) and irrevocable trusts. Their names reflect two chief characteristics: the revocable trust can be changed and controlled by the settlor. The irrevocable trust cannot be changed, and the settlor gives up the control of the trust. However, it should be noted that the irrevocable trust has certain tax and other benefits not offered by the revocable trust.

A will is definitely necessary to pass assets on according to your wishes, but a trust can serve other purposes. Here’s a look at some common reasons why people use trusts:

  • Protect assets from creditors
  • Allow heirs to avoid probate of assets in the trusts
  • Avoid, minimize or delay estate taxes, transfer taxes or income taxes
  • Control how assets are disbursed or invested
  • Facilitate business succession planning and manage business assets
  • Shelter assets for descendants, if a spouse remarries
  • Establish a family tradition of philanthropy

Trusts allow assets to be passed on quickly and privately, while eliminating some expenses for heirs. They also permit closer management of who will benefit from your assets.

The cost of setting up a trust depends on the complexity of the trust and the estate, as well as other factors, like the number of beneficiaries and how many generations are being planned for. Bear in mind that the cost of setting up a trust should be measured against the future cost of not just taxes, but any litigation that might occur if the estate is probated and becomes public knowledge, or if family members are dissatisfied with the distribution of assets.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to first determine what kind of trusts are needed for your estate plan to achieve your wishes. Discuss the role of a Special Needs trust, if any family members have mental or physical needs that make them eligible for public assistance. An experienced estate planning attorney will know which planning strategies are best in your unique circumstances.

Reference: Stamford Advocate (Jan. 19, 2020) “Trusts are not for the wealthy only”

 

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Tax Planning – I’m Between 55 and 64, How Do I Boost My Retirement Savings?

Tax Planning – It’s never too soon to begin saving. However, the last decade prior to retirement can be crucial. By then you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of when (or if) you want to retire and, even more important, still have some time to make changes, if need be.

If you discover that you need to put more money away, Investopedia’s article “Top Retirement Savings Tips for 55-to-64-Year-Olds” gives you several time-honored retirement savings tips to consider.

  1. Fund Your 401(k) to the Max. If your employer has a 401(k) or a similar plan, and you aren’t already funding yours to the maximum, up your contributions. These plans are an easy and automatic way to invest, plus you’ll defer paying taxes on that income until you withdraw it in retirement. You may be in a higher marginal tax bracket now than you will be during retirement, because you’re in your peak earning years. As a result, you’ll see a smaller tax bill in retirement. This applies to traditional 401(k)s and other plans. If your job offers a Roth 401(k) and you participate, you’ll pay taxes on the income now but be able to make tax-free withdrawals later.
  2. Review Your 401(k) Allocations. Experts tells us that you should invest more conservatively as you get older, with more money in bonds and less in stocks. That’s because if your stocks drop in a prolonged bear market, you won’t have the time needed to recover. As a result, you may have to sell your stocks at a loss. Stocks still have growth potential and are a hedge against inflation, unlike bonds. Therefore, remain diversified in both stocks and bonds, but do this in an age-appropriate manner.
  3. Look into an IRA. If you don’t have a 401(k) plan to join at work—or if you’re already funding yours to the max—another retirement investing option is an IRA. There are two types: traditional and Roth. With a traditional IRA, the money you contribute is generally tax-deductible upfront. With a Roth, you receive a tax break later with tax-free withdrawals. Each has its own set of rules for contributions, so educate yourself on the differences.
  4. Know Your Sources of Income for Retirement. Your level of aggressiveness in saving also depends on the other sources of income you can reasonably expect to have in retirement. When you hit your mid-50s or early 60s, you can get a much better estimate than earlier in your career. After you’ve contributed to Social Security for 10 years or more, you can get a personalized estimate of your future monthly benefits using the Social Security Retirement Estimator. Your benefits are based on your 35 highest years of earnings, so they may increase if you continue working. Your benefits will also vary, based on when you start collecting them. You can start taking benefits as early as age 62, but they’ll be permanently reduced from what you’ll receive if you wait until your “full” retirement age (currently between 66 and 67 for anyone born after 1943). You can also wait and start getting your Social Security up to age 70 and see the largest amount possible.
  5. Don’t Mess with Your Retirement Savings. After age 59½, you can begin making penalty-free withdrawals from your traditional retirement plans and IRAs. With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions (not their earnings) penalty-free at any time. In addition, the IRS has an exception known as “the Rule of 55.” This waives the early-withdrawal penalty on retirement plan distributions for workers 55 and over (50 and over for some government employees) who lose or leave their jobs. This is a complicated rule, so speak to your estate planning attorney. It is important to understand that just because you can make withdrawals doesn’t mean you should, unless you absolutely need the money. The longer you keep your retirement accounts “in the bank” (up to age 72, when you must begin to take required minimum distributions from some), the better off you’re likely to be.
  6. And Remember the Taxes. When you make withdrawals from a traditional 401(k) plan or traditional IRA, you’ll be taxed at your rate for ordinary income—not the lower capital gains rate.

Reference: Investopedia (June 11, 2019) “Top Retirement Savings Tips for 55-to-64-Year-Olds”

Suggested Key Terms: Retirement Planning, Tax Planning, Financial Planning, IRA, 401(k), Pension, Social Security, Stocks, Bonds, Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)

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Do My Heirs Need to Pay an Inheritance Tax?

U.S. News & World Report explains in its article, “What Is Inheritance Tax?” that estate taxes and inheritance taxes are often mentioned as if they’re the same thing. However, they’re really very different in concept and practice.

Remember that not every estate is required to pay estate taxes, and not every heir will pay inheritance taxes. Let’s discuss how to determine whether these taxes impact you.

Inheritance can be taxable to heirs. However, this is based upon the state in which the deceased lived and the heirs’ relationship to the benefactor.

Inheritance taxes are a state tax on a portion of the value of a deceased person’s estate that’s paid by the inheritor of the estate. There are no federal inheritance taxes. Currently, there are only six states that impose an such a tax, according to the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. The states that have an inheritance tax are Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New York does not have an inheritance tax

Inheritance laws for tax and exemption amounts are different in each of these six states. In Pennsylvania, there’s no tax charged to a surviving spouse, a son or daughter age 21 or younger and certain charitable and exempt organizations. Otherwise, the Keystone State’s inheritance tax is charged on a tiered system. Direct descendants and lineal heirs pay 4.5%, siblings pay 12% and other heirs pay a cool 15%.

Inheritance tax is determined by the state in which the deceased lived. Estate taxes are deducted from the deceased’s estate after death and aren’t the responsibility of the heirs. Some states also charge their own estate taxes on assets more than a certain value. The states that charge their own estate tax are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C.

Decreasing estate taxes are the responsibility of the deceased prior to his or her death. They should work with an estate planning attorney to map out strategies that can lessen or eliminate estate taxes for certain assets.

Remember these taxes are state taxes. They are imposed by only six states and are the responsibility of the heirs of the estate, even if they live in another state. In contrast, estate taxes are federal and state taxes. The federal estate tax is a 40% tax on assets more than $11.4 million for 2019 ($22.8 million for married couples). This is charged, regardless of where you live. Some states have additional estate taxes with their own thresholds.

Inheritance taxes are paid by the heirs, and estate taxes are paid by the estate. An estate planning attorney can help to find ways to reduce taxes and transfer money efficiently.

 

 

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Can I Deduct Long-Term Care Expenses on My Tax Return?

If you need long-term care, you may need to know, “How can I deduct long term care expenses on my tax return ?  If you purchased a long-term-care insurance policy to cover the costs, you may also be able to deduct some of that. Retirement planning entails long-term care, so it’s critical to know how these tax deductions can help offset overall costs.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Deduct Expenses for Long-Term Care on Your Tax Return,” explains that you can deduct unreimbursed costs for long-term care as a medical expense, including eligible expenses for in-home, assisted living and nursing-home services. However, certain requirements must be met. The long-term care must be medically necessary and can include preventive, therapeutic, treating, rehabilitative, personal care, or other services. The cost of meals and lodging at an assisted-living facility or nursing home is also included, if the main reason for being there is to get qualified medical care.

The care must also be for a chronically ill person and given under a care plan prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner. A person is “chronically ill,” if he or she can’t perform at least two activities of daily living—like eating, bathing or dressing—without help for at least 90 days. This condition must be certified in writing within the past year. A person with a severe cognitive impairment is also deemed to be chronically ill, if supervision is needed to protect his or her health and safety.

To claim the deduction, you must itemize deductions on your tax return. Itemized deductions for medical expenses are only allowed to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income in 2019. An adult child can claim a medical expense deduction on his own tax return for the cost of a parent’s care, if he can claim the parent as a dependent.

The IRS also permits a limited deduction for certain long-term-care insurance premiums. You must submit an itemized deduction for medical expenses, and only premiums exceeding the 10% of AGI threshold are deductible in 2019. Further, the insurance policy itself must satisfy certain requirements for the premiums to be deductible. For instance, it can only cover long-term-care services. This limitation means the deduction only applies to traditional long-term-care policies, rather than hybrid policies that combine life insurance with long-term-care benefits. The deduction has an age-related cap.

These deductions are typically not useful for people in their fifties or sixties but can be valuable for people in their seventies and older. That’s because income tends to drop in retirement, so the deductions can have a greater overall impact on tax liability. As you age, you’re also more likely to have medical expenses exceeding 10% of AGI. Those deductions could move your total itemized deductions past the standard deduction amount. The chances of satisfying the medical necessity requirements for the care costs deduction also increase with age, and the cap for the premium deduction levels off after age 70.

Reference: Kiplinger (September 4, 2019) “Deduct Expenses for Long-Term Care on Your Tax Return”

 

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