Retirement Advice for EVERY Age

Asset Protection, Estate Planning, Retirement PlanningNo Comments

“Retirement”—It’s a word that goes hand-in-hand with “Baby Boomer” these days. After all, as has been pointed out over and over again, retirement is the issue of the hour as the first round of Baby Boomers hits that magic age. But what about the younger set? Is there anything that twenty- or thirty-somethings should be considering regarding retirement at this point in their lives?

Actually, according to this article by Steve Vernon at MoneyWatch.com, it is never too early to start thinking about retirement; and there is plenty for adults in their twenties or thirties to consider right now that can help them get a jump on retirement a couple decades down the line.

According to the article, “The challenge facing most people in their 20s and 30s is juggling competing priorities — usually there isn’t enough money in the budget to do it all… ‘Should I save money for retirement, a down payment on a house, or for my kid’s college education?’… How do you prioritize?” While all of these things are important, Vernon suggests that your first priority in your twenties should be yourself. He suggests that the best investments you can make at this time are in your career, your home, your health, and your spending habits.

What our firm would like to point out is that a large part of investing in those things mentioned above is protecting those things. An estate planner can help you decide how to best protect your home from taxes, lawsuits, or divorce; an estate planner can also help you protect your health with a living will or healthcare directive. Additionally, many young adults (frustrated with the current state of the job market) have decided to take employment into their own hands by starting their own businesses—and many have been very successful! An estate planner can help you with the overwhelming but necessary task of protecting and planning for the future of your small business.

The news may be flush with stories about (and advice for) Baby Boomers entering or nearing retirement, but we know that everybody can use help and advice when it comes to planning for the future. Our office can help you prepare for your best future—regardless of your age. Call us today.

Are Misconceptions Keeping You From Planning for Retirement?

Asset Protection, Retirement Planning9 Comments

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.

Family and Future: The Keys to Top Notch Estate Planning

Asset Protection, Estate PlanningNo Comments

We write a lot on this blog about what estate planning is truly about: it’s about laws, taxes, assets, and documents of course; but deep down, estate planning is about relationships.

As estate planners and advisors, an important part of what we do is creating the best estate planning or asset protection vehicle we can for our clients; but achieving this goal involves far more than simply writing a document—it also involves listening to our clients, reading between the lines of sensitive family interactions, and it often involves looking into the future to catch potential problems before they happen.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes the unorthodox lengths to which advisors will go to help clients achieve their goals. “For the family with the gridlocked siblings, [their financial advisor] arranged a session of personality-type charting with an outside expert. The tests showed one of the brothers-in-conflict to be a hard-driver who loved to make decisions on the fly. His brother was more analytical, and needed time to reach conclusions… Establishing that these conflicting traits are permanent characteristics has helped the brothers understand each other’s work habits and function better as a team. “

Our firm may not yet have had to arrange personality-type charting sessions, but this “running interference” or acting as a mediator and guide is exactly what we do. Evaluating goals, assessing relationships, identifying priorities and facilitating productive discussions is part and parcel of being a good estate planner and a great family attorney and advisor.

Estate planning and asset protection may sound like it’s about things and wealth, but a good advisor knows that it is always about family and relationships. Consider this when you’re looking for an estate planner: Do you want an advisor who is simply protecting your wealth, or do you want an advisor who is looking out for your future and your family?

“Nothing Says Romance More Than A Prenuptial Contract.”

Asset Protection, Current EventsNo Comments

You may have your doubts about the sentiment above (which is also the opening line of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal) but many couples are beginning to see the truth of this statement. Younger couples, older couples embarking on second marriages, and couples with family businesses or assets to protect are coming to realize that prenuptial agreements can actually take the pressure off a relationship, making more room for romance rather than less.

A recent ruling in Britain’s Supreme Court has thrown prenuptial agreements back into the limelight, not only in the U.K. and Europe, but also here in the United States. The above-mentioned article in the Wall Street Journal offers a few basic guidelines for couples considering drawing up a pre-nup, the most important of which include: there must be no signs of duress, each party must have their own legal counsel, and nothing concerning children can be fixed in a pre-nup.

But if you’re on the fence about whether or not a prenuptial agreement is right for you and your spouse-to-be you may be most interested in the final paragraph of the article, which states that “Prenups are romantic… You’re making a provision for somebody. You’re saying, ‘I want you to know now that you’ll be alright’… this should be part of the process of falling in love and going forward with that commitment.”

Take Care in Making Large Gifts to Heirs

Asset Protection, Current Events, Estate PlanningNo Comments

Do you have a provision in your will or trust to pass your house on to your kids when you die? If so, you may want to consider giving the house to them now, before the end of the year. According to this article in the New York Times, doing so could be beneficial to both your heirs and yourself.

It’s easy to see how your heirs might benefit from receiving at least part of their inheritance now. The lapse in the estate taxes only last through the end of the year, “it is scheduled to come back next year with a vengeance. Unless Congress changes current law, the estate tax rate will be 55 percent (60 percent in some cases) on all but the first $1 million, except for what you bequeath to your spouse or charity.”

What may not be quite as obvious is how gifting a large asset right now can benefit you as the giver. “By shifting real estate now, you remove the asset and any subsequent increase in its value from your estate — an especially timely move if your property’s value is depressed and you expect it to bounce back at some point. What’s more, if you wind up owing tax on the gift, the rate now is less than it may be later. Barring Congressional action, the tax rate for 2010 is 35 percent, rising to 55 percent on Jan. 1.”

Making such a large gift is not necessarily without its “hurdles” as the article calls them. Amongst these hurdles include deciding whether you want to continue living in the house, whether to break up interest in the asset or keep it as a cohesive whole, and the potential awkwardness of having a business relationship with family. The article offers a number of thoughtful solutions to these issues, all well worth considering.

As beneficial as such a gift may be to both grantor and recipient, we strongly urge you to discuss the details of such a large gift with your estate or financial planner before you take any action.

You’re Never Too Young to Need a Financial Planner

Asset ProtectionNo Comments

Most people don’t think about visiting a financial planner until they’re old enough to have some money to manage, but if your child is a recent college graduate, or in his or her final year, you may want to consider a joint trip to your financial planner. A recent article in the Boston Globe lists a number of very compelling reasons why even young adults with little or no savings can benefit from a little bit of planning.

1. A visit to a financial planner can help young adults learn early the importance of budgeting: “If you are living on your own for the first time you haven’t had the responsibility yet of paying bills and learning to make your paycheck last until the next payday… One of the basic tenets of financial planning is to know where your money is going.”

2. Start planning for retirement while you’re still young. The earlier you start, the better off you’ll be. “A financial planner can go over the various fund choices in your 401(k) or other retirement plan and help you choose one or more funds that suit your needs.”

3. Learn how to turn big dreams for the future into a reality. Whether you plan to get married, buy a house, or start your own business, “A Certified Financial Planner® can figure out how much you need to save and create a plan to make saving painless.”

4. And finally, a financial planner can help young adults learn the basic tenets and terminology of borrowing, lending, saving smart and paying off loans with interest. “Learn about interest rates and how they work, whether they are for credit cards, auto loans, student loan or other borrowing. See how compound interest can help you reach goals faster.” An early trip to a knowledgeable professional can ensure that your child doesn’t get taken in by persuasive credit card companies.

Planning to Live Through the 2010 Estate Tax Repeal? You Can Still Save on Taxes

Asset ProtectionNo Comments

It is common knowledge that 2010 is a great year for heirs. If you didn’t know about the 2010 estate tax repeal, all the media coverage of George Steinbrenner’s recent death (and his heirs’ lucky tax break) probably alerted you. Everybody is saying that 2010 is a good year to die… But what about those of us who plan to live through 2010?

According to the New York Times even hale and hearty individuals can save on their taxes in 2010—it just takes a little more planning. “A bigger issue [than the estate tax]… has become the gift tax, which is linked to the estate tax to prevent people from giving away their fortune in life to avoid taxes at death. It now stands at 35 percent, the lowest rate since the 1930s.” The gift tax is a tax on money or property that you give to another individual while you are still living. Currently an individual may give up to $13,000 per year (or up to $26,000 if you give as a married couple) without incurring gift tax.

If you’re a wealthy parent or grandparent trying to decrease your taxable estate through gift-giving, this is the year to do it for a number of reasons. First, of course, is the historically low 35% gift tax rate. Second, “in addition to the historically low rate, another reason to make sizable gifts this year is that the values of many assets are still depressed. Long-held stocks, real estate and shares in private businesses could all increase in value, and giving them away now will allow them to appreciate with your heirs and not in your estate.” A final reason to consider giving your large gifts before the year is over is that the 35% rate won’t last forever; the gift tax is expected to rise to 55% next year.

How can you take advantage of this lucky confluence of events? Well, as always when you’re dealing with large sums of money (not to mention dealing with the IRS), you’ll want to be careful. We do NOT recommend that you simply write a check for $13,000+. Contact your estate planner or your financial planner to find out how you can safely reduce your taxable estate while giving security to the people you love.

Women and Finances: How Estate Planning Can Help

Asset Protection, Estate Planning, Retirement PlanningNo Comments

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.

Do Expected Changes to GRAT Legislation Affect YOUR Plans?

Asset ProtectionNo Comments

If you (or your financial planner) have been considering creating a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) to avoid gift taxes on financial gifts to family members you may want to read this article from Forbes before you take the final step. According to author Seth R. Kaplan there has been much talk in Washington of late about what he calls “anti-GRAT legislation”, and although the offending bills have not passed in the Senate thus far, it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before the rules and regulations regarding GRATs change—and not necessarily for the better.

According to Kaplan “a bill co-sponsored by 10 senators (relating to an extension of COBRA premium assistance) was introduced at the end of June containing provisions targeting GRATs, the most significant of which requires GRATs to have a minimum term of 10 years. So it appears that some form of this anti-GRAT legislation will eventually become law.”

This ten year minimum will put a stop to the short-term GRATs (2-4 years) which have been especially popular among elderly individuals (a popularity that is understandable considering that if the grantor dies before the expiration of the trust the assets will revert back to the grantor’s estate and are subject to estate taxes.) But Kaplan claims that long-term GRATs can still be “a powerful tool for effective wealth transfer planning, especially where interest rates are low and asset values are depressed but expected to rise.”

If you’ve been considering creating a GRAT, and know that you want the short-term GRAT, you’ll probably want to talk to your estate planner or financial advisor ASAP, before the restrictive legislation Kaplan is expecting comes to pass. However, the proposed legislation doesn’t have to be a loss. If you have the time, you may want to consider the benefits of the long-term GRAT.

Options Abound With Out-of-State Trusts

Asset Protection, Estate Planning, Tax PlanningNo Comments

If you have a family trust—or are considering creating a family trust—to protect your assets you may want to ask your attorney about creating an out of state trust. It’s a grantor’s market (so to speak) and creating a trust these days doesn’t mean you have to simply accept the tax laws of your state of residence. Creating a trust in another state—with tax laws that are friendlier to trusts—is a perfectly legal option, “the only real requirement is that [you] choose an in-state trustee.”

As we mention frequently on our blog, there are many reasons for families to create a trust: credit protection, keeping assets in the family, estate planning, educational savings, and many more. Furthermore, trusts are no longer an exclusive tool for the rich and famous; trusts are useful for just about everybody, and the states recognize this.

“States such as Alaska, Delaware, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming have modified their trust laws in recent years to make them more attractive to individuals and families, including nonresidents, looking to minimize taxes, shield assets from creditors and preserve family assets in the event of a divorce, among other things.”

If you would like to explore your options for out-of-state trusts we recommend working with your local attorney, someone you trust who can meet with you when needed, who can draft the trust documents for you. Your local attorney can then have a licensed attorney from the state of your choice review the documents for state-specific issues.

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