(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
5 Reasons to Protect Your Retirement Accounts Now

5 Reasons to Protect Your Retirement Accounts Now

During your lifetime, your retirement account has good asset protection, but as soon as you pass that account to a loved one, that protection evaporates. This means one lawsuit and POOF! Your life long, hard earned savings could be gone. Your heirs could be left penniless.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. A special trust called a “Standalone Retirement Trust” (SRT) can protect inherited retirement accounts from your beneficiaries’ creditors.

When your spouse, child, or other loved one inherits your retirement account, their creditors have the power to seize it and take it as their own.

If you’re like most people, you’re thinking of protecting your retirement account so your family can benefit – rather than the creditors. Here are 5 reasons to protect your retirement account:

  1. You have substantial combined retirement plans. Spouses can use an SRT to shield one or the other from creditors.
  2. You believe your beneficiary may be “less than frugal” with the funds. Anyone concerned about how their beneficiary will spend the inheritance should absolutely consider an SRT as you can provide oversight and instruction on how much they receive – and when.
  3. You are concerned about lawsuits, divorce, or other possible legal actions. If your beneficiary is part of a lawsuit, is about to divorce, file for bankruptcy, or is involved in any type of legal action, an SRT can protect the inherited retirement accounts from those creditors.
  4. You have beneficiaries who receive assistance. If one of your beneficiaries receives, or may qualify for, a need-based governmental assistance program, it’s important to know that inheriting from an IRA may cause them to lose those benefits. An SRT can be drafted to avoid disqualification.
  5. You are remarried with children from a previous marriage. If you are remarried and have children from a previous marriage, your spouse could intentionally (or even unintentionally) disinherit your children. You can avoid this by naming the spouse as a lifetime beneficiary of the trust and then having the remainder pass onto your children from a previous marriage after your spouse’s death.

You’ve Worked Hard To Protect & Grow Your Wealth – Let’s Keep It That Way

You worked hard to save the money in those retirement accounts and your beneficiaries’ creditors shouldn’t be able take it from them. Give me a call at (858) 432-3923 and let me show you how an SRT can help you protect your assets as well as provide tax deferred growth.

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Big “Life Changes” Often Mean Big “Estate Plan Changes”

Big “Life Changes” Often Mean Big “Estate Plan Changes”

Many people who put together an estate plan do so when they start a family – assuming they put an estate plan together at all during their lifetime. While putting an estate plan together is a good thing to do, many people make few updates once the plan has been created, despite other key life events happening over the years. This is a major mistake that can place your hard-earned money and assets into a costly probate or into the wrong hands.

Estate planning must be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that your plan still accomplishes your goals and objectives and will work the way you want it to at incapacity and at death.

To make sure you do not run into these issues and your wishes are followed in the event of your incapacity at at your death, below are nine life decisions or events that should get you thinking about updating — or creating — your estate plan right away.

Important Life Decisions

There are several important life decisions that you should factor into your estate plan. They include:

  1. Getting married: Estate planning after tying the knot does not have to be complicated. Simply updating your beneficiary information, purchasing a life insurance policy, and updating emergency contact information are all things that should happen right away. You should also consider preparing a will and a living will. As your marriage progresses, it may make sense to consider a revocable trust as well. Having discussions with your spouse about how you want your estate to be managed depending on different scenarios is also important.
  2. Getting divorced: While couples do not plan for divorce, many spouses go through this process. For many, the emotional toll and legal complexities of divorce can be overwhelming. Oftentimes estate planning is overshadowed by the divorce, resulting in unintended consequences. Making sure you make changes to your estate plan as soon as your divorce proceedings have been finalized will make sure your ex will not end up with the house, life insurance proceeds or other assets of yours.
  3. Buying life insurance: These policies are present in virtually all estate plans and serve as a useful source of liquidity, education-expense coverage, and financial support for your family or loved ones. Make sure to list all beneficiaries under the policy and make sure to update them as time passes.
  4. Buying a new home: When you purchase or refinance a home or other real estate, you should always make sure the asset is titled appropriately. If you use a trust, sometimes a lender will take a property out of a trust during a refinance. The key is to make sure your title furthers your goals.
  5. Having a child: While adding another member to your family is an exciting time in your life, it is not an excuse to forget to update your estate plan. A new child necessitates major revisions to your estate plan. This not only affects who will inherit your estate upon your death but will also require you deciding who will be the guardian of your children if you should die before they become adults. As your child grows and matures — and more children are added — your estate plan will likely continue to change.
  6. Starting a business: If you start a business or ownership interest changes in a current business, you need to understand what impact these changes have on your estate plan. Even more, there may be tax implications that could affect your heirs without proper planning ahead of time.
  7. Death of a loved one: The passing away of someone listed in your will is often overlooked in estate planning. These individuals may be named guardians to your children, have an inheritance allocated to them, be designated as emergency contacts, or may be named as executors of your estate. Leaving the role vacant can have terrible unintended consequences and necessitates transitioning new people to fill the void left behind by your loved one’s death right away.
  8. Moving to another state or country: When you change your residency from one state to another, you must review your estate plan to make sure it conforms with local laws. The same is true if you move to another country. Likewise, if you have property in more than one state or country, special attention must be paid to how those assets will be distributed according to your estate plan and applicable law.
  9. Change in work benefits: Whether this happened through a promotion, demotion, or your employer just changed the benefits they offer, this could impact the type amount of assets you have available. Look at your estate plan to see if your goals are still achievable or if you can do more with what you have.

Estate Planning Advice

Planning based on your life stages is important because your circumstances over the years will change. The only thing certain in life is change. Your estate plan must be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect your life’s changes. If you have any questions about estate planning — or have had to make a recent big decision in your life — contact me at (858) 432-3923 to learn more about your options.

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Retirement Planning for Business Owners

Retirement Planning for Business Owners

For many employees, saving for retirement is usually a matter of simply participating in their employer’s 401(k) plan and perhaps opening an IRA for some extra savings.

But, when you’re the owner of a business, planning for retirement requires proactivity and strategy. It’s not just the dizzying array of choices for retirement accounts, there’s also planning for the business itself. Who will run the business after your retirement? Additionally, your estate plan must integrate into your retirement and business transition strategy.

Owners of businesses (like employees and everyone else) want to make sure they will have enough money in retirement. Business owners recognize the value of their businesses, so they are often tempted to reinvest everything into the enterprise, thinking that will be their “retirement plan.” However, this might be a mistake.

Retirement Accounts for Business Owners

Rather than placing all your eggs in one basket, it makes sense to have some “backup” strategies in place. There are many retirement account options open to business owners. Although the number of options can make things confusing, a tax and financial professional can often quickly make a recommendation for you.

For example, you may consider opening a 401(k), SEP-IRA, SIMPLE, or pension plan. This can reduce your income taxes now, while simultaneously placing some of your wealth outside your business. From a financial perspective, these account are tax-deferred, so the investment growth avoids taxation until you retire, which greatly boosts returns. The “best” plan really depends on how much income your business earns, how stable your earnings are, how many employees you have, and how generous you want to be with those employees. You must consider how generous you’ll be with employees because the law requires most tax-deferred plans to be “fair” to all employees. For example, you can’t open a pension or 401(k) for yourself only and exclude all of your full-time employees. When making this decision, consider that many employees value being able to save for their retirement and your generosity may be repaid with harder work and loyalty from the employees.

Depending on how many employees you have, you may even consider “self-directed” investment options, which can allow you to invest some or all of your retirement funds into “alternative” investments, such as precious metals, private lending arrangements, real estate, other closely held businesses, etc. These self-directed accounts are not for everyone, but for the right person, they open up a wide world of investment opportunities. The tax rules surrounding self-directed tax-deferred accounts are very complex and penalties can be incredibly high. So, if you choose to do self-directed investments, always work with a qualified tax advisor.

Outside of your business, you can likely contribute to an IRA or a Roth IRA. This can allow you to add more money to your retirement basket, especially if you’ve maximized your 401(k), SEP, or SIMPLE plan. Like the other tax-deferred accounts, self-directed IRAs are also an option, opening up a broad world of investment options.

As a business owner, you likely have a great deal of control over your health insurance decisions. If you’re relatively young and healthy or otherwise an infrequent user of health care services, consider using a high deductible health plan (HDHP) and a health savings account (HSA) to add additional money to your savings. These plans let you set aside money in the HSA which can be invested in a manner similar to IRAs. At any time after you setup the account, you can withdraw your contributions and earnings, tax-free, to pay for qualified medical expenses. And, after you turn 65, the money can be used for whatever purpose you want, although income tax will need to be paid on the distributions.

Selling or Transferring the Business

Many business owners dream of a financially lucrative “exit” when a business is sold, taken public, or otherwise transferred at a significant profit for the owner. This does not happen by accident – a business owner must first create and sustain a profitable enterprise that can be sold. Then, legal and tax strategies must be coordinated to minimize the burdensome hit of taxes and avoid the common legal risks that can happen when businesses are sold. When a business is sold, the net proceeds can form a significant component of the owner’s retirement. When supplemented by one or more of the retirement accounts discussed above, this can be a great outcome for a business owner.

On the other hand, other businesses are “family” businesses where children or grandchildren will one day become owners. Like their counterparts who will sell their businesses, these business owners must also focus on creating and sustaining a profitable enterprise, but the source of retirement money is a little less clear. In these cases, clearly thinking through the transition plan to the next generation is essential. Although the business can be given to the next generation through a trust or outright, there are also transition options to allow for children, grandchildren, or even employees to gradually buy-out the owner, if the owner needs or wants to obtain a portion of the retirement nest egg from the business.

The Importance of Estate Planning

Regardless of which retirement accounts (401(k), SEP, SIMPLE, IRAs, HSAs) you select, it is wise to integrate them into your estate planning. You’ve probably already considered who you want to take over your business after you retire (perhaps a son or daughter or a sale to a third party). For your retirement accounts, an IRA trust is a special trust designed to maximize the financial benefit, minimize the income tax burden, and provide robust asset protection for your family. These trusts integrate with the rest of your comprehensive estate plan to fully protect your family, provide privacy, all while minimizing taxes and costs.

Leverage the Team Approach

Let me work with you, your business advisors or consultants, your tax advisor, and your financial advisor to develop a comprehensive retirement, business transition, and estate planning strategy. When we work collaboratively, we can focus on setting aside assets for retirement, saving as much tax possible, while freeing you to do what you do best – build your business!

Give me a call today at (858) 432-3923 so I can help you craft a retirement, business transition, and estate planning strategy.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce

3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce

The divorce process can be long and expensive. However, the work does not end once the divorce decree is signed. In order to ensure that your assets and estate planning wishes are carried out in light of this major life change, there are three things you must do as soon as possible.

Change Beneficiary Designation On Life Insurance

A life insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. You designate the beneficiary (the individual(s) or entity who will receive the proceeds upon your death) and the insurance company will pay them when you die. Because the beneficiary designation is a legally binding contract, the insurance company has to pay the individual listed as your beneficiary. If your ex-spouse is listed as the beneficiary, they will pay the funds out to him or her. It does not matter to the insurance company if the two of you are now divorced. Once the divorce is final, ensure that you update your beneficiary designations.

Update Beneficiary Designation On Retirement Plans

 Although state law may automatically revoke a designation on a retirement plan if the ex-spouse is listed, federal law states that the last named beneficiary is the one who is entitled to the funds. Depending upon what type of retirement account you have, it might be the state law that controls, or the federal law. To be on the safe side and avoid a potentially long and costly battle for your family, it is best to change the beneficiary as soon as possible after your divorce is final.

Create or Revise Your Estate Plan

If you and your former spouse had a joint trust, you will need to have your own individual trust created to hold the assets that you will own in your name only. California Law allows you to create a new estate plan while divorce proceedings are on-going; however, there are specific laws with respect to changing title on any community property assets. Therefore, it is crucial that you your Trust attorney and your Divorce attorney work together to discuss the character of all assets and when assets will be moved into your new Trust. In this new plan, you will need to think about who to name as the Trustee and Beneficiaries. If you have minor children, you may also need to consider who is going to be the individual to manage those assets on behalf of your children. In many cases, you probably don’t want your ex-spouse in these roles.

If you do not have any estate planning documents in place, now is the perfect time to get everything in order. After going through the divorce, you probably have a good idea as to what assets you own and the value of them. This will be very helpful as we discuss the right estate plan for you.

Your estate plan is more than just a Trust. It is a customized plan that ensures that you, your family and your assets are taken care when “something happens.” Something will happen and we do not have the fortune of knowing when, where and how. If you have an estate plan, this is the time to review them as many changes occurred post-divorce. Chances are you no longer want your ex-spouse to have the authority to sign documents on your behalf or make medical decisions for you. To avoid confusion by third parties as to who should be acting on your behalf, make sure to call me, your Personal Family Lawyer so we can update these essential documents.

I can help you cross the finish line

Divorce can be a long process. Before taking those next steps into your new life, call me, so I can make sure that you cross the finish line with documents that are able to carry you and your wishes forward.

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I offer expert advice on Wills, Trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles, especially if you are going through a divorce or recently divorced. Using proprietary systems, such as my Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, I’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget.  Contact me today to get started.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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Roth IRA Conversions After Tax Reform…Still a good idea?

Roth IRA Conversions After Tax Reform…Still a good idea?

What are the implications for your family if you don’t spend all the money?

Twenty years ago, the Roth IRA first became available to investors as a financial tool for their estate planning needs. These accounts have maintained their popularity because unlike their traditional IRA counterpart, a Roth IRA provides account owners tax-free income during retirement.  In fact, many people chose to convert their traditional IRA or 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA to benefit from this long-term tax advantage. (Of course, there is a current tax bill that has to be considered when you make a conversion.) The recently enacted tax reform, however, has removed one helpful opportunity: the ability to recharacterize — or undo — a Roth IRA conversion.

You can think of these recharacterizations as a second-look at whether the conversion made financial sense. For example, Kevin decides to convert a $100,000 traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. When Kevin does this, he has to pay income tax on the $100,000 now. This isn’t as bad of a deal as it sounds, because now the money is in a Roth IRA, where eventually all of the withdrawals will be tax free. When Kevin retires, he’ll have “tax-free” income from the Roth IRA instead of having to pay income tax on each withdrawal if it were still in the traditional IRA. In the past, if the market were to decline to say $90,000, Kevin could recharacterize — or undo — the conversion. This is important because he had to pay income tax on the full $100,000 of the conversion, but assets have declined in value only $90,000. So, Kevin would be paying income tax on a “phantom” $10,000 IRA conversion. Now, this second-look that a recharacterization offered is closed, so a Roth IRA conversion is just a little riskier than is used to be.

Implications For Loved Ones

Many people who create IRAs, and the ones who inherit them, are unfamiliar with the rules that apply to them. There are several basic scenarios that will result in different consequences for your loved ones in the event you pass away and leave behind an IRA.

First, if you die before spending all the money in your IRA you can leave the retirement account to your surviving children, grandchildren, or other beneficiary you have designated in your estate plan.

Second, the type of IRA — in other words, whether it is a traditional IRA versus a Roth IRA — is important as it vastly affects the amount of benefit your loved ones will receive. For example, when you leave behind a traditional IRA your family will pay income taxes on the money they withdraw when it is taken out of the account. On the other hand, if you leave behind a Roth IRA the money will be income tax-free for your family. Although both types of accounts are subject to the estate tax (or death tax), the death tax is likely a non-issue for most people now, as the federal estate exemption is presently over $11 million per person.

Third, you can create an IRA trust as part of your comprehensive estate plan. An IRA trust is special trust that is purposefully designed to receive IRA distributions for the benefit of your loved ones after you die. This powerful tool maximizes the benefit to your family upon your passing and can be used for both traditional or Roth IRAs. So, whether you decide to convert or not, you still need to consider an IRA trust.

Finally, although tax reformed altered the flexibility of IRA conversions by removing the ability to undo them with a recharacterization, a conversion may still be a good financial planning option for some. As you work with your financial and tax advisors on your conversions, consider your beneficiary designations and whether an IRA trust might be right for you.

Contact an Estate Planning Professional

There are several factors that should be considered when choosing financial and estate planning tools. Always work with a knowledgeable financial and tax professional. Then, work with me, as your knowledgeable Personal Family Lawyer, so we can achieve your goals and maximize the benefit to your loved ones.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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IRAs, Annuities and Guardianship: Providing for Your Minor Children after You Die

IRAs, Annuities and Guardianship: Providing for Your Minor Children after You Die

Deciding guardianship for your minor children may very well be the most vexing decision you’ll make regarding your estate planning. Not only must you trust the appointed guardian to raise your children as you’d want them raised, but you also need that person to be financially responsible with your children’s inheritance. For example, if you have an IRA or an annuity that you wish to pass to your minor children, how can you ensure those funds will be used properly—especially if the person you trust most to raise your kids isn’t necessarily the best with finances?

This question is multifaceted, so let’s unravel one aspect at a time.

The Question of Guardianship

Here’s the good news: The person who raises your minor children and the person who handles their inheritance don’t have to be the same person. If necessary, you can appoint one guardian to serve each function, naming one as the guardian of the person and another as the guardian of the estate. In this arrangement, you entrust one person with your children’s assets and another with their care, while enabling each to interact with the other. This dual guardianship model gives many parents peace of mind—knowing they don’t necessarily have to risk their children’s inheritance while ensuring that they are raised according to the family’s values.

Although guardianship of the estate is an option, for many families the best strategy for financially providing for the children is to use a trust. In that case, a trustee fulfills the responsibility that would otherwise belong to the guardian of the estate. The trust assets can be released to the children or the caregiver incrementally according to age and needs. For example, the trustee could distribute money for the children’s needs until age 18 and then manage for the money until the child is a financially mature adult. Your trustee may also exercise discretion in investing and distributing the funds for the children’s support, education, etc., coordinating with their physical guardian to ensure the children’s needs are met until they come of age. This can ensure that the assets are there when they’re needed for your family.

Passing an Annuity to the Children

Annuities pay out regular income—which can make them convenient vehicles to cover ongoing expenses for minor children. If you have set up an annuity for yourself or a spouse, you can name the children as beneficiaries, or you can also name a trust for the benefit of your children. If you are still paying into the annuity at the time of death, your children may receive the balance, or you may give a trustee the option of rolling the balance into another annuity to be paid out to the children at a later maturity date. If you are already receiving annuity payments yourself, the children may simply continue receiving these payments for the remainder of the term. Depending on your annuity contract, payouts may also be made lump sum. Annuities are a very flexible financial product with many different options. If you have annuity now, or if you are considering purchasing one, bring it up with me as we work on your estate plan so we can make sure it works with your will or trust seamlessly.

Transferring an IRA to the Children

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are also excellent vehicles to pass along wealth for minor children’s welfare—because, unlike most annuities, they have the ability to grow over time and can provide a lifetime of financial benefit to your children.

When you name the next generation as beneficiaries on an IRA, you effectively extend the IRA’s life expectancy. While the required minimum distribution payments to the children will be smaller than they would have been for you (since, according to the IRS’s rules, they have a longer life expectancy), the account balance can remain invested for growth over time. Your financial and tax advisor can evaluate your situation to help you decide which type of IRA (Roth or traditional) is the best option for your goals. And I can work with you to make sure that the IRA is fully protected against creditors, predators, and bad financial decision making with an IRA trust.

Planning for the welfare of minor children after your death is neither simple nor pleasant to consider, but it’s absolutely necessary for peace of mind. Determining the right person(s) to be the guardian of your children requires careful thought, but you don’t have to sacrifice your children’s inheritance for their proper care. With the right financial plan, you can manage both facets successfully. As always, I’m here to provide assistance and explain your options. Call my office for an appointment today.

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