taxes

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Beneficiaries

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Beneficiaries

“Probate” is a dirty word to most people.

Sure, sometimes it can be helpful. But you generally want to avoid it.

Think of it like the raw broccoli that for some reason is included on every party platter everywhere, but without the dip. No dip, just raw broccoli. Avoid. It.

One of the ways to avoid probate is by naming beneficiaries on your financial accounts and contractual policies.

In estate planning, a beneficiary is a person or entity who receives part of your estate after your death. You can name a beneficiary through your estate planning documents OR through a contract such as a life insurance policy, IRA, or agreement with your bank.

If you designate a beneficiary on an account or policy, then the assets or proceeds of that account or policy will pass directly to the named beneficiary, probate-free, after your death.

Sounds cool, right?

Right. It is very cool.

However, sometimes beneficiary designations can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. Here are some mistakes to avoid when naming beneficiaries:

1. Not naming a beneficiary

This one seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it is so easy to avoid.

If you do not name a beneficiary (or take other steps to avoid probate), you are virtually ensuring that your estate will be probated. And although probate is not the worst thing in the world, it is costly and time consuming. It is also usually avoidable.

Even if you believe all your accounts and policies have named beneficiaries, double check. Triple check. Check once a year. Do everything you can to make sure you don’t make the silly mistake of forgetting to name a beneficiary.

However, designating beneficiaries is not always as easy as it sounds…

How much can you save for retirement in 2019?

How much can you save for retirement in 2019?

You remember that part of How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey version, of course, because it’s the best one) where — spoiler alert — the Grinch realizes the true meaning of Christmas and his heart grows three sizes?

That basically happened in real life a few months ago, except instead of the Grinch it’s the IRS and instead of “Christmas” it’s “retirement savings.” (The heart-growing thing doesn’t really enter into it. Also Christmas was over a month ago. This was a bad analogy.)

Starting in the 2019 tax year (for filing in 2020), you can contribute even more money toward retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401(k). It’s a Christmas miracle!

Changes to IRA and 401(k) Contribution Limits

Below is a brief summary of the new inflation-adjusted numbers for retirement account contributions; see IRS Notice 2018-83 for more technical guidance.

401(k)s. In 2019, the annual contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal Thrift Savings Plan, is $19,000. That is up from $18,500 in 2018.

This is How Much You Will Pay in Taxes in 2019

This is How Much You Will Pay in Taxes in 2019

Interesting fact: many tax provisions are indexed for inflation.

Okay, I may have a loose definition of “interesting.” But the fact is still true. And inflation indexing is actually a really important thing when it comes to taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently made several announcements regarding the 2019 tax year, including the updated estate and gift tax exemption.

Also included in the announcements were annual inflation adjustments for over 60 tax code provisions for 2019: tax rate schedules, standard deductions, cost-of-living adjustments, and more.

In the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would explain what these inflation announcements are and what they mean to you. After all, nothing says “Merry Christmas” like taxes.

Important note: Keep in mind that the numbers discussed in this post are for the tax year beginning January 1, 2019. These are not the numbers you will use to prepare your 2018 tax returns which will be filed in April 2019 (you can find that information here). This is the information you will need for your 2019 tax returns in 2020.**

IRS Raises Estate and Gift Tax Limits for 2019

IRS Raises Estate and Gift Tax Limits for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced that the estate and gift tax exemption is increasing next year: up from $11.18 million per individual in 2018 to $11.4 million in 2019.

This means that if an individual dies in 2019, she can leave $11.4 million to heirs and pay no federal estate tax. Using a concept called estate tax portability, a married couple can shield double that amount, $22.8 million, from estate taxes.

The IRS also confirmed that the annual gift exclusion amount for 2019 remains at $15,000 per individual per year, unchanged from 2018. This means you can give $15,000 to as many people you want (me, for instance) each year without filing a gift tax return.

Now that we have these big announcements out of the way, let’s unpack what all this fun information actually means.

15 Best Personal Finance Blogs

15 Best Personal Finance Blogs

I once had a client who asked me to create a comprehensive estate plan, the whole package: trust, will, power of attorney, etc. It was exactly what she needed.

So I drafted the documents, she signed them. She died about a year later.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But good thing she had estate planning documents, though, right?” There was just one problem:

There was no money left in the estate for the heirs.

My client spent all this time and thought and money for a great estate plan that was ultimately (essentially) useless because she spent all her money.

Most people want an estate plan primarily to make it easier for their loved ones to get the property you leave them. But if you don’t have any property to leave, then the plan doesn’t do much.

The point is this: Estate planning is much broader than simply creating legal documents that pass on your “stuff.” It also involves creating a financial plan to make sure you have “stuff” to pass on.

Do I need to pay inheritance taxes?

Do I need to pay inheritance taxes?

Do you want to pay less in taxes?

Of course you do. I would be worried if you wanted to pay more in taxes...

The question is HOW you can pay less in taxes. Here's one way: estate planning.

A good estate plan can help you minimize your tax burden. Specifically, estate planning can impact (1) income taxes, (2) inheritance taxes, and (3) estate taxes.

Most people are familiar with income taxes. However, they are less familiar with estate taxes; and many people have no idea that inheritance taxes even exist. So it comes as no surprise that one of the most common questions I get from prospective clients is:

"Do I need to pay inheritance taxes?"

It is a good question and is usually accompanied by a number of other, related questions:

  • What, exactly, is an inheritance tax?

  • Is an inheritance tax the same thing as an estate tax?

  • How can I avoid having to pay an inheritance tax?

This blog post will answer these questions, give you a better understanding of the difference between inheritance taxes and estate taxes, and explain how those laws operate in Oklahoma.

Estate Tax Portability in a Nutshell

Estate Tax Portability in a Nutshell

In a world of computers that fit in your pocket and phones on your wrist, "portability" is all the rage. And for the last six years, it has been all the rage in estate planning circles as well — except "portability" in this context has nothing to do with how small something is.

What is estate tax portability?

As of January 1, 2018, the estate tax exemption for individuals is $11.2 million, adjusted for inflation. In other words, if your assets are worth $11.2 million or less at the time of your death (and you have not used any of your combined estate and gift tax exemption), your estate owes no estate tax. But upon the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse can elect to use the deceased spouse's unused exemption amount (also known as "DSUE"), effectively doubling the estate tax exemption for married couples to $22.4 million. This election is known as estate tax portability.

Ghostbusters: Preventing Identity Theft After Death

Ghostbusters: Preventing Identity Theft After Death

Each year, approximately 2.5 million Americans have their identity stolen... after their deaths. These stolen identities are used to borrow money, purchase cell phones, fraudulently open credit cards, etc., all of which can dramatically impact the liability exposure of the decedent's estate. Criminals may even file tax returns under the name of the decedent and collect refunds (totaling $5.2 billion in 2011) that rightly belong to someone you.

Welcome to the world of "ghosting": the theft of a deceased individual's identity.

How does "ghosting" happen?

Your identity as a deceased individual is perhaps more vulnerable to theft than your identity as a living individual. Suppose you pass away today. It can take six months or more for credit-reporting agencies, financial institutions, and the Social Security Administration to register your death records and share information that lets other governmental agencies and financial institutions know you are deceased. During that time, you aren't regularly checking your credit score or other financial information because, you know, you're dead.

5 Ways to Avoid Probate

5 Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate is a dirty word to most people. It's time-consuming, expensive, public, and brings with it the possibility of infighting and costly litigation. So how can you avoid it? The short answer: estate planning. But as we have written before, estate planning is a very broad topic. So here are five ways you can use estate planning to avoid probate:

1. Give away your entire estate.

This might seem like the most logical solution and, sadly, many people do it without thinking of the consequences. If you give away your assets, you also give away control over them. If, for example, you give your home to your child, you cannot control who lives there or if it is sold or mortgaged or seized by your child's creditors — even if you're living there. Giving away your estate may also trigger a federal gift tax. What's more, if you give your child your home as a gift during your lifetime, they cannot take advantage of a concept known as stepped-up basis and could instead be forced to pay large capital gains taxes in the future.

What is Estate Planning?

What is Estate Planning?

Most people have been told that they need an estate plan, but what exactly IS estate planning? What does it mean to have an estate plan, and why is it important to have one? Although estate planning is a very broad subject, it can be boiled down to this: An estate plan helps ensure that the proper people can take care of your SELF in the event of your incapacity and that the proper people get your STUFF in the event of your death. An estate plan includes several key aspects:

1. Formal documents

You have most likely heard of two very common estate-planning documents: a Last Will and Testament and a Living Trust. These documents say what happens to your STUFF after you die. Importantly, a Will is still subject to probate after your death; however, a properly funded Trust can avoid probate.