Beyond “I Love You” Wills: Tax Advantaged Estate Planning With Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan

Estate Planning Goals:
What Do Most Families Want?

What do most couples want from estate planning and their Wills?

Welcome back for the fourth video blog post in my series on Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan: the best estate plan for married couples.

So, let’s talk a minute about estate planning goals in general and forget about taxes.  What do most couples want from estate planning?  They want to be sure that, no matter what, the surviving spouse will be safe and secure.  If they have kids and grandkids, they want to take care of them too.  This typically leads to what I call an I Love You will.  And truly, it’s a great place to start.  Most I Love You wills are simple and to the point:  Husband leaves everything to his wife.  Wife leaves everything to her husband.  Once they both die, the remainder goes to their children in equal shares.  And if, for some reason one or more of the children predecease the parents, that child’s share would go to his or her own children—hopefully in well-drafted trusts.  As I said, I am a huge fan of I Love You wills.  But, returning to the topic of taxes…we can optimize estate planning when we start thinking of the tax consequences for individual family members, and how that affects the family as a whole.

What’s great about the I Love You Wills

Okay, so what is great about the I Love You wills that name the spouse as the primary beneficiary and then the children equally?

  1. It provides for the surviving spouse. As such, it meets our primary objective.
  2. When you direct your assets to your spouse at death, there is no income tax on the transfer of your IRA or other retirement plans. With a tax-deferred plan, your spouse will continue taking required minimum distributions (RMD).  If a Roth IRA passes to the surviving spouse, there are no RMDs, and it can continue growing tax-free for the rest of his or her life.
  3. With the death of the second spouse, what’s left goes to the children.

That covers the basics.

What can be improved from with I Love You Wills?

Now, let’s look at what we might improve from the basic I Love You estate planning.  If you remember in the second video of this series, we looked at the nitty-gritty of what happens to your IRA after death.  Assuming the IRA distribution rules currently in place, you learned that a child’s required minimum distribution of an inherited IRA would be much lower than the required minimum distribution of the IRA for the spouse.  So, if financial circumstances permit, passing the IRA to a child defers taxes for a much longer period.  And, if we are looking the big tax-picture estate planning for the whole family, that is an advantageous tax strategy.  The tax advantage only improves if a grandchild is the beneficiary.  We can implement this tax-advantaged strategy if the disclaimers associated with Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan are in place.

The critical component with this type of estate planning is flexibility.  Having options that can maximize the tax benefits to the family based on the financial/life circumstances at the time of the first death is both comforting and smart.   Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan takes all the benefits of the I Love You will and adds flexibility and potentially enormous tax advantages.

In our next video blog, we will look at some of the best ways to plan in the face of uncertainty.

See you soon!

Jim

P.S. If you want to do a little advanced study on this topic before the next post and video, go to http://paytaxeslater.com/estate-planning/.

When Is Flexible Estate Planning with Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan the Best Solution?

Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan:
When is Flexible Estate Planning the Best Solution?

Hi all!  As we edge closer to Halloween, I want to talk a bit more about something that TRULY TERRIFIES me: bad estate planning.  In our scary tale, the villain: Concrete Contract, is trying to trap your beneficiaries into decisions made today—decades prior to your death—based on information and circumstances that will likely be completely different when the time comes to put the estate plan into motion. The devil is in the details, and you don’t want the devil involved!

Luckily, our flexible friend, Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan comes to the rescue! He provides the peace of mind that your beneficiaries will be able to make the best decisions with the facts at hand when the time comes.  Once again, flexible estate planning protects the innocent and saves the day!

Ok… Ok… I know that was a little silly.  But it is still true. Since the mid-1990s, Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan has been saving beneficiaries from being trapped by decisions made decades in the past when an estate plan was drafted. In my opinion, there is no better option for your estate planning, particularly if your family is not a blended family—more traditional, so to speak.  In the accompanying video, I am going to explain my reasons for using this flexible estate plan and describe how it can provide optimal solutions under many circumstances.

As I have touched on before, the biggest problem in estate planning is that we don’t know what is going to happen in the future.  We don’t know when we are going to die.  We don’t know how much money we’re going to have.  We can’t anticipate the future needs of our surviving spouse.  We can’t know the needs of the children and grandchildren—or even whether there will be grandchildren.  We don’t know what the tax laws are going to be.  In point-of-fact, we don’t know what the tax laws are going to be next year much less a couple of decades from now!

A previous blog and video series addressed possible changes in the tax laws regarding retirement plans… and I said then, what I will say now.  The best thing that you can do to protect your family from those changes—not knowing what the future holds—is to make sure you have a flexible estate plan.  If we lose the ability to stretch an IRA, if inherited IRAs are taxed at an accelerated rate, if tax rates become more unfavorable for your family, then they will need flexibility to make financially sound decisions. Managing the tax impact on your legacy is critical.

What do you need to have Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan work for your family?  Trust.  For this plan to work well, you absolutely must trust your spouse. This is really important, because after you die, your spouse will have the power to make a lot of critical decisions—hopefully in conjunction with other trusted family members and a trusted advisor, and armed with your wishes too.

Estate planning with cascading beneficiaries is not a new concept, but I put my twist on it making it work particularly well for IRA and retirement plan owners with traditional families. Then, I started calling it Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan.  After decades of use, I’ve seen this plan serve my clients very well.

The video goes over the details of how this plan should be set up and how to name beneficiaries. I think it is really critical to get this right, and I want to make sure all my readers do get it right. Flexible estate planning has never been more critical as we stand in the shadow of the Death of the Stretch IRA. Good planning could save your family a lot of worry and a lot of money.

Stop back soon for more on Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan.

Jim

P.S. If you want to do a little advanced study on this topic before the next post and video, go to http://paytaxeslater.com/estate-planning/.

The Best Time for Roth IRA conversions: Before or After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

For many individuals, a series of well-timed Roth IRA conversions can be the best defense against the Death of the Stretch IRA.

The Best Time for Roth IRA conversions: Before or After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

A lot of clients ask me if I manage my own finances the way I recommend they manage theirs, and the answer is definitely “yes”.   I realized though, that I have not told you my own Roth IRA conversion story, and how my decision will affect my own family after the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Roth IRA Conversions – The Best Time is in Years of Low Income

Think back to 1998.  It was long before we ever had to worry about the Death of the Stretch IRA, and it was the first year you were permitted to make Roth IRA conversions.  Back then, if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income was more than $100,000 you were restricted from making Roth IRA conversions.  Our family’s income was over $100,000, so I thought my income restricted me and never imagined I’d be eligible to do Roth IRA conversions myself.  Then on February 16, 1998, our office was wiped out by a devastating fire that started in a pizza shop located directly below us.  Can you imagine this happening to a CPA firm in the middle of tax season?

I learned some valuable lessons from this experience.  First, never put your office above a pizza shop.  Second, I learned more about the insurance process than I ever cared to know.  We had extremely high expenses because everything needed fixed and, even though I was well insured, I didn’t get the check for the damage until 1999. That meant that 1998 was a very tough year for the business financially.   I couldn’t take a salary, and for the first time our family’s income was far less than $100,000.  Did I get upset?  No.  I said to my wonderful wife, “Cindy, I think we have an opportunity here”.

My wife and I had about $250,000 in Traditional IRAs between us.  I told her that our normal income level would restrict us from making Roth IRA conversions, but our income in 1998 was far below normal – making that year the best time for us to do Roth IRA conversions.  I told her that I thought we should convert the entire amount to Roth IRAs and voluntarily pay the tax due the $250,000 conversion amount.  After she got over her initial shock, she looked at the mathematical calculations I had done and, being an extremely intelligent woman, she immediately understood that our family would be better off by hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.  And so we did it – we converted every last dime of our IRAs to Roths.  And those Roth IRAs are now worth quite a lot more than they were in 1998.

The law has since changed, and there are no longer any income restrictions on Roth IRA conversions.  This means that you can do smaller Roth IRA conversions over a series of years rather than all at once like I did, and by doing so you can convert them at a lower tax rate than I was able to.  The best time for many retired individuals is the period after you’ve stopped working, but before you are required to take minimum distributions from your IRAs and retirement plans.  And with the Death of the Stretch IRA looming, there are probably even more reasons now for you to consider Roth IRA conversions than I had when my office caught fire in 1998.

Transferring my Roth IRA to My Child

Twenty years later, it is likely that Cindy and I will never spend those Roth IRAs.  Some people will argue that, if that’s the case, there was no benefit to us converting our IRAs to Roths.  Why pay tax when you didn’t have to, they ask?  Well, I guess it’s because, in the long run, I was thinking of what would happen when I die and my Roth IRA is transferred to my child.  My daughter Erica was only three years old when we did those Roth IRA conversions.  If I die tomorrow and my Roth IRA is transferred to her, she’ll be hundreds of thousands of dollars better off because I did that conversion.  And if I live for another twenty years, it’s not unreasonable to think that she’ll be more than a million dollars better off when I die.

When my Roth IRA is transferred to her after my death, Erica will still be required to take minimum distributions from the account every year.  If I die before the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation is passed, those minimum distributions can be stretched over her lifetime and the bulk of the IRA can continue to grow in a tax-free environment.  If I die after the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation is passed, she’ll be required to withdraw the entire IRA within five years.  Although the money will be forced from the tax shelter more quickly, at least the withdrawals will be tax-free to her.  And I can’t think of a better present for my little girl.

Stop back soon for more Roth IRA talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even if The Death of Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass
The Death of the Stretch IRA: Will the Rich Get Richer?

The Death of the Stretch IRA: Will the Rich Get Richer?

Do Roth IRA Conversions Make the Rich even Richer? Will This Change After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Do Roth IRA Conversions Make the Rich even Richer? Will This Change After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

My most recent blog posts have been about Roth IRA conversions, and how they might benefit you under both existing law and the proposed law that would spell the Death of the Stretch IRA.  This post continues this discussion, and outlines the benefits of transferring Roth IRAs to your children.

How Do the Rich Get Rich? 

There’s been a lot of media coverage about rich people lately, have you noticed?  The rich don’t pay taxes!  The rich are getting richer!  And so on.  Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there are many rich people who don’t deserve all of the abuse they get about their wealth.  Are there rich people who get their money from stealing and cheating?  Certainly, and I hope the long arm of the law finds every one of them and brings them to justice.  But I have many clients who are, by most people’s standards, rich – and not one of them ever failed to pay their taxes, or stole their money from someone else.  Most of them had decent but not high-paying jobs, and the vast majority of them didn’t inherit their wealth either.  So how do the rich get rich, and how do they continue to get richer?

In the late 1960’s, Stanford University conducted a study where the children who participated could receive a small reward (a marshmallow) immediately, or choose to receive a larger reward (two marshmallows) after waiting a short period of time.  Some of the kids, of course, ate the marshmallow immediately.  Others, though, waited for what probably felt like a lifetime, and were rewarded with the second marshmallow.

Most of my clients are two-marshmallow people.  This means that during their lifetimes, every financial decision they made considered both the short-term and long-term benefits.  Could they afford the monthly payment on a Cadillac?  Probably, but they opted for Fords instead and banked the difference between the monthly payments.  Could they use credit to buy new living room furniture?  Yes, but they waited until they had enough money saved up to pay cash because they wanted to avoid paying interest on their purchase.  Two-marshmallow people understand that sometimes it makes sense to do with less now, in exchange for a bigger payoff in the future.  That’s how many of the rich get rich in the first place, and could be why the rich continue to get richer.  And a similar mind set could be a lifesaver for you when the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation is passed, and you are scrambling to find ways to keep your hard-earned money out of the hands of the government.

Roth IRA Conversions: Not Just For Rich People Who Don’t Want to Pay Taxes

Many uninformed individuals think that strategies like Roth IRA conversions are simply tools designed to allow rich people to get richer, and to avoid paying taxes.   That’s not exactly true.  Roth IRA conversions can help anyone, not just rich people, get richer and avoid paying more taxes than necessary.    In fact, I would argue that Roth IRA conversions can be of more benefit to someone who isn’t rich, because an additional $50,000 over the course of their lifetime would probably be far more important than it would be to someone who has more money than they can ever spend.  But Roth IRA conversions can make a lot of sense if you are a two-marshmallow person, regardless of how much money you have.  And it’s especially true if your money lasts longer than you do, and you end up transferring your IRAs and retirement plans to your children.  Roth IRAs can make a significant difference for your heirs in light of the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Transferring Roth IRAs to Your Children

The video in this post compares two individuals – one makes a Roth IRA conversion of $100,000 and the other does not.  The conversion provides a small benefit during the Roth IRA owner’s lifetime – so even though he pays taxes on the conversion amount, he still ends up with two marshmallows.  But suppose he never spends the money and, at his death, the Roth IRA is transferred to his children?   Over the course of their lifetimes, the children get ten marshmallows.  And suppose his children don’t spend the Roth IRA, and instead transfer it to their own children (preferably by disclaiming it to a trust).  Over the course of their lifetimes, the grandchildren get an entire bag of marshmallows!

So did the rich get richer?  Yes.  Did they do anything illegal, or anything that you can’t do yourself?  No.  Roth IRA conversions were the brainchild of the government – they want you to pay taxes sooner than you have to so that they have more money to spend.  You may have change your way of thinking to that of a two-marshmallow person, and possibly do with less now in exchange for a greater payoff down the road.  But doing so can enable you to create your own family dynasty that will benefit your heirs for generations to come, and help them offset the devastating effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Stop back soon for more Roth IRA conversion talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even if The Death of Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass

How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even if The Death of Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass

How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even If the Death of the Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass

In my last post, I talked about a concept called purchasing power.  If you missed that post, I’d go back and read it because the information contained in it is the key to understanding the benefits of Roth IRA conversions.  In short, it explains why you need to consider more than just the dollar value of Roth and Traditional IRAs, in order to determine if a Roth conversion can benefit you.

Las week, we discussed that, if you measure your accounts in terms of their purchasing power rather than their dollar value, it is quite possible that you and your spouse can benefit from Roth IRA conversions.  The greater benefit, though, is likely to be recognized by your children and grandchildren.  This is true even if the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation does not pass, although I believe it will.

When Roth IRA conversions were first introduced, I believed that they could provide a huge benefit to my clients who had large IRAs.  It wasn’t just a feeling that I had, I did the math to support my position.  Unfortunately, many people were still afraid of this new-fangled idea, and they just didn’t want to hear about it no matter how much it might benefit their families. So I thought to myself, how can I get people to believe me?  In 1997, I published the very first peer-reviewed article on Roth IRA conversions.  Submitting a paper for peer-review is a daunting process.  Imagine a team of CPA’s who are just waiting to find fault with everything you say.  Well, guess what?  After they read it, they all said “He’s right!” – and my article on Roth IRA conversions was accepted for peer-reviewed publication. It was a ground-breaking idea, and I received a lot of attention by the mainstream media because I was a pioneer.  Even to this day I continue to advise several prestigious publications on this topic.  But for many individuals who have large IRAs, a series of Roth IRA conversions can provide an enormous benefit when used as part of a well thought out estate plan.

Roth IRA Conversions and Changing Tax Law

Some of you may think that a concept that was peer-reviewed twenty years ago has little relevance in today’s world.  Well, it’s true that back then, the tax rates were higher than they are now.  That means that, back then, Roth IRA conversions offered a greater benefit than they can under the current tax structure.  And now we are facing the possibility that the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation will pass, which would accelerate the income tax due on inherited IRAs.

The changing tax rules are the reason that you must measure your IRAs, whether they are Traditional or Roth, in terms of their purchasing power.   For many individuals, paying tax on the amount that you convert to a Roth IRA can provide a benefit to you, and an even greater benefit to your heirs.   It goes against my grain to pay income tax even a day sooner than I have to, but I put my own money where my mouth is.  Years ago, I paid the income tax due and converted a significant amount of both my own and wife’s Traditional IRAs to Roths.  I’m glad I did, because those IRAs have grown tax-free for decades.

Roth IRA Conversion Calculators

So let’s talk about those Roth IRA conversion calculators that are available online.  Are they accurate?  Well, if you want to try one out, please make sure that you find a calculator that uses the current tax rates.  Your results will not be accurate if you unknowingly choose a calculator that uses tax rates from ten years ago!  When personal computers first hit the scene, there was a popular saying about them:  “garbage in, garbage out”.  This was the developer’s way of saying that, while their programs were accurate, they couldn’t prevent you from making errors.  So if you were preparing your tax return using a well-known software and accidentally checked a box that said you were single when you were actually married, your tax return would still be right – if only you were single.

Ultimately, all an online calculator can do is estimate whether or not a Roth IRA conversion can benefit you.  In my opinion, an estimate is not good enough.  Before we make the recommendation to a client that they do Roth IRA conversions, our CPAs do actuarial calculations using several different scenarios.  They also calculate your tax return (and the tax returns of your beneficiaries) so that we know for certain whether Roth IRA conversions can benefit you.  If the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation passes as I believe it will, Roth IRA conversions will likely become a more important part of many estate plans.

Stop back soon for more Roth IRA talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA

How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA

The Roth IRA Conversion Breakeven Point and the Death of the Stretch IRA James Lange

This post is part of a series about the Death of the Stretch IRA, and some ideas that you can use to minimize the effects of it.

Are Roth IRA Contributions and Conversions a Good Idea for Older Investors?

There is a lot of debate about whether or not Roth IRAs are a good idea and, in particular, whether or not they are a good idea for older investors.  In my opinion, Roth IRAs and Roth IRA conversions are a good idea for both young and old investors.  I also believe that Roth IRAs will become even more important after the Death of the Stretch IRA.    Why do I believe this?  In order to explain it, I have to ask you to change your paradigm about the way you perceive money.  And if you can understand the concept I’m about to introduce, you’ll be way ahead of most lawyers, CPAs and financial advisors.

The Roth IRA Advantage: Purchasing Power

Suppose that John and Jim both want to buy a $600,000 vacation home.  Jim has $900,000, and to keep things simple, I’m going to assume that his money is invested in a bank certificate of deposit, where there would be no capital gains generated if he cashed it in.  John has $1,000,000 in his Traditional IRA and, when measured in dollars, he has an advantage because he clearly has more money than Jim.  But John will have to pay tax when he withdraws money from his Traditional IRA, and, in this example, I’m going to assume that John doesn’t have any money outside of his retirement plan to pay the income tax due.  That means he has to withdraw even more from his IRA in order to have $600,000 left to spend on his vacation home.  Well, since the top tax rate is 39.6 percent, John will have to withdraw his entire $1 million IRA because he’ll owe the IRS almost $400,000.  Jim’s vacation home cost him $600,000 because he didn’t have to worry about taxes, but John’s vacation home actually cost him closer to $1 million.  So even though Jim didn’t have as much money as John, he had the advantage over him.  He had more purchasing power than John because he already paid the income tax that was due on the money he used to buy the house.

That is the way that I would like you to think about your money – not in terms of the amount of dollars you have, but how much purchasing power you have.  If you can understand the advantages of purchasing power, you will have the key to unlocking the secret of the Roth IRA treasure.

The Breakeven Point for Roth IRA Conversions

Some professionals insist that there is no advantage to an older investor doing a Roth IRA conversion.  This is because they think of the conversion in terms of dollars rather than purchasing power – which means that an older investor may not have a long enough life expectancy to recoup the income taxes he prepaid.  Well, that is like comparing apples to oranges.  I believe that the breakeven point of a Roth IRA conversion happens on Day 1, and here’s why.     Suppose Jim and John both own Traditional IRA s worth $100,000 plus $25,000 in after-tax accounts.  If John cashes in his Traditional IRA he will have $100,000 to spend, but he has to use the $25,000 to pay the income tax due on the withdrawal.  Jim, on the other hand, does a Roth IRA conversion.  He converts his $100,000 to a Roth IRA and, yes, he also uses his $25,000 to pay income tax.   On the day he makes the conversion, he has $100,000 – the same amount of money, and the same amount of purchasing power, as John.  This means that the breakeven point of a Roth IRA conversion is the day of the conversion. The most significant difference happens in the future.  For the rest of his life, all of the gains that Jim earns in his Roth IRA account will be tax free.  And even if John just reinvests his $100,000 in a regular brokerage account, all of the future gains that are earned in the account will be taxable.

Roth IRAs can be a great idea for older investors.  If you compare apples to apples and measure your purchasing power, rather than your money, the breakeven point for a Roth IRA conversion will happen on Day 1.  And better yet, the tax-free feature of your Roth IRA can offer an excellent defense against the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Stop back soon for more Roth IRA talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

 

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA

Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA

Learn About Roth IRA Conversions & the Death of the Stretch IRA in this Video Blog Post

Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA James Lange

You’ve been hearing a lot from me about the Death of the Stretch IRA, and so might be happy to hear that the next couple of posts I do will concentrate on Roth IRAs and Roth IRA conversions.  Is this because I want you to start thinking about your income tax planning for 2017?  Not really – it’s because a series of Roth IRA conversions can, for some people, be the best defense against the Death of the Stretch IRA.

The Most Important Financial Fact About Retirement

If you’re new to my blog, though, I want to take a moment and emphasize what I believe is one of the most important facts that retirees should know about their finances.  So here it is.  Above all, you should understand that a positive financial outlook in retirement involves far more than just the rate of return you earn on your portfolio.

Surprised?  One of my favorite illustrations that demonstrates this involves two hypothetical couples who are the exact same age, have the exact same amount of money when they retire and who invest their money exactly the same way.  Everything about these two couples is exactly the same, except for one thing.  One couple uses the optimal strategies when applying for Social Security and makes a series of Roth IRA conversions, but the other couple doesn’t.  The illustration shows the scope of difference between the couple’s financial outlook during retirement.  The couple who understood the most important financial fact about retirement invested in the exact same assets that the other couple did – so they did not earn a higher rate of return.  But because they used the optimal strategies for Social Security and Roth IRA conversions, their retirement savings outlived them both and they passed a sizable estate on to their children.  The other couple, unfortunately, went broke during their lifetimes.

Understanding the most important financial fact about retirement – that a secure retirement can depend on far more than just the rate of return you earn – can make a huge difference in your financial security.

The Benefits of Roth IRA Conversions

We’ve talked about how Social Security can give you a hedge against the Death of the Stretch IRA, so now let’s look at how Roth IRA conversions might benefit you.

What is a Roth IRA conversion?  The simplest way to explain it is with an analogy.   Suppose you are a farmer, and the IRS gives you a choice.  You can deduct the cost of your seed and pay tax on your entire harvest, or you can forgo the deduction for your seed and reap your entire harvest tax-free.   The second option shows the benefit of the Roth IRA.  Would you rather deduct the contribution to your retirement plan and pay tax on withdrawals, or forgo the deduction so that you don’t have to pay tax on withdrawals?

In order to make a Roth IRA conversion, you have to enlist the assistance of the custodian who handles your traditional IRA.  They transfer all or part of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and file some paperwork with the IRS.  The paperwork tells the IRS that you owe them tax on the amount you converted, and that all of the money you earn in your new Roth IRA will be tax free.  Some individuals are critical of Roth IRA conversions because you pay taxes before you’re legally required to.  That’s very true.  But even though nobody wants to give the IRS a helping hand, is there a benefit to prepaying the tax bill that will eventually be due on your traditional retirement plan?  Let’s review the Roth IRA rules.

You know that Roth IRAs grow tax-free for the rest of your life.  But did you know that they also grow tax-free for the rest of your spouse’s life, and under existing law, your children’s lives too?  For those of you who aren’t all that motivated to leave your children in the best possible position because you think they should be happy with whatever you leave them, there’s another feature to the Roth that can provide an enormous benefit just for you.    The Roth IRA rules specify that there is no Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the original owner or surviving spouse, as there is with a Traditional IRA.  This benefit alone can provide you with enormous flexibility and control over your tax picture, especially after you turn 70 ½.  Your children will be required to take RMD’s from any IRA that they inherit from you, whether it is a Roth or Traditional account.  The difference is that the withdrawals from the Roth are tax free.  That is beauty of the Roth IRA for your non-spousal heirs.

If you are concerned about your heirs, the tax-free benefit of the Roth will make all the difference after the Death of the Stretch IRA.  This is because the Death of the Stretch IRA will accelerate the RMDs that your non-spousal heirs must take from the IRAs they inherit from you.  The entire account must be withdrawn from the IRA within five years.  And if you have a large IRA – $1 million or more – your children will have to take very large withdrawals.  These withdrawals can potentially throw your children into a much higher tax bracket during those years, unless you had the foresight to convert your traditional retirement plans to a Roth.

We’ll talk more about Roth conversions next week.  Stop back soon!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

 

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?

Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?

The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA

How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You

Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA

The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex

Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?

Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?

Should Your Health Affect Your Social Security Decisions James Lange

For the past several months, I have been discussing the looming legislation I call the Death of the Stretch IRA.  This series of posts turns slightly away from that, discussing the likelihood of a reduction and then increase in federal income tax rates which not only affects inherited IRAs but also your Roth IRA and Social Security planning.   For those of you who are currently retired or will be shortly, the elections you make concerning your Social Security benefits, as well as the execution of optimally timed Roth IRA conversions can make the difference between your being financially secure or going broke.  This post discusses how your health could affect your Social Security elections.

Social Security at 66 vs 70 – which is better?

In most cases, I tell my clients that it is better if the spouse who has the strongest earnings record holds off applying for Social Security until age 70 in order to get the maximum amount of delayed retirement credits.  This is key to your tax and retirement planning as it can increase your benefit by up to 8 percent each year, plus cost of living adjustments!  I go into more details in my book, which you can get a free copy of by clicking here.  But if you’ve read my book already, then you know the specific reason for waiting until age 70 to apply is so that the primary earner’s benefit amount is increased to the maximum possible.

Reasons to Wait until Age 70 to Apply for Social Security

Read that last sentence one more time.  Did you notice that I did NOT say that the reason for waiting until age 70 is so that the primary earner will receive more money?  I said the reason for waiting until age 70 to apply is so that the primary earner’s benefit amount is increased to the maximum possible.  It’s an important distinction, and I want to tell you what I mean by that.

Recently I met with a couple who were not yet retired.  The husband, who was older and the higher earner of the family, had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a life expectancy of no more than five years.  The wife was 55 – ten years younger than her husband.  Both of them thought that the husband should apply for Social Security immediately, so that he could at least get some money during the years he still had left.

I asked him, “But what about her?”   He looked at me and said, “She’ll get my full benefit after I die, won’t she?”

What happens to Social Security after your spouse dies

Let’s do a quick review of what happens to your income from Social Security after one spouse dies.  Suppose the husband is entitled to a monthly benefit of $2,000 at age 66.   His wife is entitled to a spousal benefit of 50 percent but, in this case I’m going to say that she has worked all of her life and her benefit based on her own record is higher – $1,200.  Their monthly household income from Social Security, therefore, is $3,200.

So what happens when your spouse dies?  How much does the survivor get?  The answer is the higher of the two benefits.  In the above example above, the wife’s benefit would increase to $2000 after her husband’s death.  Sound good?  It isn’t!  The problem is that the monthly household income from Social Security will go down – from $3,200 to $2,000!  Think of how critical that is!  That’s the reason that, in most cases, the higher earner should wait until age 70 before applying for Social Security.

In the case of the clients I was talking about earlier, it was especially important that the husband wait to apply for benefits.  She was ten years younger than he was – 55 years old – and the picture of health.  That meant her life expectancy of age 84, or almost 30 years.  Her husband may never see a dime of his Social Security money – if he does, he’ll get a higher benefit for the time he does have left.   But if his wife survives him, which she probably will, she’ll have more than just an inherited IRA and his savings accounts, she’ll have his higher benefit for the rest of her life too.  Remember that, as we discussed before, the timing of your application to Social Security can drastically benefit your retirement planning. especially after the Death of the Stretch IRA.   There is a critical lesson to be learned from this example.  Poor health is not a good reason for the primary earner to apply for Social Security early, unless the spouse is also in poor health.  If both spouses are in poor health and are not likely to enjoy a long retirement, then it could make sense to apply early.  The goal is to make it possible for both of you to enjoy as much income as possible, while you are both alive!

Stop back soon for more Social Security talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

 

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?

Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?

The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA

How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You

Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA

The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex

Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex

How Divorce Affects Your Social Security Benefits

Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex

This series of posts discusses the likelihood of a reduction and then increase in federal income tax rates.  For those of you who are currently retired or will be shortly, the elections you make concerning your Social Security benefits, as well as the execution of optimally timed Roth IRA conversions can make the difference between your being financially secure or going broke.  This post will cover some options that divorced individuals may want to consider when filing for Social Security benefits.

Social Security Benefits after Divorce – Your Former Spouse is Still Alive

Let’s say that you were married for ten years but are now divorced.  Did you know that you can get Social Security spousal benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings record?   Suppose that your ex began collecting Social Security at his Full Retirement Age of 66, and that he gets $30,000 every year.  Then suppose that your own benefit is $800/month.  If you’ve never asked Social Security about receiving benefits based on your divorced spouse’s record, you should.  If you meet the requirements, you’re entitled to half of your ex’s benefit amount, which in this example is a lot higher than what you’d receive based on your own earnings record.

What are the requirements for Social Security spousal benefits if you’re divorced?  First, your ex must still be alive (for an important reason I’ll cover shortly) and must be entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits.  Your marriage to your former spouse had to have lasted ten years or longer.   The final requirement is that you must be at least age 62, and unmarried.  If you remarried, you are still entitled to spousal benefits, but they will generally be awarded based on the earnings record of your new spouse – not the individual who you are divorced from.

Not all divorces are amicable, unfortunately, so I want to give some peace of mind to those of you who believe you probably qualify for benefits from a former spouse but are reluctant to ask about them.  First, your filing for spousal Social Security benefits will have absolutely no impact on your ex’s monthly check.  In fact, if your former spouse remarried and divorced five times, and each of his spouses meets all of the requirements listed above, every single one of them can collect Social Security spousal benefits based on his record.  And every former spouse is entitled to receive the same amount of money as the current spouse – with no reduction in anyone’s benefit!

Suppose that you meet all of the requirements, but you are not on the best of terms with your former spouse?  Well, it will probably take longer if you don’t have your former spouse’s Social Security number, but you can still apply for spousal benefits.  You’ll just need to give the Social Security Administration your former spouse’s name and place of birth, and both of his parent’s names.

Social Security Spousal Benefits From Former Spouse Who Is Still Working

What if your divorced spouse is not currently collecting Social Security?  If your ex is eligible for retirement benefits but has chosen not to file for them yet, you can still collect a spousal benefit based on his record as long as you were married for at least ten years, and have been divorced for at least two years.

Social Security Survivor Benefits after Divorce – Your Former Spouse is Dead

I said earlier that it was important that your former spouse be alive, in order for you to be able to collect spousal benefits on his record.   But what happens to your spousal Social Security benefits when your former spouse dies?  Well, if your marriage ended on very bad terms, you’ll probably be happy to hear that your ex could be worth more to you dead than alive.  If you are collecting spousal benefits based on a divorced spouse’s record, and that spouse dies, you are eligible to receive the same survivor benefits as his current spouse – which is his full monthly benefit amount.  Again, the requirement is that your marriage had to have lasted at least ten years, in order to collect survivor’s benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings record.

Divorce and Social Security Benefits

The bottom line is that if you were married for at least ten years and have not remarried, you should make sure that you investigate what benefits you might be entitled to after your divorce –benefits that are based on your former spouse’s earnings record.  This is true whether your former spouse is alive, has remarried or even if he or she has passed on.  Getting the most you can out of your Social Security benefits is even more important now, with the likely Death of the Stretch IRA.

Stop back soon for more Social Security talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

 

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?

Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?

The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA

How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You

Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA

The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA

In this blog post find out more about the best age to apply for Social Security benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Part II The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA James Lange

Last week, I talked briefly about the best age to apply for Social Security benefits.  It’s a more important question than many people realize, unfortunately.  The prestigious Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that 90% of all Social Security recipients apply at the wrong age.  Social Security is one area where you could very well be better off if you do not go along with the majority, and I want to explain why.

What is Full Retirement Age?

First, let’s start with Social Security’s official definition of the term Full Retirement Age.  I am admittedly sloppy on that point; I generally define it as being “Age 66” but it is really not that simple.  Social Security defines Full Retirement Age as the age at which a person may first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits.  That’s the key – if you wait until your Full Retirement Age, your benefits will not be reduced.

But what age is Full Retirement Age?  Years ago, the answer was simple – age 65.  But as an influx of baby boomers entered the work force, the government looked at the Social Security system and projected what they called “a funding gap”.  I think it was their polite way of saying “we’d better do something now, or else we won’t have enough money to pay all these people.”  Raising taxes is never a popular option, especially with a presidential election right around the corner.  So in 1983 Congress just decided to make it harder for workers to collect when they applied for benefits decades into the future, and hope that nobody noticed.  And nobody noticed – until now – that the age of which you will be paid full benefits is going up.

Individuals who are retiring within the next decade are subject to a changing Full Retirement Age that, depending on your year of birth, is somewhere between age 66 and age 67.   The video that is attached shows exactly how it is calculated.  But it seems likely to me that, as our population ages and more people apply for benefits, they could raise the Full Retirement Age again.  Is it possible that your children and grandchildren won’t be able to collect full benefits until age 68 or 69?

Applying for Social Security at Age 62

If you were born after 1937, Social Security currently allows you to apply for benefits as early as age 62 – but should you do so?  Last week, I talked about the Social Security breakeven point, and whether or not it makes sense to apply for Social Security at age 62.  Most of you know that, if you do so, your benefits will be reduced. What you may not know is that, if you do so, the reduction in your benefit amount will be greater than it is for people who were born before 1938!

Let’s look at just how much your Social Security benefit will be reduced if you sign up at age 62.  If your Full Retirement Age is 67, your benefit will be reduced by about 30 percent.  So if your full benefit amount is $2000/month and you apply at 62, your check will be reduced by 30 percent to about $1400.  If you apply at 63, the reduction is only 25 percent.  So there is a benefit to waiting until age 66 or 67 to apply for benefits.

Benefit of Waiting to Apply for Social Security

There’s an even greater benefit to waiting beyond your Full Retirement Age to apply for Social Security.  You get an eight percent raise for every year you hold off!  If your Full Retirement Age is 66 and you wait until 70 to apply, you’ll get 132% (plus Cost of Living Adjustments) every year.  So let’s go back to the previous example, where your benefit at Full Retirement Age is estimated at $2000.  If you wait until you are 70 to apply, your monthly benefit will go up to $2640 – and that doesn’t even include Cost of Living Adjustments.

The government offers a great resource where you can see the options that are available to you specifically.  You can access it by clicking here: www.ssa.gov/estimateyourbenefit

Remember, the timing of your Social Security application and any Roth conversions that you might want to do are synergistic.  Ultimately, both could benefit your long-term retirement planning, especially after the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Stop back soon for more Social Security talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

 

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?

Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?

The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA

Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA

How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA

President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You

Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA

The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA