What Happens If You Don’t Have A Will?

New Blog by Lead Estate Attorney Matt Schwartz of the Lange Financial Group

Other than getting a tooth pulled, most people would tell you that there are few things that are as unpleasant to them as talking about their future death and wills. Death is an emotional and difficult topic for many people because it forces them to assess their legacy and their life purpose. So what happens if you don’t have a will?

How Are My Assets Distributed at My Death?

To help clients get over their discomfort of discussing their mortality, I explain to clients what will happen if they do not have a Will. Certain assets such as retirement accounts, life insurance policies and joint accounts pass to the successor owner irrespective of whether you have a Will. All other assets that do not have a joint owner or a beneficiary designation would be distributed in accordance with Pennsylvania intestacy law if you pass away without a Will. Examples of such assets are individually owned real estate and individual financial accounts without beneficiary designations.

Who Controls the Distribution of my Assets? Advice from an Estate Attorney

If you are married, it is quite possible that all of your assets are either jointly owned with your spouse or will pass to your spouse by beneficiary designation. If so, it will not be necessary to use a Will to transfer any assets at the first spouse’s death because all of the assets will pass to the surviving spouse independent of any Will. However, if assets are individually owned without a beneficiary designation, then the distribution of those assets will not be permitted until an administrator is appointed for the estate. Although the initial choice for administrator would be the spouse, how will the children decide who should be administrator if your spouse predeceases you or does not have capacity to serve as administrator? Will a majority of the children agree on one of them to serve as administrator?

Who Receives My Assets if I Don’t Have a Will?

Finally, how are individually owned assets without a beneficiary designation distributed if you do not have a Will? Contrary to what most people think, the individually owned assets will be split at the first spouse’s death between the spouse and the children. The surviving spouse is already upset enough about losing their spouse. Finding out that they might not inherit all of the assets of their spouse (this result can be common with families that own real estate or closely held businesses) only adds insult to injury for these surviving spouses.

In future blog articles, we will focus on positive benefits of having a Will. Please do not hesitate to send me an email or give me a call at 412-521-2732 x211 if you would like to have a discussion to revisit your current Will or to develop an initial Will.

Contact Matt Schwartz, Attorney at the Lange Financial Group for Estate Planning needs including Wills.

How Advisors Should Handle the IRA and Retirement Plan Beneficiary Form

retirement-plan-beneficiary-form-trusts-the-roth-revolution-james-langeThe ability to know what to do with an IRA or retirement plan beneficiary form can often be detrimental.

First, know we are on shaky ground. The conservative and proper legal advice is to request the client have their estate attorney fill out the beneficiary designation forms.

There are several advantages of having an estate attorney fill out the forms

  • Eliminates or drastically reduces your exposure for not filling out the form correctly and consistent with the clients’ wishes
  • Presumably, the estate attorney has a “big picture” of how the estate will be distributed and the IRA and retirement plan beneficiary designation is an important piece to that entire puzzle

For most traditional clients, I prefer the plan described in chapter 12 of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006). The chapter, “The Ideal Beneficiary Designation of Your Retirement Plan” describes what I consider the “master plan”.

Assume that you have a traditional family with children and grandchildren or even the potential to have grandchildren in the future. Let’s also assume that your client and their spouses trust each other completely and the client’s children are by now responsible adults (if not, see the discussion about trusts below).

Primary Beneficiary:

My spouse __________________

Contingent beneficiary

My children______________, ___________, and __________equally, per stirpes

Per stirpes is Latin for by representation. Adding per stirpes is critical. Let’s assume one of your client’s children either predeceases your client or your client’s child wants to disclaim a portion of the inherited IRA to their children, i.e. your client’s grandchildren. Without the words per stirpes, (assuming that the form does not have a box to check to indicate a per stirpes designation), the share of the predeceased or disclaiming child would not go to their children, but rather to their siblings, because the majority of beneficiary forms do not assume a per stirpes distribution unless you specifically state per stirpes in the designation. Presumably, most of your clients do not want to disinherit their grandchildren. Without per stirpes, you could have a grandchild that not only lost their parent, but also lost any inheritance they may have used for support, education, etc.

I also recommend putting current addresses and social security numbers on the IRA or retirement plan beneficiary designation.

Please note, however, that even this solution is only a partial and temporary solution. This solution still allows the possibility of having your client’s grandchild (or child if they are young) drinking $1,000 per bottle champagne to celebrate their purchase of a new Hummer on their 21st birthday.

So, to do the job right, you should name a well drafted trust, either a dedicated trust or a trust that is currently part of the client’s will or living trust, for the benefit of grandchildren (or children if client’s children are young and/or not sufficiently mature to handle an inheritance). In addition, you need at least one trust for each set of your client’s children’s children. There are lots of variations on these trusts, but for the IRA beneficiary purposes, they must meet 6 specific conditions in order to preserve the “stretch IRA” for the grandchildren.

Therefore, what will be a combination of practical, yet also proper advice is to fill out the forms the way I have suggested and recommend both orally and in writing that your client see a qualified estate planning attorney to properly fill out the IRA and retirement plan beneficiary forms.

-Jim

Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

Thank you.

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Disclaimers: Who on Earth Would Refuse to Accept an Inheritance?

inheritance stretch ira james lange the roth revolution blogWho on Earth Would Refuse to Accept an Inheritance?

Plenty of people!

The concept of disclaiming, which means that you refuse to accept an inheritance, is often surprisingly difficult for clients to accept. Who on earth would refuse to accept an inheritance? When I get this question, I have to laugh because the obvious assumption is that the beneficiary is turning away a rare opportunity to increase his or her wealth with little or no effort. So let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Suppose your rich uncle wrote his will twenty years before he died, and the will provided that, at his death, you would inherit a small apartment building that he owned. In the twenty years since his will was written, though, your uncle’s health declined and he did no maintenance at all on the building. The angry tenants moved out long ago, and the building has been vacant for ten years. Vandals broke the windows and stripped the building of its plumbing and wiring. The city has condemned it because it is a nuisance, and the owner is going to have to pay to have it demolished. Do you still want your inheritance now?

Beneficiaries always have the right to disclaim (or refuse) all or part of an inheritance. This idea has traditionally been a cornerstone when planning for the multi-generational benefits of a Stretch IRA. Under the current law, if the named beneficiary chooses to disclaim an IRA or retirement plan, the contingent beneficiary is able to use his or her own life expectancy to determine the Required Minimum Distribution from that account. In a case where a surviving spouse disclaims to children, this allows the IRA to be “stretched”, allowing maximum growth as well as income tax savings.

If the Stretch IRA is eventually eliminated, disclaimers will likely play less of a role in estate settlements. There is, however, a rapidly growing group of attorneys (including me) who use and will continue to use at least some form of disclaimer in the estate plans of most clients. I have used them in my practice for years, and have found that they can give families a lot of flexibility during what is usually a very stressful time.

One final note about disclaimers: beneficiaries who are on Medicaid may be disqualified from their benefits if they receive an inheritance. They may be able to refuse the inheritance and keep those benefits, but this depends on the laws of the state that they live in and the terms of the grantors will.

These ideas are presented in Chapter 14.

My next post will continue to expand on the concept of the Stretch IRA, but will specifically address the ramifications of choosing one beneficiary over another. Stop back soon!

Jim

Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

Thank you.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Important Tax Birthdays

The “Happy Birthday” song is traditionally sung to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth. In 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records proclaimed that very song as the most recognized song in the English language, followed by “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Its roots can be traced back to a song entitled, “Good Morning to All,” which was written and composed by American sisters and kindergarten teachers, Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893.

Throughout the years, many other versions and styles of the “Happy Birthday” song were created. One of the most famous versions of this song was sung by Marilyn Monroe to then U.S. President John F. Kennedy in May 1962. Another famous version of the song was sung by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They shifted the melody to a traditional rock song and increased its complexity and style on their unforgettable double album, “The Beatles” (commonly referred to as the “White Album”) in 1968.

Traditionally, birthdays are fun events, but when it comes to taxes, birthdays have a special place. From a tax standpoint, birthdays are not always “fun” and very often are different and not created the same.

The table below contains some important tax birthdays (after the age of 50) that can dramatically affect your income taxes:

It is very important that as you plan for or reach any of these milestone birthdays that you are working with a qualified financial advisor who can review your specific situation to determine what tax reduction strategies would be best for you.

Contact us today to discuss some of these strategies. If you are a Western Pennsylvania resident, schedule a free initial consultation with us by calling us at 412-521-2732.  Residents outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania should call for more information. Jim’s services are available via the phone or through the Internet. Send an e-mail to admin@paytaxeslater.com.

Important Tax Birthdays

Our Radio Show Premieres This Week!

We are all very excited about the official premiere of The Lange Money Hour: Where Smart Money Talks, this Wednesday night at 7pm on KQV 1410am in Pittsburgh. This is doubly exciting as we have ‘America’s IRA Expert,’ Ed Slott with us for the whole hour. Although most of the succeeding shows will be live, in order to accommodate Mr. Slott’s schedule, we prerecorded the premiere.  Well, with the show now ‘in the can’ we can easily promise that this is an hour that is well worth your time.   Jim and Ed are two of the country’s leading retirement planning experts, and this is the first time they have been on the same program together.

The premiere of The Lange Money Hour is Wednesday night at 7pm on KQV 1410am in Pittsburgh and on kqv.com. The show will be repeated the following Sunday, March 29th, at 9am. And if you miss any of these airings, there will be an continuing archive of every show at retiresecure.com.

Happy listening!