You Reached Age 70½ This Year, So When Must You Take Your First IRA Distribution?

We are approaching the end of the year and for many of you, 2017 is the first year you must begin taking a required minimum distribution from your traditional IRAs. As you may already know, the Internal Revenue Service rules require you to take a minimum distribution (known as “RMD”) from a traditional IRA each year once you reach age 70½. An RMD must be taken for the year in which you reach age 70½. The IRS rules allow you to delay that first RMD from your IRA to no later than April 1 following the year in which you reach age 70½. Thereafter, your annual RMD must be taken from the IRA no later than December 31. Let’s take a look at how these rules work in practice:

A client contacted me today with questions about taking the first RMD from his IRA. In my client’s case, he turned 70 in January of this year (2017). So he also reached age 70½ in 2017 (July). Under the applicable IRS rules, he must take an RMD for 2017 because that is the year he attained the age of 70½. While the ordinary deadline for taking the RMD from his IRA is December 31, he has the option of waiting to take the 2017 RMD until no later than April 1, 2018. There is a catch to waiting: He’ll also have to take an RMD for 2018 (before December 31, 2018), so he’ll have to take two distributions in 2018, one for his 2017 RMD and the second for the 2018 RMD. Doing so will increase his taxable income for 2018 resulting in a higher tax bill. To avoid this, he’ll have to take his 2017 RMD no later than December 31, 2017.  Fortunately, he still has time to decide whether to wait until 2018 to take the distribution.

To calculate his RMD, my client, like most IRA owners, will refer to the IRS uniform life expectancy table. To calculate his first RMD, he must also use the balance in the IRA as of December 31, 2016. He’ll use that balance even if he elects to defer taking his 2017 RMD until 2018 (remember, the distribution is for 2017). He’ll use the balance in the IRA as of December 31, 2017, to calculate his RMD for 2018.

If he fails to take his first RMD from the IRA before April 1, 2018 (or any subsequent RMD by the applicable December 31 deadline), the IRS will impose a penalty equal to 50% of the amount of the RMD that he should have taken out from his IRA for the year. Note, the RMD is the minimum that must be withdrawn from the IRA for the year, you can withdraw more than the RMD if you so choose.

The rules governing distributions from an IRA other other retirement account are extremely complex. Always work with a competent advisor.  If you are struggling with questions regarding retirement account distributions, give me a call, I can help.

The Pitfalls of DIY Estate Planning, Part ?

According to an article at news.com.au, a woman from Queensland, Australia died of cancer in 2015. In an apparent effort to save money on her estate plan, she chose to use a cheap do-it-yourself will kit. The four page document had numerous hand-written attachments and contained multiple changes. It is likely to end up costing her estate tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs to sift through the numerous errors and ambiguities contained in the document.

“‘No one should attempt their own will. It is very dangerous,’’’ barrister Caite Brewer, who represented the named executors of the will. “‘This case is a good example of someone trying to save a few hundred dollars, doing their own will, which ends up costing their estate potentially twenty thousand dollars. They should see a solicitor who specialises in estate planning.’”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Will kits are advertised as the low cost estate planning alternative to using an attorney. The will-kit publishers advertise that you will end up with a will that is legal, but never advertise that it will be right. And that’s what you pay an attorney to do, to make sure the will is right – that it accurately expresses your intentions concerning the disposition of your estate. Yes, it costs more up front, but the extra money spent to make sure your estate plan is drafted correctly will save thousands in the long run.

Read the entire article here.

Struggling with your own estate planning? Contact me, I can help.

Want to Dip Into Your IRA to Pay College Education Expenses? Read This First!

It’s time to get back to school for you or a family member. You may be looking for a way to pay a tuition bill and other school expenses and considering taking money out of your IRA to do so. Ordinarily you have to be over age 59½ to take a penalty free, but taxable, withdrawal from an IRA. There are exceptions to this rule, and one of those exceptions allows for penalty free withdrawals to pay for certain higher education expenses, but you have to follow the rules!

1. You can take a penalty free – but taxable – withdrawal to pay for “qualified higher education expenses.” These expenses include tuition, room and board, required books, supplies, and fees. (Computer and other technology purchases qualify, even if not required by the school.) There is no dollar limit that can be taken out of the IRA account, as long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses. (You should maintain a record of all paid expenses, including receipts.)

2. The qualified higher education expenses must be incurred at an “eligible educational institution.” An eligible educational institution is any college, university, vocational school or other post-secondary educational institution eligible to participate in the federal student aid program. This includes all accredited public, private, nonprofit and proprietary post-secondary institutions. Expenses related to elementary or high school, public or private, are not eligible.

3. The IRA distribution may be used for qualified education expenses of the IRA owner, the owner’s spouse, or any child or grandchild of the owner or the owner’s spouse.

4. The education expenses must be incurred in the year you take the IRA distribution. So, you can’t take a distribution from your IRA in 2018 to cover an expense incurred in 2017. This is an important rule that trips up a lot of people.

5. The exception to the early distribution penalty for higher education expenses only applies to distributions from your IRA account. The exception does not apply to distributions from an employer plan. [401(k), 403(b), etc.]

6. You can take a distribution from your IRA to pay eligible higher education expenses, but should you? That is the bigger issue here. Your IRA is not a piggy bank. That money is for your retirement. I generally do not recommend taking any preretirement distributions from any retirement account to pay expenses or a debt for a couple of reasons.  First, even though the distribution escapes the 10% early withdrawal penalty, income taxes must be paid on the entire distribution. Second,  you lose the advantage of the tax deferred growth on the funds withdrawn from the IRA.  You simply won’t make that up even if you are able to replace the funds withdrawn later on. If you have other options available to pay college expenses, you should explore them first, even loans, before taking a distribution from an IRA.

There are other exceptions to the 10% penalty on pre-age 59½ IRA distributions.  We’ll explore those in a future post.

Three Things Your College Bound Child Needs to Leave Behind

Do you have a child getting ready to head off to college?  Whether your child goes away to school or commutes from home, don’t let them start the school year without leaving behind these three documents:

Medical Power of Attorney.  If your child is over the age of 18, you no longer have the right to speak to their physicians, or make medical decisions for them.  If your child has an accident or becomes seriously ill at school and is hospitalized, medical personnel will not discuss your child’s medical condition or treatment with you without authorization. Have your child sign a medical power of attorney. Commonly referred to as a “patient advocate designation,” your child can appoint you to speak with doctors and make medical treatment decisions for them in the event they cannot do so themselves.

HIPAA Authorization.  Have your child sign a separate HIPAA authorization.   A medical power of attorney will only help you and your child if your child is incapacitated AND in a hospital or similar facility.  There may be situations where your child is either not incapacitated or is not hospitalized, but you still need to speak to medical providers on your child’s behalf regarding treatment he or she is receiving.  A HIPAA authorization will enable you to talk to them or obtain medical records and other information regarding your child’s medical condition.  You may not be able to make treatment decisions for your child, but you can at least monitor their care.  Remember, even though you are the parent, medical providers will not speak or release information to you without your child’s prior consent, regardless of your child’s medical condition.

Durable Power of Attorney. Finally, have your child sign a durable power of attorney. Parents of college students have all heard the privacy speech from school administrators – “Due to federal privacy regulations, we cannot discuss anything regarding your student without prior written authorization” – and they mean it. In order for you to discuss a tuition or dorm bill, dispute a lab fee, or discuss any of your child’s financial or other affairs with any third party, you need written authorization. That’s where the durable power of attorney comes in to play.

Under a durable power of attorney, your child can appoint you as their agent to handle their personal and financial and other non-medical affairs, whether they are incapacitated or not. Everything from banking and bill paying to tuition or room and board issues can be handled by you as your child’s agent. If your child becomes ill or has an accident while at school, as your child’s agent you will be able to keep their affairs in order until they regain the ability to do so.

Make sure you and your child are prepared for the coming school year by making sure they leave behind a medical power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, and durable power of attorney.  Good luck!

Does your student need these documents?  Give me a call.  I can help.

Transferring Company Stock From a 401(k) to an IRA? Don’t Forget The NUA!

So, you are newly retired and thinking about what to do with your employer sponsored 401(k) account.  The stock market has gone up quite a bit recently and you’re pleased with the value of your 401(k) (or other employer sponsored account) – especially the value of the company stock in your account. You may be thinking about transferring your 401(k) to an IRA for greater investment flexibility. Before you do, you may want to consider a nifty strategy to potentially save a bundle on income taxes.

The strategy involves the net unrealized appreciation (NUA) on the company stock in your 401(k). In a nutshell, NUA is the difference between the current market value of the company stock and the price originally paid for the stock (cost basis). This NUA may be eligible for favorable capital gains tax treatment when the company stock is sold.

If you roll over your 401(k) account, including the company stock, to an IRA, and then later take distributions from the IRA, the entire distribution (including any company stock) will be subject to income tax at your ordinary income tax rate. That rate could be as high as 39.6% just for federal income taxes depending upon your tax situation.

If, instead of transferring your account balance (including the company stock) to an IRA, you take a lump-sum distribution of the entire account balance, including the company stock (sometimes called an “in-kind” distribution), the distribution of the stock will be subject to income taxes, but you will only pay long term capital gains taxes (from 0% to 20%) on the NUA when the stock is sold (you’ll pay taxes at ordinary tax rates on the cost basis portion). If you are able to complete a tax-free rollover of the remainder of the distribution (less the company stock) to an IRA, the amount rolled over escapes income taxation. The NUA strategy will not work if the stock is liquidated inside the 401(k), or rolled over to an IRA.

In order to make the strategy work, you must take an in-kind distribution of the company stock from your company retirement account as part of a lump-sum distribution of the entire account balance.  The lump sum distribution must follow a “triggering event,” such as retirement or other separation from service, attainment of age 59½, death [yes, the beneficiary of an inherited 401(k) or other employer plan account can take advantage of NUA], or disability.  The entire balance of the account must be distributed – you can’t just take an in-kind distribution of the company stock.

For those with appreciated company stock in their 401(k) or other employer-sponsored account, taking advantage of the NUA rules can help save on income taxes when the stock is sold. But like any other income tax saving strategy, especially involving retirement plan distributions, it’s complicated, and it may not work in every situation. So, before you go ahead and transfer your 401(k) account with the company stock to an IRA, sit down and consult with a qualified professional who can help you determine whether the NUA strategy is right for you.

Think the NUA strategy may work for you? Give me a call, I can help.

The Pitfalls of Do-It-Yourself Planning

Ed owned a bank account at First State Bank. Two months before he died, he went to the bank and named one of his five children, daughter Ann, as a joint owner of the account. He specifically selected an account with rights of survivorship, which, under Michigan law, meant that the balance of funds in the account would become Ann’s property when Ed died. After Ed’s death, Ann asserted that the money was hers and did not have to be shared with her siblings. Ed’s other four children filed a petition with the local probate court claiming that Ed had added Ann’s name solely for convenience and that he actually intended for the account proceeds to be shared equally among all of his children. The probate court held a hearing and ruled that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Ed had indeed added Ann’s name to the account merely for convenience to assist with his bill paying should he die, and that he wanted the proceeds shared among all of his children after his death.  The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the probate court.

Under Michigan law, when you add a child or other person’s name to a bank account, a legal presumption arises that you intend that funds in the account belong to the survivor when you die.  Even if you intend that the account balance be shared after your death, the law presumes otherwise. This presumption can be overcome, but only if it can be proved in a court of law, by “reasonably clear and persuasive proof,” that you did not intend that the account funds vest in the survivor.  This type of proceeding can cost a fortune in legal fees. What gets less attention is the emotional cost.   Battles like this, pitting sibling against sibling, wreak havoc within a family. While Ed thought he was doing good, the actual effect of his actions was quite the opposite.

It is never a good planning move to add a child or other person’s name to a bank account or other asset without first carefully considering all of the ramifications. What Ed may have thought would be a simple way to make sure funds would be readily available to pay his bills turned out to be anything but. Ed could have given Ann his power of attorney to access the account, or created a trust to hold the account and named Ann a trustee. In either scenario Ann would have been able to pay Ed’s bills out of the account, and remainder of the account would have been shared by all of his children after his death. Sure, there may have been legal fees associated with employing those techniques. But, when one looks at the emotional and financial cost of this family’s battle, it would have been money well spent.

Many things people do in their DIY planning appear on the surface to achieve an intended goal, but end up creating serious problems that are very expensive to fix. Always, always, always, work with a competent professional. Get the peace of mind that your intentions will be fulfilled using techniques that are best suited to your individual situation. The cost to do so is pretty reasonable in the long run.

The case is: In re Estate of EDWARD SADORSKI, SR., Deceased. You can read it here.

Are you looking for solutions to your financial or estate planning problems?  Contact me, I can help.

 

A New Estate Planning Tool – The Michigan Asset Protection Trust

On February 5, 2017, Michigan became the 17th state (along with Delaware, Nevada, Ohio, and others) to permit residents to use asset protection trusts in their estate planning. Michigan’s new law, the Qualified Dispositions in Trust Act (the “Act”), allows an individual to create an irrevocable trust known as a domestic asset protection trust (DAPT) that, if set up correctly, will shield the trust’s assets from the claims of the individual’s creditors.

Until recently, asset protection trusts were available only in foreign (offshore) jurisdictions. The Bahamas, Bermuda, the Cook and Cayman Islands, Nevis, and several other jurisdictions developed highly favorable asset protection legal environments featuring sophisticated banking and trust services for clientele. Offshore asset protection statutes typically feature very short statutes of limitations periods for creditors to attack the trust, high burdens of proof for creditors, and require the creditor to challenge the trust in the jurisdiction of the trust’s location. However, with our federal government closely scrutinizing transfers of money away of the U.S., DAPTs are become more popular here in the states. In 1997, Alaska became the first state to enact a DAPT law for Alaska-based trusts.

Under the Act, a Michigan DAPT must be irrevocable, it must have a trustee located in Michigan, and, while the person who creates the trust (the “grantor”) may be a beneficiary of the trust, the grantor cannot have unrestricted access to the trust’s assets.

If a Michigan DAPT is set up correctly, a grantor’s creditors will be prohibited from reaching the trusts assets if the creditor brings a claim more than two years after the assets are placed into the trust. (A longer period applies to claims brought in bankruptcy.)  A Michigan DAPT cannot be created to defraud one’s existing creditors. Therefore, the trust must be created and funded before creditor claims arise.

The Michigan DAPT will be a useful planning tool for people with significant exposure to creditors, such as business owners and those engaged in high-risk professions, such as doctors and lawyers, where insurance may not offer adequate claim protection. A DAPT will not generally be suitable in a typical estate plan.

2017 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits

It’s a new year and time to look at retirement plan contribution limits for 2017:

IRA and Roth IRA limits for 2017 did not change from 2016. The maximum an individual with earned income can contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA (or between the two) is $5,500. Individuals age 50 or older this year may contribute an additional $1,000.

Contribution limits for 401(k) and 403(b) plan participants likewise remain the same. The maximum a participant can contribute to a 401(k) and 403(b) plan or a Roth-type plan is $18,000. Participants who are at least 50 years of age in 2017 can elect to defer an additional $6,000, making a total contribution limit of $24,000.

SIMPLE-IRA contribution limits do not change for 2017. A SIMPLE participant may defer $12,500 of income for the year. Participants who are at least 50 years of age this year can defer an additional $3,000 into the plan for a total deferral of $15,500.

SEP-IRA contribution limits increase $1,000 to a maximum contribution of $54,000. This limit also applies to Keogh and other profit sharing plans. SEP IRA participants who are at least 50 years of age in 2017 cannot make a catch-up contribution.

The phase-out ranges for deductible IRA contributions, and the ability to make Roth IRA contributions changes slightly. If you are married filing jointly, the phase-out range to make a deductible IRA contribution is between $99,000 and $119,000. For single or head of household filers, the phase-out range for 2017 is $62,000 – $72,000. The phase-out range for those who are married but filing separately remains $0 – $10,000.

The income limits for making Roth IRA contributions increased slightly for 2017. For those who married filing jointly, the ability to make an eligible Roth IRA contribution phases out between $186,000 – $196,000 for 2017. For single or head of household filers, the phase-out range is between $118,000 – $133,000. Those who are married filing separate get a phase-out range of $0 – $10,000 (unchanged for 2017).

If you are struggling with your retirement planning, please contact me. I can help!

Tips for Navigating Medicare Open Enrollment

Medicare’s annual open enrollment period closes on December 7 this year.  During open enrollment, Medicare enrollees can shop for new prescription drug (Part D) or Medicare Advantage coverage. Medicare enrollees may be able to save hundreds of dollars on premiums and out-of-pocket costs by doing a checkup on their coverage and making necessary changes during the open enrollment period. Surprisingly, few enrollees bother to take advantage of this opportunity to review their existing coverage or make changes.

Morningstar contributor Mark Miller sat down for an interview recently at www.morningstar.com to discuss the potential benefits of annually reviewing your Medicare coverage, and he offers several useful tips to help navigate through the open enrollment period.

If you haven’t yet reviewed your Medicare enrollment options, or you weren’t even planning on doing so, it might help you to take a few minutes (about 8, in fact) and watch the interview to see if there might be something you can do to save money on your health care next year.  You can watch the full interview here.  I hope it helps!