Retirement

Serving Southwest Florida

Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Increasing Your Social Security Benefits

Plans for increasing your Social Security benefits are a relatively new phenomenon. For decades, people received their monthly benefit check and that was it. However, in the late 1990s, a new law let seniors over age 66 work without any reduction in benefits, says the article “Social Security & You: Seniors obsess over ‘maximizing’ their Social Security” from Tuscon.com. The law led to loopholes that became known as “file and suspend” and “file and restrict.” In a nutshell, they allowed retirees to collect dependent spousal benefits on a spouse’s Social Security record, while delaying their own benefits until age 70.

Congress eventually realized that these loopholes violated the basic concept of the program. Benefits to spouses were always known as “dependent” benefits. To claim benefits as a spouse, you had to prove that you were financially dependent upon the other spouse to collect benefits on their record. However, the loophole let people who were the primary wage earner in the family claim benefits as a “dependent” of the other spouse. Five years ago, Congress closed that loophole.

More specifically, Congress closed the file-and-suspend strategy for increasing your Social Security benefits. It also put file-and-restrict on notice. If you turned 66 before January 2020, you could still wiggle through that loophole, and there are some people who are still eligible. That’s where the term “maximizing your benefits” originated.

Can you increase your Social Security benefits, if you don’t fit into the exception noted above? The only real strategy to maximizing your benefits is simply to wait. The equation is pretty simple. If you wait until your Full Retirement Age (FRA), you will receive 100% of your benefit rate. If you can wait until age 70, you’ll receive 132% of your benefit.

In some households, the higher income earner waits until age 70 to file for retirement, so that the surviving spouse will one day receive higher surviving spouse benefits.

But that’s not the best advice for everyone. If you or your spouse suffer from a chronic illness, it may not make sense to wait.

If you or your spouse have lost your jobs, as so many have because of the pandemic, then more important than increasing your Social Security benefits may be using it as the safety net that you need, until you are able to return to some kind of paid employment.

There may be other reasons why you might need to take your benefits earlier, even earlier than your FRA. Some households start taking their Social Security benefits at age 62, as a way to augment other income.  These consideration may outweigh increasing your Social Security benefits.

If you don’t already have a “My Social Security” account set up on the Social Security Administration’s portal, now is the time to do so. The Social Security Administration stopped sending annual statements years ago, but you can go into your account and download the statements yourself and start planning for your future.  An estate planning attorney can also help with this planning.

Reference: Tuscon.com (Feb. 10, 2021) “Social Security & You: Seniors obsess over ‘maximizing’ their Social Security”

Beneficiary Forms

Beneficiary forms are important.  It’s a simple question: do you know who your retirement account beneficiaries are? These tax-deferred accounts are complex, with significant tax implications for heirs that become more challenging if key information is missing on beneficiary forms, which is often the case. According to this recent article from The Street, “Secure your IRA—Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now,” the SECURE Act was the biggest retirement law change in decades. As a result, there has never been a more important time to review beneficiary forms.

Start by requesting a copy of your beneficiary forms from all of the institutions that hold your IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and any tax deferred savings accounts to check for errors and accuracy. Most people fill these forms out when the accounts are opened and never give them a second thought.

The courts see many cases where family dynamics changed, but beneficiary forms were never updated. The cost and stress of estranged or divorced spouses receiving a lifetime of retirement savings because no one thought to update the form cannot be overstated.

It is pretty easy for most of us to locate our wills, trusts and life insurance policies, but we tend not to keep copies of our retirement account beneficiary forms. This makes no sense, as these are the accounts where most people have saved the bulk of their wealth.

Account owners are generally unaware of how important the beneficiary form is, or the consequences of the information being out of date. These documents are more powerful than the will.

These assets pass outside of the will. No matter what your will says, the assets in the accounts pass to whoever is named on the beneficiary form.

If there is no beneficiary named on the form, the asset will likely be paid to your estate. When this happens, the account must be fully distributed within five years of the account owner’s death, if they died before their required beginning date of distributions. If there are no named beneficiaries and the account owner dies on or after the required beginning date, there may be less of a negative impact. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you and your heirs plan for this event.

The SECURE Act made this harder for anyone who dies after 2019. For retirement accounts inherited after December 31, 2019, there are classes of beneficiaries and each has their own distribution rules.

Many trusts named as beneficiaries of IRAs/retirement plans no longer work as planned. If your estate plan named a trust as a beneficiary for a tax-deferred account, speak with your estate planning attorney to make any necessary changes.

The SECURE Act eliminated the use of the “Stretch” IRA for most non-spouse beneficiaries. This means that most heirs will need to empty any inherited accounts within ten years of the death of the owner, rather than stretch the distributions over their own lifetimes. Failure to do so could lead to a 50% penalty of the amount not distributed plus taxes.

Your estate planning attorney may be able to create alternatives to the stretch IRA, but the first step to address this issue is to obtain your beneficiary forms. Once you have them in hand, you can make the necessary changes and begin to plan for the optimal distribution of your assets.  Let us help.

Reference: The Street (Dec. 28, 2020) “Secure your IRA—Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now”