How Do IRAs and 401(k)s Fit into Estate Planning?

When investing for retirement, two common types of accounts are part of the planning: 401(k)s and IRAs. J.P. Morgan’s recent article entitled “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?” explains that a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored plan that lets you contribute some of your paycheck to save for retirement.

A potential benefit of a 401(k) is that your employer may match your contributions to your account up to a certain point. If this is available to you, then a good goal is to contribute at least enough to receive the maximum matching contribution your employer offers. An IRA is an account you usually open on your own. As far as these accounts are concerned, the key is knowing the various benefits and limitations of each type. Remember that you may be able to have more than one type of account.

IRAs and 401(k)s can come in two main types – traditional and Roth – with significant differences. However, both let you to delay paying taxes on any investment growth or income, while your money is in the account.

Your contributions to traditional or “pretax” 401(k)s are automatically excluded from your taxable income, while contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible. For an IRA, it means that you may be able to deduct your contributions from your income for tax purposes. This may decrease your taxes. Even if you aren’t eligible for a tax-deduction, you are still allowed to make a contribution to a traditional IRA, as long as you have earned income. When you withdraw money from traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, distributions are generally taxed as ordinary income.

With Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, you contribute after-tax dollars, and the withdrawals you take are tax-free, provided that they’re a return of contributions or “qualified distributions” as defined by the IRS. For Roth IRAs, your income may limit the amount you can contribute, or whether you can contribute at all.

If a Roth 401(k) is offered by your employer, a big benefit is that your ability to contribute typically isn’t phased out when your income reaches a certain level. 401(k) plans have higher annual IRS contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs.

When investing for retirement, you may be able to use both a 401(k) and an IRA with both Roth and traditional account types. Note that there are some exceptions to the rule that withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s before age 59½ typically trigger an additional 10% early withdrawal tax.

Reference: J.P. Morgan (May 12, 2021) “What are IRAs and 401(k)s?”

Is a Roth Conversion a Good Idea when the Market Is Down?

A stock market downturn may be a prime time for a Roth IRA conversion, reports CNBC’s recent article titled “Here’s why a Roth individual retirement account conversion may pay off in a down market.” This is especially true if you were considering a Roth conversion and never got around to it.

A Roth conversion allows higher earners to sidestep earnings limits for Roth IRA contributions, which are capped at $144,000 MAGI (Modified Adjusted Gross Income) for singles and $214,000 for married couples filing jointly in 2022.

Investors make non-deductible contributions to a pre-tax IRA, before converting funds to a Roth IRA. The tradeoff is the upfront tax bill created by contributions and earnings. The bigger the pre-tax balance, the more taxes you’ll pay on the conversion. However, the current market may make this a perfect time for a Roth conversion.

Let’s say you own a traditional IRA worth $100,000, and its value drops to $65,000. Ouch! However, you can save money by converting $65,000 to a Roth instead of $100,000. You’ll pay taxes on the $65,000, not $100,000.

According to Fidelity Investments, the first quarter of 2022 saw Roth conversions increase by 18%, compared to the first quarter of 2021. That was before the second quarter’s market volatility, which has been more dramatic.

The decision to do a Roth conversion can’t take place in a vacuum. Consider how many years of tax savings it will take to break even on the upfront tax bill. Weigh combined balances across any other IRA accounts, because of the “pro-rata rule,” which factors in your total pre-tax and after-tax funds to determine your tax costs.

Attractive features of the Roth IRA are the freedom to take—or not take—distributions when you want, and there are no taxes on the withdrawals. However, there is an exception, and it pertains to conversions—the five year rule.

If you do a conversion from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you have to wait five years before making any withdrawals of the converted balance, regardless of your age. It’s an expensive mistake, with a 10% penalty. The clock begins running on January 1 of the year of the conversion. If you are close to retirement and will need funds within that timeframe, you’ll need other assets to live on.

However, there’s more. If the conversion increases your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), it may create other issues. Medicare Part B calculates monthly premiums using Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) from two years prior, which means a higher income in 2022 will lead to higher Medicare bills in 2024.

Before doing a Roth conversion, evaluate your entire financial and retirement situation.

Reference: CNBC (May 10, 2022) “Here’s why a Roth individual retirement account conversion may pay off in a down market”

Should I Have a Roth IRA?

Roth IRAs are powerful retirement savings tools. Account owners are allowed to take tax-free distributions in retirement and can avoid paying taxes on investment growth. There’s little downside to a Roth IRA, according to a recent article “10 Reasons to Save for Retirement in a Roth IRA” from U.S. News & World Report.

Taxes are paid in advance on a Roth IRA. Therefore, if you are in a low tax bracket now and may be in a higher bracket later, or if tax rates increase, you’ve already paid those taxes. Another plus: all your Roth IRA funds are available to you in retirement, unlike a traditional IRA when you have to pay income tax on every withdrawal.

Roth IRA distributions taken after age 59 ½ from accounts at least five years old are tax free. Every withdrawal taken from a traditional IRA is treated like income and, like income, is subject to taxes.

When comparing the two, compare your current tax rate to what you expect your tax rate to be once you’ve retired. You can also save in both types of accounts in the same year, if you’re not sure about future tax rates.

Roth IRA accounts also let you keep investment gains, because you don’t pay income tax on investment gains or earned interest.

Roth IRAs have greater flexibility. Traditional IRA account owners are required to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from an IRA every year after age 72. If you forget to take a distribution, there’s a 50% tax penalty. You also have to pay taxes on the withdrawal. Roth IRAs have no withdrawal requirements during the lifetime of the original owner. Take what you need, when you need, if you need.

Roth IRAs are also more flexible before retirement. If you’re under age 59 ½ and take an early withdrawal, it’ll cost you a 10% early withdrawal penalty plus income tax. Roth early withdrawals also trigger a 10% penalty and income tax, but only on the portion of the withdrawal from investment earnings.

If your goal is to leave IRA money for heirs, Roth IRAs also have advantages. A traditional IRA account requires beneficiaries to pay taxes on any money left to them in a traditional 401(k) or IRA. However, those who inherit a Roth IRA can take tax-free withdrawals. Heirs have to take withdrawals. However, the distributions are less likely to create expensive tax situations.

Retirement savers can contribute up to $6,000 in a Roth IRA in 2022. Age 50 and up? You can make an additional $1,000 catch up contribution for a total Roth IRA contribution of $7,000.

If this sounds attractive but you’ve been using a traditional IRA, a Roth conversion is your next step. However, you will have to pay the income taxes on the amount converted. Try to make the conversion in a year when you’re in a lower tax bracket. You could also convert a small amount every year to maintain control over taxes.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (April 11, 2022) “10 Reasons to Save for Retirement in a Roth IRA”

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Inherited IRAs?

If you’ve inherited an IRA, you won’t have to pay a penalty on early withdrawals if you take money out before age 59½. However, you may have to make those withdrawals earlier than you’d wanted. Doing so may trigger additional income taxes, and even push you into a higher tax bracket. The IRA has always been a complicated retirement account. While changes from the SECURE Act have simplified some things, it’s made others more stringent.

A recent article titled “How Do I Avoid Paying Taxes on an Inherited IRA?” from Aol.com explains how the traditional IRA allows tax-deductible contributions to be made to the account during your working life. If the IRA includes investments, they grow tax—free. Taxes aren’t due on contributions or earnings, until you make withdrawals during retirement.

A Roth IRA is different. You fund the Roth IRA with after-tax dollars, earnings grow tax free and there are no taxes on withdrawals.

With a traditional inherited IRA, distributions are taxable at the beneficiary’s ordinary income tax rate. If the withdrawals are large, the taxes will be large also—and could push you into a higher income tax bracket.

If your spouse passes and you inherit the IRA, you may take ownership of it. It is treated as if it were your own. Howwever, if you inherited a traditional IRA from a parent, you have just ten years to empty the entire account and taxes must be paid on withdrawals.

There are exceptions. If the beneficiary is disabled, chronically ill or a minor child, or ten years younger than the original owner, you may treat the IRA as if it is your own and wait to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) at age 72.

Inheriting a Roth IRA is different. Funds are generally considered tax free, as long as they are considered “qualified distributions.” This means they have been in the account for at least five years, including the time the original owner was alive. If they don’t meet these requirements, withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. Your estate planning attorney will know whether the Roth IRA meets these requirements.

If at all possible, always avoid immediately taking a single lump sum from an IRA. Wait until the RMDs are required. If you inherited an IRA from a non-spouse, use the ten years to stretch out the distributions.

If you need to empty the account in ten years, you don’t have to withdraw equal amounts. If your income varies, take a larger withdrawal when your income is lower and take a bigger withdrawal when your income is higher. This can result in a lower overall tax liability.

If you’ve inherited a Roth IRA and funds were deposited less than five years ago, wait to take those funds out for at least five years. When the five years have elapsed, withdrawals will be treated as tax-free distributions.

One of the best ways for heirs to avoid paying taxes on an IRA is for the original owner, while still living, to convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, paying taxes on contributions and earnings. This reduces the taxes paid if the owner is in a lower tax bracket than beneficiaries, and lets the beneficiaries withdraw funds as they want with no income tax burden.

Reference: Aol.com (Feb. 25, 2022) “How Do I Avoid Paying Taxes on an Inherited IRA?”

How Much can You Inherit and Not Pay Taxes?

Even with the new proposed rules from Biden’s lowered exception, estates under $6 million won’t have to worry about federal estate taxes for a few years—although state estate tax exemptions may be lower. However, what about inheritances and what about inherited IRAs? This is explored in a recent article titled “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money” from Kiplinger.

If you inherit an IRA from a parent, taxes on required withdrawals could leave you with a far smaller legacy than you anticipated. For many couples, IRAs are the largest assets passed to the next generation. In some cases they may be worth more than the family home. Americans held more than $13 trillion in IRAs in the second quarter of 2021. Many of you reading this are likely to inherit an IRA.

Before the SECURE Act changed how IRAs are distributed, people who inherited IRAs and other tax-deferred accounts transferred their assets into a beneficiary IRA account and took withdrawals over their life expectancy. This allowed money to continue to grow tax free for decades. Withdrawals were taxed as ordinary income.

The SECURE Act made it mandatory for anyone who inherited an IRA (with some exceptions) to decide between two options: take the money in a lump sum and lose a huge part of it to taxes or transfer the money to an inherited or beneficiary IRA and deplete it within ten years of the date of death of the original owner.

The exceptions are a surviving spouse, who may roll the money into their own IRA and allow it to grow, tax deferred, until they reach age 72, when they need to start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). If the IRA was a Roth, there are no RMDs, and any withdrawals are tax free. The surviving spouse can also transfer money into an inherited IRA and take distributions on their life expectancy.

If you’re not eligible for the exceptions, any IRA you inherit will come with a big tax bill. If the inherited IRA is a Roth, you still have to empty it out in ten years. However, there are no taxes due as long as the Roth was funded at least five years before the original owner died.

Rushing to cash out an inherited IRA will slash the value of the IRA significantly because of the taxes due on the IRA. You might find yourself bumped up into a higher tax bracket. It’s generally better to transfer the money to an inherited IRA to spread distributions out over a ten-year period.

The rules don’t require you to empty the account in any particular order. Therefore, you could conceivably wait ten years and then empty the account. However, you will then have a huge tax bill.

Other assets are less constrained, at least as far as taxes go. Real estate and investment accounts benefit from the step-up in cost basis. Let’s say your mother paid $50 for a share of stock and it was worth $250 on the day she died. Your “basis” would be $250. If you sell the stock immediately, you won’t owe any taxes. If you hold onto to it, you’ll only owe taxes (or claim a loss) on the difference between $250 and the sale price. Proposals to curb the step-up have been bandied about for years. However, to date they have not succeeded.

The step-up in basis also applies to the family home and other inherited property. If you keep inherited investments or property, you’ll owe taxes on the difference between the value of the assets on the day of the original owner’s death and the day you sell.

Estate planning and tax planning should go hand-in-hand. If you are expecting a significant inheritance, a conversation with aging parents may be helpful to protect the family’s assets and preclude any expensive surprises.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 29, 2021) “Minimizing Taxes When You Inherit Money”

Before They’re Gone—Estate Planning Strategies

As Congress continues to hammer out the details on impending legislation, there are certain laws still in effect concerning estate planning. The article “Last Call for SLATs, GTRATs, and the Use of the Enhanced Gift Tax Exemption?” from Mondaq says now is the time to review and update your estate plan, just in case any beneficial strategies may disappear by year’s end.

Here are the top five estate planning items to consider:

Expect Exemptions to Take a Dive. Estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions are $11.7 million per person and are now scheduled to increase by an inflationary indexed amount through 2025. Even if there are no legislative changes, on January 1, 2026, this number drops to $5 million, indexed for inflation. Under proposed legislation, it will revert to $6,020,000 and will continue to be indexed for inflation. This is a “use it or lose it” exemption.

Married Couples Have Options Different Than Solos. Married persons who don’t want to gift large amounts to descendants have the option to gift the exemption amount to their spouse using a SLAT—Spousal Lifetime Access Trust. The spouses can both create these trusts for each other, but the IRS is watching, so certain precautions must be taken. The trusts should not be identical in nature and should not be created at the same time to avoid application of the “reciprocal trust” doctrine, which would render both trusts moot. Under proposed legislation, SLATs will be includable in your estate at death, but SLATs created and funded before the legislation is enacted will be grandfathered in. If this is something of interest, don’t delay.

GRATs and other Grantor Trusts May be Gone. They simply won’t be of any use, since proposed legislation has them includable in your estate at death. Existing GRATs and other grantor trusts will be grandfathered in from the new rules. Again, if this is of interest, the time to act is now.

IRA Rules May Change. People who own Individual Retirement Accounts with values above $10 million, combined with income of more than $450,000, may not be able to make contributions to traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and defined contribution plans under the proposed legislation. Individuals with large IRA balances may be required to withdraw funds from retirement plans, regardless of age. A minimum distribution may be an amount equal to 50% of the amount by which the combined IRA value is higher than the $10 million threshold.

Rules Change for Singles Too. A single person who doesn’t want to make a large gift and lose control and access may create and gift an exemption amount to a trust in a jurisdiction with “domestic asset protection trust” legislation and still be a beneficiary of such a trust. This trust must be fully funded before the new legislation is enacted, since once the law passes, such a trust will be includable in the person’s estate. Check with your estate planning attorney to see if your state allows this strategy.

Reference: Mondaq (Sep. 24. 2021) “Last Call for SLATs, GTRATs, and the Use of the Enhanced Gift Tax Exemption?”

Key Dates for Planning Retirement

Just as there are many types of retirement benefits, there are many dates to keep in mind when creating a retirement plan. Some concern when you can make larger contributions to retirement accounts and others have to do with withdrawals. Knowing the dates for each matters to your retirement planning, according to the recent article title “10 Important Ages for Retirement Planning” from U.S. News & World Report.

When should you max out retirement savings contributions? The sooner you start saving for retirement, the more likely you’ll retire with robust tax-deferred accounts. Tax breaks and employer matches add up, as do compounding interest returns. The 401(k) contribution limit in 2021 is $19,500. Wage earners can deposit up to $6,000 in a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. If you’re in your peak earning years, traditional IRAs and 401(k)s may be better, since your tax bracket is likely higher to be higher than when you started out.

Catch-up contributions begin at age 50. Once you’ve turned 50, you can make catch up contributions to 401(k)s—up to $6,500—and up to $7,000 in traditional IRAs. That’s for 2021. If you’re able to take advantage of these contributions, you can put away additional money and qualify for even bigger tax deductions.

401(k) withdrawals could start at 55. If you left your job in the same year you hit the double nickel, you can take 401(k) withdrawals penalty-free from the account associated with your most recent job. The “Rule of 55” lets you avoid a 10% early penalty, but you’ll still have to pay income taxes on any withdrawals from a 401(k) account. However, if you roll a 401(k) account balance into an IRA, you’ll need to wait until age 59½ to take IRA withdrawals without any penalties.

When does the IRA retirement age begin? The magic number is 59½. However, traditional IRA distributions are not required until age 72. All traditional IRA withdrawals are also taxable.

Social Security eligibility begins at age 62. The earlier you start collecting Social Security, the smaller your monthly benefit. Your full retirement age depends upon your date of birth, when the benefit amount will be higher than at age 62. If you work after signing up for Social Security, your benefits could be temporarily withheld if your salary is higher than the annual earnings limit. If you retire before your full retirement age and earn more than $18,960 per year, for every $2 above this amount, your benefits will be reduced by $1. Benefits will be recalculated once you reach full retirement age.

Medicare eligibility begins at age 65. Enrollment in Medicare may take place during a seven-month period that begins three months before the month you turn 65. Signing up on time matters, because Medicare Part B premiums increase by 10% for every 12-month period you were eligible for benefits but failed to enroll. Are you delaying enrollment because you or your spouse is still covered by a group health plan at work? Make sure to sign up within eight months of leaving your job or health plan and avoid the penalty.

Social Security Full Retirement Age is 66 for most Baby Boomers. 67 is the full retirement age for workers born in 1960 or later. Millennials and younger generations qualify after age 67.

If you can wait until 70, you’ll max out on Social Security. Social Security benefits increase by 8% for each year you wait to start payments between Full Retirement Age and age 70. After age 70, the number remains the same.

RMDs begin for 401(k) and IRA retirement accounts at age 72. These mistakes here are expensive! Your first distribution must be taken by April 1 of the year you turn 72. After that, annual withdrawals from 401(k)s and traditional IRAs must be taken by December 31 of each year. Missing a required distribution and you’ll get hit with a nasty 50% of the amount that you should have withdrawn.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (July 28, 2021) “10 Important Ages for Retirement Planning”

How Do You Survive Financially after Death of Spouse?

The financial issues that arise following the death of a spouse range from the simple—figuring out how to access online bill payment for utilities—to the complex—understanding estate and inheritance taxes. The first year after the death of a spouse is a time when surviving spouses are often fragile and vulnerable. It’s not the time to make any major financial or life decisions, says the article “The Financial Effects of Losing a Spouse” from Yahoo! Finance.

Tax implications following the death of a spouse. A drop in household income often means the surviving spouse needs to withdraw money from retirement accounts. While taxes may be lowered because of the drop in income, withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s that are not Roth accounts are taxable. However, less income might mean that the surviving spouse’s income is low enough to qualify for certain tax deductions or credits that otherwise they would not be eligible for.

Surviving spouses eventually have a different filing status. As long as the surviving spouse has not remarried in the year of death of their spouse, they are permitted to file a federal joint tax return. This may be an option for two more years, if there is a dependent child. However, after that, taxes must be filed as a single taxpayer, which means tax rates are not as favorable as they are for a couple filing jointly. The standard deduction is also lowered for a single person.

If the spouse inherits a traditional IRA, the surviving spouse may elect to be designated as the account owner, roll funds into their own retirement account, or be treated as a beneficiary. Which option is chosen will impact both the required minimum distribution (RMD) and the surviving spouse’s taxable income. If the spouse decides to become the designated owner of the original account or rolls the account into their own IRA, they may take RMDs based on their own life expectancy. If they chose the beneficiary route, RMDs are based on the life expectancy of the deceased spouse. Most people opt to roll the IRA into their own IRA or transfer it into an account in their own name.

The surviving spouse receives a stepped-up basis in other inherited property. If the assets are held jointly between spouses, there’s a step up in one half of the basis. However, if the asset was owned solely by the deceased spouse, the step up is 100%. In community property states, the total fair market value of property, including the portion that belongs to the surviving spouse, becomes the basis for the entire property, if at least half of its value is included in the deceased spouse’s gross estate. Your estate planning attorney will help prepare for this beforehand, or help you navigate this issue after the death of a spouse.

It should be noted there is a special rule that helps surviving spouses who wish to sell their home. Up to $250,000 of gain from the sale of a principal residence is tax-free, if certain conditions are met. The exemption increases to $500,000 for married couples filing a joint return, but a surviving spouse who has not remarried may still claim the $500,000 exemption, if the home is sold within two years of the spouses’ passing.

There is an unlimited marital deduction in addition to the current $11.7 million estate tax exemption. If the deceased’s estate is not near that amount, the surviving spouse should file form 706 to elect portability of their deceased spouse’s unused exemption. This protects the surviving spouse if the exemption is lowered, which may happen in the near future. If you don’t file in a timely manner, you’ll lose this exemption, so don’t neglect this task.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (July 16, 2021) “The Financial Effects of Losing a Spouse”

Are Roth IRAs Smart for Estate Planning?

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled “Secure Act 2.0, Biden Tax Hike Plans Make Roth IRAs a Crucial Tool” says that Roth IRAs offer an great planning tool, and that the Secure Act 2.0 retirement bill (which is expected to pass) will create an even wider window for Roth IRA planning.

With President Biden’s proposed tax increases, it is wise to leverage Roth conversions and other strategies while tax rates are historically low—and the original Secure Act of 2019 made Roth IRAs particularly valuable for estate planning.

Roth Conversions and Low Tax Rates. Though tax rates for some individuals may increase under the Biden tax proposals, rates for 2021 are currently at historically low levels under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed at the end of 2017. This makes Roth IRA conversions attractive. You will pay less in taxes on the conversion of the same amount than you would have prior to the 2017 tax overhaul. It can be smart to make a conversion in an amount that will let you “fill up” your current federal tax bracket.

Reduce Future RMDs. The money in a Roth IRA is not subject to RMDs. Money contributed to a Roth IRA directly and money contributed to a Roth 401(k) and later rolled over to a Roth IRA can be allowed to grow beyond age 72 (when RMDs are currently required to start). For those who do not need the money and who prefer not to pay the taxes on RMDs, Roth IRAs have this flexibility. No RMD requirement also lets the Roth account to continue to grow tax-free, so this money can be passed on to a spouse or other beneficiaries at your death.

The Securing a Strong Retirement Act, known as the Secure Act 2.0, would gradually raise the age for RMDs to start to 75 by 2032. The first step would be effective January 1, 2022, moving the starting age to 73. If passed, this provision would provide extra time for Roth conversions and Roth contributions to help retirees permanently avoid RMDs.

Tax Diversification. Roth IRAs provide tax diversification. For those with a significant amount of their retirement assets in traditional IRA and 401(k) accounts, this can be an important planning tool as you approach retirement. The ability to withdraw funds on a tax-free basis from your Roth IRA can help provide tax planning options in the face of an uncertain future regarding tax rates.

Estate Planning and the Secure Act. Roth IRAs have long been a super estate planning vehicle because there is no RMD requirement. This lets the Roth assets continue to grow tax-free for the account holder’s beneficiaries. Moreover, this tax-free status has taken on another dimension with the inherited IRA rules under the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (Secure) Act. The legislation eliminates the stretch IRA for inherited IRAs for most non-spousal beneficiaries. As a result, these beneficiaries have to withdraw the entire amount in an inherited IRA within 10 years of inheriting the account. Inherited Roth IRAs are also subject to the 10-year rule, but the withdrawals can be made tax-free by account beneficiaries, if the original account owner had met the 5-year rule prior to his or her death. This makes a Roth IRA an ideal estate planning tool in situations where your beneficiaries are non-spouses who do not qualify as eligible designated beneficiaries.

Reference: Think Advisor (May 11, 2021) “Secure Act 2.0, Biden Tax Hike Plans Make Roth IRAs a Crucial Tool”