homeaboutcontact
 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Estate Planning & Annuities: Should Parents Take Smaller Monthly Payments So Survivors Can Receive Some Sort Of Inheritance?


On February 20, 2010, the Wall Street Journal's online edition has an article entitled "A Tough Choice: Your Or Your Kids." The article discusses the dilemma some families face when buying an annuity: Should a parent take smaller monthly payments so that their surviving spouse or children can get some sort of inheritance?

Each person or family's situation is different but the article has several interesting points that can be considered.

1. Have your financial planner work with your estate planning attorney when deciding on how to structure annuities, whether to have a fixed or variable annuity, whether to pair the annuity with an insurance policy and/or whether to purchase riders to guarantee payments for your heirs.

Often times without the input of an estate planning attorney, most people opt for the smaller payment without considering other and possibly better strategies to help the heirs come out ahead, including pairing an annuity with an insurance policy.

2. Pairing an annuity with an insurance policy. The WSJ article gave the example of a certified financial planner who advised an 80-year-old client to use the $266,000 value of a variable life-insurance policy to buy an immediate annuity, providing her with $2,500 a month for the rest of her life. The mother is using $1,500 a month from that $2,500 payment to buy a guaranteed life-insurance policy worth $300,000. Now her son stands to inherit more than the annuity's cost.

The WSJ article gave another example of pairing an annuity with an insurance policy to hedge against inflation. Let's say you and your spouse have $1 million saved at age 65 from which you hope to pull 4% a year. You could spend $185,000 to buy a second-to-die permanent life-insurance policy with a $1 million guarantee that would eventually go to your children. And with about $800,000, you could get an immediate inflation-indexed annuity that would pay $40,750 the first year and continue paying through both spouses' lifetimes.

3. There are two main types of annuities, each usually starting with a lump-sum payment. With variable annuities, you invest in stocks or bonds with an insurance guarantee. There usually are surrender payments if you withdraw the money in the first few years. With immediate fixed annuities, your lump sum buys regular payments from an insurer for the rest of your life. They are being hailed by everybody from financial planners to President Barack Obama as a way for Americans to stretch their retirement nest eggs.

4. Riders to guarantee payments for your heirs or to adjust monthly payments for inflation. Annuities come with complex features and fees that are often not found in investments like mutual funds. It takes careful analysis to figure out if an annuity makes sense for you and, if so, which features to purchase.

When one spouse has health problems and the other could live a long time, variable annuities with guaranteed-minimum payments can pay off, despite annual fees that can top 3.5% of the invested amount. The WSJ gave an example of a 69-year-old retired teacher whose husband died last year from post-polio syndrome. The couple was drawing 6% a year from a variable annuity in which they had invested $300,000. The investment had lost half its value during the financial crisis, but the retired teacher inherited the original amount invested because of a guarantee they had purchased. The money should still be there for her two daughters as well.

5. Immediate fixed annuities are simpler to understand and cheaper: You get a regular payment for life. But when you die, the downside is that your family loses that payment unless you pay extra for a rider returning at least some of the money you invested. The rub is that such a rider will typically lower the monthly payment you receive by anywhere from 2% to 15% or even more.

6. The WSJ article suggested an approach for buying an annuity that involves determining one's basic expenses—utilities, food, taxes, insurance and so on. Purchase a plain-vanilla annuity to cover those costs. Then you can invest the rest of your savings to spend on vacations, cars or grandchildren. Anything left over can be your family's inheritance. As the article pointed out, however, if you are early in retirement, who knows how much the basics will cost in 20 or 30 years? And what if your savings barely cover an annuity that will pay for those basics?

7. As annuities gain in popularity, make sure you consult with an experienced estate and trust lawyer as well as with your financial planner before you purchase the annuity so it is consistent with your estate plan and wishes for providing for your heirs.

Posted by Henry J. Moravec, III. Henry (Hank) Moravec is a partner at Moravecs, A Professional Law Corporation in San Marino, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. He is a very experienced estate planning attorney. Should you have any questions regarding your own situation, you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210. The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How Should You Plan Your Estate In This Time Of Federal Estate Tax Uncertainty?


Now let's move on to a more practical topic. I keep writing about the uncertainty with the federal estate tax. A more pertinent question that applies to everyone is: With this uncertainty in the law, what should and can I do about it?

How Do We Plan In This Time Of Flux?
3 Key Things To Remember.

First, do an estate plan. If you fail to plan -- you are planning to fail. Also, keep your plan updated. Make an annual checkup with your estate planning attorney (even if for 15 minutes) to let him or her know if there are any changes in your circumstances or to see if the changes in the law effect you.

Second, it's all about your loved ones! If estate taxes would not affect you, don't think there is no need for an estate plan. The reality is that estate taxes currently affect less than one percent of people. So why do you need an estate plan or trust? Your family, your loved ones or your charities. That's why.

Third, don't procrastinate on this issue. We all procrastinate on some tasks but put this one at the top of your "to do" list as what I call a "most important task"! And don't even think about using this estate tax uncertainty as another excuse to procrastinate. (Please excuse my lame procrastination joke :)

An experienced estate attorney can help break all this down into very manageable tasks for a reasonable fixed fee and will do almost all the work for you in tax planning and helping you carry out your wishes. You just have to make the major decisions such as who will be your child's guardian and who will receive your assets.

Without a current estate plan, you could be harming the futures of those people who are the most important to you. Ask yourself: Do I want confusion and turmoil to be what I leave to my heirs and family? We all know the answer to that question is a resounding "no."

But go ahead and ask yourself:

How would I want my assets to be managed if I became incapacitated with early dementia or passed away?

Who would care for my minor children if something happens to me or my spouse?

Do I want my family in litigation over my estate? How do I avoid probate litigation?

Do I want piece of mind on a day-to-day basis that my estate plan is in place?

These are questions we all have to ask ourselves. And the answers remind us why we all have to plan regardless of whether or not we are subject to the federal estate tax.

Posted by Henry (Hank) J. Moravec, III, a partner at Moravec, Varga & Mooney. For a complimentary 30 minute consultation (telephonic or in person), you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 or (818) 769-4221.

Mr. Moravec is a very experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney, Los Angeles trust attorney and Los Angeles probate attorney. He has more than 20 years' experience in avoiding taxes with estate planning and is extremely dedicated to his clients and helping them create a plan that is tailored to their wishes, finances, helps avoid probate and taxes, and takes into account their families' unique situation.

He focuses his practice on Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Administration, Beneficiary and Trustee Representation, Probate Litigation, Tax Law, and Nonprofit Law. He represents clients throughout Southern California and his offices are conveniently located for clients in the Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/. The firm has two offices and consultations and meetings can be held at either office.

The San Gabriel Valley office is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108. Telephone: (626) 793-3210.

The San Fernando Valley office is located at 4605 Lankershim Boulevard, Suite 718, North Hollywood, California 91602-1878. Telephone: (818) 769-4221.


Some States Race To Clean Up Congress' Estate Tax Mess:


With the federal estate tax law having lapsed — a growing number of states are taking matters into their own hands.

"Investment News" has an article on this topic which I have linked this post to and it can be found here:

Dead Federal Estate Tax Rises From The Ashes - Investment News

The article discusses how lawmakers and estate attorneys in the District of Columbia and at least 13 states, including Florida, Georgia, New York and Virginia, are drafting or have introduced legislation aimed at clarifying estate tax law in the absence of a federal statute. Specifically, they hope to avoid a wave of lawsuits that will likely arise from ambiguities in wills and trusts filed this year.

For example, here's the way it would work. On Jan. 12, Virginia introduced a bill that would require all estates and trusts to be treated as though they were governed by 2009 federal tax law. I have not seen any proposed California legislation yet.

For those who want more related information on this issue, you can read a February 3 Forbes Magazine article entitled "States Race To Clean Up Congress' Estate Tax Mess."

Posted by Henry J. Moravec, III. Henry (Hank) Moravec is a partner at Moravecs, A Professional Law Corporation in San Marino, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. He focuses his practice on Estate Planning, Probate Litigation, Trust Administration, Beneficiary Representation, Trustee Representation, Tax Law, and Nonprofit Law.

Should you have any questions regarding your own situation, you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210. The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/


Monday, February 1, 2010

Potential Estate Tax Implications Of J.D. Salinger's Death

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

"Catcher In The Rye" by J.D. Salinger (who passed away on January 28, 2010 at age 91 when there is no federal estate tax under current law)

Famously reclusive, Salinger withdrew from public life, refusing interviews for many decades. Although he was understood to have continued to write in his isolation, those manuscripts have remained private. From a federal estate tax perspective, what are those manuscripts worth?

I have written previously about the potential estate tax implications of someone's death during this time period when there's no current federal estate tax. Let me use Salinger as an example.

What happens if Congress reinstates the federal estate tax later this year and makes it retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010? Some estate tax attorneys have predicted that the representatives of the estate of someone who dies during this window of time (such as Salinger) would mount a constitutional challenge to the retroactivity of the law that would go all the way to the Supreme Court.

I am not saying it would be Salinger but it would be quite ironic if the estate of the notoriously private Salinger filed a public lawsuit challenging this law. I suspect that Salinger's estate representative and attorneys -- like the rest of us -- are waiting for what Congress is going to do.

Posted by Henry J. Moravec, III. Henry (Hank) Moravec is a partner at Moravecs, A Professional Law Corporation in San Marino, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. He focuses his practice on Estate Planning, Probate Litigation, Trust Administration, Beneficiary Representation, Trustee Representation, Tax Law, and Nonprofit Law.

Should you have any questions regarding your own situation, you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210. The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/