Business Owners Resolve To Become More Competitive

Business owners typically have little time for planning. However, making that time during this New Year — and new decade — can help most businesses become more competitive now and in the future.

PLAN YOUR SUCCESSION

Whether you plan to eventually sell your business to strangers or pass it down to the next generation, succession planning can help you get there. Consider working with a business valuation expert, who can give you tips about how to increase your company’s value over time. Then put together a business succession plan. If your kids will take over, start preparing them now by gradually giving them more responsibility.

JOIN YOUR COMPETITION

How can you improve your standing among competitors? Borrowing from those who do certain things better can help. You might explore, for example, how to top competitor uses marketing and social media to highlight its business. Joining a professional or business organization can also yield helpful tips. Members typically enjoy sharing what works with fellow members.

GET HELP

If you want to squeeze more profit from your business, a tax professional might help. Or if you want to learn new ways to attract and retain top talent, a benefits consultant may help by showing you how a small increase in total compensation can increase productivity and loyalty.

You, Your Retirement, and the SECURE Act

You may have missed the news – buried in a much bigger spending bill, and passed in the thick of the holiday season. But after months of nearly bringing it to the finish line, it’s now official: On Friday, December 20, 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act was signed into law.

The SECURE Act provides a mixed bag of incentives and obligations for retirement savers and service providers alike. Its intent is to make it easier for families to save more for retirement.

That said, “easier” doesn’t necessarily mean less complicated. As your fiduciary financial advisor, we’re glad we’re here for you! To jump-start the conversation, here is an overview of the most significant changes we’ve got our eye on, as the SECURE Act starts rolling out in 2020.

As you might expect, all the points below come with detailed exceptions and disclaimers that may influence how they apply to you. Before proceeding, please consult with us.

Tax-Favorable Retirement Saving
Compared to previous generations, more Americans are living longer, remaining employed into their 70s, and shouldering more of the duty to fund their own retirement. As such, the SECURE Act includes several incentives to start saving sooner, and keep saving longer.

Initial RMD Increases To Age 72
Until now, you had to start taking Required Minimum Distribution (RMDs) out of your traditional IRA at age 70 ½. RMDs are then taxed at ordinary income rates. Now, you don’t need to begin taking RMDs until age 72. Rules for qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) and Roth IRA withdrawals remain unchanged. 

IRA Contributions For As Long As You’re Employed
If you work past age 70 ½, you can now continue to contribute to either a Roth or a traditional IRA. Before, you could only contribute to a Roth IRA after age 70 ½.

Expanded Participation For Long-Term, Part-Time Employees
Even if you’re a part-time employee, you may now be able to participate in your employer’s 401(k) plan.

Expanded Opportunities For Graduate And Post-Doc Students
If you are earning stipends and similar forms of income, you may now be able to count them as compensation for purposes of contributing to a traditional IRA.

Expanded 529 Plan Possibilities

Making it easier to pay off student debt is also expected to benefit your retirement saving efforts.

Student Loans
You and your children can now use 529 college savings plan distributions to pay off up to $10,000 in student loans – per plan beneficiary and their siblings. For example, if you have one 529 plan account but two children, you can use that account to repay up to $10,000 of each child’s student loans ($20,000 total) out of the single account. Again, check the fine print; there are some procedural details and tax ramifications to be aware of.

Apprenticeships
You can now use 529 plan distributions for expenses related to a qualified apprenticeship program.

Retirement Plan Restructuring

Even if you are not a business owner, it’s worth being aware that employers in general – and small businesses in particular – are being recruited to help employees save for retirement.

Higher Auto-Enroll Percentages
If your employer auto-enrolls you in their retirement plan, you are free to opt out. But most of us don’t bother. This usually works in your financial favor, compared to expecting you to sign up and increase contributions on your own.

The SECURE Act now allows employers to continue to auto-enroll you in their plan, and automatically increase your contributions to up to 15% of your pay after the first year (versus a prior 10% cap). Again, you can proactively remove or change your contributions to whatever you’d like, but we often recommend contributing the maximum allowed.

More MEPs
Until now, only businesses who shared a common interest were allowed to establish a multiple-employer plan (MEP). As described in a Kiplinger report, “Starting in 2021, the new law allows completely unrelated employers to participate in a [MEP] and have a ‘pooled plan provider’ administer it.” This means small businesses should now have more ways to offer more cost-effective retirement plans, with the savings passed on to employees who participate in the plan.

Additional Small Business Incentives
The SECURE Act provides a few other tax breaks and credits to help small businesses open and operate employer-sponsored retirement plans for their employees.

An Estate Planning Limitation: Stretch IRAs Mostly Go Away

So far, we’ve been covering the “carrots” meant to encourage retirement saving. There’s also an important “stick.” It’s presumably to offset the expected reduction in federal income tax collections, due to increasing the RMD age to 72. The SECURE Act eliminates the use of stretch IRAs for most beneficiaries, which could impact your current or future estate planning.

To be clear, a stretch IRA is not a formal account type. It’s a practice, that enabled you to bequeath your IRA assets to your heirs, who could then keep the inherited account intact and tax-sheltered, essentially throughout their lifetime. With some exceptions, heirs will now be required to move assets out of inherited IRA accounts within a decade after receiving them, thus having to pay taxes on the proceeds much earlier than under the old law.

Investment Management: An Annuity in Your Retirement Plan?

A number of articles in the SECURE Act are aimed at helping you not only save for retirement, but feel more confident you won’t run out of money once you get there. As such, the Act is making it easier for employers to add lifetime income annuities to their plans as a distribution option for employee participants.

The SECURE Act also has established new reporting requirements for your employer. The new report is meant to make it easier for you to envision how much of a lifetime income stream you can expect, if you decide to annuitize your accumulated retirement plan assets. This reporting requirement does not take effect until a year after the Department of Labor has established a set of rules for your employer to follow when creating your report … which could take a while.

Bottom line, we applaud the overall idea of creating a secure retirement, but there are many ways to go about achieving it. If you are considering annuitizing some of your retirement assets today or in the future, we hope you’ll be in touch so we can explore the possibilities with you in the context of your own circumstances.

Debt Management

There are quite a few other components to the SECURE Act. Some of them are aimed at managing access to your retirement savings for pre-retirement spending needs. For example, the SECURE Act now allows parents to withdraw up to $5,000 from their IRA without penalty (but with potential income taxes) for birth or adoption events. It also now prohibits plan providers from allowing participants to take out 401(k) plan loans using credit cards.

As you might expect, we prefer ensuring your financial plan budgets for upcoming spending needs without having to tap into your retirement reserves. If it might not, let’s get together soon and plan accordingly.

Planning for Your Secure Retirement

What can we expect moving forward? Not every component in the SECURE Act is effective immediately. Some may continue to come into sharper focus over time. We may recommend some changes to your financial planning in the near future, while other steps may be required or desired over time. This is to be expected given the number of reforms enacted in this sweeping bill. Come what may, we look forward to being by your side throughout.

As we embark into 2020 together, we will be connecting with you to ensure that your retirement planning complies with and takes optimal advantage of the SECURE Act of 2019.

2020 Tax Brackets, Deductions, Plus More

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has new annual inflation adjustments for tax rates, brackets, deductions and retirement contribution limits. Note, the amounts below do not impact the tax filing you make in 2020 for the tax year 2019. These amounts apply to your 2020 taxes that you will file in 2021.

2020 Tax Rates and 2020 Tax Brackets

Below are the new 2020 tables for personal income tax rates. There are separate tables each for individuals, married filing jointly couples and surviving spouses, heads of household and married filing separate; all with seven tax brackets for 2020.

Tax Brackets & Rates – Individuals
Taxable Income BetweenTax Due
$0 – $9,87510%
$9,876 – $40,125$988 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
$40,126 – $85,525$4,617 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
$85,526 – $163,300$14,605 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
$163,301 – $207,350$33,271 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $518,400$47,367 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$518,400 and Over$156,234 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400
Tax Brackets & Rates – Married Filing Jointly and Surviving Spouses
Taxable Income BetweenTax Due
$0 – $19,75010%
$19,751 – $80,250$1,975 plus 12% of the amount over $19,750
$80,251 – $171,050$9,235 plus 22% of the amount over $80,250
$171,051 – $326,600$29,211 plus 24% of the amount over $171,050
$326,601 – $414,700$66,542 plus 32% of the amount over $326,600
$414,701 – $622,050$94,734 plus 35% of the amount over $414,700
$622,050 and Over$167,306 plus 37% of the amount over $622,050
Tax Brackets & Rates – Heads of Households
Taxable Income BetweenTax Due
$0 – $14,10010%
$14,101 – $53,700$1,410 plus 12% of the amount over $14,100
$53,701 – $85,500$6,162 plus 22% of the amount over $53,700
$85,501 – $163,300$13,158 plus 24% of the amount over $85,500
$163,301 – $207,350$31,829 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $518,400$45,925 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$518,400 and Over$154,792 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400
Tax Brackets & Rates – Separately
Taxable Income BetweenTax Due
$0 – $9,87510%
$9,876 – $40,125$988 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
$40,126 – $85,525$4,617 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
$85,526 – $163,300$14,605 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
$163,301 – $207,350$33,271 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $311,025$47,367 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$311,025 and Over$83,653 plus 37% of the amount over $311,025

Trusts and Estates have four brackets in 2020, each with different rates.

Tax Brackets & Rates – Trusts and Estates
Taxable Income BetweenTax Due
$0 – $2,60010%
$2,601 – $9,450$260 plus 12% of the amount over $2,600
$9,451 – $12,950$1,904 plus 35% of the amount over $9,450
$12,950 and Over$3,129 plus 37% of the amount over $12,950

Standard Deduction Amounts

Amounts for standard deductions see a slight increase from 2019 to 2020 based on indexing for inflation. Note that again as in 2019, there are no personal exemption amounts for 2020.

Standard Deductions
Filing StatusStandard Deduction Amount
Single$12,400
Married Filing Jointly & Surviving Spouses$24,800
Married Filing Separately$12,400
Heads of Household$18,650

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions

Like the above, the AMT exemption amounts are increased based on adjustments for inflation, with the 2020 exemption amounts as follows.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions
Filing StatusStandard Deduction Amount
Individual$72,900
Married Filing Jointly & Surviving Spouses$113,400
Married Filing Separately$56,700
Trusts and Estates$25,400

Capital Gains Rates

Capital gains rates remain unchanged for 2020; however, the brackets for the rates are changing. Taxpayers will pay a maximum 15 percent rate unless their taxable income exceeds the 37 percent threshold (see the personal tax brackets and rates above for your individual situation). If a taxpayer hits this threshold, then their capital gains rate increases to 20 percent.

Itemized Deductions

Below are the 2020 details on the major itemized deductions many taxpayers take on Schedule A of their returns.

  • State and Local Taxes – The SALT deductions also remain unchanged at the federal level with a total limit of $10,000 ($5,000 if you are married filing separately).
  • Mortgage Deduction for Interest Expenses – The limit on mortgage interest also remains the same with the debt bearing the interest capped at $750k ($375k if you are married filing separately).
  • Medical Expense Note – The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act set the medical expense threshold at 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for years 2017 and 2018. The threshold was set to increase to 10% of (AGI) for 2019 and beyond. This Act (TCJA) extends the 7.5% of AGI, through 2020.

Retirement Account Contribution Limits

Finally, we look at the various retirement account contribution limits for 2020.

  • 401(k) – Annual contribution limits increase $500 to $19,500 for 2020
  • 401(k) Catch-Up – Employees age50 or older in these plans can contribute an additional $6,500 (on top of the $19,500 above for a total of $26,000) for 2020. This $500 increase in the catch-up provision is the first increase in the catch-up since 2015.
  • SEP IRAs and Solo 401(k)s – Self-employed and small business owners, can save an additional $1,000 in their SEP IRA or a solo 401(k) plan, with limits increasing from $56,000 in 2019 to $57,000 in 2020.
  • The SIMPLE – SIMPLE retirement accounts see a $500 increase in contribution limits, rising from $13,000 in 2019 to $13,500 in 2020.
  • Individual Retirement Accounts – There are no changes here for IRA contributions in 2020, with the cap at $6,000 for 2020 and the same catch-up contribution limit of $1,000.

Conclusion

There are no dramatic changes in the rates, brackets, deductions or retirement account contribution limits that the vast majority taxpayers tend to encounter for 2020 versus 2019. Most changes are simply adjustments for inflation. Enjoy the stability – as history has shown, it likely won’t last long.

These articles are intended to provide general resources for the tax and accounting needs of small businesses and individuals. Service2Client LLC is the author, but is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting, financial or professional advice. Service2Client LLC makes no representation that the recommendations of Service2Client LLC will achieve any result. The NSAD has not reviewed any of the Service2Client LLC content. Readers are encouraged to contact their CPA regarding the topics in these articles.

Resolve To Become More Financially Secure

Many people make resolutions to coincide with the advent of the New Year, including becoming more financially secure. If you want to improve your financial outlook, now is a good time to take steps to achieve this goal.

TAP THE EXPERTS
You go to a doctor for medical care and a mechanic to fix your vehicle. Why not work with a career consultant to learn how to advance in your career and earn more money? Or work with a personal trainer or nutrition expert to improve your health, which can ultimately lower your healthcare costs.

PREPARE FOR TOMORROW
Time flies — just ask any Baby Boomer who didn’t save enough for retirement. A renewed effort to put more money away might help you save more quickly for a new home or a child’s college costs, while markedly improving your retirement readiness.

SAVE MORE TODAY
Where will you find all that money for tomorrow? Learn to budget and stick to it. Skip an occasional lunch or expensive latte. Consider trimming your smartphone and cable television services for more savings.

McMill Wealth Investment Philosophy

Lacking Confidence

Time concept – website banner of a retro red alarm clock

Few employers are “very confident” their employees are on the way to becoming retirement-secure, according to the report, “Employers: The Retirement Security Challenge,” from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Only 17% of employers felt very confident, which lined up with 18% of employees who felt the same. About 23% of employers were not too confident and 6% said they weren’t confident at all.

There’s Still Time

Individuals have a few tax breaks to explore. The IRS disallows many deductions if you take the standard deduction, but not all, for 2019. For example, you can deduct some expenses related to self-employment if you’re self-employed. Student loan interest and college tuition and fees may also be deductible. Talk to your tax professional to learn about the specifics.

If You Itemize

If your deductions are greater than the standard deduction of $12,200 for single and married taxpayers filing separately or $24,400 for those filing jointly, consider itemizing them. This means you may subtract qualified charitable donations, medical expenses over 10% of your adjusted gross income, classroom supplies of up to $250 if you are a teacher, mortgage interest and gambling losses. You may also want to delay income and pay expenses in 2019 if you expect to earn more than in 2020.

Tax-Loss Harvesting

If investments you sold in 2019 lost money, you may find some solace in the IRS tax code. You can deduct certain losses from your taxable income – called tax-loss harvesting – when you understand the rules. Here they are briefly:

TERMS DEFINED

For starters, the IRS has separate tax rates for long-term investments – those which you have held at least a year. The capital gains tax rate on net realized long-term investment gains, or capital gains, is 15% for most people. You realize losses and gains only on investments you sell, not on those you still hold. Investments held for a year or less trigger ordinary income tax rates, which are typically higher.

The IRS taxes some or all net capital gains at 0% if you’re in the 10% or 12% ordinary income tax brackets. You’ll pay 20% on net capital gains if your taxable ordinary income exceeds $434,550 if filing as a single, $488,850 if filing jointly or as a qualifying widow, $461,700 if you are a head of household and $244,425 if married and filing separately.

THE CALCULATION

To figure net losses, subtract what you realized from selling your investment from the original amount invested and then deduct any sales charges. If your realized capital losses are greater than realized capital gains, deduct up to $3,000 a year, or up to $1,500 if married and filing a separate return. You may carry forward any losses over this annual cap to the next tax year.

LONG-TERM VIEW

Don’t sell investments just for tax reasons. Keep those that lost money last year if they continue to have long-term prospects and sell winners if they don’t fit your investment strategy.

2020 W-4 Update

On Dec. 5, the IRS released the long-awaited final version of the 2020 Form W-4, retitled Employee’s Withholding Certificate, with major revisions designed to make accurate income tax withholding easier for employees starting next year.

All new employees hired as of Jan. 1, 2020, must complete the new form. Current employees are not required to complete a new form but can choose to adjust their withholding based on the new form.

Any adjustments made after Jan. 1, 2020, must be made using the new form. Employers can still compute withholding based on information from employees’ most recently submitted Form W-4 if employees choose not to adjust their withholding using the revised form.

Employers may ask employees hired before 2020 to use the new form, but [employees] are not required to do so. Employers should, however, explain that withholding will continue based on the form they previously submitted and may not be as accurate as using the new W-4. If a new employee doesn’t submit a W-4 after 2019, companies must treat them as a single filer with no other adjustments.

What’s Changed
Form W-4 is presented on a single, full page, followed by instructions, worksheets and tables. In place of withholding allowances, the new W-4 includes a process with five possible steps for declaring additional income, so employees can adjust their withholding with varying levels of accuracy, privacy and ease of use.

The five steps are:
1. Enter personal information.
2. Indicate multiple jobs or if spouse works (if applicable)
3. Claim dependents. (if applicable)
4. Make other adjustments (for income not from jobs, deductions claimed and extra withholding per pay period if applicable).
5. Sign the form.

An Updated IRS Tax Estimator

Employees can use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator to help them complete the new Form W‑4.  

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator 

The calculator, updated in August with several new functions, is designed to help employees estimate any additional withholding.

Sample Letter Explaining the 2020 Form W-4 to Employees

To: (all employees or individually named employees)
CC:
From: (your name here)Date: (fill in as appropriate)
Re: 2020 Form W-4

The 2020 Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Certificate, is very different from previous versions. This is due to the federal tax law changes that took place in 2018. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not requiring all employees to complete the revised form and has designed the withholding tables so that they will work with both the new and prior year forms. However, certain employees will be required to use the new form: those hired in 2020 and anyone who makes withholding changes during 2020.

Even though the IRS does not require all employees to complete the revised form and even if your tax situation has not changed, we recommend you perform a “paycheck checkup” to see if you need to make adjustments to your current withholding. To conduct the checkup, you can use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator (www.irs.gov/W4App). To effectively use the estimator, it is helpful to have a copy of your most recent pay stub and tax return. It is likely that the estimator will be updated to account for the 2020 tax tables in early January. Please note: if you do not submit a new form, withholding will continue based on your previously submitted form.

Before completing the 2020 Form W-4, please read the instructions that are included with the form. You must complete Steps 1 and 5. Steps 2, 3, and 4 are optional, but completing them will help ensure that your federal income tax withholding will more accurately match your tax liability. Step 1 is for your personal information; Step 2 is for households with multiple jobs; Step 3 is used to claim tax credits for dependents; Step 4 is for other adjustments (additional income such as interest and dividends, itemized deductions that exceed the standard deduction, and extra tax you want withheld); and Step 5 is where you sign the form.

The IRS takes your privacy seriously and suggests that, if you are worried about reporting income from multiple jobs in Step 2 or other income in Step 4(a), you check the box in Step 2(c) or enter an additional withholding amount in Step 4(c). To determine the additional withholding amount, you can use the withholding estimator.

The IRS has also published Frequently Asked Questions that you may find helpful as you complete the form

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/faqs-on-the-draft-2020-form-w-4

NEW IRS INDEXED LIMITS FOR 2020

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced that employees in 401(k) plans will be able to contribute up to $19,500 next year. The IRS announced this and other changes in Notice 2019-59 (PDF), posted today on IRS.gov. This guidance provides cost of living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2020.

ITEM202020192018
401(k), 403(b), 457 Elective Deferral Limit$19,500$19,000$18,500
Catch-Up Contribution Limit (age 50 or older)$6,500$6,000$6,000
Annual Compensation Limit$285,000$280,000$275,000
Defined Contribution Limit$57,000$56,000$55,000
Defined Benefit Limit$230,000$225,000$220,000
Definition of Highly Compensated Employee$130,000$125,000$120,000
Key Employee$185,000$180,000$175,000
IRA Contribution Limit$6,000$6,000$5,500
IRA Catch-Up Contributions (age 50 and older)$1,000$1,000$1,000

HIGHLIGHTS OF CHANGES FOR 2020

The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $19,000 to $19,500.

The income ranges for determining eligibility to make deductible contributions to traditional Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), to contribute to Roth IRAs and to claim the saver’s credit all increased for 2020.

Taxpayers can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if they meet certain conditions. If during the year either the taxpayer or their spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced, or phased out, until it is eliminated, depending on filing status and income. (If neither the taxpayer nor their spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply.) Here are the phase-out ranges for 2020:

  • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $65,000 to $75,000, up from $64,000 to $74,000.
  • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $104,000 to $124,000, up from $103,000 to $123,000.
  • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $196,000 and $206,000, up from $193,000 and $203,000.
  • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $124,000 to $139,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $$122,000 to $137,000. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $196,000 to $206,000, up from $193,000 to $203,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The income limit for the Saver’s Credit (also known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $65,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $64,000; $48,750 for heads of household, up from $48,000; and $32,500 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up from $32,000.

KEY LIMIT REMAINS UNCHANGED

The limit on annual contributions to an IRA remains unchanged at $6,000. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.

Details on these and other retirement-related cost-of-living adjustments for 2020 are in Notice 2019-59 (PDF), available on IRS.gov.

Five Ways to Get Your Financial House in Order in 2020

As the end of the year draws near, many families think they have a sound “financial plan” because they own investments or have established a saving strategy for retirement. This is a good start but it’s incomplete. There are many components to ensuring your financial future and getting your “house in order” is the first step. What do I mean by that? I’d like to share 5 ways you can accomplish this. Let me explain… 

Resolution number 1…. Don’t go to the hospital unprepared!1) Do you remember the story about Terri Schiavo? At 26, Terri had a massive coronary, was resuscitated but experienced irreversible brain damage that left her in a coma. Fifteen years later, the Supreme Court made the final decision to remove the feeding tube. This long-term ordeal would not have happened if a simple healthcare directive and a living will had been in place. A misconception we frequently encounter is that healthcare directives are only for older adults. We’ve seen clients experience unexpected, life changing circumstances at all ages and believe that healthcare directives should be a priority for everyone. Please don’t let this happen to you or a loved one. Please get your house in order. 

Resolution number 2…. Sign a healthcare directive and living will.2) What do Steve McNair, Abraham Lincoln, Pablo Picasso and the musician Prince have in common? They all died without a will. Steve McNair’s mother was removed from the house he had given her because there was no will to prove he had given it to her- I’m pretty sure that was not his intent. Having this document is essential to ensuring your wishes are carried out but it is one of the most frequently postponed documents to be put in writing. Your will protects you and ensures that your future wishes for your estate are carried out. According to the Virtual Attorney, 32% of Americans would rather do their taxes, get a root canal, or give up sex for a month than create or update their will! Even though we are not attorneys, we can help you facilitate this- let us help you get your house in order.  

Resolution number 3…. Create or update your will.3) In 2005, Anne Friedman, a former school principal, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. She had accumulated over $900,000 in her Teachers’ Retirement Fund but never named anyone as her designated beneficiary. By law, her surviving spouse would have been entitled to the money. However, in 1978, in a previous job, before she was married, she had filled out a designated beneficiary form naming her mother, her uncle and her sister as her designated beneficiaries. Her mother and uncle had since passed away, but her sister was still living. By law, the sister was entitled to the money, which she received, and didn’t share a dime with the now destitute husband. Proceeds from life insurance, 401(k) plans, and IRAs are being left to the wrong beneficiaries because the owners never thought to update them. Your financial documents must be regularly reviewed and evaluated as your life evolves, particularly when it comes to your beneficiaries. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths and other major life events can all warrant changes. These documents are too important to leave unattended. Let us review these for you. 

Resolution number 4…. Review and update beneficiary designations with life changes.4) Do you own a business? How about a real estate investment? Better yet, do you have children driving a car? Do you have proper insurance? Have you fully limited your liability? Are your investments titled properly to limit liability? If you have trust documents, titling of property, insurance coverage(s) and other liability documents, these also need to be regularly reviewed. We can help you do this. 

Resolution Number 5…. Regularly review legal/liability documents:5) Frederick Vanderbilt, J.D. Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Elvis Presley all died without an estate plan. Please re-read that list. Some of the most successful, intelligent, and powerful people in America did so much for so many- they failed, however, to protect all of the wealth they had created. Although we can’t predict the future, it’s important to have a comprehensive plan in place for how your money and other assets should be distributed when needed. Your life stage will determine the needs of your estate plan. 

If you’re young and single, your plan may only include a few items, such as a will, beneficiary designations and medical and financial powers of attorney. If you have substantial wealth, you may need one or more trusts to control how your assets are taxed, managed and distributed. 

Resolution Number 6…. Establish an estate plan.It’s critical to remember that financial planning is not solely based on investment planning or picking the right investments. While this must be done properly, there are many other vital areas that get overlooked or forgotten. Keep your financial house in order by regularly reviewing your plan and ensuring that you have the fundamentals in place. By this time next year, you’ll be glad you did.