What Changes Will Be Made to Social Security This Year?

While Social Security now delivers benefit checks to more than 63 million people every month, the program is primarily designed to provide a financial foundation for our nation’s retired workers. Nearly 45 million retired workers (70% of all beneficiaries) receive a benefit check monthly, with more than 60% of these seniors expecting their payout to make up at least half of their income.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income” explains that with the relative importance of Social Security, it should come as no shock that the second week of October holds considerable importance to these tens of millions of Americans. That’s because it’s when the Social Security Administration (SSA) announces changes to the program for the upcoming year. Any changes could directly affect what beneficiaries are paid on a monthly basis. These changes can also affect non-retirees who aren’t getting a Social Security benefit Let’s look at some of these changes.

  1. COLA. The most important figure in the October announcement from the Social Security Administration is the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Social Security’s COLA is measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the current year (July through September) is compared to the average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the previous year. If the average figure has risen from the previous year, then beneficiaries receive a “raise” that’s commensurate with the percentage increase year over year, rounded to the nearest 0.1%.
  2. Withholding thresholds. Early claimants who haven’t hit their full retirement age but are currently (or expected to begin) taking benefits, will be subject to the retirement earnings test. This test allows early filers to earn up to a certain amount of money, before the SSA is allowed to withhold a portion, or all, of their benefit. For those who won’t reach their full retirement age in 2019, $1 in benefits can be withheld for every $2 in earnings above $17,640 ($1,470 a month). For those who’ll reach their full retirement age this year but have yet to do so, are allowed to earn $46,920 before the SSA begins withholding $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings above the limit. Note that these withheld benefits aren’t lost forever, because you get them back in the form of a higher monthly payout when you reach your full retirement age.
  3. Maximum monthly payout. If you’re currently claiming a retired worker benefit and have made a good deal of money on an annual basis over your working career, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to net more in monthly payouts in 2020. There’s a cap on the maximum monthly payout at full retirement age. In 2019, no individual at their full retirement age can take home more than $2,861 per month, even if they made millions of dollars each year throughout their working career.
  4. Disability income thresholds. Even though 7 of 10 program recipients are retired workers, about 10 million people each month also get a check from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Approximately 8½ million are disabled workers, and the rest are spouses or children of these disabled workers. If the average CPI-W reading does increase on a year-over-year basis from the previous year (which appears likely), these SSDI income thresholds for the disabled and legally blind should go up a little in 2020.
  5. A warning to the wealthy. Lastly, Social Security’s changes for 2020 won’t just impact those receiving a benefit. Wealthy workers can also anticipate paying more into the program, provided that inflation rises on a year-over-year basis, as measured by the CPI-W.

Reference: Motley Fool (July 28, 2019) “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Retirement Planning, Disability, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Elder Care

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Beneficiary Designations and Your IRAs

If you’re like most people, you opened that IRA many years ago. You may not have any idea who you named as your beneficiary. If you have a copy in your files, there’s something you need to do, says The Mercury News in the article “No beneficiary designation for an IRA? Here’s what can happen.” It’s time to dig into your records and take a look.

As part of opening the IRA, you likely signed what’s called a “custodian’s IRA agreement.” In that document, there are provisions that take over in certain instances. One of them is if you fail to designate a beneficiary. Consider these examples, if you don’t think this matters.

A major institution has custody of about 10 million IRAs. In every one of their IRAs, there is a provision that says that if the IRA owner has not by the date of their death, designated a beneficiary or if the beneficiary does not outlive the account owner, the IRA’s beneficiary will be the surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, the beneficiary is the decedent’s estate.

This is not an unusual provision. It gives the institution the ability to transfer the IRA when the owner dies, when there is no beneficiary designation on file. Therefore, a married IRA’s account would pass to his or her spouse. The surviving spouse has the option to transfer the IRA into their own IRA.

However, what if that’s not what you want to happen? Or if you are single?

For someone who is single, widowed or divorced, the IRA passes to the person’s estate under this default provision. If you wanted the IRA to be inherited by a niece, nephew, child or grandchild, it’s too bad. What is worse, is when the IRA transfers to an estate, it loses its connection to a person, thereby losing the ability to be stretched out over an extended period of time.

There are other frequently used provisions. One is a provision that distributes the account to the surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, to the children in equal shares per stirpes, or if there are no children, to the estate. This works better than the first option. However, unless you review your IRA Custodial Agreement, you don’t know what will happen.

What should you do? As part of your overall estate planning, you should find your beneficiary designation paperwork. If you can’t find it, call the institution that holds your IRA for a copy of what they have on hand. You can also fill out a new beneficiary designation and be certain that the custodian places this paperwork on file and keep a copy of it yourself with your important papers. Otherwise, it’s possible that your updated beneficiary designation wishes may not be followed.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure that all of your documents in your estate plan are updated.

Reference: The Mercury News (August 12, 2019) “No beneficiary designation for an IRA? Here’s what can happen”

Suggested Key Terms: IRA, Beneficiary Designations, Estate Planning Attorney, Surviving Spouse

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Succession Planning For Business Owners

A business owner without an estate plan, is a business owner whose business and personal estate are both in jeopardy, says the Augusta Free Press in an article that asks “Own a business? 5 reasons you need an estate plan.”

You need more than a will to plan for incapacity. If you become ill or incapacitated, a will isn’t the estate planning tool that will help you and your family. What you need is a power of attorney (POA). This document names another individual or individuals to manage your finances and your business dealings, while you are unable to do so. Your estate planning attorney can create a power of attorney that limits what the named person, known as an “agent” may do on your behalf, or make it a broad POA so they can do anything they deem necessary.

Your state’s estate plan may not align with your wishes. Every state has its own laws about property distribution in the event a person does not have an estate plan. A popular joke among estate planning attorneys is that if you don’t have an estate plan, your state has one for you—but you may not like it. This is particularly important for business owners. If you have a sibling who you haven’t spoken to in decades, depending upon the laws of your state, that sibling may be first in line for your assets and your business. If that makes you worried, it should.

Caring for a disabled family member. A family that includes individuals with special needs who receive government benefits requires a specific type of estate planning, known as Special Needs Planning. This includes the use of trusts, so a trust owns assets the assets for the benefit of such a family member without putting government benefits at risk.

Help yourself and heirs with tax liability. If your future plan includes leaving your business to your children or another family member, there will be taxes due. What if they don’t have the resources to pay taxes on the business and have to sell it in a fire sale just to satisfy the tax bill? An estate plan, worked out with an experienced estate planning attorney who regularly works with family-owned businesses, will include a comprehensive tax plan. Make sure your heirs understand this plan—you may want to bring them with you to a family meeting with the attorney, so everyone is on the same page.

Avoid fracturing your own family. An unhappy truth is that when there is no estate plan, it impacts not just the family business. If some children or family members are involved in the business and others are not, the ones who work in the business may resent having to share any of the business. How to divide your business is up to the business owner. However, making a good plan in advance with the guidance of an experienced advisor and communicating the plan to family members will prevent the family from falling apart.

There’s no way to know how family members will respond when a parent dies. Sometimes death brings out the best in people, and sometimes it brings out the worst. However, by having an estate plan and business plan for the future, you can preclude some of the stresses and strains on the family.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (August 13, 2019) “Own a business? 5 reasons you need an estate plan.”

Suggested Key Terms: Family Owned Business, Estate Plan, Succession Plan, Incapacity, State Law, Disabled, Special Needs, Trust, Power of Attorney, POA

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