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Own a Retirement Account? Keep Your Beneficiary Designations Up to Date

Many investors have taken advantage of pretax contributions to their company's employer-sponsored retirement plan and/or make annual contributions to an IRA. If you participate in a qualified plan program you may be overlooking an important housekeeping issue: beneficiary designations.

An improper designation could make life difficult for your family in the event of your untimely death by putting assets out of reach of those you had hoped to provide for and possibly increasing their tax burdens. Further, if you have switched jobs, become a new parent, been divorced, or survived a spouse or even a child, your current beneficiary designations may need to be updated.

Consider the "What Ifs"

In the heat of divorce proceedings, for example, the task of revising one's beneficiary designations has been known to fall through the cracks. While (depending on the state of residence and other factors) a court decree that ends a marriage may potentially terminate the provisions of a will that would otherwise leave estate proceeds to a now-former spouse, it may not automatically revise that former spouse's beneficiary status on separate documents such as employer-sponsored retirement accounts and IRAs.

Many qualified retirement plan owners may not be aware that after their death, the primary beneficiary -- usually the surviving spouse -- may have the right to transfer part or all of the account assets into another tax-deferred account. Take the case of the retirement plan owner who has children from a previous marriage. If, after the owner's death, the surviving spouse moved those assets into his or her own IRA and named his or her biological children as beneficiaries, the original IRA owner's children could legally be shut out of any benefits.

Also keep in mind that the law requires that a spouse be the primary beneficiary of a 401(k) or a profit-sharing account unless he/she waives that right in writing. A waiver may make sense in a second marriage -- if a new spouse is already financially set or if children from a first marriage are more likely to need the money. Single people can name whomever they choose. And nonspouse beneficiaries are now eligible for a tax-free transfer to an IRA.

The IRS has also issued regulations that dramatically simplify the way certain distributions affect IRA owners and their beneficiaries. Consult your tax advisor on how these rule changes may affect your situation.

To Simplify, Consolidate

Elsewhere, in today's workplace, it is not uncommon to switch employers every few years. If you have changed jobs and left your assets in your former employers' plans, you may want to consider moving these assets into a rollover IRA or your current employer's plan, if allowed. Consolidating multiple retirement plans into a single tax-advantaged account can make it easier to track your investment performance and streamline your records, including beneficiary designations.

Review Your Current Situation

If you are currently contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan and/or an IRA contact your benefits administrator -- or, in the case of the IRA, the financial institution -- and request to review your current beneficiary designations. You may want to do this with the help of your tax advisor or estate planning professional to ensure that these documents are in synch with other aspects of your estate plan. Ask your estate planner/attorney about the proper use of such terms as "per stirpes" and "per capita" as well as about the proper use of trusts to achieve certain estate planning goals. Your planning professional can help you focus on many important issues, including percentage breakdowns, especially when minor children and those with special needs are involved.

Finally, be sure to keep copies of all your designation forms in a safe place and let family members know where they can be found.

This communication is not intended to be tax or legal advice and should not be treated as such. Each individual's situation is different. You should contact your tax or legal professional to discuss your personal situation.


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© 2016 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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Shielding Retirement Assets From Taxes

As hard as it is to believe, today's tax-advantaged plans -- including individual retirement accounts IRAs, 401(k)s, and rollover IRAs -- have the potential to make many employees millionaires. A 401(k) contribution of $433 per month, at 8% compounded monthly, would be worth more than $1 million after 35 years.1

 

These plans are also highly vulnerable to tax losses, if they are not bequeathed properly. For instance, a $1 million IRA inheritance could be whittled to almost nothing under worst-possible circumstances, such as a combination of estate taxes, top income tax brackets, and missed withdrawal deadlines.

Saving your heirs thousands of tax dollars on your retirement money often hinges on the decisions you make before you retire. Therefore, it's important to take a look now at how to save heirs tax headaches later on.

 

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It's 2015: Do You Know Who Your Beneficiaries Are?

Many investors have taken advantage of pretax contributions to their company's employer-sponsored retirement plan and/or make annual contributions to an IRA. If you participate in a qualified plan program you may be overlooking an important housekeeping issue: beneficiary designations.

 

An improper designation could make life difficult for your family in the event of your untimely death by putting assets out of reach of those you had hoped to provide for and possibly increasing their tax burdens. Further, if you have switched jobs, become a new parent, been divorced, or survived a spouse or even a child, your current beneficiary designations may need to be updated.

 

Consider the "What Ifs"

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Art and Collectibles: Planning for the Transfer of Your Treasured Property

For many individuals collecting artwork, jewelry, antiques, and other vintage treasures is a lifelong passion. Deciding what is to become of your valuable personal assets when you are no longer around to care for them is not something to take lightly, particularly when it comes to planning for the distribution of your estate.

 

Let's say over the years you have accumulated several valuable oil paintings. Ask yourself: Do I want to pass my collection on to family members? Do they have the expertise to manage valuable or fragile assets? Would a museum be a better home? Is it economically feasible to keep my collection intact, or will I need to sell some pieces to cover various expenses?

 

If you don't address these questions while you are here and able to do so, it is likely that your estate executor or attorney -- who may not have your passion for art -- will do so for you when you're gone. Deciding what to do with a treasured collection generally involves three tasks: assessing value, naming beneficiaries, and communicating your intentions.

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What Is a Stretch IRA?

A stretch IRA is a traditional IRA that passes from the account owner to a younger beneficiary at the time of the account owner's death. Since the younger beneficiary has a longer life expectancy than the original IRA owner, he or she will be able to "stretch" the life of the IRA by receiving smaller required minimum distributions (RMDs) each year over his or her life span. More money can then remain in the IRA with the potential for continued tax-deferred growth.

 

Creating a stretch IRA has no effect on the account owner's RMD requirements, which continue to be based on his or her life expectancy. Once the account owner dies, however, beneficiaries begin taking RMDs based on their own life expectancies. Whereas the owner of a stretch IRA must begin receiving RMDs after reaching age 70 1/2, beneficiaries of a stretch IRA begin receiving RMDs after the account owner's death. In either scenario, distributions are taxable to the payee at then-current income tax rates.

 

It's worth noting that beneficiaries also have the right to receive the full value of their inherited IRA assets by the end of the fifth year following the year of the account owner's death. However, by opting to take only the required minimum amount instead, a beneficiary can theoretically stretch the IRA and tax-deferred growth throughout his or her lifetime.

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Bequest or Beneficiary: In Estate Planning, the Difference Is Crucial

The scenario plays out over and over again in attorneys' offices: A family brings a parent's will to be probated. The will is complete, well-thought-out, and takes into consideration current tax law. But under closer examination, the attorney discovers that the deceased's estate plan doesn't work. Why? Because a substantial portion of the parent's assets pass by beneficiary designation and are not controlled by a will.

 

Increasingly, investors have the opportunity to name beneficiaries directly on a wide range of financial accounts, including employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, IRAs, brokerage and bank accounts, insurance policies, U.S. savings bonds, mutual funds, and individual stocks and bonds.

 

The upside of these arrangements is that when the account holder dies, the monies go directly to the beneficiary named on the account, bypassing the sometimes lengthy and costly probate process. The "fatal flaw" of beneficiary-designated assets is that because they are not considered probate assets, they pass "under the radar screen" and trump the directions spelled out in a will. This all too often leads to unintended consequences -- individuals who you no longer wish to inherit property do, some individuals receive more than you intended, some receive less, and ultimately, there may not be enough money available to fund the bequests you laid out in your will.

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