Where To Start With Estate Settling

Where To Start With Estate Settling

 

Over the 25 years or so that I have been practicing and serving families, one of the crucial points that has surfaced time and again with clients is one that tends to occur after a spouse or family member has passed away, and they seek out our help. Quite understandably, most people have little or no experience in settling an estate and essentially do not know what needs to be done. There are a myriad of actions to be accomplished, each one of them important, and no one knows in what order tasks need to be completed, let alone how to weave through the legal dynamics. So what can we do to help?

About 10 years ago, I finally grew so frustrated with not being able to help several of my client families settle estate matters after a death that I decided I was going to solve the matter myself. I went back through all of my estate planning books to seek out as many action items as I could locate. In addition, I went through dozens of other legal and financial websites to gain as much knowledge as I could. The problem was not in locating information on estate settling but rather not to drown in the vastness of it. Ultimately, I realized that my task was to consolidate and distill as much information as possible into a short and clear format that we could share. The result was a composition of knowledge written in simple English that went through peer review multiple times to create a master end-of-life checklist.

The “Checklist: After a Death Occurs” was constructed to assist our clients and their families so they could understand most of the basic estate settling matters that must be pursued after a loved one has passed. The document is arranged in a priority-driven format, so from top to bottom, front to back, the most important estate marshalling activities are listed first. The current iteration is about six pages long and contains an additional short checklist at the end for a surviving spouse.

There is also a third checklist that we created in addition to these main two. The third list is a pre-mortem checklist for someone who is ailing or terminally ill, designed to assist family members with estate matter topics while the individual is still alive. We hope these tools will be useful to you and your family, and we would love to hear back if they help.

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

How Do I Correct Excess Roth IRA Contributions?

How Do I Correct Excess Roth IRA Contributions?

 

Co-written by: Scott Christensen & Katherine Li

 

Contributing to a Roth IRA is a great way to receive tax benefits for retirement savers. If you already do or are planning to take advantage of this tax savings vehicle, it is important to familiarize yourself with the rules that govern these accounts. The IRS has put in place strict limits regarding the amount that individuals can contribute to their Roth IRAs, as well as income limits for determining who qualifies.

 

If you are a single tax filer, you must have Modified Adjusted Growth Income (MAGI) under $140,000 in order to contribute to your Roth IRA. The amount you can contribute to your Roth IRA begins to phase out starting at a MAGI of $125,000; if your MAGI is greater than $140,000, you can no longer contribute to the Roth IRA. For those who file as married filing jointly, your MAGI must be under $208,000 in order to contribute. The phaseout range in this case applies to those with a MAGI between $198,000 and $208,000. The maximum IRA contribution in either case is $6,000 for those under 50 and $7,000 for those 50 and older.

 

As a result of these strict limits, it is easy for taxpayers to overcontribute. So what happens when taxpayers contribute in excess of their contribution limit?

 

For every year that your excess contribution goes uncorrected, you must pay a 6% excise tax on the excess contribution. In order to avoid the 6% tax penalty, you must remove the excess contributions in addition to any earnings or losses on that excess contribution by the tax filing deadline in April. To determine your earnings on your excess contribution, you can use the net attributable income (NIA) formula.

 

Net income = Excess contribution x (Adjusted closing balance – Adjusted opening balance) / Adjusted opening balance

 

Note: If you find that you have losses on your excess contribution, you can subtract that loss from the amount of your excess contribution that you have to withdraw.

 

Reasons for Overcontribution

 

  • You’ve contributed more than the annual amount allowed.
    • Remember that the $6,000 and $7,000 dollar maximum applies to the combined total that you can contribute to your Traditional and Roth IRAs.
  • You’ve contributed more than your earned income.
  • Your income was too high to contribute to a Roth IRA.
    • Unfortunately, single tax filers who make $140,000 or more and those who are married filing jointly who make $208,000 or more are unable to contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are rolled over.
    • RMDs cannot be rolled over to a Roth IRA.
      • If it is rolled over to a Roth IRA, the amount will be treated as an excess contribution.

 

Removal of Excess Prior to Tax Filing Deadline

 

If you find that you have overcontributed prior to filing your tax return and prior to the tax filing deadline, you can remove your excess contributions before the tax filing deadline (typically April 15) and avoid the 6% excise tax. However, your earnings from your excess contribution will be taxed as ordinary income. Additionally, those who are under 59 and a half will have to pay a 10% tax for early withdrawal on earnings from excess contributions.

  • Keep in mind that it is your earnings that are subject to an ordinary income and early withdrawal tax, not the amount of your excess contribution.

 

If you find that you have overcontributed after filing your tax return, you can still avoid the 6% excise tax if you are able to remove your excess contribution and earnings and file an amended tax return by the October extended deadline (typically October 15). 

 

Recharacterization 

 

Recharacterization involves transferring your excess contribution and any earnings from your Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA. In order to avoid the 6% excise tax, you would have to complete this transfer process within the same tax year. It is also important to note that you can’t contribute more than your total allowable maximum contribution. Thus, you must make sure that you can still contribute more to your Traditional IRA prior to proceeding with recharacterization.

 

Apply the Excess Contribution to Next Year

 

You can offset your excess contribution by lowering the amount of your contribution the following year by the excess amount. For example, say that you contributed $7,000 to your Roth IRA when the maximum amount that you could contribute was $6,000. The next year, you can offset this excess amount of $1,000 by limiting your contribution to $5,000. You are, however, still subject to the 6% excise tax due to the fact that you were unable to correct the excess amount by the tax filing deadline, but you won’t have to deal with withdrawals. 

 

Withdraw the Excess the Next Year

 

If you choose to withdraw the excess the following year, you will only have to remove the amount of your excess contribution, not any earnings. However, you will be subject to a 6% excise tax for each year that your excess remains in the IRA.

 

These rules can be confusing to navigate which is why we recommend involving your tax accountant or trusted advisor in these situations. We are happy to connect you with a Merriman advisor to discuss your situation.

 

 

Sources:

https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/assets/pdf/personal/goals-retirement/taxes-and-retirement-planning/correct-excess-IRA-contributions.pdf

https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/investing/excess-contribution-to-ira

https://investor.vanguard.com/ira/excess-contribution

https://www.fool.com/retirement/plans/roth-ira/excess-contribution/

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

Fall Items to Check Off Your List

Fall Items to Check Off Your List

 

With fall fast approaching, it’s time to take care of a few things before year end that can also set you up for the start of next year.

    • Retirement contributions and withdrawals – Just as it’s important to make the necessary contributions to your retirement plan based on your financial plan, you must also take your required minimum distribution (RMD) by December 31 to avoid any penalties if above age 72 or own an inherited IRA. The Merriman Client Services team is hard at work making sure these are all completed for clients. Contributions: The deadline for 2021 Roth IRA and Traditional IRA contributions is April 15, 2022.

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Buying a Car: Does It Make Sense to Use Rideshare Instead?

Buying a Car: Does It Make Sense to Use Rideshare Instead?

 

The decision to buy a car today is different than it was a decade ago because of today’s rideshare options. If you’re in the market for a new car, there’s more to think about than shopping for the lowest price or best interest rate. Have you compared the cost of your car to the cost of using rideshare options? We have, and we’d like to share our thoughts.

Cost. Let’s compare some estimated costs of buying a car or using rideshare:

Using rideshare may cost about $7,500 less over a 10-year period—which is not a trivial amount. Keep in mind, this excludes other expenses people often pay when owning a car, such as parking fees or toll fares. For many people, owning a car is probably more expensive than our estimate. However, we’ve kept things simple here, so our cost estimates may differ from your actual costs for both owning a car and using rideshare. In addition to cost, there are other factors to consider.

Lifestyle. Your lifestyle probably also plays a part in your decision to own a car or use rideshare. Let’s meet two different couples who said just that and examine some aspects of their lifestyles:

Judy and Joe are both 35, have two kids ages 8 and 10, and a dog. They live in a house and have two cars parked in their garage.

Kim and Kyle are both 32, don’t have kids, and have two cats. They live in a condo and have two cars, which they both pay to park in their building’s garage.

Location. Location determines a big part of our lifestyles. If you live in a metropolitan area, you’ve probably spent a lot of time considering where you live, where you work, and what your commute is like. Wherever you live, do you commute to work by car? Is having your car a “must”? Here’s what Judy and Joe’s and Kim and Kyle’s locations look like:

Judy and Joe live in Redmond, and both commute to Seattle for work. Their morning commute consists of a 10-minute drive to their nearest park-and-ride, followed by a 40-minute bus ride into Seattle.

Kim and Kyle’s condo is located in downtown Seattle, and they both commute to work on foot. Their daily commute is about a 20-minute walk each way, but they’ll bus or Uber if it’s raining.

Judy and Joe agree that they only need one car to get to the park-and-ride while commuting to work. Kim and Kyle realize that they don’t need their cars in order to get to work and could save a lot of money if they downsize to one or none, especially considering they pay for parking in their building. These instances illustrate the importance of considering location when deciding between owning a car and using rideshare. Likewise, your activity choices also play an important role.

Activities. Activities and hobbies dictate a huge portion of our lifestyle choices. Do you have kids or do your favorite activities involve a lot of driving? If you love the outdoors, could you still get to those hikes you’ve been dying to do without a car? Some recreational activities may be limited when you don’t own a car, so it’s important to consider this when determining if utilizing rideshare options is not only economical but also practical. Here are some of the activities Judy and Joe and Kim and Kyle participate in:

Judy and Joe’s weeknights are spent shuttling kids to and from various sports practices. Once home, they typically enjoy a homecooked meal together. On the weekends, the kids generally compete in sporting events. Occasionally, they also get out of town for a family camping trip in the mountains.

Kim and Kyle spend their weeknights going to the gym. This is often followed by dinner at a friend’s house or a local restaurant. During the weekend, they like to hike, visit Kim’s family on Bainbridge Island, and kayak as often as Seattle’s weather permits.

Judy and Joe agree they likely still need two cars to get the kids to their conflicting practices. They’ve decided to experiment by driving only one of their cars for a couple weeks in conjunction with ridesharing as needed to see if life with one car would work for them. Kim and Kyle agree that they still need one car for their weekend trips and for hauling their kayaks around town. As we can see, our activity choices are also an important consideration in deciding whether to own a car or use rideshare.

Bottom line. Having a car for the sake of convenience may unnecessarily be costing you money. Using rideshare might save you money; however, it may be more practical for you to own a car if you’d like to maintain a certain lifestyle. We encourage you to evaluate your situation.

If you’d like to speak with a financial advisor about your current transportation situation, we can help you determine if it makes more sense for you to own a car or utilize the various rideshare options available today. Please reach out to us. We are here to help you!

 

Sources: 

*https://bettermoneyhabits.bankofamerica.com/en/auto/cost-of-owning-a-car

** https://www.zipcar.com/pricing

***https://www.ridester.com/uber-rates-cost/

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

Filling the Various Estate Planning Roles

Filling the Various Estate Planning Roles

 

At Merriman, we partner with our clients to ensure no stone goes unturned with respect to their complete Wealth Management plan. One of the more complicated issues clients face is crafting and updating their estate plans.

This is not surprising as estate planning preparation and upkeep come with difficult questions—both qualitative and quantitative. The burden of these questions can often drive folks to put off the discussion and leave their plan vulnerable. The purpose of this brief post is to let you know that it does not have to be so difficult.

This article serves as a starting point to initiate the estate planning discussion. It is a discussion of the various estate planning roles you need to fulfill. Like most things, having a process and a plan will lead to peace of mind and planned success.

Let’s start with the various roles that need to be filled:

  • Guardian
  • Trustee
  • Financial Power of Attorney (POA)
  • Medical POA
  • Executor/Personal Representative.

One commonality for all these roles is proximity. If you can find someone close, that is a prudent solution. For example, in selecting a guardian for your children, it is best they are local to avoid changing schools, establishing new friends, etc. Similarly, if there is property to sell in your estate, it is best to have a local executor, as opposed to having someone across the country who is unfamiliar with the local scene and would have to travel extensively to manage the estate.

A Guardian is someone who looks after and is legally responsible for your children until they are adults. This person should embody all the traits you would want in someone who will take care of your kids in the event you are no longer around. Often, this is a family member with close proximity (as outlined above). Keeping your kids in their current environment is so important, especially when they are already trying to deal with your absence.

A Trustee is the person who has control or powers of administration over the trust assets in your estate. The trust assets do NOT belong to the Trustee. Rather, the Trustee is safeguarding the assets per the terms of the trust and for the trust benefactors.

The role of Executor “triggers” if one or both spouses pass away. This person’s job is to fulfill all of the requests and wishes as outlined in your will. This person should have high financial competence and a good understanding of what you own and how you want your assets distributed. Technically, they will follow the wishes as outlined in your estate plan. However, we advise clients to draft a less formal letter of instruction to confirm your wishes are carried out as precisely as possible.

The next two items are in effect during your lifetime. A Financial POA grants that person the ability to make financial decisions on your behalf if/when you no longer have the ability to do so of your own accord. A Medical POA functions the same but is related to medical decisions. Both of these roles should be set up with your initial estate plan.

If you have already crafted your estate plan, take a few minutes to consider who is currently filling these roles. Are they still the right person for the job? If not, who is better suited? If changes are required, let your estate planning attorney know and get to work on updating your documents. If you have yet to complete your estate plan, consider who would best serve in the aforementioned roles. If you already have an estate planning attorney, get to work on crafting your plan. If not, let us know, and we can connect you with one.

Another tool you can use to begin to formulate your plan is our “After Death Occurs” checklist. While this outlines a post-mortem list, it also serves as a great tool to get you thinking about the roles described above.

At Merriman, our goal is to ensure clients’ plans are buttoned up from top to bottom. While we emphasize financial planning and investment portfolio management, we also partner with our clients to ensure they are covered in the areas of estate planning, taxes, and insurance. Ensuring your estate plan is taken care of will provide peace of mind on your journey to Investing Wisely to Live Fully.

For additional reading on this topic, check out our ebook The Transparent Legacy for advice on conversations you must have with your loved ones before it’s too late.

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.”

 

Thinking Through Cryptocurrencies | Part 3

Thinking Through Cryptocurrencies | Part 3

 

It seems like everyone nowadays is talking about cryptocurrencies. Whether it’s the proselytizers on CNBC or the techie next door, it feels as if everyone is either talking about or buying into this next big thing.

Trying to adequately explain an emerging technology and it’s economic impact in less then a few thousand words is bound to neglect certain facets of the subject. This series attempts to cover the technical specification of cryptocurrencies, how they can be viewed in an investment environment, the narratives that accompany this new technology, and the future impact, applications, and risk of the cryptocurrency universe.

If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, check them out.  In Part 3, we consider what the future could look like.

 

 

What Might the Future Look Like?

Cryptocurrencies are experiencing a golden age where new types of assets and new uses for blockchain technologies are emerging every day. However, in this case, widespread use does not automatically translate to amazing long-term investment returns. Sustaining long-term high investment returns requires a combination of low supply and high demand.

When it comes to low supply, there is certainly a limit to the amount of a given cryptocurrency. However, new cryptocurrencies can and have continued to be created. Dogecoin was launched in 2013 and now has a circulation value which has exceeded $80B. Polkadot was launched in 2017 and has a circulation value that has exceeded $10B. When supply dwindles and prices rise, entrepreneurial spirits enter markets and create supply, especially when the barriers to entry are relatively low.

Cryptocurrencies have a few hurdles ahead of them. The most notable of these is the possible environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining. According to Digiconomist, the annualized carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining is comparable to the country of Hungary and is growing every year. As more and more individuals flock to the cryptocurrency space, the power necessary to rectify transactions grows. There are new cryptocurrency assets such as Cardano that seek to use optimized protocols to decrease the power required. However, because most cryptocurrencies utilize a proof-of-work methodology, there is a lower limit on the computation required for the cryptocurrencies to remain secure. This means that there will always be a certain energy requirement for these cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has also made a name for itself in non-reputable markets such as money laundering, drug trade, and even human trafficking. Blockchain analysis company Chainalysis tracked just under $930,000 worth of Bitcoin and Ethereum payments to specific addresses associated with child sexual abuse material. This was a 32% increase in payments from 2018 and a total of a 310% increase since 2017. Financial institutions in the U.S. filed over 2,000,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) in 2019. The increasing use of cryptocurrencies in illegal transactions makes it harder for U.S. organizations to trace the financial trail.

Chainalysis also reported on Bitcoin use in terrorism financing. Known terror organizations would create campaigns to “donate to the jihad” with QR codes leading to Bitcoin addresses.

It’s important to point out that while these illegal organizations did use Bitcoin, there are other non-cryptocurrency methods that they could have used. Before Bitcoin, and even today, many black-market or illicit deals are done in cash. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers endorsed an idea published by Harvard president emeritus Peter Sands to all but get rid of cash. A case study in Missouri looked at the mid-1990s transition from distribution of federal welfare via cashable check to a preloaded debit card. Researchers found that crime in areas that moved away from cash dropped roughly by 10%.

Another inherent risk to the cryptocurrency markets that has increased its probability of late is Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies becoming illegal to own. China has recently banned financial institutions from offering services involving cryptocurrencies. The U.S. government also showed its ability to pursue Bitcoin transactions after the Colonial Pipelines hack in spring of 2021. The hack, which yielded hackers $4.4 million was recovered as the government pursued the digital addresses associated with the hackers. The combination of Chinese regulation and the ability of governments to track and recover stolen or ransomed cryptocurrency assets is a direct blow to the claim that cryptocurrencies are outside of government control.

So where does this leave the average investor when it comes to Bitcoin? As an emerging asset class, it’s possible that the Bitcoin narrative is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a period of low interest rates and inflation concerns, there are some good arguments as to why putting a small portion of a portfolio in cryptocurrency assets might provide some benefit, just as a small allocation to gold can provide benefits in certain macroeconomic environments.

Cryptocurrencies are volatile and may provide some correlation benefit with a small, value-tilted portfolio. The recent rapid increase in price across the cryptocurrency universe is fairly concerning as no other time in history has seen an asset class that has grown at such a rapid rate relative to inflation. It is also important to remember that in the case of gold rushes, it was the merchants who traded in goods who on average made the most profit, not the miners themselves.

We at Merriman do not shy away from new or emerging asset classes. Historically, we have either started new funds or have been some of the first investors in an asset class. The research and portfolio management team at Merriman has been monitoring the cryptocurrency market for many years.

As long-term investors, we try to develop our portfolios to maximize the probability of getting higher returns than the market. While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency assets have shown extremely high returns for the past decade, this is not necessarily indicative of future returns. As said on almost every investment document, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”. At this moment in time, the cryptocurrency market is too risky and speculative to recommend in our portfolios. This stance may change in the future are the market evolves. Even though we do not recommend holding cryptocurrencies in our portfolio, it is OK to buy a little with some play money. It’s fine to play roulette at a casino as long as you only bet what you are willing to lose.

At Merriman, we will continue to monitor and research cryptocurrency assets so that if an expected return benefit appears, we can implement it for our clients.

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

It is not intended to serve as a substitute for personalized investment advice or as a recommendation or solicitation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Opinions expressed by Merriman are based on economic or market conditions at the time this material was written.  Economies and markets fluctuate.  Actual economic or market events may turn out differently than anticipated.  Any reference to an index is included for illustrative purposes only, as an index is not a security in which an investment can be made.  Indices are unmanaged vehicles that serve as market indicators and do not account for the deduction of management fees and/or transaction costs generally associated with investable products. As always please remember investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital and past performance does not guarantee future returns; please seek advice from a licensed professional.  Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place. All composite data and corresponding calculations are available upon request.