Jan Neal Law Firm LLC

Alabama Estate, Elder and Special Needs Law


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2020 Change in Laws Governing Retirement Plans

A new law has passed as part of the federal budget bill that makes major changes to retirement plans. The new law is designed to provide more incentives to save for retirement, but it may require workers to rethink some of their planning. 

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act changes the law surrounding retirement plans in several ways:

  • Stretch IRAS. The biggest change eliminates “stretch” IRAs. Under current law, if you name anyone other than a spouse as the beneficiary of your IRA, the beneficiary can choose to take distributions over his or her lifetime and to pass what is left onto future generations (called the “stretch” option). The required minimum distributions are calculated based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy. This allows the money to grow tax-deferred over the course of the beneficiary’s life and to be passed on to his or her own beneficiaries. The SECURE Act requires beneficiaries of an IRA to withdraw all the money in the IRA within 10 years of the IRA holder’s death. In many cases, these withdrawals would take place during the beneficiary’s highest tax years, meaning that the elimination of the stretch IRA is effectively a tax increase on many Americans. This provision will apply to those who inherit IRAs starting on January 1, 2020.  
  • Required minimum distributions. Under prior law, you have to begin taking distributions from your IRAs beginning when you reach age 70 ½. Under the new law, individuals who are not 70 ½ at the end of 2019 can now wait until age 72 to begin taking distributions. 
  • Contributions. The new law allows workers to continue to contribute to an IRA after age 70 ½, which is the same as rules for 401(k)s and Roth IRAs.
  • Employers. The tax credit businesses get for starting a retirement plan is increased and the new law makes it easier for small businesses to join multiple-employer plans.
  • Annuities. The newly enacted legislation removes roadblocks that made employers wary of including annuities in 401(k) plans by eliminating some of the fiduciary requirements used to vet companies and products before they can be included in a plan.
  • Withdrawals. The new law allows an early withdrawal of up to $5,000 from a retirement account without a penalty in the event of the birth of a child or an adoption. Currently, there is a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawals in most circumstances. 

Given these changes, workers need to immediately reevaluate their estate plans. Some people have used stretch IRAs as an estate planning tool to pass assets to their children and grandchildren. One way of doing this has been to name a trust as the IRA’s beneficiary, and these trusts may have to be reformed to conform to the new rules. If a stretch IRA is part of your estate plan, it may be time to reconsider your existing plan.

To read the legislation, click here.  For more on the new law, click here and here.


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Social Security Spousal Strategies Eliminated

shutterstock_277089179Once upon a time a married worker could file for Social Security benefits at full retirement age and then suspend the benefits, allowing the worker’s spouse to begin drawing spousal benefits while the worker postponed receiving benefits until a later date resulting in higher benefits due to the delay in drawing.  The strategy was known as “File and Suspend,” and it resulted a substantial monetary gain for couples who used it.

But “File and Suspend” is a thing of the past as a result of the budget signed into law November 2, 2015.  Under the new rules, effective April 30, 2016, a spouse cannot begin receiving benefits until the worker is actually receiving benefits, too. Workers can still file and suspend, but the spousal benefit suspends along with worker’s benefit.

The law does not affect those already electing “File and Suspend” or those who turn 66 prior to the effective date who elect to “File and Suspend” before April 30, 2016.

Another strategy known as “Claim Now, Claim More Later” has been eliminated.  That strategy allowed a spouse who takes benefits at full retirement age to choose whether to take spousal benefits or benefits on his or her own record.  This allowed a higher-earning spouse to claim a spousal benefit at full retirement age and then switch to draw his or her own retirement benefit instead at age 70.  Under the new law the worker cannot take spousal benefits and let his or her benefits continue to increase.  An exception to this is the election allowed by a surviving spouse who will still be able to choose to draw on the deceased spouse’s account first and later switch to a larger retirement benefit.


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Who Isn’t Online?

1200 wide shutterstock_266064506For years I have been arguing with folks who say that older people don’t use the internet and can’t engage through that medium.  That didn’t make sense  to me.  For instance, people who are 70 today were 50 when personal computers began to emerge as a household staple, and they were often more likely to have the resources to explore new technologies coming into the consumer marketplace.  People who are 60 today were 40 then and at the height of their careers where the gradual integration of technology was a job requirement.  Retirees today connect with old and new friends on Facebook, tweet about their favorite subjects, pin their favorites, check email and text to communicate with family, friends and groups.  In fact entire industries of online caregiving have developed.  Sadly entire online industries of fraud have also developed requiring a great deal of poise for anyone online to stay safe.  With that said, there are people who never went online, but I’m pretty sure that their caregivers, both personal and professional, did.  But the question remains, who is not online these days?

I am not the only person wondering about that.  A Pew Research Center Study shows that 15 percent of the American population is not online, but the number is shrinking quickly.  From that study:

“For example, 86% of adults 65 and older did not go online in 2000; today that figure has been cut in half. And among those without a high school diploma, the share not using the internet dropped from 81% to 33% in the same time period.”

With that said, some people will never go online.  Some people never drove a car, but someone gave them a lift.  Today we recognize that by 2030 25 percent of the population will be 60+, and almost all of them will be online.  Recognizing this trend, The 2015 White House Conference on Aging produced some interesting tech related announcements worth exploring.  Among the 2015 WHCoA ideas, is development of a web site named aging.gov:

“to provide older Americans, their families, friends, and other caregivers, a one-stop resource for government-wide information on helping older adults live independent and fulfilling lives.  The Web site links to a broad spectrum of Federal information, including how to find local services and resources in your community for everything from healthy aging to elder justice to long-term care, as well as how to find key information on vital programs such as Social Security and Medicare.”

An innovative perspective is provided by The Center for Technology and Aging’s 2014 report (updated) titled The New Era of Connected Aging:  A Framework for Understanding Technologies that Support Older Adults Aging in Place.  The report provides an overview of how technology can improve the lives of seniors and help them remain in independent living arrangements.  The report examines some of the products emerging to support monitoring and management of physiological status and mental health, chronic condition management, technologies to support safe functional status at home, technologies to promote connectedness and products to support caregivers.

The debate is no longer whether technology will be used by and for seniors; the question is how.  The challenge will be to use technology to enhance the lives of seniors and their caregivers and promote the well-being and independence of seniors as they age.  What an exciting era in which to age and work with seniors!


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Health Benefit Retirement Planning

This booklet is a little out of date, but I am posting it here for those who attended the OLLIE Auburn seminar yesterday.