One aspect of retirement planning is protecting the assets you have accumulated. Estate planningis also about protecting the assets you have accumulated but comes at the issue of asset protection from a different aspect. For example, in retirement planning, one is concerned with asset allocation–the idea of spreading your money among different asset classes so that a decline in one class is offset by an increase in another class. In estate planning, you protect your assets by forming trusts which can protect assets from estate taxes and claims of creditors. When retirement & estate planning are coordinated, they become a powerful combination of tools to create and preserve wealth.
However, sometimes, the goals of retirement planning and estate planning compete. When its time to retire, one often has the choice to leave their funds in their employer’s 401k (some companies allow retirees to leave their account with the company) or rollover their funds to an IRA. Is this an issue of retirement or estate planning? From a retirement planning perspective, one may have more investment choices in the IRA and thus do the rollover. From an asset protection standpoint, one’s funds are protected from creditors by ERISA. Such protection is not automatic once the funds are rolled over into an IRA as creditor protection of IRAs is a state law (note that we are addressing non bankruptcy creditor protection here). In this case, retirement & estate planning objectives may be in competition–we want the rollover for investment flexibility and we want to keep funds in the 401k for ERISA protection.
Another example where retirement & estate planning compete impacts the trade-off of capital gains and estate taxes. If, for example, you own real estate that you don’t want to see because of high capital gains tax, you are making a retirement or financial planning decision that saves tax on the gain (currently 15% federal). However, if the asset remains in your estate when you pass, depending on the estate tax laws in effect currently for estates in excess of $2 million, your heirs will pay 45% tax on the entire asset value. So do you sell the asset now, pay the capital gains tax, gain liquidity which can be distributed from your estate before you pass or do you leave the real estate in your estate, avoid the capital gains tax yet expose the property to estate tax?
Another example of interdependence of retirement & estate planning the naming of beneficiaries on your IRA. One may consider this a retirement planning issue involving the proper management of your IRA. However, it is also an estate planning issue as it involves the distribution of your estate, potentially how much estate tax is paid on your estate (e.g. IRA funds left to charitable beneficiaries are exempt from estate taxes) and also estate liquidity. Whether one spends more of their IRA funds and less of their non-IRA funds impacts how much of each type of asset remains in ther estate and thus we see that retirement & estate planning are again intertwined.
Last, consider the issue that faces most baby boomers coming up on retirement. Most will learn a word which is unfamiliar to them–annuitization. This is the process of converting an asset into an income stream. While baby boomers parents have left many of them substantial assets, many baby boomers will not be able to leave an estate to their heirs as the boomers will need to annuitize their assets in order to produce a sufficient retirement income. This is the ultimate competition of retirement and estate planning goals. Time to get out the retirement planning calculator and consult you estate planner.
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