June 3, 2014 — Congratulations on your retirement, be it impending or already underway. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, and we hope you enjoy every well-deserved second. But before you get too carried away with your new-found freedom, we would like to bring to your attention some housekeeping items that need to be taken care of. These are in addition to, and in fact go off in a different direction from, the to-do items in Part 1 of this series: Now That You’re 65: 10 Items You Need to Know. There is also a Part 3.
Peace of Mind and a Gift for Your Heirs
Today’s To-Do list has to do more about taking steps to simplify the job for your heirs, once you pass on to Woodstock in the Sky or wherever you believe you might end up in your next life, than it does for your immediate needs. If you take some easy steps now you will not only save your heirs endless work and hassle, but as wonderful by-product of this process you will also experience greater peace of mind in the years to come. We guarantee you won’t have so many guilt feelings, and your quality of life will be higher.
As a caveat we caution that we are not legal or financial experts. We merely want to bring up some common sense planning topics that we feel need to be carefully addressed by you, in consultation with the legal and financial experts you should use in matters this complex and important.
Why You Need to Do the Things on This List!
The worst thing you can do is continue to say, “Someday I am going to get these things done,” because in all probability they won’t. The result when that happens is likely to be a crushing burden for those you love. Your adult children have enough going on in their busy lives – working hard on the job while raising their children. Then throw on top of all that another full-time job – as executor of a messy estate that includes a house overflowing with stuff, scattered to non-existent documents, and a time consuming and frustrating financial sinkhole called probate.
10 Things for Your Retirement To-Do List
Some of the items on this list are more important to those of you who have significant financial assets. But almost of them have great importance for even those with modest means. We can’t emphasize how much better you will feel once you have crossed these items off!
1. Start Downsizing now
Even if you are a young retiree it’s still a good idea to start paring down your accumulated belongings now – you never know what the future holds. Don’t burden your kids with the problem of getting rid of your junk. Sort out those old photographs and papers. Get rid of the junk in the attic, garage, and the basement. Ask your children what they want, and then sell or give the rest away. Once you’ve downsized, considering moving to a smaller home. See our “How to Downsize in Retirement” article, plus a ton of great comments for more.
2. Turn your collectibles and nicer belongings into cash, or a donation that someone can use
Ask your kids what they want and either give it to them now, or put it in an instructions letter. If you have collectibles that you never look at or nobody wants, either donate them to a place that can use them, or sell them now and give the kids the money. They won’t know how to sell them, you can do a better job of that.
3. Develop an up to date estate plan
It is surprising how many people don’t have any kind of will. Even more folks have one that is woefully out of date. Hire a competent lawyer who does a lot of estate work and make sure that your latest wishes will be fulfilled, as well as taking advantage of legal options to reduce taxes.
4. Avoid probate
Folks who don’t have a solid will and estate plan end up with their assets in probate, a place your heirs won’t want to be. Sometimes estates go into probate because the assets weren’t titled properly – like a bank account or home in your name only. In probate your court appointed attorney will chew up quite a few of your assets while disposing of them, sometimes to people you didn’t plan on giving it to. Meanwhile your heirs will wait an extra long time to get the money. Many people set up living trusts to avoid estate problems, but it must be funded.
5. Check the beneficiaries on your IRAs and 401ks
Is your ex-wife still the beneficiary on your IRA -if so she might be touched and surprised that you still cared. Who are your secondary beneficiaries – are they spelled out and current? Periodically you need to check these things to make sure all is as you want it.
6. Consider converting some or all of your IRA/401k money to a Roth
Without getting into all the technical advantages/disadvantages, converting some or all of your retirement assets to a Roth IRA is an idea worth exploring. One big advantage of a Roth is you don’t have to start taking RMDs at age 70.5. You will have to pay taxes when you convert, but if your income is greatly reduced or you have big losses to go against in some years, that makes it more feasible. Talk with your tax professional about whether this is a good idea for you.
7. Get a living will
You might think you have expressed your desires about what steps you want to be taken in various situations. But ask any medical professional about this topic and they will tell you that you need a very carefully written document to cover the complexities that can arise. They’ve seen too many families in distress arguing about what they think your intentions were. Fortunately there are some good standard documents – but it does need to be thought-through, signed, and legal.
8. Gather all your important documents
Think about the treasure hunt your heirs will have to go on if you suddenly went on to your greater reward. Deeds, wills, charitable instructions, cemetery plot info, bank and financial accounts, IRAs, passwords and user names, insurance policies, stocks, keys to safety deposit boxes – they could spend days and weeks tracking these down. Choose a safe place where all this data can reside – and let your heirs know where that is.
9. Develop a plan for your charitable giving
If you always wanted to help, for example, the local animal shelter, better get a plan to make that happen. Maybe you can afford to give that gift while you are still alive, which allows you to enjoy doing it. One way to make charitable gifts is directly from your IRA (if that tax break continues), instead of taking your Required Minimum Distribution. Make sure your will specifies the charities you want to help. Have a letter of instruction for any personal property you especially want to give away.
10. Maximize your tax free gifts
Currently you can give anyone $14,000 a year without having to pay a gift tax. So for example, you could give your child that amount and the same amount to her spouse. And your spouse could do the same. This approach is useful for wealthier people to reduce federal estate taxes, as well as in states with low exemptions like New Jersey and Connecticut.
Whew – now you can have some fun
Sure, it is a little sobering to attend to so many details that involve you not being alive. But believe us, your heirs will appreciate it, and you will feel such a relief to know you are not going to burden them. And now that the hard work is done, go have some fun – Start checking items off your Bucket List!
For further reading:
Now That You’re 65: 10 Items for Your Checklist
7 Must-Do Items in Retirement (Part 3 of this series)
Are You Ready for Retirement Checklist
Common Estate Planning Mistakes
Comments? What have we left off, overemphasized, or got wrong? Please share what you are doing to reduce the worry and anxiety that comes with this type of planning in the Comments section below.