When my mother entered her 70s, she began focusing more on what she would leave for her kids than her own financial well-being. She was more than fine; she had assets and steady income from two pensions, Social Security and an annuity. If you're in that phase of life, you may have similar priorities. The question is: Do you know the best ways to increase your estate?
Most people mistakenly believe that once they stop working, their net worth will shrink as they draw on assets for living expenses. Many people who are still working into their 60s and 70s also believe that it's too late to add any significant wealth to their estate. Neither of those has to be true -- if you have a well-designed plan.
Whole Life Policy
Let's consider a client who is 64 and plans on working another 10 years. He is reallocating some existing assets and putting some extra cash into life insurance. We are not talking about an end-of-life policy sold by the truckloads by TV personalities with a $10,000 payout to cover funeral expenses. This might be a good call if you have very little in assets and worry about your kids paying for your funeral. This client has some resources, so we could do something a little more creative.
He elected to fund a whole life policy with $25,000 a year for eight years for a total of $200,000. His starting death benefit is $310,000. If he dies in the next eight years, his family would receive $310,000 to $508,000, depending on when that happens. If he reaches 72, he will have the entire $200,000 that he put into the policy over those eight years back in the form of cash value in the policy. He is free to take loans and disbursements, or just let the money sit and grow during the rest of his lifetime.
Should he reach 85, he would have more than $376,000 of cash value in the policy -- even though he has only paid in $200,000 into it. Upon his death, his family will receive more than $470,000 of tax-free cash. He will more than double his estate by simply reallocating assets and letting tax-free compounding and guarantees go to work. Meanwhile, he can access the cash he is funding the policy with. If he does, he will lower the death benefit, but he has no need in the foreseeable future.
Fixed Indexed Annuity
Another client, who is 70, had concerns about leaving money behind to benefit a child with a mental handicap. The first step was finding a rock-solid trustee to make sure any money benefits the child after the death. Since the client was 70, the cost of life insurance was prohibitive.
The client had put away $300,000 for the child. The last market downturn had cost $130,000, but most of those losses have been recouped.
The client was very clear on wanting no market risk and elected to go with a fixed indexed annuity with a death benefit rider. This rider guarantees that the $300,000 will never decrease in value and will increase at a minimum of 4 percent -- plus any indexed market gains. The least average growth rate combined with the 4 percent percent guarantee means that if the client dies in 10 years, the client will leave behind more than $650,000 in cash. If the client lives only five more years, annuity will leave behind $488,000.
A fixed indexed annuity can also have a lifetime income rider that guarantees you income no matter how long you live and even if the underlying cash goes to zero from income withdrawals. The National Association of Fixed Annuities has more information about how these products work.
How to Safely Increase the Estate You'll Leave to Your Family
Eliminating your mortgage is one of the best ways to make retirement more affordable because it removes a sizable monthly bill. While you'll still have to pay taxes and maintenance costs for your home, those expenses are likely to be a fraction of your mortgage payments.
Once your children are independent, you will likely no longer need a several-bedroom house in a good school district with a large yard that can be expensive to maintain. Consider downsizing to a smaller home in a less-expensive neighborhood, and add the proceeds of the sale to your nest egg.
Where you live plays a big role in how much you pay for food, taxes and a variety of other services. Moving to an area where the cost of living is significantly less could allow you to spend down your retirement savings more slowly.
If you and your spouse commuted to separate places each day, it is likely that you each needed a car. In retirement, you might be able to get by with one car, thus eliminating the insurance, gas and maintenance costs of the second vehicle. In walkable communities with good public transportation, you may even be able to get by without a car in retirement.
In retirement, income tax will be due on withdrawals from traditional 401(k) and individual retirement accounts, but you can space out your withdrawals to avoid a hefty tax bill in a single year. Prepaying income tax on some of your retirement savings using a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) allows you to avoid a big tax bill in retirement.
Investing in high-cost funds reduces your return. Minimizing investment costs is especially important for retirees who are living off income from their portfolio. In this case, selecting the lowest-cost funds that meet your investment needs translates to more money in your pocket.
There are significant penalties if you withdraw money from your retirement account too soon or too late. There is also a reduction in benefits if you sign up for Social Security early, and a late enrollment penalty if you delay signing up for Medicare Parts B and D. Pay attention to important retirement deadlines to avoid paying more than you need to.
Health care is likely to be one of the biggest and least predictable costs you will face in retirement. But there are some things you can do to control your health costs. Consider purchasing a supplemental policy to Medicare to fill in some of the gaps and cost-sharing requirements traditional Medicare doesn't cover. Also, shop for a new Medicare Part D plan every year to make sure you are getting coverage for your medications at the best price.
Retirees have the luxury of being able to travel whenever they want. Traveling is often less expensive if you avoid major holidays and school breaks, and most tourist destinations will also be less crowded.
One of the major perks of growing older is getting discounts at movies, museums and restaurants. While some senior discounts are well-publicized and open to everyone old enough to have an AARP card, others are available only to those who ask. A little research can add up to big savings if you’re willing to admit your age.