February 13, 2024 Weekly Update

We do love it when someone refers a family member or friend to us.  Sometimes the question is, “How can we introduce them to you?”   Well, there are multiple ways but a very easy way is to simply forward them a link to this webpage. Here are this week’s items:

Portfolio Update:  Murs and I have recorded our portfolio update for February 13, 2024

Beneficiary Best Practices in Retirement – A Yearly Check-In

In this Episode of the Secure Your Retirement Podcast, Radon, Murs, and Nick discuss beneficiary best practices and what’s discussed in a typical beneficiary’s meeting. Things can change in a year, and that’s why we believe it’s important to update or change beneficiaries annually.  

Beneficiary Best Practices in Retirement – A Yearly Check-In

Nick Hymanson, a financial planner who is also part of our team, joined us on our latest podcast to discuss something very important: beneficiary best practices. If you work with us, you know that this is something that we have covered during our financial planning strategy meeting.

Annual Financial Planning Strategies- Beneficiary Best Practices

Nick Hymanson, a financial planner who is also part of our team, joined us on our latest podcast to discuss something very important: beneficiary best practices. If you work with us, you know that this is something that we have covered during our financial planning strategy meeting.

What is a Financial Planning Strategy Meeting?

In the financial planning strategy meeting, we cover:

  • How your accounts did this past year
  • Beneficiary updates
  • Daily living changes
  • Expenses and income
  • Budgets 

We look at your financial plan as a whole during the strategy meeting. A lot of people think that the most important part of retirement planning is the end goal, but if you don’t know where you are right now, it’s challenging to navigate your way to retirement.

You need to know your milestones ahead and what to do with Social Security, Medicare and your estate plan.

Your estate plan is where beneficiaries really come into the equation. If you have a “will,” you may assume that you have everything in order and you know who is getting what. The problem is that you have a variety of other accounts that have beneficiaries listed, such as your 401(k), IRA, life insurance and even your bank accounts.

When the terrible time comes and you need to put the estate in process, proper beneficiaries on your accounts will make the lives of your heirs much easier.

What We Do to Prepare Before Discussing Beneficiaries with Our Clients

Our team reviews all your investment accounts and will call insurance companies to verify:

  • Primary beneficiaries
  • Contingent beneficiaries 
  • Percentage allocations

You may have multiple people listed as a primary or contingent beneficiary, or you can have one or two. We’ll gather information on all your financial and insurance account beneficiaries and separate them by account to make it easier to determine who is the beneficiary on what accounts.

We then present the accounts in the meeting to help you understand if your account needs to be updated.

Why do we review beneficiaries annually?

Of course, we have a lot of real-life examples of accounts that people seemingly forget to update during crucial life moments.

  • One client got divorced and didn’t remember to fix all the beneficiaries. It doesn’t matter who he is married to today. If he passed, the account would have gone to his ex, even though he is remarried.
  • Someone has a child who is in a lawsuit, so maybe you don’t want money to go to this individual based on the current circumstances.

A quick, annual review of your beneficiaries can help you better manage them because life changes can impact who you want to be named as a beneficiary on your accounts.

Common Example of Husband and Wife

Couples who have an individual account will, in most cases, have their spouse being 100% beneficiary of their accounts. If the person isn’t alive when the other person passes, the account would then go to the contingent beneficiary, who can be one or more people.

For example, if you’re married and leave your wife as the primary beneficiary and she passes before you, the contingent beneficiary would be “next in line.”

Joint accounts work a little differently.

On joint accounts, you’re both co-owners of the account, but you can have beneficiaries listed on the account.

Spouse and Three Kids

While you’re free to do as you wish, it’s most common for a person to leave their spouse as the primary beneficiary of their accounts. You should also list your kids as contingent beneficiaries so that if your spouse is no longer living, the account will go to your children.

It’s most common to offer an even percentage to each child, in this case, 33.33% share to each of the three children.

In certain cases, one of the children may receive 0.01% extra to make an even 100%.

Spouse and Two Kids Who Each Have Children

Every scenario is a bit different, and we really want to illustrate the importance of following beneficiary best practices. If you’re like most couples, you’ll:

  • Name your spouse the primary beneficiary
  • Name your children as contingent beneficiaries

Let’s assume that each of your children has a child, so you have two grandchildren. Your eldest child dies. What will happen to your grandchild? Does all the account go to the sole, living child?

You can put measures in place that allow you to pass the funds to your grandchildren. You can even pass the funds to children who may not be born at the time of naming your beneficiaries.

A strategy to use is called Per Stirpes.

What Per Stirpes does is allow for the funds, which you name for Child 1, to flow down their family tree if they pass away. You don’t even need to list the grandchildren on the account when using per stirpes.

Per capita can also be used, which means that the account goes to your kids only. In this case, if you have two kids and one passes, the other child will receive 100% of the account. You can also opt to give one child 75% of the account or 10% – it’s up to you. Certain clients opt to do this when one child makes significantly more money than another or they have a medical condition.

Children do have a right to disclaim their inheritance, which, if the benefit goes down the lineage, can have its tax benefits. Perhaps your child wants their children to inherit the money, so they disclaim their portion, and it goes to your grandchild.

If your grandchild doesn’t make any money or is in a lower tax bracket, this can be beneficial.

Annually, you need to review and update your:

Major life changes are a good time to review these documents, too. If you get married, divorced, have a child or grandchild, it’s a good time to look through your beneficiaries and be sure that everything is in order.

Schedule a 15-minute call with us if you would us to help you review your beneficiaries.

June 26, 2023 Weekly Update

We do love it when someone refers a family member or friend to us.  Sometimes the question is, “How can we introduce them to you?”   Well, there are multiple ways but a very easy way is to simply forward them a link to this webpage.

Here are this week’s items:

Portfolio Update:  Murs and I have recorded our portfolio update for June 26, 2023

This Week’s Podcast – What To Consider If Your Spouse Has Passed Away After Retirement.

Listen in to learn the importance of knowing how much you’re spending, where that money comes from, and what changes will happen after a spouse’s death. You will also learn the importance of getting an attorney to help you through the probate process if your deceased spouse didn’t have a will executor.

We explain how to approach cash flow, estate settlement, insurance, tax, and investment and assets issues…


This Week’s Blog – What To Consider If Your Spouse Has Passed Away.

Losing a spouse – or any loved one – is not something that people want to think about. However, we know from experience that our clients are not in the headspace to know exactly what to do if their spouse passes away.

Getting things in order today is going to be much easier than “figuring it out” in a worst-case scenario.

We’ve created a checklist….

What To Consider If Your Spouse Has Passed Away

Losing a spouse – or any loved one – is not something that people want to think about. However, we know from experience that our clients are not in the headspace to know exactly what to do if their spouse passes away.

Getting things in order today is going to be much easier than “figuring it out” in a worst-case scenario.

We’ve created a checklist that we can send to you to go through that will make some decisions a little easier if your loved one passes away.

Do you want the checklist? Give our office a call at: (919) 787-8866.

Note: We do want to mention that we took the approach of a spouse passing on, but these are very similar steps that you would take with other loved ones, such as a parent.

We’re going to go through quite a bit of topics, but we’re going to start with: cash flow.

Things to Consider If Your Spouse Has Passed Away

Cash Flow

Cash flow really makes you look at where income is coming from and what you need to do now that your spouse has passed away. For example, you need to think through income sources, such as:

  • Pension
  • Rental properties
  • Social Security
  • Investment income

There is a lot to consider on these items, including:

Social Security

Often, we see cash flow issues with Social Security. You won’t receive both your own and your spouse’s Social Security, but you will receive the higher of the two. You may also be entitled to Survivor’s Benefits, but you can experience a drop in income on this end.

Required Minimum Distribution

Was the deceased spouse at the age of 73 (the age to take a required minimum distribution)?

In this case, you’ll need to take the required minimum distribution on behalf of your spouse if they didn’t take it before their passing.


If a pension was involved, was there a survivorship on the pension? Often, when you have a pension, there are multiple options. A single option is on the person’s life, but your spouse may have a survivorship benefit, too.

Normally, if a survivor benefit is available, your spouse will take a lower pension with the agreement that their benefits will pass on to their surviving spouse upon their demise. Survivorship benefits may be:

  • 100% of the benefit
  • 75% or 50% of the benefit
  • For a predetermined number of years

Inquire about the pension and what your entitlements would be as a survivor.

Rental Income

If rental income exists, you need to know if there’s a manager involved and how to take control of these properties.

Investment Income

Investment income may have been taken out to add to your cash flow, and this is a source of income that we’ll be discussing in more detail below.


What expenses do you have each month? Where is the money coming from to cover these costs? You may need to adjust these expenses because losing a loved one is a major life-changing event.

Estate Settlement Issues

Many estate settlement issues exist and need to be thought through. First, did your spouse die with a will? If so, was there a living executor appointed? The executor will need to contact the attorney who wrote the estate plan or hire another attorney if the person is no longer practicing or alive.

An attorney will help you go through probate and make sure everything is done correctly.

If the only thing that is going to go through probate is a home that you own jointly, you really don’t need to worry much about this. Joint ownership makes it easy to transfer full ownership of the house to you.

Anyone reading this will want to make their surviving spouse’s or family’s lives easier by:

If you set beneficiaries, you can avoid probate.

Anyone who doesn’t have an executor listed for their assets will need to have one appointed to them to divide them properly.

What if you have more assets than you typically need?

If your spouse leaves you sizable assets, you can disclaim some of these assets to a child or grandchild. Why? These individuals may be in a lower tax bracket, so they’ll be taxed far less on the assets than you will be.

Retirement accounts that have ownership changes

Certain accounts will need an ownership change, which is something that you’ll need get done. For example, if you’re taking over your spouse’s 401(k) account, you’ll need to have the ownership of the account changed to your name.

Do you exceed estate tax guidelines?

Right now, as an individual, if you have $12.5 million from the estate, you’ll need to pay estate taxes. This figure is revised up to $25.8 million for a couple.

Possible unknown assets

If your spouse had credit card points or miles, you could have them changed over. Safety deposit boxes often can’t be opened until you’ve followed all probate rules, and don’t forget to search estate agencies and unclaimed property sites.

Update your estate plan

Normally, an estate plan ends up giving most or some of the assets to your spouse. You’ll need to review your plan and make changes now that your spouse is no longer living.

Digital asset considerations

Your spouse may have had digital assets, perhaps they owned digital currency, and this can be transferred to you.


Insurance is the next big category to consider because you need to know if your spouse had life insurance. This type of insurance is a tax-free transfer and is one of the nicest forms of assets to receive. You need to know if your spouse had life insurance, and the amount of life insurance your spouse carried.

If your spouse was still working, they may have life insurance through their employer. This benefit often goes away if your spouse has retired. 

Veterans may have death or burial benefits.

Was the death accidental or work-related?

Often, benefits may be received or lawsuits filed if the death occurred on the job or was accidental.

Is there a minor involved?

If your spouse has a minor child or dependent, Survivor Benefits may kick in earlier for the minor.

You should take an inventory of all insurances that your spouse may have had because they can provide substantial financial relief.

Tax-related Issues

Taxation never seems to go away, and can potentially impact you in the following ways after the loss of a spouse.


On your primary home, you can have up to $500,000 in capital gains. If you sell a home for $1 million, only $500,000 is hit with capital gains. However, if you’re single, the capital gains exemption falls to $250,000.

If you want to sell your home, you’ll want to be sure that you follow the rules.

Joint-owned Properties

If you had a joint-owned rental property, you’d receive a step-up in basis for the portion that your spouse owned. We have a nice flowchart that outlines this.

Did your spouse pay taxes on all their income for the year?

If not, you’ll need to make sure that these debts are satisfied.

Did you file taxes as married filing jointly?

You can continue to file like this in the year of your spouse’s death.

Do you have any dependent children?

If so, you might be able to qualify for widower’s tax filing status for up to two years after your spouse’s death.

Investment and Asset Issues

You may come into issues with investments and assets that were in your spouse’s name. It’s important to know:

  • Where were these accounts or assets held?
  • Did your spouse have 401(k) or IRA accounts? If so, were there any beneficiaries attached to them?

Spouses have options, which often allow you to combine your spouse’s retirement accounts with your own. 

If your spouse owned a business, you need to learn about buy sell agreements or buyout agreements that exist. There may be other assets, such as annuities, which may be transferred to your name.

Working with an accountant to help you through all these tedious tasks is recommended.

Final Things to Think About

While the list above is not exhaustive, it does provide you with a good starting point for your checklist of things consider now to have a better idea of what to do after your spouse’s death. A few additional things that you’ll want to think about are your spouse’s:

  • Email accounts
  • Social media accounts
  • Driver’s licenses

You’ll also want to notify the credit bureau that your spouse has passed away.

You don’t want someone to steal your spouse’s identity. It also makes sense to change their passwords on accounts that you do keep open.If you have any questions about the topics above or want to receive our full checklist, feel free to reach out to us at (919) 787-8866 or schedule a call with us.

Beneficiary Designations – What You Need to Know

Beneficiary designations are so important. You’ve set up accounts for estate and retirement planning, paid your dues, and you want to be sure that the right person is left these accounts. Sometimes, you might not even know about designations for certain accounts, so this is an article that we think can help a lot of you that trust in our Secure Your Retirement podcast.

If you haven’t subscribed to our podcast already, we highly recommend you do here.

In this episode, we’re going to cover everything you need to think about, including:

  • Beneficiary designations
  • Taxes
  • More 

Beneficiary Designations 101

First, it’s important to know which accounts are almost required to have a beneficiary. These accounts include:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(B)
  • IRA
  • Life insurance
  • Etc.

These accounts will often require a beneficiary or a person to who you want the account to go to upon your demise. You’ll be able to choose a primary and contingent beneficiary, too.

Retirement accounts are the most common accounts that need beneficiaries.

Other accounts that you should add beneficiaries to include:

  • Brokerage accounts
  • Bank account
  • Savings account

You may find a name other than the beneficiary, such as “transfer on death,” and you should be filling these out.

What is a Primary and Contingent Beneficiary?

Primary and contingent beneficiaries were mentioned previously. What do these things mean?

  • A primary beneficiary is the main person who would gain control of these accounts upon your demise.
  • Contingent beneficiaries are the person(s) who will receive the account if the primary beneficiary isn’t alive.

You can even have multiple beneficiaries, all of which will receive a percentage of the account. For example, you can have four beneficiaries, all of which receive 25% of the assets in the account, or whatever percentage that you choose.

What Happens If You Don’t Have a Beneficiary?

When no one is listed on your accounts as a beneficiary or the only person listed is no longer alive, the account will go to your estate. The problem with the account going to the estate is that a large chunk of the money will be lost to upfront taxes.

Instead, if a beneficiary receives the money, they can leverage tax strategies to save money.

Gaining Greater Control Over the Money

You can gain greater control of the funds and the way they’re transferred by using certain designations. Thankfully, there are only two that you really need to know about:

  • Per Capita: The default on beneficiaries. For example, if you have two primary beneficiaries with 50% of each asset divided equally among the two. If one beneficiary dies, all of the money will go to person number two as your primary beneficiary. The shares of a beneficiary that is no longer living is split equally among all primary beneficiaries listed, no matter how many there may be.
  • Per Stirpes: You can also choose per stirpes. A powerful and useful tool, this means that the assets will go down your lineage. So, if you have two people as beneficiaries and the first beneficiary dies, the funds they would receive will go to the next person in their lineage. So, the money would go to the person’s kids instead of the remaining beneficiary.

As you can see, designations when adding beneficiaries are very powerful tools that can help you gain greater control over who receives your assets.

Many clients of ours are concerned about the future and their assets. For example, many of our clients ask, “What happens if a grandchild is born?” Using per stirpes, the assets will include them in your lineage.

For example, let’s assume that you have a son, and they have a child. The child automatically becomes part of the per stirpes designation. 

Most people will list their spouses as a primary and their children as contingents on their accounts because it’s a way to ensure assets are passed on to the people you care about the most.

Power of Per Stripes Example

Let’s assume that you have passed away, and you have a substantial amount of money in an IRA or 401(k). You might also leave money to your son or daughter, who is a good income earner. Due to their high income, per stirpes can be very beneficial.


Your children can disclaim their inheritance to allow it to flow down to your grandchildren.

Why is this beneficial?

If the grandkids don’t have large incomes or maybe are even too young to work, they’ll be in a much lower income bracket than someone who is a high earner. In this scenario, more of the money will go to your family and less will go to the government for taxes.

But the per stirpes designation must be present for this to work.

Annual Beneficiary Review

Conducting an annual beneficiary review is something we recommend all of our clients do, and we highly recommend that you do a review, too. The main reason for a review is that it’s just too easy to forget about beneficiary changes.

You may have been divorced, a beneficiary died, or you may have been married.

Annual beneficiary reviews will ensure that the right people benefit from the assets you leave behind.

We have a story of someone who divorced, then remarried.  The beneficiary was never updated.  When they passed away, all of the funds in the account went to the ex-spouse and there was nothing that the current spouse could do to challenge the transfer of assets.  Due to the strength of the beneficiary form, there is no way to challenge the form or beneficiary listed.   

This is why we recommend annual beneficiary designation reviews.

You can also list charities as beneficiaries, which is something you may want to do if you’re passionate about certain charities.

It’s very easy to adjust beneficiaries, and you can even do the process online for some accounts. Offline changes require a simple form submission to change beneficiaries.

Tip to Help Beneficiaries

One thing we recommend is that you sit down and make a list of all accounts that you have. Your estate will have a difficult time trying to find all of the accounts you have if you don’t create a list for them.

Additionally, we’ve had some clients find out about accounts well after a person’s death because no one knew they existed.

If you don’t create a list of accounts, you’re putting any of the beneficiaries you use at a significant disadvantage. Also, this same list can be used by you to update and review accounts annually, so it’s a win-win for everyone involved.If you have any questions about beneficiary designations, feel free to schedule a 15-minute complimentary phone call with us.