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.

Why Review Beneficiary Designations Annually

Retirement planning is a long process. When you first start trying to secure your retirement, your life may be entirely different than it is today. One topic that we’re passionate about is the need to review beneficiary designations annually.

Backtracking a little bit, we decided to discuss this topic in-depth with you after reading an article on MarketWatch.

The story begins with a man who has a market account worth around $80,000. Suddenly, this man passes away, and the beneficiary of his account is his prior wife. However, his prior wife was deceased.

What Happens if the Beneficiary of an Account is Deceased?

In the scenario above, the man’s prior wife is deceased already. When he passes on, the account then goes to his estate. His account must then go through probate and into the estate, too.

However, in this man’s case, he had a daughter who was meant to inherit the account. Her stepmother even sent the daughter a text message stating that her father wanted her to have the money in the account.

Fast forward a bit, the stepmother becomes the executor of the estate after the account goes through probate and says, “She thinks the girl’s father changed his mind and that the money is meant to go to her, the stepmother.”

The daughter feels like the stepmother betrayed her father.

Unfortunately, a text message isn’t enough legal grounds for the daughter to fight back against her stepmom.

This is an example of someone who didn’t review beneficiary designations annually. Instead of the father’s wishes being upheld, someone else decided what they thought was best for the funds in the account.

Key Takeaways from this Example

Beneficiary designations are very important. We don’t know what the father wanted to happen to the funds in his account, nor do we know what may have been written in his estate plan. What we do know is that the daughter does have a message from her stepmother stating that the funds were meant for her, but something changed along the way.

We can speculate that perhaps the stepmom found estate documents mentioning that she received the estate, or maybe she fell on hard times financially and wanted to keep the funds.

In all cases, this could have been avoided by:

  • Reviewing beneficiaries annually
  • Updating beneficiaries when major life changes occur

Many accounts that you have often allow you to add beneficiaries, even if you don’t know that you can. For example, you can add beneficiaries to IRA, 401(k) and life insurance. You can even add beneficiaries to checking accounts.

We recommend that you:

  • Gather all of the accounts that have money in them
  • Inquire with all of these accounts if you can add a beneficiary

Probate and state law can vary from state to state dramatically. The daughter in the case above wanted to know if she could use the text message as evidence and file a lawsuit.

Contesting Probate 101

We don’t know the logistics of the case the daughter has or if a text message will mean anything in her scenario. Likely, the text will not hold up in court. What we are certain of is that contesting probate is:

  1. Lengthy and can be very difficult to do
  2. Costly

Avoiding any probate contestation is always in your best interest. The father in the example above may have been able to add a contingent beneficiary to his account. What this does is say, “If the first person is no longer living, the next beneficiary should be this person.”

Contingent designations would have helped this family avoid probate court and animosity between the daughter and stepmom.

7 Steps to Manage Your Beneficiaries Throughout Your Life

1. Review Your Beneficiaries Annually

For our clients, we do a beneficiary review each year. We show them who is listed on their accounts as a beneficiary, including:

  • Beneficiary name
  • Percentage to each beneficiary
  • Contingents
  • Etc.

If you’re not a client of ours, you can easily do this review on your own. Reach out to all of your account holders and ask them who you have listed on your account as a beneficiary. It is possible that you sent in a form to change a beneficiary and it was never filed.

It’s so important to verify your beneficiaries annually, even if you have a form sitting in front of you naming the beneficiary, because you just want that peace of mind that everything has been filed properly.

2. Consider Tax Implications

When you leave accounts behind, they may have certain tax implications that you need to worry about. For example, an IRA is taxed one way and a Roth IRA is taxed another way. It’s important to know the implication of each account to make it easier to understand who best to leave the account to when you pass.

If you leave an account to a high-income earner, they may take the money out of the account and pay the tax burden. Then, they may decide to give the money to your grandkids.

However, there are ways that you can set up these accounts to avoid this high tax burden and leave the funds to your grandkids directly. You can do what is known as “disclaiming,” which would allow your son or daughter to divide the money how they see fit with fewer potential taxes.

3. Understand the Impact on Your Overall Estate Plan

Let’s assume that you’re leaving $1 million behind with most of it in an IRA or 401(k) and have beneficiaries attached to it. The remaining part will go through the estate plan. In this case, you may be disinheriting a child if:

  • In one area, you split the funds 50/50
  • Another area you split the funds 80/20

When going through a beneficiary review, it’s important to look at the dollar amounts that are given to each child. You may decide to leave $500,000 to one child and $1 million to another child.

In this scenario, one child would need to receive the house and an additional $250,000 and the other $750,000 to split the inheritance evenly. Of course, you can divide your estate up however you see fit, even if that means one child receives far less than the other.

4. Consider Beneficiary Needs

Beneficiaries may have different needs. If one beneficiary is a high-income earner and the other is not, the high-income earner may not need as much money. You may even want to allow the high-income earner to disclaim the inheritance to give to their kids without the high tax burden.

If you have a special needs child, you also need to consider how the inheritance may impact their benefits. In this case, you may want to consider a trust account so that the child still receives their benefits and the help they need.

Another common scenario is that:

  • Your child is not good with money
  • The child may spend all of their money at once

In this case, a trust and a discussion with an attorney can empower you to leave money behind and dictate how it is used with greater control.

5. Be Specific 

For example, your intent is to leave 25% of the money to your grandchildren. It’s better to name the grandkids as primary beneficiaries. The reason for this is that people may forget how you want the money divided, and being very specific in your documentation can help clear any potential confusion.

6. Consult with an Attorney

An attorney is a second set of eyes who will look through all of your beneficiaries and estate plans with you. We know quite a few attorneys who are highly skilled and still hire others to review their documents with them in case they overlook something.

If you need a trust, the attorney can also assist with that.

Legally drafted documents will hold up far better in court than you writing a will on a piece of paper.

7. Consider Contingencies

In our story of the daughter and stepmother above, a contingent would have been immensely helpful. The reason why adding a contingent is so important is that if, for some reason, you get sick and do not check your beneficiaries, you already have a contingency in place.

The father could have listed the mom as the primary and the daughter as a contingent, which would have helped those he left behind avoid arguments and disagreements along the way.

What if the father set the contingent so long ago that both the primary and contingent are no longer living at the time of his death?

He could have left the funds to his grandkids if the institution allowed him to mention “per stirpes,” which means if the primary is not alive, the funds will go down the line to the person’s descendants equally.

Per stirpes is a powerful designation because you don’t even need to know the names of the person(s) to whom you’re leaving the funds. 

Annual beneficiary reviews and putting contingencies in place are powerful tools that we firmly believe are worth using. You can help your family avoid grief and any potential arguments if you spend the time going through your accounts and putting all these measures in place.

Are you curious about retirement and want to gain more insight into the process? Click here to browse through books we’ve authored on the topic.

April 10, 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 April 10, 2023

This Week’s Podcast -Why Review Beneficiary Designations Annually?

Listen in to learn the importance of naming contingent beneficiaries after your primary beneficiaries to ensure everything is clear. You will also learn why you need to consider the tax implications of each account, the needs of your beneficiaries, and its impact on your overall estate plan.


This Week’s Blog – Why Review Beneficiary Designations Annually?

Retirement planning is a long process. When you first start trying to secure your retirement, your life may be entirely different than it is today. One topic that we’re passionate about is the need to review beneficiary designations annually.