Should Retirees Buy Vacation Homes?

It sounds like a great idea. After all, it’s an investment in real estate and it could be passed along to the next generation. It might be a rental property, too, generating income when the owners aren’t able to enjoy it. However, there are some things to be careful of, warns Barron’s in the article “What Retirees Should Know Before Buying a Vacation Home.”

Taxes, maintenance, insurance and possibly the cost of hiring a rental-management company are just a few things to consider. Above all, don’t think of it as an investment This is because with real estate, there are no guarantees. For one thing, it’s not liquid. You can’t count on selling it for a good price, when you need some ready cash.

The first and most important question: can you afford it? Retirees are usually living on a fixed income. The cost of a vacation home can be loaded with surprises, just like any other property. If there’s enough of a nest egg to live on and there won’t ever be a need to sell fast, then it may be a good move.

If there’s enough money to purchase the home, then investing in someone to manage the property is a good idea. Empty homes are targets for thieves, and if there’s a maintenance issue, an uninhabited home is vulnerable to damages.

Where taxes are concerned, the sale of a second home does not give the seller the same capital gains tax exemption as the sale of a primary residence. That exemption is only available for people who have lived in the home as a primary residence for at least two of the previous five years. The exemption is up to $500,000 for married couples.

There is one way around it, if it makes sense for owners. Let’s say that they plan on downsizing from their primary residence. They sell it and use the tax exemption. They then move to the vacation home, for at least two years, using that as their primary residence. At that point, they can sell the home that has now become a primary residence, enjoy the generous tax exemption and then move to a new primary residence.

As a rental property, owners are permitted to rent for up to 14 days without owing any taxes on the rental income. After the 14-day period, taxes must be paid, but some of the rental expenses are tax deductible.

If the intent is to keep the house for as long as the owners are living, it becomes part of the estate and must be included in an estate plan. Leaving it to the next generation may be feasible, if all of the children want to keep the house and can afford its upkeep. Have the conversation with the children first. Giving the house to children can be accomplished by putting it into a living trust or a limited liability corporation with an operating agreement that defines it. Each child will have a stake in the entity that owns the home, rather than the house itself.

Talk with your estate planning lawyer about how the purchase and inheritance of a vacation home may impact your overall estate plan before making a purchase.

Reference: Barron’s (Jan. 18, 2020) “What Retirees Should Know Before Buying a Vacation Home”


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Include Fido or Fluffy in Estate Planning

If you are a pet owner, you no doubt make plans for your pet when you go on vacation. If you are a very dedicated pet owner, perhaps you have already made provisions in your will or created a pet trust. If your pet outlives you, then such a trust can provide for your pet. However, what about if you become mentally or physically incapacitated, asks Next Avenue’s article “How to Make Plans to Provide Care for Your Pet If You Can’t.”

What would happen if you had Alzheimer’s and there was no plan for you or your pet? A legal process could be initiated by a family member to establish a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship and a judge would decide who would be responsible for you and your legal and financial affairs. This person would also be responsible for decisions about your pet, since pets are treated as property by the law.

The guardian might understand how important your pet is to you, but they just as easily might not. If they decide that your beloved pet is a burden, or they don’t want to spend money on your pet’s care, they have the legal power to send the pet to a shelter or give the pet away. Writing a will with a provision or two about your pet’s care won’t help, because the will does not take effect until you die.

One option is to have an estate planning attorney prepare a durable power of attorney document, with a person named to act as your agent. This person would be legally empowered to make decisions about your finances and property, including your pet(s), without intervention by the court. However, that won’t solve the problem either.

The power of attorney document won’t include details on how you want your pet to be cared for. Those details will be entirely up to the person who serves as your power of attorney.

A revocable trust is an alternative. The document can be used to explain, in detail, exactly what your wishes are for your pet (as well as any other property placed in the trust). The person designated as your trustee now has a legal obligation to carry out your wishes. You can say what you want to happen to your pet if you become incapacitated, and how much money from the trust is to be spent on pet care, food, veterinarian care, grooming, toys, etc.

Your revocable trust document can also designate a caretaker for your pet or state that the pet should go to a no-kill pet shelter. You can, if you wish, use the trust document to ensure that the caretaker is paid for taking on the responsibility of caring for the pet and reimbursed for any pet expenses.

You can also direct that your pet be brought to you for regular visits, if you need to live in an assisted living facility or a nursing home. You can also instruct that you want to be placed in a facility that has a robust pet therapy program or a “house pet” that lives at the facility.

Another option is to create a standalone pet trust. This trust is solely focused on your pet and its care. All funds in the trust are designated to pay for the pet’s care and services of a caretaker. The trustee could be the caretaker or someone else. This could give you even more control over what happens to your pet.

Speak with an estate planning attorney who has helped pet owners set up plans for their pets. It’s recommended that this be taken care of as soon as possible. We never know when an illness may strike, or an accident occur.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 10, 2020) “How to Make Plans to Provide Care for Your Pet If You Can’t”


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Retirement Accounts Targeted by Cybercriminals

She thought she had nearly $80,000 saved in her employer-sponsored retirement plan, but when Beth Bennett checked on her account, there was only about $8,000 in the account. She didn’t check the account very often, so she didn’t even know the theft had occurred.

Her experience, detailed in the article “Cybercrooks Targeting Retirement Accounts” from Insurance, was the result of someone stealing her identity, changing her mailing address, redeeming money from her mutual funds and having checks mailed to new locations. A bank cashed the first two checks. When the theft was discovered, Bennet was able to stop payment on a third check. But that wasn’t the worst discovery.

Contacting the mutual fund company revealed that there was no sure guarantee that she would be reimbursed for the loss.

As cyberattacks on retirement funds rise, investors need to be on guard.

Hackers are going where the money is, and retirement accounts are rich targets. Fraud in retirement accounts is on the rise, according to a report from the National Association of Plan Advisors. Criminals are looking for any possible route, and they have found that email compromises, spear phishing and social profiling are profitable. Spear phishing is when criminals send emails that look like they are from a known and trusted sender, trying to get confidential information.

Some experts say that criminals are gaining entry by getting people’s passwords and account numbers, which can be purchased on the “dark web.” When getting access to one email account, they can figure out how to get into the bank account. All they have to do is go through the “Forgot Password” process and reset your password through an email and they have access.

Bennet was lucky. Her retirement fund company returned the money that was lost. But not everyone is so lucky. The biggest companies are more likely to do so, but there are no guarantees.

What can account holders do?

  • Make sure any device used to connect to accounts is protected by a firewall and has current antivirus and antispyware software.
  • Be very cautious about opening attachments or clicking on links in emails that ask for financial information.
  • Use a longer password than a short one, and don’t use the same password on multiple accounts.
  • Open and read any letters and statements that come from your retirement accounts on a timely basis to be sure that everything looks accurate. If you see any unauthorized activity, call the companies immediately.

Reference: Insurance (Jan. 8, 2020) “Cybercrooks Targeting Retirement Accounts”


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