Q&A: How to pass on inheritance to your children

Dear Liz: I may inherit $500,000 but do not necessarily need the money for my retirement. Is there a way to pass that inheritance, or a part of it, to my two children without incurring a taxable event for myself or for them? I may want to ask my parents to add that to their trust or will.

Answer:
You can “disclaim” or refuse to accept all or part an inheritance. If you do so correctly, the assets will pass to the next beneficiary as dictated by the estate documents (or by state law, in the absence of a will or living trust). If you think you’ll want this option, definitely discuss this with your parents and their estate planning attorney so the documents can be set up properly.

Keep in mind that few families have enough wealth to be affected by gift or estate taxes. Only people who give away millions of dollars in their lifetime have to pay gift taxes, for example. If you decide not to disclaim and later give the entire $500,000 to your kids, you wouldn’t have to pay gift taxes until you gave away considerably more. Plus, gifts are tax free to the recipients.

Gift and estate laws are always subject to change, so definitely consult a tax pro before making any decision regarding either.

Q&A: Medicare Advantage questions

Dear Liz: You posted a letter against Medicare Advantage plans. The letter suggested that you had to go to their doctors, which is false. You can go out of network with a higher deductible. I will also tell you that most of those same doctors accept your in-network deductible. I do this all the time when I’m at my summer home.

Answer:
As mentioned earlier, Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurers as an alternative to traditional Medicare. The plans can differ in what they cover and how.

For example, if your Medicare Advantage plan is a preferred provider organization, you may indeed have some coverage if you use a medical provider outside the plan’s network. If the Medicare Advantage plan is a health maintenance organization, the plan may not cover out-of-network care except in an emergency. HMOs also may require you to get a referral to see a specialist.

Contrast that with traditional Medicare, which allows you to see any medical provider that accepts Medicare (which is most of them). One of the downsides to traditional Medicare is the co-insurance, including deductibles and copayments. However, you can purchase a supplemental, or Medigap, policy from a private insurer to cover those. There are a number of Medigap plans, but what they cover is standardized.

Medicare Advantage plans often pay for things that Medicare does not, such as hearing, eye care and dental. Many people who sign up for Medicare Advantage are, like you, pleased with their coverage. Others are not, though. Read on:

Dear Liz: Regarding the pros and cons of traditional Medicare versus Medicare Advantage options, I want to share a personal horror story about my parents. Both are now deceased, and I went through hell dealing with their Medicare Advantage plans.

These plans often send classy color brochures in the mail to seniors approaching 65, inviting them to a free lunch to hear all about the excellent care that they supposedly will receive when signing up with these health plans — all with no extra monthly premiums! Both my parents fell for the promises offered by these “free” plans.

As you wrote in your response, there are serious and inconvenient limitations to the quality of care and the hospitals and doctors covered in these networks. It was frustrating.

My mother’s primary care doctor always seemed exhausted and never explained anything correctly. He seemed to be annoyed when we asked him to repeat information. My dad’s plan told him it was not contracted with the hospital closest to him and referred him to a hospital much farther away. His primary care physician was rude, disrespectful and uncaring.

As my father’s health advocate, I was always arguing with his insurer. My dad became depressed at the poor quality of care and the lack of support from this company. I think he just gave up. He passed away in 2018 of prostate cancer, which had spread into his lower back. Had he received proper testing when it was supposed to be done, the cancer may have been caught early and treated. It was too far gone to treat by the time it was diagnosed.

If you stay with traditional Medicare, there are supplemental health plans that cost a few hundred dollars a month. I have heard from friends and relatives that the care is better through paid supplemental plans.

Bottom line: You get what you pay for. Probably best to stick with plain old Medicare; you might just live longer.

Answer: Like all private health insurance, Medicare Advantage plans can vary dramatically in quality. You can’t assume that one person’s experience with Medicare Advantage will be the same as another’s.

You can assume, however, that any insurance with lower upfront costs will have higher costs or more restrictions, or both, if you need a lot of care. If you want more freedom to choose your medical providers and you can afford the premiums, traditional Medicare with a supplemental policy may be a better fit.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to fortify your finances against natural disasters. Also in the news: What ‘Medicare For All’ could mean for your healthcare, 8 times to rethink asking for a credit card product change, and the risks of crypto loans.

4 Ways to Fortify Your Finances Against Natural Disaster
A “go bag” for your money.

What ‘Medicare for All’ Could Mean for Your Health Care
The much-discussed proposal calls for universal single-payer health care. If enacted, what would it mean for you?

8 Times to Rethink Asking for a Credit Card Product Change
Switching to a different credit card can make sense in many circumstances. But here are times when it’s not the best option.

Crypto Loans Unlock Cash, but They Carry Risks
Borrowing against your crypto is possible, but its unstable value makes it a risky option.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The myths and realities of building your credit. Also in the news: What to expect if you test positive for COVID while traveling abroad, how to handle a top travel concern that emerged this summer, and how to tell if your employer’s 401(K) plan is any good.

Building Your Credit: Myths and Reality
Separating truth from fiction.

What to Expect If You Test Positive for COVID While Traveling Abroad
Testing positive while abroad can be expensive, stressful and, quite frankly, kind of boring.

How to Handle a Top Travel Concern That Emerged This Summer
Overcrowding tops the list of concerns for travelers, but there are steps you can take to avoid a wait.

How to Tell If Your Employer’s 401(k) Is Actually Good
Any 401(k) plan with a match is better than nothing—but here’s how to know whether yours is among the best.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Make your money more exciting by keeping it boring. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on finding a new job and rent vs. buy in a new city, 7 ways to make more confident COVID-Era business decisions, and why you might finally qualify for student loan forgiveness.

Make Your Money More Exciting — By Keeping It Boring
Growing your net worth doesn’t have to be a thrill ride. Boring money management allows you to live your life while your nest egg grows in the background.

Smart Money Podcast: Finding a New Job and Rent vs. Buy in a New City
Getting what you want out of a new job.

7 Ways to Make More Confident COVID-Era Business Decisions
Here’s how to make COVID-era decisions with less anxiety.

You Might Finally Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness
New Public Service Loan Forgiveness rules mean hundreds of thousands of borrowers could have their loans forgiven faster than expected.

Q&A: Part D premiums can vary widely

Dear Liz: Regarding Medicare, there is one more point I think you need to tell readers, and that is the high cost of Part D prescription drug coverage for people who choose original Medicare. For example, if you need just a few expensive drugs that are “Tier 3″ or higher, and coupled with the monthly fee, you can easily pay $3,000 a year or more. I am not saying original Medicare is bad. On the contrary, it gives you great freedom of health choice. However, Part D is expensive.

Answer: Part D coverage, like Medigap supplemental plans and the all-in-one Medicare Advantage plans, is offered by private insurers. Part D premiums and coverage can vary tremendously from insurer to insurer. Even with the same insurer, which drugs are covered and how they’re covered can change from year to year. That’s why it’s so important to shop around every year and to be prepared during open enrollment (which starts Oct. 15 and runs to Dec. 7) to switch to a better plan.

Q&A: When to start spousal benefits?

Dear Liz: At what age do Social Security benefits stop for dependents? My child is 17 and is currently getting half of my Social Security amount. When her benefits stop, can I sign up my nonworking spouse to receive half of my benefits?

Answer: A minor child can receive up to half of a retirement-aged parent’s Social Security benefit. Child benefits typically end when the child turns 18, or up to 19 if the child is still a full-time high school student. If your child turns 18 during her senior year, for example, the benefits would stop when she graduates. If she turned 19 during her senior year, the benefits would end then.

Spousal benefits can begin as early as age 62, but the amount would be permanently reduced if started before the spouse’s full retirement age (which is 67 for people born in 1960 and later). Technically a spouse does not have to wait until child benefits stop before applying, but there is a limit to the total amount a family can receive based on one person’s work record. The amount varies from 150% to 180% of the worker’s full retirement benefit.

Q&A: Ask a tax pro before Roth conversion

Dear Liz: I’m almost 70, still working, and I’ve got a decent-size IRA as well as a 403(b) that I plan to move to an IRA when I retire. Because I have a pension and other investments, I don’t think I’ll ever need the money in the IRA and 403(b). Should I convert to a Roth now so my kids (31 and 28) won’t have to pay taxes when they inherit it? I’ve got the cash to cover the taxes for the Roth conversion.

Answer: That would be a generous move, but you should consult a tax pro to make sure you understand the implications.

As you know, converting a pre-tax retirement account such as an IRA, 401(k) or a 403(b) to a Roth IRA can generate a sizable income tax bill. Such conversions can push you into a higher tax bracket and, if you’re on Medicare, also may increase your premiums.

You may want to spread the conversion over several years, converting just enough each year to “fill out” your tax bracket and avoid Medicare surcharges. A tax pro can help with those calculations.

Q&A: What’s the difference between ETFs, mutual funds and index funds?

Dear Liz: What is the difference between ETFs, mutual funds and index funds?

Answer: Index funds are a type of mutual fund. Mutual funds and ETFs both allow you to buy a diversified mix of investments, but they’re structured differently.

Mutual fund shares are usually priced once a day, based on the value of their underlying assets minus liabilities. Investors buy and sell without knowing precisely what the share price will be, since that’s calculated after they place their orders with the mutual fund company. ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, by contrast, trade throughout the day on stock exchanges and can be worth more or less than the underlying investments, depending on demand.

Most mutual funds are actively managed. That means the underlying investments may frequently change as the fund manager tries to “beat the market” and get a better return than a market index or benchmark such as the Standard & Poor’s 500. All that trading increases a fund’s costs and usually doesn’t result in a higher return.

By contrast, index mutual funds just try to match the market benchmark. This is known as passive management. Less trading leads to lower costs and typically better returns.

Most ETFs are passively managed and have even lower costs than typical index mutual funds. ETFs are the investment of choice for robo-advisors, which offer automated investment management, but they also can be an inexpensive way for individuals to invest. Also, ETFs don’t have the investment minimums that can sometimes be a barrier to start investment with mutual funds.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How gratitude can help your financial life. Also in the news: What’s being fixed with student loan forgiveness, a new Smart Money podcast deep dive on investing strategies, and what happens when you’re too sick to pay your credit card bills.

How Gratitude Can Help Your Financial Life
Taking stock of what you have.

Student Loan Forgiveness: What’s Getting Fixed?
Public service loan forgiveness is being repaired.

Smart Money Podcast: Nerdy Deep Dives: Investing, Part 3
Exploring investment strategies.

I Was in a Coma and Couldn’t Pay My Credit Card Bills
After a medical emergency, your card issuer may be able to make accommodations to lessen the financial strain.