Life Expectancy Effect on Estate Plans

As life expectancy increases, adapting our retirement age, savings, and estate plans must change. Currently, the life expectancy of a United States male hovers near 79 years of age, while a female exceeds 81. The longer you live, the longer you are expected to live as well. American non-smoking men who make it to age 60 can expect an average of 21 years of life expectancy, while those age 84 are expected to make it to 91.  

What does this mean for our expected retirement age? Obviously, it means that we should save more for longer periods. This might delay retirement from 60 or 65 to at least 70 or 75. They say that 60 is the new 45, and that very well may be true. Continuing to work longer means not having to rely on savings until you reach within 10-15 years of life expectancy.  

This also affects our estate plans. I’ve been practicing long enough to counsel an entire generation who have mostly passed away. Years ago, it was uncommon for my practice to serve more than a couple dozen octogenarians. Now we serve several dozen. Today we also have a handful or more of centenarians. 

What does this mean for our estate plans? First, between spouses it’s more likely than not that the survivor lives well into her 80s. Estate plans must therefore be drafted with the continuing need for income to support the couple, or survivor of them, not only for essential living needs, but perhaps for years of health, and perhaps, convalescent care.  

Bumper stickers and shirts declaring that “I’m spending my children’s inheritance!” aren’t joking!  

There’s also the increased likelihood that the surviving spouse remarries, particularly if the first decedent spouse dies at a relatively young age, such as in his sixties.  If the surviving spouse may have a quarter century or more to live, she can’t always be expected to live it alone.  

Remarriage presents another set of issues. Pensions might be affected. Generally speaking, if one remarries after age 60, one may still receive survivor’s benefits based on one’s former spouse’s record. However, if one’s new spouse is also collecting Social Security benefits, then one might receive a higher amount based on the new spouse’s work record.  

IRA accounts that once named a former spouse might now name a new spouse. If the new spouse survives and rolls over the account, the likelihood that the children of the original IRA owner become the ultimate beneficiaries decreases substantially. Remarrying without a nuptial agreement may also decrease the amount that one’s children receive, because in most states a surviving spouse is entitled to an elective share of the decedent spouse’s estate or trust.  

Age of one’s children when they finally inherit must also be considered. When clients live into their late 80s, their children are often post-retirement themselves when they inherit. In this case, it might make more sense to create continuing trusts sprinkling income and principal among several generations of the family. Educational needs of grandchildren or even great-grandchildren could become the priority, especially when one’s children have already built nest-eggs of their own.

Instructions to family members about health care and end-of-life decisions becomes paramount. Should assets be consumed to remain at home as opposed to being housed in assisted living or memory care units? How will the consumption of assets affect the surviving spouse?  

If a child has moved in to care for a parent, should she receive a larger share of the inheritance? If that same child is responsible for her elderly parent’s finances, care should be taken to document and account for expenses. I’ve seen situations where the child taking care of her parents is accused of stealing their money, even when the parents wanted to give that money to the child. This is where ongoing communication with the estate planning attorney is crucial, so he can counsel and document transactions to avoid misunderstandings that can’t be explained once the client dies. 

Undue influence claims must also be guarded against. I once had a client whose daughter cared for her. They both came to my office, with the client requesting that I change her will and trust to give this daughter more than an equal share compared to her other siblings. 

Under most state laws, including Florida’s, a presumption of undue influence occurs when the beneficiary who benefits from the new will scheduled the appointment, drove the client to the office, was present during the meetings and signing, and so forth. This is why a knowledgeable estate planning attorney will meet individually with the client to ensure that elements of undue influence are not present.  

As my grandmother once proclaimed, “Aging isn’t for sissies!” Make sure that you’re prepared to enjoy a long and fruitful life. It begins with proper planning to not only benefit you and your spouse, but successive generations as well.  

 

©2022 Craig R. Hersch – Sheppard Law Firm. Learn more at floridaestateplanning.com