As one prepares for retirement, they usually focus on earning, saving and gathering assets for the future. However, that is just one phase of preparing and living comfortably in those years, according to Financial Advisor in “A Successful And Secure Retirement—Spend-Down Strategies: Part 1.”
The biggest difference in the strategies during the accumulation and withdrawal strategies, is that there’s a greater emphasis on long-term tax planning. Taxes are often the single biggest expense for investors. To make sure that you meet your goals, which includes having the IRS take the smallest piece of your assets, a plan must be created to focus on paying the least amount in taxes, while you are alive and even after you have passed.
The first phase of decumulation, which occurs at different times for different people (and for some people, never occurs) usually comes with a low tax rate. It often starts with retirement, when the paychecks are not coming in and, ideally, you are not yet drawing Social Security or pension benefits. This would allow your Social Security benefits to continue to grow and keep you in a low tax bracket.
The spend-down phase begins, when you start taking withdrawals from tax deferred retirement accounts. This typically starts the year you turn 70½ and start taking RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions). This is the time to be careful, since your tax rate will likely jump up from the amount it was when you were not yet taking RMDs or getting Social Security or pension benefits. The goal is to manage your retirement income, in order to minimize taxes.
The final-spending phase begins all too soon, especially when medical costs and long-term care costs increase dramatically. Given their tax deductibility, as things currently stand, this may provide another period with very low tax rates.
The legacy phase begins upon your death, or on the death of the surviving spouse. The goal is the tax efficient transfer of remaining wealth to heirs and charities and preparing heirs for the assets they will inherit. An estate plan should be in place long before this phase is reached, so that your assets are passed seamlessly to family members and charities.
As a person moves through these stages of post-retirement spending, there are many strategies that can be used to minimize tax liability and maximize the growth of assets. A balance must be found between spending, managing tax burdens and preparing for a legacy.
An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances.
Reference: Financial Advisor (Jan. 21, 2019) “A Successful And Secure Retirement—Spend-Down Strategies: Part 1”