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MyRA Retirement Accounts: What You Should Know

Workers will soon have a new retirement savings option. In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced the establishment of the new MyRA program, which creates retirement accounts for workers who do not have access to employer-sponsored 401(k)s.

MyRAs can be opened through employers with as little as a $25 minimum deposit and with future contributions as low as $5, automatically deducted from employees’ paychecks. The money is invested in a government bond fund, rather than in stocks, as many 401(k)s are. The principal cannot be lost, but returns will be relatively small. The accounts are portable, meaning that the employee can keep the account when switching jobs.

The plan is open to households making $191,000 or less annually, and the accounts have no fees, which should make them accessible to low-wage workers. There are no penalties for withdrawing funds at any time, and withdrawals are not considered taxable income. When a MyRA reaches $15,000, it is rolled over into a Roth IRA, so the accounts can provide a starting point for more substantial savings.

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IRS Raises Lifetime Limit For Tax-Free Gifts

There are two different IRS limits that affect how much an individual can give to another without the imposition of a gift tax: an annual exclusion and a lifetime exclusion. In 2014, the annual limit is not changing, but the lifetime limit is increasing.

During 2014, one may give up to $14,000 to each recipient before having to file a gift tax return, the same limit as in 2013. Spouses can double the size of a gift by combining their exclusions. This is a per-person exclusion, so a married couple could give $28,000 to an adult child, another $28,000 to the adult child’s spouse and another $28,000 to each of their grandchildren.

One may still make a payment for someone, including for tuition or medical expenses, without the amount counting as a gift.

Giving more than the annual limit to an individual does not necessarily mean that one will owe a gift tax. Any amount above the annual exclusion counts toward the lifetime exclusion, which has increased to $5.34 million as of 2014 (from $5.25 million in 2013). Any gifts above that amount during one’s lifetime may be subject to a gift tax of up to 40 percent.

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Personal Life Expectancies and Retirement Planning

In planning for retirement, many people focus on how much money they will need to save in order to live comfortably. However, in order to get to that number, one should calculate a personal life expectancy, as many people tend to underestimate the number of years of retirement for which they need to save.

As Janet Novack points out in an excellent Forbes column, there are a number of retirement calculators available to help one run the numbers. These range from simple tools to calculate how Social Security benefits will be affected by taking early retirement to sophisticated evaluations of investment strategies.

Perhaps most interesting are the personal life expectancy calculators. These tools take details, such as gender and personal medical statistics (such as blood pressure, exercise and use of alcohol and tobacco), to produce a prediction of personal life expectancy. The Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator is detailed and personalized, but a user must provide an email address. Be sure to read the privacy policy. The MetLife Life Expectancy Calculator is simpler and anonymous.

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Artist Colonies Are Now Retirement Options

As baby boomers enter their retirement years, their diverse interests are driving a boom in non-traditional retirement communities — including artist colonies.

One group of Senior Artists Colonies has been designed in partnership with the nonprofit EngAge organization, which provides arts, health and financial programs for seniors.

The colonies are known for an abundance of activities, including filmmaking classes, computer instruction, Zumba sessions and plays produced by an on-site theater company.

EngAge promotes creative and healthy aging through a whole-person approach, providing a wide range of activities in senior communities. The organization provides a multi-disciplinary arts program for older adults, which is delivered on-site at retirement communities by professional artists and arts teachers. The organization says that there is a proven link between creativity and healthy aging. In addition, EngAge provides lectures, book clubs, an annual Senior Olympics and other activities.

John Huskey, president of Meta Housing, which built the communities, says that colonies are planned in several locations around the country.

People have moved from all over the country to live in the colonies. A senior may submit an application describing his or her connection to the arts (which may be as an artist, as someone who wishes to become an artist or as a patron of the arts).

For seniors with a creative streak who want a more active and engaging retirement lifestyle, an artist colony can offer a vibrant alternative to traditional retirement communities.

For more information about joining one of the artist colonies, visit For more information about EngAge, visit

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Elderly Americans Are Increasingly Targeted by Financial Scammers

Scams targeting the elderly are spreading.

According to Federal Trade Commission data, 26 percent of 2012 fraud complaints made to the agency were made by people age 60 and older (the highest of any age group). That figure represents an increase from 2008, when their rate stood at 10 percent, the lowest for any age group.

According to a 2010 survey by the Investor Protection Trust, an organization that promotes education about financial matters, 20 percent of Americans age 65 and older have been the victims of some kind of financial abuse.

Metropolitan Life Insurance reported that financial abuse cost seniors $2.9 billion or more in 2010 — a 12 percent increase in two years.

The problem is likely much worse than statistics reveal, because experts estimate that only 10 percent of fraud is reported. Many fraud victims are embarrassed to have been tricked or do not believe that reporting the crime will make any difference.

Law enforcement officials acknowledge that the sheer instance rate of fraud means that many cases cannot be investigated within the limited available resources.

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Retiring Early? Start Planning Now.

Many young professionals dream of early retirement, but they are unlikely to achieve it without proper planning. Many more claim that they cannot afford to save, but saving for a retirement is truly a matter of setting priorities and making a plan. Here are some tips.

The first step is to set your savings goals and make a budget. Start tracking your expenses to find out how you can save more.

Make your savings automatic. To make that change, it is often easiest to enroll in your company’s 401(k) plan. If funds go directly into your 401(k) and bypass your checking account, saving becomes a lot easier.

Live below your means. Many people do the opposite, constantly going into debt to own things they cannot afford. Instead, spend less than you make and invest the rest.

Make smarter investments. Your savings contributions can fly on autopilot, but your investment choices should be well-considered each time you make one. A diverse portfolio can provide a good return on investment without too much risk.

Create a fun fund. Make saving fun by purposely setting aside money for luxuries. Get in the habit of rewarding yourself for saving, rather than going into debt for instant gratification.

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Partial Retirement Growing More Popular

A recent study has found that partial retirement is becoming more popular with aging Americans.

Analysis from the University of Michigan Research Center has found that 20 percent of workers between the ages of 65 and 67 hold a “bridge” job between working full-time and living in full retirement. That figure represents an large increase from 1960, when between 5 and 10 percent of workers held a bridge job.

The researchers also found that workers are slowing down earlier. 15 percent of workers aged 60 to 62 are partially retired. The study found that, in 1960, partial retirement in this age group was almost nonexistent.

The study defined “partial retirement” as holding a job in which the earnings are 50 percent or less of the highest income the individual has had in his or her lifetime.

Researchers said the change has been affected by the general unemployment rate and by the economy, with some workers needing to put off full retirement. Also, according to the research, some older individuals may be financially secure but want to stay active. They do not want to work full-time, so they are willing to work part-time for less pay.

Contact an Elder Law attorney in New York at Littman Krooks by calling (914) 684-2100

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NY Connects: Long-Term Care

Choosing the right long-term care services and supports can be difficult. If you are looking for long-term care in New York State, you should be aware of NY Connects: Choices for Long-Term Care.

This free, state-funded service can provide you with personalized information over the telephone about options including assisted living residences, nursing homes, senior centers, adult day care, home care, hospice care, transportation, payment for medicine and many other similar concerns.

Speaking with a NY Connects counselor can be very helpful if you know you need assistance but are unsure what kind of help is available or which long-term care option is best for your situation.

The service is available whether you are eligible for a government program, using insurance or paying for services yourself. Calls are confidential and are answered by trained specialists. Help is available in several different language, and TTY is available for the hearing impaired.

In Westchester County, NY Connects can be reached at (914) 813-6300. More information is available at

Contact a New York estate planning lawyer at Littman Krooks at (914) 684-2100

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Some Hospitals Allow Personal Pets to Visit

Visits from loved ones in the hospital can greatly improve a patient’s mood and assist in his or her recovery, but most hospitals restrict visitors to the human kind. Although many hospitals have pet therapy programs that use trained dogs, most do not allow visits from family pets.

A few hospitals are bucking that trend, allowing patients’ own dogs and cats to visit under certain conditions.

Among them is North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, which allows personal pets to stay with patients around the clock in its palliative care unit. Another Long Island facility, the Hospice Inn, also allows pets, and a few other hospitals around the country have adopted similar policies.

The policies vary, but they generally require a doctor’s order and an attestation from a veterinarian that the pet is up-to-date on shots and otherwise healthy. Most hospitals require dogs to be on a leash and cats to be taken in and out by carrier.

Hospital officials who have studied the issue say that the relatively mild risks, like animal bacteria transmission, are outweighed by the benefits, including comfort and reduced stress for patients.

Learn more by contacting a New York estate planning lawyer at (914) 684-2100.

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More Seniors Living With Their Children

Over the past two decades, the percentage of people age 65 and older who live with their adult children (or other relations) has risen. According to the American Community Survey, which is part of the U.S. Census, that share is 9 percent.

Experts indicate that the increase is not the result of the recession and weak recovery. Instead, it is at least partly due to the larger number of seniors who were born in another country. These seniors are four times more likely to live with their adult children.

Age makes a difference as well: older seniors live with relatives much more often. Just 6 percent of seniors age 65 to 69 live with family members, while 15 percent of seniors age 85 and over share their home.

Seniors are also more likely to live with their adult children if they are female (as female life expectancy is longer), currently unmarried and living in a metropolitan area with few other seniors.

Contact a White Plains elder law attorney at (914) 684-2100