Monday, March 02, 2015


My mother suffers from dementia. Up till recently my brother had power of attorney to make financial decisions for her, but financial providers now wanted him to have guardianship. So he is now the official guardian but the guardianship office where he and my mother live says that her investment portfolio is too risky. They want us to not have more than 20% in equities, get rid of all alternative investments and have the rest in cash and AAA bonds. It is not as if my brother and I decided on the current allocation. It's not a lot different to how it was when my mother could make her own decisions. The problem is that cash earns almost nothing anywhere and short term bonds less than inflation. Long-term bonds have the risk that their value will fall when one day central banks raise interest rates again.

We have tried to resist this and the guardianship office people met with my brother and his lawyer but the only concession they made was to give us a year to sort it out. In the meantime we also discovered (I read about this in an article in the New York Times) that the inheritance tax free threshold in the US for foreign estates was only $60k. That means that around 40% of the money in the US based separately managed accounts in my mother's name would be taxed away after she died - the accounts had minimal if any profit - so it would be taxing savings rather than earnings. So, we closed those accounts avoiding US inheritance tax and reducing the equity share of the portfolio to about 20%. Anyway, this is a warning to get good arrangements in place while you are still capable of making your own decisions rather than having a court imposed solution.

I need to think also about how to avoid US inheritance tax. I only have about $60k of direct US investments in stocks and mutual funds. But I also have another $70k in a 403b retirement account (TIAA-CREF). So, if I suddenly died there would be about $30k in inheritance tax that Snork Maiden would have to pay (no spouse allowance for foreigners...).  There are various options including trying to roll my 403b into an Australian super fund now or setting up an Australian self-managed super fund (SMSF) and transferring the US individual investments into it. My thinking is that this would then be like having units in an Australia based managed fund. Would need to get proper advice on that first. Of course, it's not worth setting up an SMSF for just USD 60k in investments - that would be just one of the holdings of the SMSF. So, watch out if you have individual stocks in the US and aren't a US citizen.


Revanche said...

I didn't realize that your spouse couldn't inherit saved retirement funds without inheritance tax if not a citizen. Is the super fund the equivalent of a trust?

mOOm said...

Yes, US inheritance tax is tough on non-citizens... at least currently.

Super fund = superannuation fund is the Australian term for a retirement account. It is much more complicated to open an individual retirement account here in Australia called an SMSF. It is like having a small 401k program all of your own (and maybe your spouse). So, that is a separate legal entity with trustees etc. So, my thinking is it might get around inheritance tax in the US, especially between spouses.