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Stages of Financial Planning

I have a secret for you. I don’t blog. I was asked if I’d write one on the stages of financial planning, and given the constant nagging from my marketing director to start blogging, I agreed. In this two part series we’ll cover those stages and hopefully a few insights along the way.

Obviously there’s a 30,000 foot view stretching from adolescence to death, but I felt that folks reading this wouldn’t be too concerned with the youth of today, or paragraphs talking about the compounding effect for 20 year olds vs 30 year olds. After all, most folks reading this were probably the youth of yesterday and you’re just now getting around to reading about this stuff yourselves. So I thought I’d do a slightly more micro approach on the later stages. I’ll try to offer some ideas that I’ve come across in the 10 plus years I’ve helped clients navigate through their later years, in the hopes that you find some things useful or applicable to your own situations,
I’ll call these stages The Planning Time, Honeymoon Phase, Disenchantment, Reorientation, and Legacy. Our first stage ‘The Planning Time’ usually takes place somewhere around age 50. It’s when folks start looking at the balances of their 401K’s and begin wondering “Hmm, is that going to do it?” People fortunate enough to have pensions start adding up their expenses and doing to math. I cannot express how important these years are for your future. The decisions you’ll make set the foundation for the rest of your life. I tell my teenagers that exact same line, but something tells me that you may be more receptive.

The general school of thought for retirement has been that you can safely pull 4% from your moderately invested savings with only a slight risk of your account hitting zero before your blood pressure does. (However, this has been under some scrutiny in the last 4-5 years due to volatile markets and low interest rate environment). So keep in mind that it anything but a ‘rule’ when planning. A few pointers for planning would be to ensure that your allocations haven’t gotten out of whack over the years of raising kids and not monitoring accounts. Going over a detailed budget is going to be vital for you. Notice I didn’t say create a budget, or to budget yourself. I’ll leave telling you not to have a cup of coffee every day to the Suzie Orman’s of the world. Simply put, you need to know what your expenses will be once you retire to effectively plan for it. Common sense right? You’d be surprised at the amount of people that thought they just won’t spend as much during retirement. When in fact I’ve found that people often spend more than they did the years they were working (more on that later). You also want to understand that diversification is more than just a healthy mix of stocks and bonds, it’s also understanding how having tax diversity can impact you. The decision to invest money into tax free accounts or looking into Roth conversion strategies should involve more than, “Should I pay taxes now or later?” One important factor most everyone overlooks is the effect this has on their social security income. The difference between taking money from a taxable vs tax free account could mean paying tax on up to 85% of SSI.

Bottom line, there are a lot of variables and you have to be diligent. Do your homework and lots of it.

Honeymoon:
The Honeymoon phase is where you allow 30+ years of stress to proverbially roll off your back. You did it! You’re the boss now, your time is yours again. Everything’s new, fresh, and exciting. Your dreams become possibilities and hobbies. You’re also the healthiest you’ll be throughout your retirement (assuming one of your hobbies isn’t a health make over). I encourage folks to plan for an increased budget during this initial phase because hopefully you’ll take advantage of it. Travel, start a new hobby or business, finish your bucket list because unfortunately there’s no telling just how long we have left.

For those that retire prior to social security or pension benefits, this can be a time when you pull significant amounts from your savings. I suggest allocating your accounts into 3 separate buckets (figuratively or literally depending). Funds you’ll use the first 1-6 years in retirement. Funds from 7-15, and money you’ll need 15 years and beyond. The reason is of course you would invest these accounts in a very different manner. If you have 15 or 20 years until you need to use a certain account, you may be able to tolerate a few more fluctuations with the goal of receiving higher average returns along the way.

Disenchantment:
I hope this phase doesn’t happen for you or at the very least that being aware of it will help to shorten its stay. Disenchantment comes when we become stagnant. Feelings of let down or uselessness can creep in. For some, and I’ve seen it happen to my very own clients, unhealthy spending can occur here. We may tend to impulse buy or depression shop to find our self-worth or to just flat out make us feel better. It is vital to recognize this and stick to your plan…you know that one you created last week! 

Reorientation:
Thankfully the letdown phase doesn’t last forever, at least not for you right?! You’re resilient, you’re a boomer for Pete’s sake! With the help of time, friends, family, or a combination thereof we ultimately discover our purpose of who we are now that we’re not working. We find and settle into routines. This may also be when we downsize our home if necessary, or simply start accepting a different outlook. This is probably the truest test of our plan thus far and the best time to revisit its vitals and make sure it’s still healthy and preforming in a way that will support you.

Legacy:
This is something that comes naturally to some. “How do you want to be remembered?” Let that sit for a moment. If we’ve done a good job with other phases, chances are you have some tough decisions to make. How will you leave what you have in the simplest, most tax efficient way that will preserve your legacy? There are so many ways to accomplish this that I could write posts for 6 weeks and still not cover them all. Just know that you want your financial planner to have a good working relationship with an estate planning attorney so they can collaborate to identify all possible avenues for you to accomplish this. Whether it be charitable interests, passing wealth to your grandchildren, or meeting the maker with your last nickel, chances are the US government wouldn’t be a choice.

AgeSmart would like to thank Jason Stroede of Clarus Wealth Management, in Fairview Heights, for this weeks blog.

Death and the Warm Fuzzies – Not.

By Kim Sabella, CFSP, Licensed Funeral Director/Embalmer; Owner of Wolfersberger Funeral Home, O’Fallon, Illinois

sabella

 

I’ll be the first to admit that considering my own death doesn’t exactly give me the warm  fuzzies. Even for me, where caskets, funerals, burials, and embalming are common topics at the dinner table (yes…for me these are common topics), while I find ease in the discussion; I still find great distress in considering my OWN demise. The older I get, the more obvious my mortality is becoming.

As a Licensed Funeral Director with over 25 years’ experience working with and guiding people through the various choices and paths when a death has occurred, I have yet to hear someone ever say “Gosh, I wish Dad hadn’t done all this work for me ahead of time.” Overwhelmingly, when faced with the reality of a death, those left behind are very grateful to learn that someone has taken the time to pre-plan their own funeral. Sometimes, the details are relatively simple; others are more complex. But all are appreciated.

I work with my husband. That means we spend a lot of time together—let’s say approximately 23 hours a day. We work at a funeral home. We talk about funerals. We attend them almost daily. We reflect on them often. Sometimes, when evening comes on, as we wrap up the workday, we conclude, “That was a good funeral.” I said that to a friend once, who chided me that certainly I must be kidding. After all, there are no GOOD funerals. Well, I’m here to say if you’ve ever seen a BAD funeral, then you know when you see a GOOD funeral.

So, the next obvious question: What makes a GOOD funeral?
In my opinion, planning is the key to a good funeral. An effective funeral director can help with ideas, can offer tips on how to make it more personal, and can assure the family of sound judgment, while offering accommodations that help make this happen. Most funerals occur within 3-4 days after death; in these few short days we often can provide a meaningful experience, but just think how much more meaningful it could be had we had a little head start.

Funerals are important; our society values the way in which we care for our dead. Our friends want and need a place to come—a place to offer kindness to the survivors, a place to sit and ponder the life that was lived, a place to feel secure to express one’s grief. We plan ahead for many big events in our lives; we plan for our wedding, buying our first home, our children’s education, family vacations and other significant life events. We even plan for unexpected traumatic events by purchasing home, auto, and medical insurance. Understanding the benefits of planning ahead has prompted many to take the next step in consulting a Funeral Director for guidance.

We believe it is important for EVERYONE to have a plan-no matter your age or your health status. For some, pre-paying for one’s funeral offers significant benefits as well. Please consider your preferred funeral director, give her a call and plan to spend a few minutes learning how you can have a GOOD funeral.

Suggested reading:
When the Sun Goes Down – A Serendipitous Guide to Planning Your Own Funeral by Betty Breuhaus (“A surprisingly delightful book on planning that final celebration of your life”)
The Good Funeral – Death, Grief, & the Community of Care by Thomas G. Long & Thomas Lynch

BEWARE: JOINT ACCOUNTS WITH YOUR CHILDREN CAN BE TRICKY!

Good estate planning should account for every possibility both prior to death and as a result of death. For example, what happens if the father dies first and mom is in a coma; what happens if both parents die at the same time, and then the minor children die; or just one parent plus the kids die or one child dies before the parent? There are all sorts of terrible tragedies and bad estate planning will compound any tragedy for a family.

There are advantages to having your children as joint owners of investment and bank accounts, as well as, real estate deeds. One advantage is on the death of one of the joint owners, the account or property automatically passes to the other joint owner thus avoiding probate and delay in access to the accounts. Additionally, in the event the parent becomes ill, suffers from dementia or incapacity, the child as joint owner would be able to pay bills and manage investments. Often the addition of children to bank accounts and real estate is for convenience, however the exposure to liability has greatly increased, with the addition of their name to the account.

There are several disadvantages to joint ownership in financial accounts and real estate property. First, the money in a joint account is now owned equally by the parent and child which means the child can draw out the entire balance of the account at any time for any reason. As much as parents trust children, circumstances in life may arise where the child uses the money in an unintended way, thereby putting their parent at risk.

Another disadvantage, includes creditors of all joint owners have access to these funds held in these accounts, as well as, the ability to place liens on real estate property jointly held. Therefore, putting a child’s name on a deed potentially opens your property, investment and bank accounts up to all current and future creditors of a child, including bankruptcy.

Another obstacle with joint ownership is how a parent intends to distribute the inheritance to their children after their death. If there is only one child and the parent’s desire is for the child to inherit everything, then joint accounts and joint ownership in real property would allow for easy transition of property and asset management. However, still taking into consideration the risk of your child’s creditor’s having access to these accounts and property while the parent is still alive. But if there are multiple children that a parent wants to inherit their estate equally, then you would have to put the children equally on all the accounts and property, again increasing the overall exposure to liability for the asset. The parent would need to be vigilant to ensure that each account is equal and this is next to impossible when you factor in unexpected future healthcare and long term care costs.

Therefore, planning for the unexpected, minimizing risk to seniors for their care needs and asset management and distribution is best done by utilizing a wide variety of planning tools such as durable powers of attorney, a revocable living trust, last will and testament and financial planning. Relying on joint ownership of property and assets by adding a child’s name to a deed, investment and banking accounts has limited advantages, increased risk and unexpected consequences of final distribution. Consulting with an Elder Law Attorney to assist in future planning for the unexpected is the best way to preserve your current and future assets.

AgeSmart would like to Thank Anita Ewing for this weeks blog.  Anita Ewing is an attorney with Harter, Larson & Dodd LLC whose offices are in Belleville and Mascoutah. The firm has an emphasis on intergenerational estate planning for people of all ages, and for the concerns of elders, those with special needs, and their families. This article is for information only and is not to serve as legal advice.