How to Prepare Seniors for Someone Else to Handle Their Financial Affairs
One area that few seniors prepare for is arranging for someone else to handle their financial affairs when they can no longer fully care for themselves. This is easy to put off, for three primary reasons.
First, there are a lot of difficult emotions involved with the thought of losing our cognitive ability and the inherent freedom to financially care for ourselves. This is something we have done for ourselves all our lives, so it’s very hard to imagine not being able to do so.
Second, for many of us the loss of cognitive ability is slow and almost unrecognizable. There isn’t an urgency that suggests we need to do anything soon. Often by the time we do realize we need help, it’s too late for us to arrange for it.
Finally, while we're in good health we tend not to consider the possibility of a sudden catastrophic health event. Yet such a crisis can leave us without a plan and no way in which to have any say in what happens.
Fortunately, if you are reading this you have time to prepare. The following information is based on the work of Carolyn McClanahan, MD, CFP, particularly a presentation given to the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors in May of 2016. She suggests the major questions to answer are:
- Who will be in charge?
- Are the right documents in place?
- How will you monitor your decline?
- Do you have a written investment policy?
- How will the transition occur?
Who will be in charge? Choosing a trusted third party to take over bill paying, investment management, and financial caretaking is essential. Options include a spouse, a child or other relative, a friend, a professional bookkeeper, or a financial planner. For couples, the odds are that both partners won't lose their ability to handle financial affairs at the same time. If one spouse handles most of the money matters, it's important that the noninvolved spouse becomes involved in the bill paying routine and understands the basics of the couple’s finances. If you are the caretaking or surviving spouse, or if you are single, designating a financial caretaker is crucial.
Are the right documents in place? The most important document is your power of attorney that names the person or organization who will be in charge of your finances. If the bulk of your net worth is in retirement accounts, annuities, and jointly owned, another option is to create a living trust, place everything you own individually in it, and identify the successor trustee who is in charge when you can no longer make decisions.
How will you monitor your decline? It’s important to have some written agreement in place—even if for no one but yourself—that lists the triggering events which will indicate to you the time has come to transfer the control to someone else. It’s up to you to determine what these triggers are and to self-assess every few years.
Do you have a written investment policy? And is it current? This is a good time to review your investment policy, making sure it’s been updated to reflect your changing cash flow needs and asset allocation. You might also evaluate your ownership of any complicated and illiquid assets like real estate or closely held business interests. It may be wise to simplify and liquidate them while you're still capable of managing them, before it's time to pass responsibility to a surrogate.
Once you've answered these four questions, it's time to consider the last step that I'll address next week: how the transition should take place.
What's an Investor to Do When History Doesn't Repeat Itself?
We’re in an era of extremes. It seems a day doesn’t go by without the word “historical” popping up in the financial news.
The equities market and consumer debt are at historical highs. Interest rates and high-yield credit spreads are at historical lows. We haven’t seen even a 5% pull-back in the market this year—for the first time since 1995—and the DJIA is exhibiting its narrowest trading range in history. These are indeed historical times. And whether this fact has you filled with extreme optimism or extreme pessimism, you have some important decisions to make going forward.
There are theories about how we landed in this particular era of extremes, and most are rooted in the significant changes that have impacted both how we live and how we invest. At the top of the list are globalization, automation, and the largest aging population in history (yet another “historical” to add to the list). It’s said that the most dangerous words in investing are, “it’s different this time,” yet one has to wonder if, in fact, it really is different this time. Not just because of the historical market highs. After all, there always has been and always will be a new market high waiting around the corner. What’s different today is the sheer number and confluence of these extreme highs and lows—and their duration. It’s a situation no investor has experienced before, which can make these waters feel pretty daunting. History repeats itself, and investment strategies are largely built on that conviction. But what do we do when it doesn’t? When history fails to repeat itself, how can investors plan for tomorrow with confidence that they are positioned to protect their assets and gain a reasonable level of yield?
The first step is to recognize that, at least in many ways, the investment landscape really is different this time around. All you have to do is look at the numbers to be sure of that fact. And the catalysts I mentioned before—globalization, automation, and the aging population—aren’t going anywhere. If anything, the impact of each will only grow as time moves on. What that means is that there’s no way to predict what’s coming next. The only thing we know for certain is that predictability is a thing of the past (if it ever really existed at all). The result: you need to approach your portfolio differently than you ever have before.
Your goal, of course, is to find return given a risk tolerance. Current yield is an important part of total return and getting it is an elusive proposition in today’s market. If, like many people, you’re less than confident that the four major sectors that currently drive the equities market—healthcare, discretionary, tech, and financial—are poised to continue to rise at even close to recent rates, it may be wise to seek out alternatives to help drive yield without adding more risk to the equation.
But if alternatives are the wise path forward, which alternatives are the best options?
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Business Development Companies (BDCs), and energy stocks, traditionally the favored “non-correlated alternatives,” defied expectations when the stock market crashed in 2008, inconveniently revealing high correlations just as the equities market began its freefall. Anyone who was invested in these alternatives at the time knows all too well the devastating impact “non-correlated investments” can have on a portfolio, especially when they fail to do their job when it matters most.
Luckily, there is one alternative that can be counted on to remain uncorrelated to the traditional financial markets and, ultimately, deliver that precious yield: life insurance-based investments. And because this asset is literally built on one of the irreversible catalysts of change, the aging Baby Boomer population, owning life insurance may in fact be the ideal alternative to help investors generate non-correlated returns, regardless of where the market turns next. Even better, these investments typically deliver those returns with very low volatility.
What makes life insurance different is that, unlike typical alternative vehicles, secondary life insurance returns aren’t based on the economy. Instead, they are inherently non-correlated because returns are based solely on the longevity of the individual insureds.
As much as we would all love for the bull market to continue on its merry way, one thing history does tell us even today is that a bear market will come. It’s only a matter of when. As you strive to hedge your portfolios and prepare for the inevitable, life insurance-based investments are one tool that can help you achieve the three things you need most: diversification, low volatility, and yield.
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