My loved one passed away. What now? A financial advisor may be a valuable resource.

 

Roxanne Alexander

Roxanne Alexander, CAIA, CFP®, AIF®, ADPA® Senior Financial Advisor

My dad recently passed away, and a month prior, a very dear client passed away. Both left their spouses to handle the finances, and although they left their affairs organized, extensive detective work was still necessary. Once the initial shock of losing someone subsides and the ceremonial procedures are over—what do you do now financially? After losing a best friend and loved one, thinking about money and handling the red tape required by financial institutions may be the last thing someone wants to face. In the best cases, it can take months to navigate through insurance policies, trusts, wills, bill payments and account transfers to beneficiaries. Tremendous pressure is lifted off the family when they have someone they can trust to reach out to—which could be a financial advisor.

Knowing the total picture

A family working with a financial advisor when a loved one passes away has several advantages. Financial planners and advisors usually know the total financial picture and may have clues to accounts of which you may be unaware. For example, another client who recently passed away had several annuities bought 30 years ago that were held at various insurance companies. The trustees of the trust had no prior details on these policies, so working with those annuity companies was very time consuming and difficult, as each company had their own requirements. One company wanted original documents and another accepted faxed copies, one wanted a long-form death certificate and another accepted photo copies, while some companies required a letter of acceptance for qualified account rollovers. Since the trustees worked long hours, it was hard for them to find the time to spend on the phone with the insurance companies navigating all the paperwork. A financial advisor knows the right questions to ask, which can speed up the process considerably.

The advisor may also be familiar with family dynamics—in some cases the client may have discussed personal matters about the family, such as one child not being financially responsible or wanting gifting to continue to a certain charity, which may help the surviving family members make decisions.

Knowing the technology

My mom inherited a bank account abroad—not only did she not speak the language, but that bank’s technology was very complex and required several passwords and barcodes. This was confusing for her, and having someone to walk her through the process was very helpful.

A cellphone or computer can be a valuable resource—it contains a plethora of information such as emails, passwords and other financial information. Having the deceased’s cellphone or computer can be crucial for logging in to accounts, resetting passwords, etc. Information in emails can also give clues to other accounts and bills that need to be cancelled. While working with one client, we realized there were several apps on the spouse’s phone that needed to be cancelled to avoid a monthly fee. It is important to keep in mind that although the intentions may be good, accessing these devices without permission could cause potential liability. It makes sense to talk to an estate attorney about what should be in place in advance before taking this approach. Having a legal document in place allowing you to access the phone, email, social media and other financial accounts of a deceased love one may prevent any potential legal disputes. Another option could be to discuss passwords beforehand, but accessing someone’s account after that person has passed away may also have legal ramifications.

Knowing the process

An advisor can help you through the process of dealing with retirement accounts, pension companies and insurance companies, as this can be confusing when it comes to rolling accounts over to the beneficiary due to the complex tax and transfer rules. Advisors have experience in what to look for and can facilitate the process more quickly, avoiding issues the client would not have expected.

Advisors can act as a liaison between family members. They can explain the process and expectations with respect to time and requirements by account custodians. The advisor can be a neutral third party that can discuss the best course of action between beneficiaries. Consulting a professional can ensure that accounts are set up correctly, avoiding potential tax penalties or premature tax payments. Discussions with beneficiaries regarding the best course of action could save them time and money in the long term—for example, issues like taking a lump sum versus leaving the account invested or knowing the tax consequences if they liquidate the account.

Many advisors will gladly work with heirs to open new accounts as a courtesy to the client. In many cases, retirement accounts must be split at the current custodian before they can be moved. IRAs and inherited IRAs have complicated account rules for tax purposes, so correct accounts should be opened to avoid any type of tax penalty.

 

Knowing the professionals

The financial advisor may have relationships with the client’s CPA, estate attorney and insurance agents. A client may change estate attorneys and not inform the beneficiaries, but the advisor may still have several revisions of the estate documents and beneficiary update forms on file. Financial advisors can also work as a team with the other professionals to brainstorm the most efficient plan for taxes and future estate planning. The advisor can coordinate obtaining trust tax IDs, facilitate the update of estate documents with the attorney or make sure any trust accounting is in place after consulting with the CPA.

Planning for the future

A financial advisor can reevaluate your risk tolerance, goals and expenses going forward, especially if your financial plan was created when you were married. Usually the portfolio is anchored to the spouse with the lower risk tolerance. Have the goals changed? Have the expenses changed? Should the portfolio still be invested in the same allocation?

Links to other related blogs:

Navigating the Death of a Loved One

Estate Planning for Online Accounts & Digital Media

Estate Planning Proceed with Caution

 

Feel free to contact Roxanne Alexander with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 236 or email: RAlexander@EK-FF.com

For more information on financial planning visit our website at www.EK-FF.com.

What Constitutes the Art of Practicing Financial Planning?

The below chapter is from “The Art of Practicing and the Art of Communication in Financial Planning” (Click here to purchase the book.)

Matt McGrath

Matthew McGrath, CFP® Managing Partner Wealth Manager

Why would one use the word “art” when describing the practice of financial planning?  The most highly qualified planners have gone through rigorous education and testing in order to acquire licenses and certifications.  They use a methodical process to establish the client-planner relationship.  This process includes gathering data, analyzing and evaluating the client’s status, developing and presenting recommendations; as well as implementing and monitoring those recommendations.  They use sophisticated software to run complicated analyses and they stay abreast of laws and regulations affecting a wide array of financial issues.  Where is the art?

The art of practicing financial planning can be found when professionals deploy a fundamentally sound process while injecting experience and judgment to develop advice in the best interest of the client.  Financial planning involves altering human behavior which presents unique challenges each and every single time.  It includes navigating an ever-changing body of knowledge and applying it to individual circumstances in order to arrive at a recommendation appropriate at that point in time.

Let’s start with the people.  At its core, financial planning is a “people” business.  Clients are looking to planners to guide them on some of the most important decisions of their lives.  Establishing trust and maintaining effective communication are crucial to the successful execution of the financial planning process.  Being technically proficient (i.e. “book smart”) does not necessarily translate to successful advice.  The ability to communicate the relevant details to clients in a way they understand and embrace is the key to effective planning.  Successful financial planners channel their inner teacher to convey facts, figures and details in a way that is easy to comprehend.  Many clients are intimidated by financial matters, and it takes skill to break through those emotional barriers and establish a level of comfort.

Of course, before attempting to communicate any advice, a good planner needs to start by listening to their client.  Understanding what is truly important to a client is crucial to establishing trust and rapport.  The last thing a client wants to hear is generic advice regurgitated from a book; they can find the information in countless places using any internet connected device.  What they want is someone who understands their personal concerns and goals and develops recommendations specific to them.  If a planner is doing all the talking in client meetings, then I would argue that they are not engaging in true financial planning.  Listening must always come first.  Meetings should involve meaningful two-way conversations, not a one-way presentation.

Keep in mind, when working with people, every situation is unique and emotions play a big part in the process.  People do not always behave in a rational manner.  It is not unusual for a client to come to tears during a meeting.  Money, finances and the future can be very emotional topics.  Therefore, the right advice on an issue may not necessarily be the one with the maximum financial outcome.  Client biases, fears and preconceptions can all have an influence on the ultimate advice.  A good planner will try to guide the client to a rational decision, but also has to acknowledge that a client needs to be able to live with the outcome.  Empathy is critical, as is the ability to interpret and understand the motivations of each client in order to develop advice appropriate for them.  The “people” side of financial planning can be very complicated and the ability to interact with others is a necessary ingredient in the art of practicing financial planning.

It is also essential to understand that financial planning is a journey, not a destination.  Changes occur every day.  Planners deal with a wide array of issues such as marriage, divorce, recessions, market crashes, retirement and, sadly, death.  Successful planning keeps up with these changes by adapting to the new circumstances in a way that keeps the client on the path to accomplish their goals.  Success is not measured by dollars or annual rates of return; nor is it defined by the creation of a beautiful comprehensive financial plan that goes in a drawer never to be seen again.  Rather, it is defined by the ongoing achievement of goals throughout one’s life.  It is an organic process that, for each client, takes on a life of its own.

The planning process often involves evaluating questions that have more than one potential answer.  Part of the art of financial planning involves evaluating those answers and helping someone choose the best one for their personal situation.  At the end of the day, the planner’s objective is to enable clients to make informed decisions.  I once had a client ask me if he should take his kids out of private school and I told him that’s not my call.  I can walk through his financial plan with him and help him understand the consequences of different decisions.  But in the end, the clients need to take ownership of their decisions and their lives.  Planners who cross this line are doing a disservice to their clients and robbing them of their true financial freedom.  A planner’s role is not to tell someone what they should do; it is to empower them to make appropriate decisions within the context of their unique lives.

The art of practicing financial planning exists in the less tangible aspects of the process.  This involves listening, assessing, analyzing, communicating and ultimately recommending a course of action.  Experience, judgment, trust and communication are crucial to the successful implementation of a financial plan.  Information is everywhere, but knowing what to do with it to help an individual achieve their specific goals is absolutely a form of art.  Like other forms of art, it is predicated on an underlying body of knowledge that must be successfully interpreted and executed under specific circumstances.  And like good artists, good planners will be greatly appreciated by their clients.

Feel free to contact Matt McGrath with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 206 or email: MMcGrath@EK-FF.com

Navigating the Death of a Loved One

Josh Mungavin

Josh Mungavin CFP®,  Principal, Wealth Manager

Click Here to download a PDF of this check-list.

The death of a loved one can be devastating and emotionally overwhelming. Over the coming weeks and months, you will be faced with unfamiliar but important decisions. Employ the help of loved ones and trusted advisors to assist with these responsibilities. Please remember that many people, such as family, friends, and professional and spiritual advisors, are here to support you and allow you to focus on the most immediately important issue — the well-being of yourself and your family.

Unfortunately, you will almost certainly encounter financial or other decisions that require urgent attention. This guide will help you organize and prioritize matters that are in direct need of resolution and suspend those issues that can wait until you are personally better prepared to overcome challenges that now seems daunting. We want to encourage you to give this list to anyone it may be able to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Josh Mungavin and Evensky & Katz / Foldes Financial Wealth Management at (305) 448-8882 or jmungavin@ek-ff.com, if you have any questions or if you have any suggested changes/additions to this document that you think may help improve navigating other families through this difficult time.

Within the First 48 Hours

  • Arrange care. Should the deceased have dependents, pets, or a need for security at his or her premises, establish who will tend to these responsibilities.

 

  • Keep records and notes. Keep a log with detailed notes of people you speak to, including their contact information and pertinent conversations regarding your loved one’s passing. This will help the process proceed smoothly and completely. Keep all receipts! You may also find it helpful to keep records of people who lend assistance or send gifts, flowers, cards, donations, or food to your home so you can thank these supporters at a later time.
    • You may find it helpful to keep all post-death matters in a dedicated account or find a way to separate these expenses in order to maintain organized records to settle the estate.

 

  • Provide notice. Those you wish to contact may include family, friends, employer, executor, powers of attorney, or religious advisors.
    • Lean on family during this time. Allow others to help you make the decisions that follow in the days and months to come; you do not have to take on all duties alone.

 

  • Locate documents.
    • The deceased’s attorney, CPA, or financial planner may be an invaluable resource in helping to locate documents such as deeds, titles, tax returns, will, and estate plan.
    • Remember to consider where the deceased typically kept important papers such as a safe-deposit box, file folder, or electronic storage device.
    • Other helpful or necessary documents are the birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, etc. Hopefully you can easily access an Emergency Binder that the deceased had compiled.

 

  • Refer to the deceased’s wishes. Consult any wishes the deceased may have provided for his or her passing such as organ donation, cremation, or location of burial, which you can also find in the documents section of his or her Emergency Binder.

 

  • Preparing for the remembrance. Depending on the detail of instruction left, the initial matters may be left to your discretion. These include:
    • Bereavement leave may be available from your employer. If so, notify your employer and arrange for care of children and pets in order to give yourself time to focus on the arrangements that need to be made.
    • Prepare and arrange for an obituary for those who would like to pay their last respects.
      • Depending on the known wishes of the deceased, you may indicate that donations to a specific charity can be made in lieu of flowers or other gifts.
    • If the deceased didn’t document his or her wishes for final resting, with the assistance of family and friends, contact funeral homes and plan final arrangements. Set up appointments to research various funeral home options to evaluate and compare services and costs.
      • Be aware that funeral homes can vary drastically in cost and funeral costs often are shockingly high. If you feel uncomfortable with a decision, do not feel rushed or pushed into deciding. Just sign nothing, walk away, and either ask for the assistance of a loved one or take time to think before deciding. It may help to ask around to see how other peoples’ experiences have been with specific funeral homes.
    • Check for potential VA burial benefits. Veterans may be eligible for funeral benefits that can drastically reduce cost, such as burial at a national cemetery or financial assistance toward burial elsewhere.
    • If your loved one was a veteran, please visit the website http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp and follow the instructions provided. This website will go into further detail about the claim process. You will notice there are different burial compensations the surviving spouse, children, or executor may or may not be eligible for, so read carefully. The heirs will need to locate the veteran’s original or certified copy of the DD-214, Award Letter (list of service/nonservice connected disabilities), and username and password for eBenefits (applying through eBenefits is the most efficient way to file a claim), an original death certificate, and a funeral receipt that has the veteran’s name on it. If you cannot locate the eBenefits information or have any other questions, please contact your local VA Disabled American Veterans office (DAV) to help you file a burial claim.
      • Steps if you have the eBenefits information:
        • Visit the eBenefits homepage at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/homepage and log in.
        • Click on Apply for Benefits.
        • Scroll to the bottom and open burial benefits to start the claim process.
        • NOTE: The burial compensation is a reimbursement and depending on if the circumstances of the death (service or nonservice-connected), the benefits will only cover a portion of the funeral expenses. The reimbursement process could take up to six months.

 

  • Be cautious of cost. Final resting arrangements can prove costly. Carry a note pad during this time to keep a current accounting of cost; many services will ask for a deposit in advance. If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable with deciding immediately, do not feel forced into any decisions, especially a potentially costly one; take your time and ask a trusted advisor for assistance.
    • PLEASE BE AWARE: When financial institutions obtain proof of death, in almost all cases, the institution will freeze the assets owned by the deceased, so plan accordingly.

 

  • Temporary death certificates. Official death certificates can take a few weeks or months to receive. Temporary certificates are sufficient to deal with many pressing matters. An official copy, however, will likely be required to process insurance claims. Ask the funeral director to assist you with this matter. The funeral home also has the ability to prepare and issue a statement of death; obtain at least ten of these as well.

 

Within the First Week

  • Household Matters.
    • All expenses such as mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance must remain current if the deceased owns real estate. If no one is living in the house for the immediate future, it may be sensible to suspend unused services and utilities.
      • Should your family be faced with the decision to sell assets, you may choose to consult an attorney first.
    • Check the deceased’s mail for items that may require immediate attention.

 

  • Contact the Deceased’s Employer. Collect all belongings that may remain at the work place and inquire about outstanding wages and group insurance plans.
    • If the deceased was self-employed, locate related ownership documents and arrange for short-term business continuation. The deceased’s business partners or attorney may be able to help facilitate this transition.

 

  • Evaluate Contents of Safe-Deposit Box. Assets held in this fashion should be distributed to the intended beneficiary quickly, as the printed death notice will trigger a hold on the contents to be used to satisfy debts of the deceased’s estate. Should you not be an authorized key holder or you are unable to access the box, you may need to petition the court to issue an order to open the box if it contains important documents.
    • Although creditors of the deceased must be paid, do not pay for or sign anything without obtaining a professional opinion on the matter.

 

  • Take Care of Yourself. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. Find a way to rest; everyone must grieve in his or her own way and on his or her own time.

 

Within the First Month

  • Official Death Certificates. Order a minimum of ten — but as many as twenty is advisable — original certified copies of the deceased’s death certificate. You will be asked for an official death certificate in countless instances such as transferring bank accounts or safe-deposit boxes, transferring title to vehicles and real estate, claiming insurance proceeds, redeeming investable assets, and filing final tax returns. The funeral home can ensure the forms are filed with the state. Your state’s vital statistics office can help you obtain as many duplicates as needed, for a fee.

 

  • Submit the Will to Probate. An estate attorney can assist you with submitting the will to probate or state district court. Because probate is governed by state law, states vary on the permitted time period for filing, but often this must be done within thirty days following death.
    • If a will exists, identify the executor to distribute the property and assist with other instructions for the estate.
  • If the party died intestate (without a will), state law will often govern who can manage the distribution of the estate.
  • Probate does not encompass those assets that are owned by a trust, held as property of tenants-in-common, or pass by operation of law. Consult your attorney regarding assets not included in the probate process, but common examples are:
    • life insurance proceeds,
    • retirement accounts that have named beneficiaries, pension distributions, and unpaid wages,
    • trust-owned property,
    • assets specified as transfer-on-death (TOD) or payable-on-death (POD), or
    • property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, community property with right of survivorship, or tenants by the entirety with a spouse.

 

  • Life Insurance. Remember that proceeds from life insurance are probably not part of the probate process. Often, collecting death benefits can be as simple as completing the necessary claims forms and submitting them with an original or certified copy of the death certificate. Each company will have a slightly different process for claiming death benefits. Therefore, attached you will find a letter template that you can use to notify the insurance company of the death and request specific instructions on how to properly file the claim.
    • If you are unsure of a potential group policy provided by an employer, you may need to contact companies in the deceased’s employment history to inquire. Additionally, in the case of a group policy, you will find a sample letter attached to use for your convenience.
  • Medical Bills. If an ailment preceded the passing of your loved one, health insurance may cover part or all of the medical costs. Begin by contacting the business office at the hospital or clinic where he or she was treated and request outstanding balances. Then compare bank records and insurance to determine which have been reimbursed or paid. Reconciling all billing and payment information will help in completing the required claim documents.
  • Discontinue Amenities. Cancel those services that are no longer necessary or were only utilized by the deceased (e.g., cable and Internet service or gym, club, or fraternity memberships) while continuing certain services (e.g., electricity, water, or lawn service) that may be necessary to maintain his or her property.
  • Social Security. Contact the Social Security Administration at ssa.gov or 800.772.1213 to report the death and file for survivor benefits. Additional or different benefits may be available for the surviving spouse or minor children. You must, however, contact the Social Security office to request information as these benefits are not automatically issued. Be sure to have Social Security numbers on hand before calling and, should you qualify for benefits, it may be necessary to make an appointment to visit the Social Security office. Be sure to get explicit instructions on what you will need to bring with you to your appointment. The funeral director will often inform the Social Security office of your loved one’s passing as the Social Security Administration needs to know as soon as possible to ensure the relatives of the deceased receive all benefits to which they are entitled. Keep in mind that not all survivors are eligible for benefits, so do not accept benefits that you are not certain about after the death of your loved one.
  • Notify Financial and Lending Institutions. (The following will all likely require a death certificate and letters testamentary.)
    • Pension administrators; be sure to ask about specific survivor benefits of which you may not be aware.
    • Banks, savings, and investment institutions and custodians (notification needs to be provided for all joint and individually-owned accounts).
      • Be aware that the contents of these accounts may be frozen, so you should plan accordingly so as to avoid the need for such funds.
      • New accounts in the names of the heirs will likely be required.
    • Credit card companies
      • Occasionally credit cards offer accidental death insurance which will relieve any outstanding balance upon the cardholder’s death.
    • Mortgage or other debt obligations
      • Debts are now the responsibility of the estate and outstanding balances must be paid utilizing the assets of the estate. In the case of a married survivor, the debts often transfer to the surviving spouse, so consult an attorney with questions about potential creditor claims and protection.
    • If the deceased’s child is at a university, the school may be able to offer different financial aid options due to the change in circumstances.

 

Within the First Three Months

  • Notify credit bureaus, the Veterans’ Administration (if you have not done so already for burial benefits), and other government agencies for potential death benefits.
    • Credit bureaus: it is a good idea to request a copy of the descendant’s credit report and notify each entity of the individual’s passing. If the Social Security Administration has been notified of the passing, his or her Social Security number will be flagged to help prevent identity theft.
      • Equifax,
      • Experian, or
      • Trans Union
    • Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license.

 

  • File Final Tax Returns. An estate attorney or accountant can help you with filing the deceased’s final state and federal tax returns. Final tax returns are typically due within nine months of the date of death.
  • Evaluate Your Financial and Estate Situation. If not already resolved with the estate or probate proceedings, now is the time to approach potentially selling real or personal assets. Should you decide to keep real estate or other titled assets, you will need a death certificate to transfer the assets into the new owner’s name. This process may begin by evaluating and cataloging what the deceased owned.
    • For all assets that you will retain, such as real property, vehicles, or valuable personal property, you will need to transfer the insurance on those items to the new owner’s name. Occasionally, the insurance company will not allow changes to the owner of the policy but instead will require an entirely new policy.
      • The estate executor may need to catalog and appraise certain assets within ninety days of death to distribute on behalf of the estate.
    • Meet with your financial advisors and lawyers. Review all aspects of your own estate such as your estate plan, will, inheritance, financial needs, and investment options.
    • Try to organize your affairs to the best of your ability to help the next generation deal with your passing.
  • Send thank-you notes to those who have supported you since the loss of your loved one.

 

Other sources of helpful information include:

  1. County Clerk’s office for birth and marriage certificates
  2. National Personnel Record Center (for military discharge records)

https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/

https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/index.html

314-801-0800

  1. Department of Veterans’ Affairs

http://www.va.gov/

800-827-1000

Feel free to contact Josh Mungavin CFP®, CRC® with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 219 or email: JMungavin@EK-FF.com.

 

Advisors: Who’s Who Anyway?

HRE PR Pic 2013

If you decide you’d like to get some professional advice, it would probably be nice to have some idea where to begin.

 

John Smith (JS): Hello, Harold.

Harold Evensky (HE): Hi, and who am I speaking with?

JS: I’m John Smith, a reporter with the Florida Times Journal Gazette. I need a sentence or two on who provides investment advice to consumers.

HE: A sentence or two? This is a pretty big topic. It’s often confusing even to us professionals.

JS: Maybe you can give me the gist of it.

HE: Well, I guess we could start with professionals known as money managers. They’re the people who know all about picking stocks and bonds. They may not know what kinds of stocks or bonds you should be buying or even if you should be invested in stocks or bonds at all, but if you need to make those investments, money managers are the experts to hire.

JS: Okay. Where would you go to find these people?

HE: For most investors, the best place to find an experienced money manager is a mutual fund.

JS: A what?

HE: If you’re a financial reporter, you must have heard of them. They’re portfolios of stocks or bonds or international stocks or sometimes other assets, sometimes in combination, managed by some of the world’s best money managers. They might not know a thing about you, the actual investor, but the better ones sure know about their portfolio.

JS: Okay, so I hire one of those—

HE: You don’t want just one. You need to diversify sectors and styles. The good news is you can hire lots of these managers, each one a specialist in a different area of the economy: one for big U.S. companies, another to pick stocks in small U.S. companies, a third to find you the best foreign stocks, and then others who specialize in government bonds, or municipal bonds, or different flavors of corporate bonds. When you check out those managers, keep an eye out for a CFA designation. That stands for Chartered Financial Analyst and is an internationally respected credential for money managers.

JS: I see. Okay. I want to thank you—

HE: Wait. That’s only one of many types of professionals you may need.

JS: What else could I want?

HE: Knowing how to pick stocks and bonds is terrific, but for individuals the most important question is how you decide how much to invest in stocks versus bonds.

JS: The money manager won’t help me with that?

HE: That’s the job of the expert known as the financial planner. That’s a professional who is educated and experienced in helping individuals—such as your readers—make good financial decisions.

JS: Let me write this down. This is good stuff. So how does this financial planner decide if I should be in whatever those international or small things were?

HE: Financial planners follow a six-step process to help advice their clients. A credentialing body called the CFP Board of Standards—which I chaired some years back—defines this process. Basically it means that the financial planner gathers your personal and financial data, helps you define your goals, and analyzes where you are today financially. Only then will this person make recommendations and give you alternatives. When do you want to retire? What kind of lifestyle do you want to be able to afford when you do?

JS: And then I hire the money manager?

HE: Again, it’s not manager but managers, and, yes, you could hire them on your own. However, with thousands of choices, most investors are better served letting a professional do the hiring for them. The financial planner will usually recommend a portfolio that will include several money managers in which he or she has confidence, in various investment sectors. Then the planner will monitor your progress toward your goals and watch over the money managers to make sure they’re doing the best possible job for you.

JS: I’m not totally sure I understand the difference.

HE: The money manager is an expert on portfolios, but doesn’t know a thing about you. For example, are you in a low or high tax bracket?

JS: I think I’m in a low one.

HE: Do you already have other investments that might overlap with the money manager’s stocks? Do you need current cash flow from the investments? Are you comfortable with market volatility?

JS: Even I don’t know the answer to these questions.

HE: The financial planner helps you understand and answer these questions. I could go on and on, but you get the point. It’s the financial planner—the expert on people’s financial needs—who will know all of that and much more about you.

JS: Do these financial planners also get the CFA designation?

HE: No, that’s the professional designation for a money manager. In my opinion, the certified financial planner (CFP®) credential represents financial planning’s highest standard. A professional holding the CFP mark has demonstrated not only knowledge of investments and planning but also an ability to apply that knowledge for your benefit.

JS: Does that mean that you’re a CFP planner?

HE: Yes. But in fairness, there are two other respected credentials in the profession: the insurance industry’s ChFC (chartered financial consultant) and the accounting profession’s PFS (personal financial specialist).

JS: I think I have more than my two sentences. If there’s anything else—

HE: There’s a lot else.

JS: [Sigh.]

HE: Tell me about it. It’s amazingly confusing for the poor consumer. Other types of designations reflect statutory registration or licensing requirements.

JS: Licensing? You mean like a licensed hair stylist?

HE: Some of these are actually sales licenses. Examples are the Series 7 licenses, which are required for advisors who earn commissions for selling investments, and the RIA (Registered Investment Advisor), a registration required of individuals who charge fees for providing investment advice. Depending on the business model used, a professional might be registered as an investment advisor as well as holding a securities license.

JS: I hope we’re finished. Please tell me we’re finished.

HE: Well, we haven’t actually talked about what kind of professional I happen to be.

JS: Sigh. Which is?

HE: A wealth manager. The term wealth manager, as we use it, was introduced in a book, by that same name that I wrote for other professionals in the late 1990s. I defined it as a financial planning professional whose business specializes in a client’s needs regarding investment and retirement planning.

JS: So that means you are—

HE: I’m a CFP licensee, and my firm is a financial planning firm specializing in what we call wealth management.

JS: I don’t think any sane person could keep track of all this.

HE: If you have to remember only one thing, then understand that current laws do not ensure that all professionals providing investment advice are looking out for your best interests.

JS: Don’t I want somebody serving my best interests? I don’t want to pay somebody to convince me to buy something that earns more for their company than it does for me.

HE: Now you’re getting it.

JS: So what do I do?

HE: If you want my best advice, no matter who you ultimately select to guide you, your best protection is to ask the advisor to sign a simple, “mom-and-pop” commitment acknowledging that they’re really looking out for your best interest.

JS: Can you send me a copy?

HE: I will. Be sure and use it for your own protection.

And I did. Below is the document I sent.

 

I believe in placing your best interests first. Therefore, I am proud to commit to the following five principles:

  1. I will always put your best interests first.
  2. I will act with prudence—with the skill, care, diligence, and good judgment of a professional.
  3. I will not mislead you, and I will provide conspicuous, full, and fair disclosure of all important facts.
  4. I will avoid conflicts of interest.
  5. I will fully disclose and fairly manage, in your favor, any unavoidable conflicts.

Advisor____________________________

This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.

Important Questions For Advisors

Steve Foldes

Steven Foldes, CFP®, JD, CMFC Vice Chairman

After a lengthy first meeting with a prospective client, whom we will call Beverly, she said to me, “Thanks for all of that information, Steve, but as I mentioned at the outset I want to meet other advisors in the area so I can compare and contrast and make the best possible choice.” I told Beverly that I applauded her decision to interview a number of financial advisors so she could understand what they do, how they do it, whose interests are being served, and how (as well as how much) they are compensated. Beverly then asked me to make a list of questions that I thought would be the most important when selecting the best possible advisor or advisory firm. I thought it would be a helpful exercise for all investors seeking a trusted advisor to ask the questions which would help them make the best possible decision. Below is the list I gave Beverly to help her feel confident in her search to select the very best advisor and advisory firm for her needs. I believe that any investor should ask these questions before entering into an advisory relationship.

Important Questions to ask of any Financial Advisor

1. Are you a fiduciary? In other words, are you legally obligated to put your client’s best interests first, ahead of all other interests? Our industry is rather unique, in that there is more than one standard of care used by the financial services industry. Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are required to operate under a fiduciary standard, putting their client’s interests ahead of their own. However, the brokerage world has another standard known as “suitability.” This lower standard holds that as long as the investment is “suitable” for the client’s needs, then that is sufficient. That is to say, the investment may not be the best or the most cost effective, but as long as the advisor deems it to be “suitable,” then the standard is met. In other words, it enables the advisor to be a financial salesperson, as opposed to one who can be trusted to put the client’s best interests first.

2. How do you charge for your services and how much do you charge? In the financial services industry, there are two main methods of compensation. One is a fee for service, typically based upon the assets under management. The other is commission. Since different products carry different commission rates, and human nature being what it is, there is the possibility of a conflict of interest. In this case, it must be asked whether the interests of the client and advisor are aligned, or is there a conflict of interest from the outset of the relationship?

3. What licenses, credentials, or other certifications do you have? How long have you been a financial advisor, and how long have you been with this firm? Personally, how many clients do you work with, and what is the total assets that you manage? Are you an owner of the firm? These questions are critical in assessing the education and experience of the advisor, not to mention how much time the advisor has to work with his or her clients. Finally, being an owner of the firm is important because owners typically stay with a firm longer while employees often leave, and the last thing a client wants is to follow an advisor who is jumping from one firm to another because of better compensation opportunities.

4. Do you provide comprehensive financial planning and retirement planning services, or are you simply an investment advisor that provides advice exclusively on my investments? Will you be looking at my financial situation “holistically” to provide the best kind of financial advice? If you do financial planning, could I see a sample financial plan?

5. What types of clients do you specialize in, such as retirees, professionals, small business owners, corporate executives, younger people who have recently sold their businesses, athletes, those with inherited wealth, et cetera? It is important to know if the advisor has a special expertise serving a specific niche.

6. What is your investment approach? In other words, please outline your methodology for constructing a portfolio consistent with my goals and objectives, risk and return parameters, and cash flow requirements from the portfolio. If you use mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, what would be the expected “expense ratio” of the funds used in my portfolio? Expense ratios relate to the cost of the mutual funds and exchange-traded funds used in the portfolio. If you use individual stocks, what is the methodology of stock selection? Is it something the advisor does, or do selections come from the home office? As to performance, what is the expected return of my portfolio over the longer term, and has the portfolio been stress-tested to show what I would lose during periods of substantial market volatility, such as 2000–2003 and 2007–2009?

7. How much contact do you have with your clients? How often will we be speaking/meeting to get updates on what is happening with my plan and portfolio specifically, as well as with the markets in general?

8. Will I be working only with you, or have you established a team to work with me? What happens to my account if you move to another firm or retire/die?

9. Who holds or maintains custody of my investments? Is there an independent third party to hold the investments, or are checks written to the advisor or advisory firm? No one thought Bernie Madoff was a thief, so having a firewall between the client and the advisory firm is a very good idea.

10. What about reporting? Is there online access to a secure web portal that puts together all the accounts that can be viewed daily? How often is performance reported to the client? Is there a formal structure set up to report the performance and meet with the advisor?

11. Can I get referrals from existing clients? Having these referrals and understanding the client experience from others in the community says a lot about meeting expectations

12. What makes your client experience unique? Are you really the trusted advisor I seek? Do you provide guidance and advice on things other than investments, such as buying vs. renting a home and home financing options, or buying vs. leasing a car and auto financing options? Is insurance part of the offering? If so, is it sold with a commission to the advisor, or is insurance something that the advisor consults on and avoids the product sale? What about guidance in estate planning, taxes, and setting up different kinds of retirement plans (e.g., defined benefit plans, 401(k) plans) and other ways of setting aside more money for retirement? If this is not done in-house, does the advisor assist with these topics? In essence, does the advisor serve as the quarterback of a comprehensive financial team?  

I told Beverly to take notes during her meetings, and have the prospective advisor answer each and every one of these questions in detail. In that way, she could truly make an informed comparison with all the others she would be interviewing. Happily, after Beverly interviewed several other CFP® practitioners and representatives from several brokerage houses, she selected our firm!

I hope that the list of questions above can help investors like Beverly make better and more informed decisions when looking for the right financial advisor based on their particular circumstances.

Feel free to contact Steve Foldes with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 240 or email: SFoldes@EK-FF.com 

Are Target Date Funds Really on Target?

Temp Head Shot of MW

Michael Walsh CFP® Senior Financial Analyst

Currently there are millions of different investments that people can choose when it comes time for them to create their own unique portfolio. Since financial markets were created, we have seen a multitude of new investments come and go. The important thing to remember is that investments will always be evolving. With the introduction of mutual funds early in the twentieth century, investors now had a way to diversify their holdings and as the old saying goes, “not have all their eggs in one basket.” Looking back, we know those early funds were still subject to market risk and there is no investment that is entirely risk free. In the early 1990s fund companies started introducing the concept of a target date fund that they hoped would revolutionize the way people invest.

Target date funds, also known as glide path funds, shift their allocation over time from higher equity exposure toward larger fixed-income holdings as the fund reaches its maturity. For example, if I were to own a 2035 target date fund in my portfolio, I might have 60% equity and 40% fixed income as my fund allocation. Each year we march toward 2035, the portfolio management team will take equity off the table and invest more in fixed income. So, in 2025 my target date allocation might be 70% fixed income and 30% equities. Today many qualified plans offer target date funds as part of their overall investment menu to participants. Many of these funds are quite good and their investment philosophies and processes are sound. The issue that I have is that many people by default set their target date to the year in which they intend to retire.

As we have seen, with medical advancements and lifestyle changes people have been living increasingly longer. As Harold Evensky points out in his book The New Wealth Management, “65-year old males and females have at least a 50 percent chance of living to 85 or 88 years, respectively, or 8 to 10 years longer than their life expectancy at birth.” Harold goes on to say, “A married couple has a 50% chance that at least one of them will survive until age 91. There is a 25 percent chance that one of them will survive until 96.” These statistics show that individuals or married couples will live a substantial life beyond retirement which they must fund. Using a target date fund that will have an extremely high fixed income position when they turn 65 might not be the best option for a large part of their portfolio. People at that age tend not to want rapid growth in their investments but rather a smoother ride producing returns to sustain their lifestyle. The issue people often forget about is the predator that will attack their cash and fixed-income holdings. This predator is called inflation.

Inflation, also known as purchasing power risk, will increase the price of all goods that we buy on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. If your portfolio is not keeping up with inflation each year, you are losing your ability to pay for those consumer goods and maintain your lifestyle. Retirees who depend upon Social Security and their portfolio to sustain their lifestyle need to have some equity allocation in their investments in order to generate returns that will outpace inflation. According to research published by the World Bank Group, a non-profit located in Washington, DC, the United States has on average experienced inflation at 3.85% since 1960. If you have fixed-income positions that are returning 2% when you turn 65 and inflation is over 3%, you might have to restrict your lifestyle in order to stay financially independent.

Having any diversified allocation that is not made up entirely of cash or cash equivalents is always the first line of defense against inflation. While there are many benefits to owning target date funds that offer a glide path for investors, there are also several pitfalls of which people should be aware. To learn more about target date funds or planning for your retirement visit us at www.ek-ff.com and set up an appointment today to speak with an expert.

Feel free to contact Michael Walsh with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 213 or email: MWalsh@ek-ff.com.

Evensky, H., Morgan, S., & Robinson, T. (2011). The New Wealth Management. Wiley.

The World Bank. (2016, June 1). Data: Inflation, consumer prices (annual %).  Retrieved from data.worldbank.org: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/FP.CPI.TOTL.ZG