While few like to entertain thoughts of death, making a will while you’re healthy is a smart financial move. People who die without a plan for their estate leave their assets and property subject to rules of state law, which could mean giving everything to a spouse or dividing it among a spouse, parents, children, and even distant relatives. In cases where the deceased had more than one marriage, laws applying to the division of assets can get messy and cause family tensions.
Estate planning is the only way to ensure that your wishes will be carried out. Estate planning will leave your family in a better financial position, and it also could eliminate any fees associated with state dispersal of your assets. If you have not made plans for your assets in the case of your death, consider taking this important step.
Estate Planning Trends
Caring.com, a website that connects service providers with clients, surveys American adults each year to determine the average level of engagement with estate planning. The 2020 survey found that the number of adults who have a will or other estate planning document has decreased by almost 25 percent since 2017. The survey also showed that in comparison to 2019, 20 percent fewer older adults and 25 percent fewer middle-aged adults have wills or an estate planning document.
The survey asked respondents why they did not have a will, and a majority said it was because they didn’t know how to get one or couldn’t afford it. Around 60 percent responded that estate planning was “very” or “somewhat” important, yet the number of people who hadn’t considered whether a will or living trust was important rose by 12 percent over 2019.
Some of the reasons why people don’t think about estate planning vary. Some don’t like to consider death or believe it only happens to older people. Others don’t believe they have enough assets to warrant making a will, while others think the process is too complicated.
Basic Estate Planning Documents
Here are the three primary types of estate planning documents you’ll want to consider.
While you’ve likely heard of a will, perhaps you aren’t exactly sure what it is. In its most basic form, a will is a legal estate planning document that articulates how your assets will be distributed. Wills typically also stipulate:
- An executor who will make sure the will’s instructions are carried out
- Which people or entities, also called beneficiaries, will inherit the assets and deal with debts
- Directions as to when and how the assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries
- Who will serve as guardians for any minor children
Generally, you work with an attorney to prepare your will.
A trust is somewhat more complex and costly than a will. People establish trusts primarily when they anticipate a dispute among their beneficiaries over their assets. Trusts typically benefit people who have large estates, own a lot of property, or expect to have a disability or become debilitated before they die. Unlike a will, a trust can take effect while someone is still alive—it is then called a living trust.
The main benefit of a trust is that it allows large estates to avoid the costly and long probate process while ensuring that all assets are properly distributed and all of the decedent’s wishes are carried out. Also, wills that go into probate become public record, but a living trust remains private upon death, allowing it to be managed out of the public eye.
Like a living trust, an advance directive takes effect while you are still alive. It outlines your wishes for your life if you become incapacitated mentally or can no longer communicate. This important document can determine, for example, if you wish to receive CPR in an emergency.
In an age when modern medical care can provide many measures to sustain life, without an advance directive, your family can be left to make difficult decisions about your care. Estate planners recommend that all estate planning documents include an advance healthcare directive so that your loved ones can make decisions in line with your wishes.
How Can I Get Started?
While it’s possible to plan your estate using online advice, software, and forms, professionals do not recommend this route. Estate planning is an important step, and financial and legal professionals provide sound guidance through the process. They will get to know you and your wishes for your estate and can offer advice based on years of knowledge and experience. Professionals will also take into account state laws and any personal, tax, or legal issues that could impact your estate. You can make the estate process more streamlined by getting your documents in order and thinking through your feelings about end-of-life decisions and how you’d like your assets to be divided.
When uncertain financial times loom, questions about your retirement are sure to come up. Have I saved enough? Do I need to keep working? How can I safeguard my savings?
As people who lost significant savings in the economic recession of 2008 can attest, it’s possible to survive a recession. That year, an economic crash erased about $2.4 trillion from Americans’ 401(k) and IRAs. This was an especially hard hit for people approaching retirement, who didn’t have much time to rebuild their savings or wait for the stock market to rebound.
Here are some questions to consider when thinking through how your retirement will weather a recession.
Should I Begin Taking Social Security Payments?
While Americans are eligible to begin drawing Social Security benefits at age 62, often it can be beneficial to wait. The earlier you begin collecting Social Security, the smaller the payments will be—although one benefit is that you will receive more payments overall.
For every year that you wait to collect, your Social Security benefits typically will increase about 8 percent. You could claim the benefits early and invest them, but that option requires the discipline to invest the checks and a market that’s going to generate at least an 8 percent annual return (unlikely during a recession). Financial planners find that many people end up spending at least some of those early benefit checks. A better choice could be to hold off on withdrawing Social Security as long as possible.
When Should I Retire?
A recession may cause you to rethink your retirement plans. If you can no longer afford to stop working completely, you may find that a part-time job will generate enough income to match or exceed your portfolio’s annual distribution. For example, if your part-time job pays $13 an hour for a 20-hour workweek, you’ll earn $13,520 annually—the equivalent of a 13.5 percent annual return on a $100,000 portfolio value.
In today’s job market, you may find several types of part-time jobs that match your interests or skills. You could pet sit, plan weddings, repair cars, or turn almost anything you enjoy doing into a small business. You’ll also find plenty of work-from-home jobs that could draw on your professional skills or areas of interest. Working a part-time job would allow you to postpone withdrawing Social Security benefits and buy your portfolio some time to recover.
Should I Keep Contributing to My Retirement Account?
If you are still working full-time and have an IRA or 401(k) when a recession hits, you may have to consider whether you want to continue contributing. If you feel secure in your job, this can be a great time to buy into the market at low prices, and the market most likely will rally back.
However, recessions can be scary and emotional times for investors. Instead of getting caught up in the market, you may want to continue investing on your regular schedule. If you already have automatic paycheck deductions into your 401(k), this will be easy.
If a recession leaves you cash poor, however, and you haven’t been able to save up an emergency fund, you may need to temporarily stop contributions to free up cash for monthly expenses.
Should I Invest?
The days following a financial crash can be an excellent time to invest if you are willing to take the risk. For example, people who bought into the S&P 500 the day after Black Monday in 1987 saw 50 percent increase in only two years. If you have cash or savings on hand, consider investing through an index fund. You could recoup your losses from a recession quickly.
Which Accounts Should I Withdraw From?
Sometimes, people must draw on their investment portfolios during a recession to meet monthly expenses. While the best plan is to not touch your retirement accounts prematurely, if you’re in this situation, consider the tax implications of withdrawing from different types of accounts before you decide where to withdraw.
If you are already collecting Social Security and withdraw from a 401(k) or traditional IRA, the combined income could move some of your Social Security into a category where they are taxable. In this case, a better choice would be withdrawing from a Roth IRA, where withdrawals are not taxed and will not impact your Social Security payments.
If you do not collect Social Security, you won’t be affected by these rules. However, if you do prematurely withdraw money from your 401(k) and don’t pay it back, the withdrawal will set off a 10 percent penalty if you are younger than 59 1/2. However, the IRA does have 18 exceptions to this rule, so it may be worth reading the fine print if you need to make this kind of withdrawal.
Of paramount importance during a recession is staying calm and making good decisions about your retirement, even as the financial markets are in turmoil. If you are in doubt, a financial planner can help you navigate your finances during difficult times, as the decisions you make could significantly impact your retirement long after the recession ends.
While wealth managers and private bankers may seem interchangeable, these two financial services professionals are different. As you look for assistance and advice in managing your money, here’s what you need to know when deciding which one will best fit your financial needs.
What are they exactly?
One difference between wealth managers and private bankers is the way they interact with their clients. While there are many overlapping areas in their two approaches to managing money, wealth managers are more holistic; they get to know their clients individually and help them assess, manage, and plan their financial futures.
Though private bankers also provide financial guidance, they primarily work with high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) and provide access to concierge banking services that go far beyond what a typical bank customer would receive. And, unlike wealth managers, private bankers do not invest their clients’ assets—although they may provide in-house investment opportunities from time to time.
What do they do?
Wealth managers provide a long list of financial services to help you create and execute long-term plans for your finances and optimize your portfolio. Along with offering advice and recommendations on financial decisions, they can also execute investments. They bring to the job significant experience from working with other clients to provide context and seasoned advice for your financial decisions. You’ll meet in person with your wealth manager to talk extensively about your financial plans and current situation as well as your comfort level with risk.
Along with connecting clients with financial and legal specialists, wealth managers can provide services such as:
- Estate planning
- Tax strategies
- Retirement planning
- Charitable giving planning
- Risk management
- Financial planning
- Trust services
- Investment advice
- Legal planning
As with almost all financial advisors, you’ll likely be charged a fee (typically a percentage of assets under management that averages about 1 percent annually) for a wealth manager’s services. However, some may bill an hourly or fixed annual fee.
Private bankers offer similar services, including cash-flow management, investment planning, estate planning, and risk management. Banks assign HNWIs a private banker, who looks over their finances and sets up banking services that cater to their needs. Clients also are given access to perks and financial services at their bank, such as higher interest rates, prime mortgage rates, no fees or overdraft charges, and preferential pricing. Private banking clients will never have to stand in line for a teller or wait to meet with a banking specialist. They also will have access to exclusive opportunities such as private equity partnerships and hedge funds. Clients typically do not pay fees for private banking services, as private bankers are paid by the institutions that employ them.
Who do they serve?
Private bankers work with HNWIs—a client group that each bank may define a little differently. In general, however, an HNWI has at least $1 million in investible assets, although some banks will allow clients with liquid financial assets in the six figures access to private banking services.
Wealth managers typically have served a similar clientele, but in recent years, their services have become available to clients who aren’t considered HNWI but still have a considerable amount of investable assets.
Wealth managers build their practices on the relationships they have with each client. That means that you’ll do much more than fill out a survey or answer cursory questions when you first meet with your wealth manager. They will want to talk with you at length about your values, goals, and life plans. They may ask about any anxieties you have about your financial future, such as paying for your children’s college tuition or saving enough to retire comfortably. As your wealth manager gets to know you and what you value, they will be better equipped to guide you in all aspects of your financial life and build long-term strategies to help you reach your financial goals. As your relationship with your wealth manager deepens, you’ll likely find that they become an indispensable part of your financial decision-making process.
Private bankers may play a similar role in your financial life depending on the level of involvement your bank offers. However, turnover can be high—when a private banker moves to another institution, you’ll have to decide whether to stay with your bank or move with your private banker.
How do I choose one?
Deciding whether to work with a private banker or a wealth manager depends on your needs. If you are looking for financial advice along with the perks that a financial institution will offer an HNWI, you’ll likely want to work with a private banker with the financial institution that holds your money. If you are more interested in wealth management, you should research firms to find a good fit. Be sure to examine the firm’s size, services, and costs as well as any potential wealth manager’s expertise and experience.
While a college degree symbolizes another educational milestone, it may not mean that recent graduates have learned enough to manage their finances well on their own. Colleges typically don’t require students to take a personal finance course, leaving new alumni on their own to figure out budgeting, investing, and how to pay off sometimes staggering student loans.
That’s where a financial planner can step in. Working with a finance professional can help college graduates establish good habits, whether it’s designing and sticking to a budget or investing early in retirement savings. Here are some benefits of working with a financial planner after your college graduation.
Get Off to a Good Start
Figuring out how to manage your finances through trial and error can take years, and errors can be costly. You could quickly find yourself deep in high-interest debt with no savings and high student loan payments without a financial plan in place.
A financial planner can help you make good decisions from the start, which will shield you from developing bad spending and saving habits. You may make big decisions in your 20s, such as buying a car and a house, getting married, and saving for retirement, that will impact you for decades—if not your lifetime. Discussing your long-term goals with your financial planner beforehand can lead to good decisions that will build a solid financial foundation.
Make a Budget
Typically, a financial planner will first help you create a monthly budget that fits your income. If you’re a typical college graduate, you’ll likely leave school with a low bank balance, a higher income than you had while in school, lots of bills, and little inclination to stick to a budget.
That’s where trouble can seep in. Without a budget, we tend to lose track of how much we’re spending, rack up debt, and neglect savings. In the long term, this is not a good strategy for preparing for big financial outlays—such as paying for a house, a postgraduate degree, or travel—down the road.
A financial planner will work with you to create a budget, line by line. You’ll estimate how much you’ll spend monthly on recurring bills, such as your smartphone and rent, and then you’ll see how much is left over for “extras” such as eating out and entertainment. While a budget can feel limiting, getting your spending under control early in your post-college adult life will help you live within your means and avoid extra debt.
Plan for Student Debt Payments
Student debt payments typically don’t kick in until six months after graduation, and if your budget isn’t ready for it, this new monthly bill can be shocking. If your student loans are large, you may find the payment won’t fit into your new monthly budget.
This is where a financial planner can assist. Student loan repayment options can be complex, and you may be eligible to refinance your loans for a lower payment or to apply for a special payment plan or federal loan forgiveness program. Together, you can determine the best strategy for managing your student loans.
Building Your Savings
While retirement may seem a long way away, the earlier you start saving, the bigger payoff you’ll receive later, thanks to compound interest. A financial planner can talk to you about retirement savings options, such as a 401(k) plan or Roth IRA account. With a financial planner’s guidance and understanding of the level of risk you are comfortable with, you can make good investment choices that will build your savings over decades and set you up for a comfortable retirement.
If you have money left over in your monthly budget, a financial planner can help you invest it to build your savings so that you’ll have a financial cushion and a start on funds for big-ticket items such as a house. A financial planner also will work with you to draw up a long-term plan, factoring in your dreams and goals. With a financial strategy in place that includes a budget, savings plan, and retirement plan, your goals will seem more attainable, and you’ll have the tools you need to make good financial decisions.
Managing your own money right after college can be difficult, as you are suddenly juggling a (likely) higher income than you had from a college job, a myriad of financial choices, and the temptation to spend your newfound earnings at will. Enlisting the help of a financial planner will allow you to understand your financial limitations, pay down your debt, and avoid accumulating new debt through irresponsible spending. If you stick to a budget and make informed financial decisions starting in your 20s, you can enjoy decades of financial stability before you reach retirement.
Retirement, unfortunately, does not always coincide with the time we’re tired of our jobs, ready to start sleeping in, and looking forward to more time for hobbies. Choosing the right time to retire is largely dependent on our financial situation, and that doesn’t always match up with our mental readiness.
Retiring too early or without a sound financial plan could tarnish your golden years. Here are four factors to consider as you plan your retirement date.
Your debt level
Managing a lot of debt payments on a fixed retirement income can be difficult, especially if your budget is tight. Unexpected expenses will leave you with little wiggle room and could lead to difficult circumstances such as losing your house.
If you are in this situation, a better choice is to work for a few more years and focus your income on paying down debt, especially high-interest loans or credit. This may mean cutting back on extra expenses to pay more toward high-interest debt such as credit card balances. You may also want to downsize or pay off your mortgage altogether, reducing the monthly payments you’ll have to make in retirement.
If you’re not sure whether to dedicate income to your retirement account or debt payments, look at what your retirement portfolio is earning compared to the interest rate you’re paying on your debt. If you’re earning 7 percent in the market and paying a 3.5 percent interest rate on your mortgage, a better choice is to invest your money. If the situation is flipped, paying down your debt would be the wiser choice.
Whether you can pay your monthly bills
It’s generally accepted that you’ll need about 80 percent of your pre-retirement annual income for a financially stable retirement. If you’re already struggling to pay bills while you’re working, retiring with a lower monthly income will only make your situation worse.
Your monthly budget will change in retirement. You’ll receive income from your retirement savings, pensions, and Social Security, and your budget lines for work-related expenses such as community and lunches out will likely drop. However, these changes may not be enough to cover your budget comfortably if you were already living month-to-month. Before you stop working, think through your retirement budget and whether a few more years on the job and decreasing your expenses would put you in a better position to retire.
Your retirement plan
Estimating your financial needs in retirement can be a moving target, as you don’t know how long you will live and what your expenses will be as the years go on. Today, Americans are living longer—if you are nearing retirement age and are in good health, it’s likely you could live to 90. In that case, you’d need to plan for savings that would last as long as 25 years.
If you’ve thought about what retirement will be like but now how exactly you’ll fund it, you’re probably not ready to retire yet. After defining your retirement goals and lifestyle, you’ll need to estimate your retirement living expenses, plus annual inflation. Retirement budgeting can get complicated, as you’ll need to figure out how much Social Security you’ll receive depending on what age you’ll retire and factor in new expenses such as healthcare costs and travel plans.
Retirement also can bring large, unexpected expenses, such as pricey home repairs and vehicle replacements. If you’re not sure whether your retirement income would cover these costs, it may be best to take care of them now instead of factoring them into your retirement budget.
When you have a plan in place, whether you draw it up yourself or work with a financial adviser, you’ll have a better idea of how many years you’ll need to work to have the retirement you want.
Your anxiety level about quitting your job
It can be hard to stop working, even if you’re financially prepared. Plus, you may love your job and not really want to leave it. Work gives our days structure and purpose, and the thought of days on end with no concrete plans may be stressful. This can lead to spending over your retirement budget as you try to fill the time.
If you’re in this situation, you have several options for managing retirement. You can keep working and saving, which will be financially beneficial when you retire. You also can take a part-time job or a regular volunteer shift with a local organization as you ease into retirement. If you’re worried about your retirement budget, you can try living on your retirement income and see if it’s enough for you to manage comfortably.
If you find that you’re not ready to retire, you’ll reap the many benefits of extra years of work. Along with increased savings and more time to pay off debts, you can stay on your work’s healthcare plan and spend a few years preparing for living on a retirement budget.