MONEY Financial Planning

Why Millennials Aren’t Getting Love from Financial Advisers

Financial advisers are aging and mostly targeting their peer group. Where can a dedicated Millennial saver get answers?

“Follow the money” was sage advice in All the President’s Men, and “show me the money” worked well enough for the characters in Jerry Maguire. Now financial advisers are taking the same approach in their pursuit of new clients.

A third say they aren’t interested in your business if you have less than $500,000 to invest and 57% want at least $250,000 in assets to get on the phone, according to a survey from Principal Financial Group. Okay. These are business people following the money in their quest for higher fees and more commissions.

Yet this approach pretty much ignores the next mega-generation—the 80 million Millennials, the oldest of which are now turning the corner on 30. Just 18% of financial advisers say they are prospecting in this demographic. Millennials don’t have a lot of assets at this point in their life, and 29% of advisers say this generation has little interest in their services because of the cost, Principal found. So why bother?

Well, anyone building a wealth management business for the long term might find plenty of gold in this group. Millennials are hell-bent on saving and investing long term, and providing for their own financial security. Eight in 10 Millennials say the recession convinced them they must save more now, according to the 2014 Wells Fargo Millennial Study. Meanwhile, the financial industry, banks in particular, have a long way to go win this generation’s trust. They might want to get started.

Most wealth advisers are focused on Baby Boomers (64%), high net worth clients (64%) and business owners (62%). For those willing to work with the less well-heeled—advisers who just getting started and willing to build a practice over time—these twenty-somethings offer a huge opportunity. One issue, though, is that there aren’t a lot of young wealth advisers out there. Like bus drivers and clergy, this profession has a slow replacement rate and is aging fast. Among the 300,000 or so full-time financial advisers, the average age is about 50, and 21% are over 60.

The result is an industry filled with people that largely do not relate to Millennials and do not care because they have so little to invest. At the same time, we have a generation that has got the message on saving and wants to get serious about investing for its financial future. So it’s not surprising that a growing number are turning instead to online financial advice firms—start-ups such as Betterment, Wealthfront and Personal Capital—to get investment guidance with little or no minimum and at lower cost. Millennials may be broke and fee averse. But they won’t be that way forever. This time, “show me the money” may be bad strategy.

MONEY Kids and Money

Go Figure, Grandkids Want to Hear About Your Money Memories

Having seen tough times already, young adults crave money conversations with grandparents who have seen it all before.

What young person doesn’t enjoy a good story? And it doesn’t have to be about vampires or super heroes. The top thing young adults want to hear from grandparents is about experiences and decisions that shaped their life, new research shows.

This is especially true of events having to do with money, according to a survey from TIAA-CREF, a financial firm with $613 billion under management. The finding suggests that grandparents who are willing to talk about their financial follies can play an important role in helping their grandkids learn early to save, manage debt and stick to a budget.

Only 8% of grandparents say they are willing to start a conversation with their grandkids about money, the survey found. Yet 85% of grandkids aged 18 to 24 say they are open to such a conversation. In a further sign of this divide: only 30% of grandparents believe they could have an influence over their grandkids’ money habits; but 73% of young adults say their grandparents already have such influence.

How can perceptions be so different? For one thing, young adults have got the message and are intensely interested in understanding how to manage their money. In the survey, 97% said they were concerned about saving for their future. They see their grandparents as a role model: 59% rated their grandparents as very good or excellent savers.

Grandparents may be missing their influence due to cultural differences, the survey authors say. Many grandparents today are Baby Boomers, the generation that once upon a time didn’t trust anyone over 30. They wonder why young people would listen to them about anything.

But Millennials are coming of age in different times. They embrace the new multi-generational workplace and family. Through the Great Recession, they have seen first hand how tough life can be and they tend to respect elders who have muddled through despite life’s many ups and downs, says Joe Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, which collaborated with TIAA-CREF on the study.

Coughlin suggests initiating the money conversation with grandkids when they are teens or earlier. Saving for college is a great starting topic. This may require crossing another divide, however. Grandparents are largely in the dark as to how expensive college has become. Four-year university costs easily run to $100,000 and can shoot to $160,00 or more at a private school. Yet one in five grandparents believe the total to be under $50,000 and a quarter believe it to be $50,000 to $75,000, TIAA-CREF found.

In speaking to grandkids about money, the trick is framing the discussion as a personal experience. Kids love to hear stories about rituals, big decisions, frugality and home life, he says. Grandparents can find ideas and conversation starters for teens here and for younger kids here and here.

Taking on this subject can be a fun and rewarding way to get to know a grandchild better—and it may be a huge help to parents. “Life has gotten very busy for dual income households,” Coughlin says. “Grandparents can fill in the gaps. They have the time and the stories to tell.” They just need to understand that, unlike themselves in younger days, the kids will listen.

Related stories:

 

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why New Parents Deserve to Splurge on Themselves Sometimes

Illustration of parents eating at elevated table above baby toys
Leif Parsons

Living in an apartment stuffed with all kinds of toys for his son, this reporter found that spending $350 to create an oasis for himself and his wife was totally worth it.

Part of the joy of raising an infant is accumulating his toys and books and play mats and teethers and clothes and pacifiers and chairs and bottles and strollers and carriers and … well, you get the idea. Clutter is a part of life, and the fact that Luke, our 6-month-old son, is gathering enough junk to take over our apartment means he’s becoming a person. I own, therefore I am.

Still, there is one tiny section of our tiny Brooklyn home that’s off-limits to Luke’s stuff. It’s an alcove just big enough to hold a circular marble table and two tall cushioned chairs. If the rest of our home is a Gymboree, this patch of paradise is the Four Seasons.

We carved out this island of adulthood a few weeks ago, buying the $200 marble table secondhand and plucking the marked-down chairs off the Internet for $150.

Spending $350 on ourselves might not sound like a big deal, but Luke’s goodies aren’t cheap, so most of our discretionary spending is earmarked for the little guy. My wife is a teacher and I’m a journalist. We’re in the early stages of our careers and must make rent while still chipping away at our student loans. In our world of limited sleep and vanishing funds, a vacation, dinner out, or even a night at the movies is a rare treat.

Yes, we could have used the dining set we already owned. But our old furniture felt as though it belonged to cohabitating grad students, not a married couple. My wife and I tied the knot a few months before Luke’s birth, so our friends and family look at us more as new parents than as newlyweds. That’s usually the way we see ourselves too. Marriage, though, requires as much attention and devotion as parenting. You can easily get lost in the wonder of watching your son explore the world around him and forget that less than a year ago you stood in front of the people you love and pledged to be with each other forever.

Now, after Luke falls asleep, Ali and I sit down in our new cream-colored chairs. We rest our glasses of wine on the table and talk about our day. And for a moment, it’s only us.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY Savings

5 Ways to Keep a Crisis From Crushing You

Falling anvil with inadequate parachute
A majority of Americans are unprepared for a financial emergency. Michael Crichton + Leigh MacMill; Prop Styling by Jason MacIsaac

What would you do if you suffered an emergency that's bigger than your safety net? These strategies can cushion the blow.

You’ve no doubt diligently socked away a chunk of cash for a rainy day. But chances are it isn’t enough to keep you from worrying about being swept under by a passing financial storm. In a MONEY survey of 1,000 Americans conducted earlier this year, 60% of respondents said they didn’t feel they had enough emergency savings.

They’re probably right to be ­concerned: A new survey by Bankrate.com found that the majority of Americans making $75,000-plus have less than six months of emergency savings on hand. Meanwhile, experts typically recommend having at least that much and often as much as 12 months’ worth—lofty goals even for those who are otherwise well-off.

While you’re in the process of bulking up your kitty, lessen your anxiety by figuring out how you’d quickly lay your hands on cash if the roof fell in, literally and figuratively. “The goal is to reduce long-term damage to your finances,” says Scottsdale financial planner Brian Frederick. Putting the bills on a credit card can be a reasonable option for those able to pay off their debt in a jiffy, but carrying a balance for longer gets pricey when you’re talking about a 15% interest rate. Instead, keep these five better options in the back of your mind:

1. Crack a CD

In hopes of discouraging customers from fleeing when rates rise, banks have been hiking penalties for tapping a CD before its maturity date—six months’ interest is now common on a one-year certificate, and six to 12 months’ is typical on a five-year. Even so, “the interest is so small these days that a six-month penalty is almost meaningless,” says Oradell, N.J., financial planner Eric Mancini. On a $100,000, five-year CD at 2%, you’d give up just $100.

2. Sell Some Securities

Ditching money-losing stocks is clearly a better move than borrowing, says Frederick, given that you can use losses to offset up to $3,000 of capital gains for this year and carry any overage into future years. Everything in your portfolio on the up and up? While you’ll pay a 15% capital gains tax on the profits from any security you’ve held for more than a year, it might make sense to pare back on winners if your allocation has gotten out of whack.

3. Take Out a 401(k) Loan

Most plans allow you to borrow half your vested amount, up to $50,000, with generous terms: no setup fees and a 4% to 5% interest rate, paid to yourself. Moreover, as long as you keep making contributions, you probably won’t sacrifice much growth. A five-year, $20,000 loan against a $250,000 401(k) would reduce your balance by just $9,000 after 20 years, assuming you continued to save $500 a month during the loan term. But should loan payments require you to pull back on contributions, your nest egg will take a hit (see the graphic). Another risk: If you leave your job for any reason before repaying, you must cough up the entire balance within 60 days, or else you’ll owe income taxes and a 10% penalty on the funds. “You can end up feeling stuck in your job,” says Edina, Minn., ­financial planner Kathleen Longo.

the 20k loan

4. Tap the House

Whether or not you have a home-equity line of credit already, you’ll benefit from today’s low rates. The average on a new line is about 5%, but if your credit is nearly perfect, you can get closer to 3%, with no setup fee, Bank­rate.com reports. Plus, interest payments are usually tax-deductible. The caveats: It may take a few weeks to open a new line. Also, HELOCs are var­iable rate, so your payments may rise if the Fed hikes interest rates. Finally, some banks charge a fee if you close the line early; look for one that doesn’t.

5. Borrow from a Stranger

Those who don’t have adequate home equity can still beat rates on credit cards and personal bank loans by nabbing a loan from a peer-lending site like LendingClub or Prosper. Rates on those sites can be less than 7%, plus an origination fee of 1% to 3%. Peer loans are a good option for those with sterling credit histories, says Steve Nicastro, investing editor at NerdWallet. Check what rate you’d get using the sites’ tools. Look good for you? After you fill out an online form, the sites will take a few days to verify your info, then send your loan out to prospective lenders. Most loans are funded within a week.

More on building a stronger safety net:

MONEY Financial Planning

What My 3-Hour Lunch Says About Good Financial Advice

Women at a lunch meeting
Colorblind—Getty Images

Financial planning isn't about investing for retirement or saving for college; it's about turning your vision into reality.

It was Suzanne’s birthday. I really wanted her to have the next best thing to a day off. So I, the adviser, and Suzanne, my client, scheduled our meeting at Guglhupf, a lovely local restaurant.

In 2005, when I formed my company, I was sitting at one of Guglhupf’s upstairs tables when I came up with the tagline of my firm: “Driven by a Vision.” Now, years later, spending a sunny afternoon on Guglhuph’s patio with Suzanne, I had a powerful moment of living that ideal.

Suzanne is a visionary, an entrepreneur. She first came to me as a client because she wanted to be sure that the various ventures she had underway didn’t encumber too much of her wealth — that her assets wouldn’t all be at risk and that she would have enough set aside for her family’s future needs and her own retirement.

At its core, financial planning is helping people realize their vision. And for my entrepreneurial clients, I’m helping them navigate some very complicated waters at a time that’s emotionally charged due to hope, desire, exhaustion, and frankly, being stretched too thin.

These conversations can’t happen inside financial planning software, and they don’t happen on the pages of a financial plan. They aren’t about “Do I have enough money to fund my financial goals?” These conversations are about figuring out how to make those goals come to life.

And this is without my being a business consultant. I don’t know the trades of the businesses my clients start. What I do know is that there are risks associated with what they’re doing, and that likely their venture’s cash flow isn’t going to be as healthy as the projections project. I expect that there’ll be a need for another capital infusion. All of these things are going to impact their other financial planning goals: paying for their child’s education, for example, and being financially independent one day. They know all this too.

However, I believe that when a person has a strong vision for a world they want to impact — their community, their life’s energy making that impact — that inner urge trumps saving for retirement. It doesn’t trump it to the point of being reckless and blinded by today’s enthusiasm, but we recognize that they’re standing at the center point of the see saw, one foot on either arm, finding that balance between today and the long-term tomorrow.

I’ve never snuffed out their flame by saying, “You can’t do that.” I think that’s because I know what it’s like to be driven by a vision. It is my role to identify the risks I see, offer suggestions of how to look at it from another angle, ask them to name a Plan B, and beat the drum of the importance of managing cash flow. Then, I support them in their new venture, in whatever way reasonable.

At this meeting with Suzanne, there was an extra-special payoff. While I do try to stay out of the specifics of my clients’ businesses, over the course of our three-hour lunch we brainstormed about how she might finance one of her new ventures. I realized I knew some people who might be interested in funding it, and I promised to put Suzanne in contact with them. I later did, and they ended up providing money to Suzanne for this project.

So this meeting epitomized my work: My clients are driven by a vision, and I am driven to help them achieve that vision. And if we can enjoy a decadent dessert together, that’s even better.

MONEY Financial Planning

The One Time Raiding Your Kid’s College Savings Makes Sense

Broken money jar
Normally, breaking into your college savings accounts is a no-no. Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

It's never a great idea, but in an emergency tapping funds earmarked for education beats sabotaging your retirement plans.

Lauren Greutman felt sick.

She and her husband Mark were about $40,000 in debt, and were having trouble paying their monthly bills. As recent homebuyers, the Syracuse, N.Y. couple were already underwater on their mortgage and getting by on one income as Lauren focused on being a stay-at-home mom.

“We were in a really bad financial position, and just didn’t have the money to make ends meet,” remembers Greutman, now 33 and a mom of four.

There was one pot of money just sitting there: their son’s college savings, about $6,500 at the time. That is when they had to make a tough decision.

“We had to pull money out of the account,” she says. “We thought long and hard about it and felt almost dishonest. But it was either leave it in there, or pay the mortgage and be able to eat.”

It is a quandary faced by parents in dire financial straits: Should you treat your kids’ college savings—often housed in so-called 529 plans—as a sacred lockbox, or as a ready source of funds that may be tapped when necessary.

Precise figures are not available, since those making 529-plan withdrawals do not have to tell administrators whether or not the funds are being used for qualified higher education expenses, according to the College Savings Plans Network. That is a matter between the account owner and the Internal Revenue Service.

TIAA-CREF, which administrates many 529 plans for states, estimates that between 10% to 20% of plan withdrawals are non-qualified and not being used for their intended purpose of covering educational expenses.

It is never a first option to draw college money down early, of course. Private four-year colleges cost an average of $30,094 in tuition and fees for 2013/14, according to the College Board. Since that number will presumably rise much more by the time your toddler graduates from high school, parents need to be stocking those financial cupboards rather than emptying them out.

Joe Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com, has a message for stressed-out parents: Don’t beat yourselves up about it.

“The plans were designed to give account owners flexible access to their funds,” Hurley says. “I imagine parents would feel some guilt. But I don’t think they should. After all, it is their money.”

Why the Alternative Might Be Worse

Keep in mind that there are often significant financial penalties involved. With non-qualified distributions from a 529 plan, in most cases you are looking at a 10% penalty on the earnings. Withdrawn earnings will also be treated as income on your tax return, and if you took a state tax deduction on the original investment, withdrawn contributions often count as income as well.

Not ideal, of course. But if your other option for emergency funds is to raid your own retirement accounts, tapping college savings is a last-ditch avenue to consider. That’s not only because you do not want to blow up your own nest egg, but because it could make relative sense tax-wise. And as the saying goes, you can borrow money for college, but not for retirement.

“If you think about it, a parent who has a choice between tapping the 529 and tapping a retirement account might be better off tapping the 529,” says James Kinney, a planner with Financial Pathway Advisors in Bridgewater, N.J.

If the account is comprised of 30% earnings, then only 30% would be subject to tax and penalty, Kinney explains. And that compares favorably to a premature distribution from a 401(k) or IRA, where 100% of the distribution will be subject to taxes plus a penalty.

Lauren Greutman’s story has a happy ending. She and her husband made a pledge to restock their son’s college savings as soon as they were financially able. It is a pledge they kept: Now eight-years-old, their son has a healthy $12,000 growing in his account.

She even runs a site about budgeting and frugal living at iamthatlady.com. Still, the wrenching decision to tap college savings certainly was not easy—especially since other family members had contributed to that account.

“We tried to take emotion out of it, even though we felt so bad,” Greutman says. “Since we didn’t have money for groceries at that point, we knew our family would understand.”

Related: 4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Saving for College Just Yet

MONEY Estate Planning

Want Less Stress? Get Your Estate Plan In Order

Preparing the right paperwork will help ensure that your wishes are followed and may save your heirs a bundle of money.

After helping a girlfriend through the messy, tangled finances left in the wake of a parent’s death, John Kerecz had a message for his own mom and dad: Get your paperwork in order.

A few years later, Kerecz’s father passed away unexpectedly. The 52-year-old environmental engineer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania went to the house and looked where his father and mother used to keep their important documents, but nothing was there. It was pure luck that he went to the computer to look up a phone number and saw a folder on the desktop labeled “DEATH.”

“Sure enough, everything was there in that folder,” Kerecz says.

Armed with a copy of the will, lists of the financial accounts and insurance policies and other paperwork, Kerecz was quickly able to settle his father’s estate and use the funds to take care of his ailing mother, making him extremely grateful.

The difference between having your files organized or not is about more than just stress; leave behind a mess and it can delay inheritors’ access to funds and cost a bundle in legal fees.

“It could be six months or longer if you don’t have the paperwork in order, and … your family is in the dark, not knowing things, jumping through hoops. It’s not a fun existence,” says Howard Krooks, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Taking care of the necessary documents is a hallmark of good parenting, he adds, rather bluntly: “More than any kind of monetary legacy, if you really love them, you’d do this.”

HOW TO GET IT DONE

Compile a list of the financial information your heirs will need upon your death: wills, trust information, investment accounts, legal contacts, etc. You can keep this information in an electronic file – in one master document or several attachments – to serve as a road map to find all the physical paperwork.

Or, you can do what some of elder law attorney David Cutner’s clients do, and just pull out a cardboard box and start piling up the papers.

You have to do more than just gather the information, though, cautions Cutner, co-founder of the Lamson & Cutner Elder Law firm in New York. You have to tell your loved ones you have done it and tell them where to find it. You can either hand over the file immediately or keep it in a safe place (away from the prying eyes of caregivers and potential scammers).

A safe deposit box, by the way, is not a good place to keep these papers, says Cutner, because it’s too hard to access when needed.

THE WILL

Top of the list is a copy of your will, hopefully the most recent version, plus contact details for the attorney who drew it up and any executor named. Also important are trust documents, if they exist, estate experts say.

While power of attorney and living will documents are crucial should you become incapacitated, they will not be useful after your death, says Krooks—your heirs will then be using a death certificate to obtain access to accounts.

The real power in assembling all these items is that it forces you to go through the process of specifying your wishes. Without them, your family would have to put your estate into probate, which is when the state determines the distribution of your assets. This can take up to a year and eat up about 5% of the estate, says John Sweeney, an executive vice president responsible for Fidelity’s planning and advisory services business.

FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS

Your heirs will need to know all of your account information, down to your utility bills and your tax returns. You can either create a list or include copies of statements in the file, or just directions to where to find them. Also useful is a list of relatives to contact.

Knowing passwords for online accounts is not as important as naming another person on key accounts ahead of time, says Sweeney. This way, if the family needs to make mortgage payments or pay any medical bills, they do not have to wait until the estate is settled.

“Children are often dipping into their own assets to pay for taxes and mortgages when the last surviving parent has passed away,” says Sweeney.

In that same vein, make sure to sign another person up for a key to any safe deposit boxes or home safes, says Krooks. Include clear directions on how to access any other valuables that may be stashed elsewhere, so that it’s not mistakenly thrown out.

SURVIVOR BENEFITS

Pensions and insurance plans have many different payout rules, so you need to leave behind detailed information about policies. Insurance information should extend beyond life insurance to car, home and boat insurance, says Sweeney. It is also critical to include your Social Security benefit information, he adds.

The job of assembling all of this information can be massive, but most people appreciate it in the end.

“At first they curse us out because it’s so much to gather and put in one place. But by the time they come into the office, they’re really glad they did this exercise,” Krooks says.

MONEY Financial Planning

People Ignore 80% of What Their Adviser Tells Them. Here’s Why.

man putting fingers in his ears
moodboard—Getty Images

A financial planner explains why so many clients ignore good advice. Hint: It's not the clients' fault.

I’ve heard it estimated that out of all the financial and estate planning recommendations that advisers make, their clients ignore more than 80% of them. If there’s even a shred of truth in this stat, it represents a monumental failure of the financial advice industry.

Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of truth to this number.

To explain why, let me tell you a story about a financial planning client I worked with a few years back. In one of our first meetings, she and I were reviewing her three most recent tax returns. As I discussed them with her, it became clear that the accountant who had prepared those returns — an accountant who had been recommended to her by her father — had filled them out fraudulently. A bag of old clothes that she had donated to charity became, on her Schedule A, a $10,500 cash gift. She also deducted work expenses for which she had already been reimbursed.

The client, a young single woman, wasn’t aware of these problems, as far as I could tell. So I gave her my best advice: Turn yourself in — and turn in the accountant, too. Tell the IRS about this before they come after you. “You’ve got to do this,” I said.

That was the last I ever saw of that client. I tried getting in touch with her, but she never communicated with me or my firm again.

Upon reflection, have a pretty good idea why.

Her accountant had been doing her father’s returns for even longer than he’d been doing hers. By telling her to turn in her accountant, I was also telling her to turn in her dad — the person who recommended the accountant and who, perhaps, had fraudulent statements on his own returns. I had crossed a line. And she, I assume, had decided to pretend that we had never had that conversation.

So why did she ignore my advice — or any of the advice I never got to give her? For the same reason that so many clients ignore so much of their advisers’ advice.

To say that clients are just not good at follow-through is a cop-out. I think the real problem is that advisers fail to apply the key discipline I learned early in my training as a financial planner: Know Your Client.

For Certified Financial Planner professionals, of which I am one, a key part of the Standards of Professional Conduct is to “Gather client data and establish goals.” It’s primarily in that step, when we gather client data, that we have the opportunity to get to know our clients. The standard-setting CFP Board offers some further guidance in that area:

The financial planning practitioner and the client shall mutually define the client’s personal and financial goals, needs and priorities that are relevant….”

Please note that the CFP Board specifically mentions both a client’s personal and financial goals. While I’m confident that planners are well-equipped for the collection of tangible, financial information, I’m less sure that advisers are effectively gathering intangible personal information about our clients.

So how do you gather and apply data about your client’s personal life, goals and values? The CFP Board offers further guidance:

…the practitioner will need to explore the client’s values, attitudes, expectations, and time horizons…”

OK now, this has gone a little too far, right? I mean, how exactly am I supposed to explore a client’s values, attitudes and expectations?

Most advisers relegate this warm and fuzzy talk of exploration, values and attitudes to a niche within financial planning called “life planning.” These advisers picture an entirely different breed of Zen planners meditating on a yoga mat with clients, and discount the practice entirely. According to the CFP Board, however, knowing our clients on a deeper level is just plain good, by-the-book financial planning.

So back to my client: Maybe if I’d gotten to know her on a deeper level, I could have helped her with her tax returns — and the rest of her finances. But I’ll never know. I may have been pleased with myself for uncovering her problem, but my recommendation didn’t bring her relief. It went the other way.

Since then, I’ve learned that planners, myself included, can have a more meaningful impact on the lives of our clients by recognizing that personal finance is more personal than it is finance.

And I believe that better understanding our clients’ intangible hopes, dreams, values and goals is also the key to higher implementation rates. So how do we do that?

That’s another story.

—————————————-

Financial planner, speaker, and author Tim Maurer, is a wealth adviser at Buckingham Asset Management and the director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance. A certified financial planner practitioner working with individuals, families and organizations, he also educates at private events and via TV, radio, print, and online media. “Personal finance is more personal than it is finance” is the central theme that drives his writing and speaking.

MONEY Estate Planning

When Children Should Butt Out of Their Parents’ Finances

sliced dollar bill on cutting board
ersinkisacik—Getty Images

A financial planner explains how some adult children take too much of an interest in mom and dad's estate planning.

How many of us financial planners have had the privilege — or aggravation — of having a client’s adult children participate in a discussion of the parent’s finances?

There are good reasons for an adult child to be involved. A client may be aging or be recently widowed, and well-intentioned children may feel a responsibility to help mom or dad with money matters. And many of us financial planners encourage clients to include family members in important financial discussions, such as long-term care and estate planning.

But bringing the kids into a discussion isn’t always a good idea.

For example, let me tell you about a conversation I had with a client and his daughter. During an initially pleasant dinner meeting, it was revealed that dad had given money to the daughter and her husband to help buy some real estate.

The client then demonstrated a concern for fairness that I have seen with most parents: He turned the conversation to possibly reapportioning his estate among his children, taking this gift into account.

It’s in situations like this when family conflicts and tensions — the “mom always liked you best” grievances — usually become apparent. And this dinner was no exception. My client’s daughter didn’t have children. Like many adult children who are childless, whether or not by choice, they often see gifts go to grandchildren or to other siblings who are struggling to raise their families. Such was the case here. The daughter made it clear that she saw no need to equalize the estate because of the real estate purchase.

Meanwhile, I sensed my client’s uneasiness over the conversation.

Each family has its own own financial history — its own “financial DNA.” Every planner knows that very few things affect relationships in the way that money does. Some families don’t discuss money, but should. Some families fight over money and have severed relationships because of it. And some family members use their money to manipulate and control others. All of this history comes to the table when children and parents sit down together.

How many times have we planners heard something like “It’s dad’s money, and we don’t care if we ever get a dime”? Of course adult children are going to say these things — and most truly are sincere.

But sometimes what the child really means is “I don’t want mom’s money — unless, of course, it’s going to someone else.” That includes, in the child’s mind, Brother Tom (he’s such a loser) and Sister Sue (she just spends every dime she gets her hands on).

In reality, however, Brother Tom could be a hard-working guy who sells tires and who stops by to mow mom’s lawn each week during the summer. Sister Sue could be a single mother with two kids struggling to make ends meet after a bad divorce. That may be mom or dad’s point of view as they see their children through different eyes.

I think we should encourage our clients to make financial decisions through those eyes for as long as they are capable — with no “at-the-table” emotional influence.

Most children truly care about the happiness and well-being of their parents over any inheritance they may — or may not — receive. But, even in the loveliest of family relationships, I have sometimes gotten uncomfortable questions about future inheritances or “suggested” gifting strategies that mom or dad might want to “take advantage” of.

My gentle but straightforward response to the next generation is, “It’s not your money yet.” We can never know enough of a family’s personal history — their financial DNA — but knowing that we don’t know should cause us to question when to include the adult children of our clients in financial and estate planning discussions.

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Sandy is the founder and CEO of Confiance, based in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a certified financial planner and an accredited domestic partnership advisor specializing in planning for traditional as well as non-traditional relationships. Pamela also currently serves on the national board of the Financial Planning Association.

MONEY Financial Planning

What Would You Do With $100,000?

Stack of Money
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Deciding how to spend a large inheritance isn't as easy as you might think. Heirs who have received big bequests, along with financial planners, share lessons learned.

What would you do if you suddenly got $100,000, no strings attached?

It’s a hypothetical question for most of us. But for Peter Brooks, it was reality a few years ago.

After the untimely death of an old friend from pancreatic cancer, a lawyer called Brooks and told him there was a check waiting for $107,000, taxes paid.

With $30 trillion set to change hands from one generation to the next over the next 30 years, many others will find themselves in a similar position, according to Accenture .

While some may receive a few trinkets and others millions of dollars, the median inheritance will be between $50,000 and $100,000, according to a survey by Interest.com.

Handling new and unexpected wealth may sound wonderful, but can be a financial challenge. We asked financial experts to assess the decisions of three different beneficiaries:

WELCOME BOOST

For Brooks, a 55-year-old marketing consultant from the San Francisco area, the money significantly improved his quality of life.

At first, he deposited the check into a managed portfolio that his bank recommended. This was just before the market crash in 2008. Frustrated when the portfolio didn’t budge, Brooks rolled the money into a certificate of deposit, which turned out to be fortuitous.

“When the market crashed, I thought, wow, I must have a guardian angel,” he says.

Brooks decided that real estate was the biggest risk he could stomach, and he found an old Victorian house to buy for himself in nearby Vallejo for $97,000.

Indeed, buying a house is one of the most common financial moves people make with new money, according to Susan Bradley, a financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who specializes in helping people manage newfound wealth.

“If your inheritance increases your sense of home and safety, that’s a really lovely thing to do with it,” Bradley says.

Her caveat is that this works only if you’re able to handle the upkeep on the house, which Brooks has been able to do just fine.

A SPLURGE (OR TWO)

By contrast, John Kerecz, a 52-year-old environmental engineer in Harrisburg, Pa., went on a spending spree after he inherited about $160,000, plus a broken-down house, when his father died two years ago.

Because his father had his paperwork in order, Kerecz was able to quickly access the cash. He hired a lawyer based on the recommendation of a family friend, got the death certificate, and had a payout from the insurance company within a couple of weeks.

Then he embarked on a series of trips to Europe, Nashville, and New Orleans with his mother, who was in declining health, and eventually spent about $100,000.

What remained went toward a new home for Kerecz and his mother, who now suffers from dementia. He is trying to sell his parents’ original home and intends to invest the proceeds from that sale.

“I feel bad that I kind of blew it, but I wanted my mother to enjoy life while she could,” he says.

It may seem irresponsible, but using an inheritance to make memories has intrinsic value, says Bradley.

“Sometimes you can meet that purpose without spending $100,000,” notes Bradley, who says she would have coached him to take a little more time to figure out how to build those memories with just $60,000.

IN OVER YOUR HEAD

Many inheritors get in even further over their heads, especially if the money comes when they are young.

Richard Rogers, a financial consultant with Stephens Private Client group in Little Rock, Ark., had a client who inherited a significant sum at 25 and insisted on buying an $80,000 car.

“I tried to tell him that if you compound this money for a few years, you can buy a lot nicer car. But you can’t tell somebody what to do,” Rogers says.

CarmenBelcher could have used that advice, too, when, at 22, she inherited $300,000 out of the blue from her estranged father.

The money came quickly because her name was on his bank accounts and she was listed as the beneficiary of his veteran’s benefits.

Belcher responsibly paid off her college loans, then moved from Missouri to New York for a graduate program in journalism. She used what was left to support herself.

Now, eight years later, the money is gone.

She blames that partly on not being savvy about spending in New York, and partly on the money not being invested optimally by a bank adviser in Missouri who first helped her.

“It’s unfortunate, when people haven’t thought through it and, before you know it, [the money is] gone,” says Bill Benjamin, chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp Investment.

The ideal thing to do is to draw up a financial plan before you start dipping into an inheritance, he says.

While Belcher thinks she is better off than before — she is building a career as a fashion editor in New York — overall, the experience was negative.

“I couldn’t appreciate the amount of money,” she says. “If this would have happened at an older age, I would have had more knowledge.”

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