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Please help me help my MIL
Old 07-19-2015, 10:50 PM   #1
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Please help me help my MIL

Greetings,

My MIL is recently widowed and because her husband took care of all the retirement/financial issues, she is at a loss as to how to manage her investment accounts. I'll give as much detail as I can and I greatly appreciate any recommendations on how I can best help her. We are already looking for a financial planner. The cheapest one I contacted wants $2000 to develop a comprehensive investment plan. I'm only contacting fee-only, fiduciaries. Until we actually select one I thought I would seek advice here. Thank you in advance for taking the time to look this over.

Here is her situation:
  1. 73 years old
  2. SS is $1685/mo
  3. Spending is under $3000/mo but we've only been tracking that for a few months using Mint. She says she has been frugal since becoming widowed, so spending may increase if she has the means to do so.
  4. Owes $70,000 on home (worth $270,000) at 3.5% interest. Mortgage payment with taxes is approximately $900, which is included in the $3000 figure above.
  5. New car - paid in full
  6. No other debt. Uses CC but pays in full each month
  7. Asset-1: $217,000 in a Lincoln fixed-rate annuity earning 4.8% until April 2016 then drops to a minimum of 3%. No surrender fee after April 2016
  8. Asset-2: $73,000 in a different Lincoln annuity earning minimum of 3%. Current surrender fee is 6%. Fee will reduce 1%/year. In 2018 she will have a 30-day window of no surrender fees, then a 7-year "rolling" surrender charge will reinitiate. Also, both Lincoln annuities allow up to 10% fee-free withdrawals per year.
  9. Asset-3: $27,000 in a Schwab IRA (I know nothing about this one yet other than the amount).
  10. Asset-4: $6,000 in a Roth IRA
  11. Asset-5: $15,000 in a Sunamerica Trust IRA, 80% Mutual Funds and 20% Cash (that's what I was told; haven't personally checked into this one either)
  12. Asset-6: $270,000 in savings from husband's life insurance policies.
  13. Also has about $7,000 in checking and maybe $50,000 in gold coins

I think that's everything. Doing what simple calculations I can, it looks like she's in fine shape (i.e., she's not going to run out of money anytime soon). I have used Firecalc but wasn't sure how to set some of the options.

She's not interested in taking a lot of risk and she's not trying to "grow" her money (other than to beat inflation). What she wants to know is if her money is in the right places to accomplish these goals:
  • Consume as little of the principle as possible
  • Have something to leave to her 3 children
  • Occasionally spend extra on a vacation with family (she's used to spending about $3000-$5000 on cruise vacations).

Here are the specific questions I will be taking to a financial planner.
  • Should she keep her money in the annuities where she's guaranteed a safe 3% return?
  • How should she invest the $270,000 from life insurance? What should the allocation look like? How much should be kept as cash for emergencies?
  • Should she pay of her mortgage?
  • What is an appropriate income to accomplish those goals (if possible)?

I just re-read the above and see that this post is long. My apologies. I'll end it by saying thank you for reading this far, and a big thank you to anyone willing to offer an opinion her situation!
Griff
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Old 07-19-2015, 11:23 PM   #2
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Sorry to hear about her loss... and it is good that you are willing to help...

Also, you will get a lot of different opinions... so read them and make sure you understand WHY they are making the recommendations...

First... I do not believe any FA is a 'fiduciary'... so get that out of your head... it does not mean that all are bad, but it also means that there is a different level of care they have in making recommendations....

I would get out of any of the annuities that you can if the tax implications are not horrible.... with a caveat... if there is a life insurance component to the policy then you have to look at it as a LI policy with an annuity component... my mom has one and if it were not for the taxes we would have to pay I would have cashed it in... OH, do not cash in if there is a surrender fee... not worth the expense IMO... but if you can take some money out without the fee do so..

Make sure that she is taking her RMD from the IRAs...

Look at Vanguard or Fidelity... see which one you like the best.... most here like Vanguard with Fidelity in second (at least that is the feeling I get)... there are tools they have to help you choose funds that would fit your MILs needs... (some here will recommend Wellington, which is a good one for her age.... I do not have any invested in it, but it seems good)...


She should invest her $270K the same as the rest... it is a portfolio that she is investing and this is part of her portfolio...

The mtg has been talked about and there is no consensus.... if it does not bother her, then do not pay off as it is a low rate... if it bothers her, pay it off...


Lastly, unless there is some time pressure, (like the annuity fees rolling back on) take your time in figuring out what it is you want to do... make sure you think about the TAXES that can come... some of these items get a step up in basis (probably).... but I am not sure about annuities....


Good luck....
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Old 07-19-2015, 11:41 PM   #3
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I think you are wise to have her consult a professional fee only planner (and of course financial advisors can be fiduciaries) as that will give her some confidence in the plan. But she will definitely need your help in implementation and continuing the monitoring of it on an ongoing basis.

Also, having plan input by an outside source, rather than just y'all, however well meaning, will take some of the pressure of of you.

I certainly agree that the biggest key to this being successful is careful adherence to her risk tolerance.
Good luck and many kudos to you for wading into this with her.
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Old 07-19-2015, 11:59 PM   #4
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Texas - Thanks for the comments. I'll have to check into the annuities to see if they have a LI policy attached. Hadn't thought of that. I'll also look into the tax issues of moving money around. One of my goals in trying to help her is to avoid unnecessary losses, like taxes, fees, as much as possible.

Sarah - Thanks. One of the main reasons I am encouraging she seek professional advice is because it is her money and as the SIL I don't want to be responsible for making decisions that could lead to trouble later.
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Old 07-20-2015, 12:36 AM   #5
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I think MIL is a good candidate for partial annuitization. She is over 70 and needs to insure against longevity risk. My back of the envelope calculations suggest that she needs to find $15,780 per year to add to SS to cover her $3000 monthly expenses, and that the two existing annuities, assuming a rate of 3%, will generate $8700, leaving a shortfall of $7080. That is 2.6% of the insurance money, which should be a sustainable withdrawal rate assuming a balanced asset allocation.
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Old 07-20-2015, 02:43 AM   #6
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Moving money around should have little or no tax implications unless it results in short term capital gains. In her income bracket her long term capital gains will result in zero federal income tax.

Of course financial advisors can and should be fiduciaries.

You might want to consider presenting her scenario to the Bogleheads group. You'll get tons of free advise, much of it very useful, and it might help with asset allocation. The problem you're faced with in her case is overcoming inflation risk while preserving capital. She can't afford a large drop in equities, yet the promise of rising interest rates may cause a problem in the bond market. You may want to look for CDs with at least a little more interest than what the banks usually offer., at least for now.

If the IRA was her husband's, then it will need to be rolled into an inherited IRA. A spouse inheriting an IRA will only be subject to the same RMD as if it were her own IRA. If it is her IRA, make sure she is taking her RMD.


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Old 07-20-2015, 04:44 AM   #7
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With the FA you will want to see the Fiduciary role in writing with a contract you sign with them. If you see instead the term "suitability standard" in writing then you may be signing up for a much lower level of protection which is much more common in the industry.

Here is a link with further details: Suitability or Fiduciary Standard? - It's a Big Deal! - 401khelpcenter.com

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Please help me help my MIL
Old 07-20-2015, 05:46 AM   #8
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Please help me help my MIL

$2,000 to develop a plan ...your kidding right?
1) Mil shortfall is $1315 per month or $16k per year...
2) looks like her earnings are
Asset #1 $10,416
Asset #2 $ 2,100

1. Convert life insurance to cash and pay off home Invest remainder in blend of bond fund ETFs and dividend equity fund
ETFs: IDV, DVY, And vanguard dividend funds
2. New shortfall will be $415 easy covered by #1 and #2
3. Convert annuities to cash when there is no penalty ... Invest in blend of bond fund ETFs and dividend equity fund
ETFs: IDV, DVY, And vanguard dividend
4. Keep sundry funds ($50k)as emergency funds ... It is a couple years for her...
5. Discuss sale of home and move to an appropriate zero maintenance arrangement.. Apartment, over 50 living etc.,
6. Sell gold Invest in blend of bond fund ETFs and dividend equity fund ETFs: IDV, DVY, And vanguard dividend funds.

Then monitor spending and income and adjust accordingly...she will be fine.
Best of luck.


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Old 07-20-2015, 07:13 AM   #9
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Another vote here for the financial planner route. It might help to try and develop a better estimate of expenses. A few months of Mint tracking results probably isn't enough. It should be relatively easy to find out how much was spent last year, even if the detail isn't there. This is also a good opportunity to set up an emergency fund separate from the portfolio.
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Old 07-20-2015, 07:45 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Griffers View Post
.....Here are the specific questions I will be taking to a financial planner.
  • Should she keep her money in the annuities where she's guaranteed a safe 3% return?
  • How should she invest the $270,000 from life insurance? What should the allocation look like? How much should be kept as cash for emergencies?
  • Should she pay of her mortgage?
  • What is an appropriate income to accomplish those goals (if possible)?
....
I agree that $2k to prepare a plan is outrageous. From what you have outlined you are talking about a few hours of work. I would move the $270k to Vanguard and have one of their CFPs do a plan for you, even if you have to pay a few hundred for one. Or do it yourself with Quicken Lifetime Planner or Firecalc.

4.8% or even 3% is pretty good return for a low-risk fixed income investment, so I would keep the annuities but just check to make sure that the 4.8% or 3% is not being diluted by fees by looking at how the values change from year to year. If you decide you want out of the annuities, many contracts offer a 10%/year penalty-free withdrawals of if your MIL is in good health she could annuitize them in part.

I would invest the $270k in Vanguard's Wellesley Income Fund and have Vanguard do a plan for you.

I would be indifferent on the mortgage. 3.5% is a pretty good rate and Wellesley will likely make more than that, but the $70k of principal isn't huge in the whole scheme of things so if she is more comfortable being mortgage free, by all means go ahead and pay it off.

Her "gap", ignoring her mortgage and including a $5k/year "fun" provision is about $10k a year and at a 4% WR she would only need $250k to fund her gap and $70k to pay off the mortgage, and she has much more than that so she should be all set.

Lastly, the tax-deferral of the IRAs isn't of a big benefit to her so I would do withdrawals up to where she wouldn't have to pay tax, which is probably abut $11k a year.
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Old 07-20-2015, 07:52 AM   #11
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MIL seems to be okay financially, fortunately, and is lucky that OP is looking out for her. Sorry about the loss of her husband . Her assets seem to be in lots of little pieces--could there be more little chunks around that she does not know about?

I agree an FA will be very helpful in focusing her future plans and organizing and posdibly simplifying her holdings to achieve them.
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Old 07-20-2015, 08:45 AM   #12
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Her assets seem to be in lots of little pieces--could there be more little chunks around that she does not know about.
+1

Check the last few years of tax returns to see where any dividends and interest may have been coming from.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:01 AM   #13
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This might be a great opportunity for MIL and yourself to learn about finance.
Before picking a planner
- go through the T&Cs of all current investments toghether and try to understand them.
- set up a list of questions you both want to have answered re. current investments and long term strategy.
I would visit the advisor together so that MIL has someone to discuss later what has been said.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:14 AM   #14
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Texas - Thanks for the comments. I'll have to check into the annuities to see if they have a LI policy attached. Hadn't thought of that. I'll also look into the tax issues of moving money around. One of my goals in trying to help her is to avoid unnecessary losses, like taxes, fees, as much as possible.

Sarah - Thanks. One of the main reasons I am encouraging she seek professional advice is because it is her money and as the SIL I don't want to be responsible for making decisions that could lead to trouble later.
Are there other siblings? Even more reason to establish a buffer between you and what will happen.

Make sure you get tax return history. There may be a few surprises.

You want to firmly establish what tax bracket she is in so that any moves do not generate tax surprise next year.

If you are near a Schwab office, it may help to go in and start a conversation to see what advice you can get for free. Same goes for Fidelity. You don't need to add management fees, just talk.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:19 AM   #15
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I don't use Fidelity or Schwab, but if there is one in the area, she might be more comfortable with the ability to talk to someone face-to-face while she figures out her finances. I think they also offer financial advice.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:30 AM   #16
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I'll throw out an opinion. Does MIL want to stay at the current house? Might be a good chance for her to downsize, sell the current house and just pay cash for the smaller place. Then she can use all of the insurance proceeds for investment, and subsequently living expenses. If she wants to stay in the house, I think paying it off and using $70K of the insurance money is good idea and will help her to have only living expenses to worry about. Also makes her SS cover all but about $600-700 of expenses, assuming the house taxes and ins are part of that $900 monthly expense.

I generally don't think annuity are as good vs a nice diversified fund, like Wellington or Wellesley (Vanguard funds, Wellesley is more conservative with higher fixed income portion vs equities). Either Vanguard or Fidelity can provide a low cost advisor to help and both can be good places to consolidate the investments. However since the annuities exist and the surrender fees may be more than you want, might be best to keep them and phase them out as time allows.

I agree your MIL has to determine her risk tolerance, and also agree she is in more of capital preservation time rather than growth. She needs predictable income she can count on for rest of her life. So even the money outside of the annuities is probably going to be tilted to the bond/fixed income type investments.

One thing for sure, helping your MIL to educate herself a bit and understand her financial situation is good. An advisor is a wise choice to offer an independent view and recommendations.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:40 AM   #17
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I'll throw out an opinion. Does MIL want to stay at the current house? Might be a good chance for her to downsize, sell the current house and just pay cash for the smaller place. Then she can use all of the insurance proceeds for investment, and subsequently living expenses. If she wants to stay in the house, I think paying it off and using $70K of the insurance money is good idea and will help her to have only living expenses to worry about. Also makes her SS cover all but about $600-700 of expenses, assuming the house taxes and ins are part of that $900 monthly expense.

I generally don't think annuity are as good vs a nice diversified fund, like Wellington or Wellesley (Vanguard funds, Wellesley is more conservative with higher fixed income portion vs equities). Either Vanguard or Fidelity can provide a low cost advisor to help and both can be good places to consolidate the investments. However since the annuities exist and the surrender fees may be more than you want, might be best to keep them and phase them out as time allows.

I agree your MIL has to determine her risk tolerance, and also agree she is in more of capital preservation time rather than growth. She needs predictable income she can count on for rest of her life. So even the money outside of the annuities is probably going to be tilted to the bond/fixed income type investments.

One thing for sure, helping your MIL to educate herself a bit and understand her financial situation is good. An advisor is a wise choice to offer an independent view and recommendations.
My thoughts exactly about selling the house, downsizing and eliminating the mortgage. One other thing and this is just a personal preference is I would try to consolidate as many of the accounts as possible so you just have one or two baskets as opposed to the way the accounts are structured now. Two reasons really, easier to understand/track and will also be easier to handle once the MIL passes on. Regardless, good luck and your task will not be easy or fun but it may also help you with your own finances going forward as well.
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Old 07-20-2015, 11:04 AM   #18
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... One of the main reasons I am encouraging she seek professional advice is because it is her money and as the SIL I don't want to be responsible for making decisions that could lead to trouble later.
That's smart, but let me explain how I handled this with my in-laws after FIL passed (DW is one of the executors/trustees) - I agree, you do not want to be 'on the hook' to others for making decisions, so don't! What I did, was to put together information for them to review, including links and references, so that they could make an informed decision. I explained that most "FA's" are just salespeople, and take a big bite in annual fees. I explained how managed funds mostly don't outperform a broad index, so there really is no magic in picking an investment, and even the Asset Allocation isn't that sensitive, anything from 40/60-80/20 could be considered reasonable for most cases.

I explained that if they still felt a financial review by a 'pro' was in order, to consider a one-time-fee approach, and the importance of finding someone who will work in a fiduciary role. And the importance of getting a DIY plan together as a reference point (which I offered to do for informational purposes). I said if anyone wants to pursue a 'pro' with those credentials, please provide a name for us so we can talk it over. That put the ball in their court, so as expected, no one came up with anything.

So my DIY plan became the default, and MIL was OK with it (but not OK with selling her inherited stocks to trade for an index fund, so no change there). So as DW says, it is MIL's money, her decision, and no one came up with any other information. Of course, that doesn't mean that someone might not complain later (I doubt it though), but they will have no basis, since they neither offered an alternative nor offered any critique of the info I provided (which MIL accepted).

I honestly think it can be more work, and possibly riskier to try to find an FA to fit your needs than to just DIY. To evaluate the FA, you need to know what they are talking about. Once you've done that (it isn't rocket science for most cases), you have the info you need to DIY!

This is KEY, IMO:
Quote:
Originally Posted by gauss View Post
With the FA you will want to see the Fiduciary role in writing with a contract you sign with them. If you see instead the term "suitability standard" in writing then you may be signing up for a much lower level of protection which is much more common in the industry.

Here is a link with further details: Suitability or Fiduciary Standard? - It's a Big Deal! - 401khelpcenter.com

-gauss
Quote:
Originally Posted by rayinpenn View Post
$2,000 to develop a plan ...your kidding right?
1) Mil shortfall is $1315 per month or $16k per year...
2) looks like her earnings are
Asset #1 $10,416
Asset #2 $ 2,100 ....
Quote:
Originally Posted by pb4uski View Post
I agree that $2k to prepare a plan is outrageous. From what you have outlined you are talking about a few hours of work. ....
I didn't go through the numbers in detail, but I lean towards the above quotes. It sounds like she is in pretty good shape financially, and making up the shortfall should not take anything complicated. Take your time, ask questions here, and you can get through this easily, I think.

-ERD50
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Old 07-20-2015, 01:00 PM   #19
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Thanks to all for the replies, advice, and condolences! I won't touch on everyone's points, but here are a few thoughts based on what I've gotten from the many replies.
  • Re: the financial planners. The other firm I contacted has a minimum fee of $2500 for a comprehensive financial plan. Both are in the "rich" part of a major metropolitan area, so that may have something to do with their steep fees. I will contact Vanguard (and maybe Schwab) to see what they have to offer.
  • Re: DIY. I like ERD50's advice of providing information and leaving up to MIL and her children to make the decisions. That's the route I've been taking so far. For example, her friends recommended various brokers that manage their money and I informed her of the difference between suitability and fiduciary, and fee only versus commission. After listening, she decided to seek a fee-only fiduciary. I think with time I could come up with a DIY plan. However, I think I would still prefer the buffer that a FA provides. For now, I'm headed both directions (i.e., learning as much as I can in order to develop a DIY plan, while seeking the most reasonably priced FA I can trust).
  • Re: Mortgage. Everyone I've spoken to says it really doesn't matter either way. I concur. If she decides to pay it off it will probably be for the psychological benefit rather than any financial one. She does plan to stay in the home for at least another year. I recommended that she not move away from her friends and social network too quickly after being widowed. If she moves she would move to another state to be closer to family.
  • Re: Annuities. We are definitely staying in them until there are no surrender fees. After that, not sure. Some here have suggested staying in them is fine provided they are a true, 3%+ return. Others recommend moving them to Wellesly or some other combo of stocks/bonds.
  • Re: Taxes. Ugh and yuck! I know it should be simple, but my head hurt when I tried to decipher their tax documents. Will have to hit that again but have been putting it off.

Okay, here's the essence of a plan based on what I've learned so far:
  1. Continue seeking FAs, specifically with Vanguard and Schwab, to see if we can get a less expensive option.
  2. If it helps her psychologically/emotionally, then pay off the mortgage which will reduce her spending by about $700/mo.
  3. Keep $25k to $50K as emergency funds (I'm thinking $25k in savings and $25k in a one-year CD?).
  4. Invest remainder of LI ($150K to $220K depending upon mtg decision) in Vanguard Wellesly.
  5. In April of 2016 (when Asset-1 has no surrender fees) move some or all of Lincoln annuity to Wellesly. Maybe keep $100k to $150K in the annuity to address her low risk tolerance?
  6. In October of 2018 move all of Asset-2 Lincoln annuity to Wellesly to avoid starting another 7 year surrender fee contract.
  7. Move the other small IRAs over to Wellesly.
  8. Leave gold as is and hope prices rise again?

Rough numbers, assuming she pays off mtg: This would put something like $340k in Wellesly, $150K in a 3% annuity, and $50K in cash/CD (+ gold). Is this a reasonable DIY plan? I've underlined the key parts I have questions about.

And finally, thanks again. What you've given me so far has helped me tremendously! I'll keep reading and learning!
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Old 07-20-2015, 01:53 PM   #20
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I had my money with Schwab many years ago. At that time they had a program where the would recommend FAs meeting your needs. You could ask them if they have any FAs in their list that are fee-only fiduciary.
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