‘Any man who dies with more than $10,000 should consider himself a failure,” proclaimed swashbuckling movie hero Errol Flynn. By his own standard, Flynn died at age 50, a consummate success. With a full glass and decimated bank account, he had made and delightfully squandered millions, in wicked, wicked ways that most men only fantasize about.
Alas, most of us are hoping to live past 50, will never have millions to squander, and probably wouldn’t have the gumption to spend so cavalierly even if we did. We have other, more pedestrian, plans for our fortunes, and we want to know the very best way to keep our money tools sharp so that they will help us build the future we want.
Toward this end, the Financial Women’s Association is sponsoring a series of fiscal planning seminars, the first of which, “Update Your Financial and Estate Plans,” takes place on Thursday, March 2, at 8 a.m. at the Morristown Beaureguard Mansion. Cost: $25. Visit www.fwa.org for more information, and to register. Speakers include Maya Boguslavsky, an attorney and vice president of wealth planning at PNC Bank’s Millburn office, and Jodi Cirignano, financial planer with J.P. Morgan’s Private Client Group.
“I grew up about as far away from the financial world as you could get,” says Boguslavsky. “My father was a hardheaded mechanical engineer who could make anything.” Entering Temple University, Boguslavsky continued to keep arm’s length from things financial, majoring in psychology and philosophy. After gaining her B.A. in l991, she stayed on at Temple, enrolling in its James E. Beasely School of Law. Upon graduation, Boguslavsky took her legal expertise to Philadelphia firm Solis-Cohen and then to Wolf, Block & Schorr. She now works with individual clients, helping them blend future dreams with wealth realities. She calls upon her legal training in advising her clients, but “also an awful lot of that undergraduate psychology.”
The day before Valentines Day, PNC Bank released the results of its second annual Love and Money Survey. Polling 1,500 men and women of substantial means, the bank discovered that — no surprise — each sex views money differently. Generally, men see money as stature. I earn, therefore I am. Women are by nature nest builders. They are more likely to view a nest egg as security. But the biggest change the survey noted is just how much major financial strategies have become a marital team effort. The big problem, according to the survey, is not the approach that each partner makes, but rather that neither tends to be especially well informed about how to craft a successful financial strategy.
Assess thyself. “The first step in financial planning is not to tally your assets, but to assess your life and your personal plans,” says Boguslavsky. When would you like to retire and what is the practical retirement window? How much, and for how long, will your cash flow into your children’s’ education and other needs? What expenses are your parents, home, and lifestyle expected to add up to?
This need not be disaster planning. You will probably never have enough for that nightmarish worst case scenario. But most of us can with relative certainty set goals and time horizons. Once done, blend this in with your earning expectations. “These are all very personal choices,” says Boguslavsky. “They need to be made early on, and with great care.”
Calculate how much time you are willing to invest. “Probably the biggest mistake people make in investing is getting themselves into things that require more monitoring than they are willing to give,” says Boguslavsky. All investment vehicles require some monitoring. There is nothing wrong with being so caught up in earning cash that you don’t have time to cultivate its growth. The woman who said “I want money, but I don’t want it to bother me,” is not morally lax. She is simply being honest — and giving voice to a common sentiment.
Look ahead to future spending patterns. The other strategy question that only you can decide is liquidity. How quickly will you need how much of your portfolio. If you plan to retire and travel the globe, taking periodic cruises to exotic locales, you may require large chunks of cash at the ready every few months. If your life plans foresee a more steady cash outflow, you may need only the predictable stream of investment income.
Research financial planners. Anyone who decides that she needs help in setting up a long-range financial strategy might want to use a financial planner. Most brokerage firms charge for this service by taking a commission from the various investment trades. Others charge a flat percentage, based upon assets managed. Many independent financial planners will do the planning for a one-time fee.
It’s important to ask about fees upfront, and to discuss philosophy. Some financial planners favor a conservative strategy, while others encourage more risk taking. A good planner will inquire about much more than your preference for stocks or bonds, and will assess everything from your life insurance coverage to your need for long-term care insurance — for yourself, or for your parents.
Weigh your retirement benefits. More than anything, the retirement pension reflects our entrance into the age of complex living. A host of issues must be painstakingly researched. One of the most ignored questions is whether your healthcare benefits remain fixed, even if your employer decides to switch plans. In some cases, today’s great retirement package later could be scaled back.
Additionally, pension payments themselves typically offer layered benefits. Do you get more cash with quarterly or monthly payments? Is it worth the reduction in monthly checks to have the pension payments extend to your spouse should you predecease her? Boguslavsky’s suggestion is to sit down with your company human resource person to get all the details about your pension options.
Plan for your heirs. Slipping into the next world has ever been the state’s last chance to give your wallet a final pinch. As of 2006, the IRS imposes an estate tax only on those with assets of over $2 million.This includes all your assets, even real estate. The good news is that the limit is set to slide upwards over the next several years.
The bad news is that, as the federal government takes less, state government is taking more. Boguslavsky explains that New Jersey has two overwhelmingly complex systems — the first is a step inheritance tax and the second is an estate tax based loosely on the old federal system.
Drawing up a will. Most people know that the will is a citizen’s one chance to control his wealth from beyond the grave. Yet Boguslavsky says that too few people understand the scope of the will and what needs be included. “Look beyond money,” she says.
Most important — and most often neglected — is the appointment of a guardian for your dependents. This means children and any other relative in your care. Also, titling your assets in the proper ownership form can go a long way toward greasing the wheels of your dependents’ inheritance.
Nearly as vital is to find yourself a true regent — a trusted friend to whom you give power of attorney. It may be a lawyer, but it need not be. You are going to give this person the power to sell your house, shift your bank account, and make major health decisions for you, should you be unable to act for yourself. The primary characteristic of the person holding your power of attorney is that he be devoted to you and understand your wishes. Find that person, and you will still retain vicarious control of your life when, in later years, it might otherwise be taken from you.
The person you choose can also help make medical decisions for you. Certainly you want to draw up a living will, but these documents may not cover all eventualities, and you might want someone you trust to decide just what “heroic measures” you would want in what situations.
We are in a planning frenzy. College graduates negotiate their first jobs with retirement packages included, and begin immediately filling their 401 (k)s. And while there is a certain sad wisdom to this farsightedness, perhaps we all could use a little Errol Flynn in our lives. Money is a marvelous tool for filling our days with beauty, adventures, and delightful memories. Plan prudently, but don’t forget to have some fun.