Not Just About Money
Contributed by Lewis J. Walker, CFP®
At any “mix and mingle” gathering of business and professional folks, a common ice breaker question is, “What do you do?” Or perhaps, “Tell me about your company?”
Sharing chicken wings and drinks with a young doctor and a woman who worked in the practice, when informed that I was a financial planner, he laughed. pointed to her, and pronounced, “She needs you!”
She chuckled and asserted, “No I don’t. I don’t have any money!”
A common misperception is that financial planning is just about investing. Far from it if we approach client needs and challenges from a comprehensive viewpoint. With a holistic conversational construct, “needs” uncovered may be ones the client has yet to recognize.
The young woman was married, with no children. Asked if she had a will, she emphatically said, “Yes!” I inquired, “Well, do you have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?” Said she, “No, do I need one?”
If her husband was badly injured in an accident, without a properly drafted power of attorney with HIPPA disclosures she could not get medical information or make decisions. Ditto relative to a child over 18, or any loved one. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) legislation provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
Without a Durable Power of Attorney for Assets one cannot access the financial assets or business affairs of a disabled loved one incapable of acting in his or her behalf. Business owners and key persons need to think about proper documentation and continuity arrangements in case of their incapacity or death. In all cases, more comprehensive living and testamentary estate planning may be in order.
Yes, insurance may be involved. True protection and risk management may encompass insurance in various forms—liability (including Umbrella Liability coverage); life, disability, and health insurance, including long term care where appropriate. Life insurance often is tied to trust planning where an incapacitated loved one (or one likely to be incapacitated) is concerned, special needs children or adults, adult children with spendthrift tendencies or substance abuse challenges. Philanthropy objectives may encompass trust planning, and perhaps, creative applications for life insurance. Ditto for tax-smart strategies.
The doctor, with a spouse and three minor children, admitted that he and his wife did not have wills. Actually, they do. The State of Georgia graciously has written wills for them. If he died intestate, potentially she loses control of a good portion of his assets which must be held in trust for the children. If they both died, a probate court decides who raises the children.
For the young woman with “no money,” it’s not about investing now. It is about setting goals. The first goal is to save enough liquid and FDIC-insured money so she and her husband can live for one year with no income. Call it a “Freedom Fund” that gives one the freedom to make choices, avoid expensive consumer debt, even change jobs with no fear of missing a paycheck. It’s about setting aside funds for “bucket list” objectives, fun and meaningful activities.
It’s about “debt control,” eliminating student loan and credit card debt that drain dollars and inhibit investing for the long term and the pursuit of financial independence.
Financial life planning may be about challenges, positive and negative, that you face now or may deal with in the next five to ten years. It is about the best alternatives available to meet the challenges. It’s about evaluating the resources available to meet the challenges. For example, if dealing with aging parents or an ailing spouse or other loved one, it may be about both financial and human capital resources available to power the best alternative. (The Family Care Conversation®).
Lastly, every discussion is about your expectations, what you wish to experience. That applies to all major life transitions challenges from educations for children and young adults to later-in-life decisions involving succession planning for business owners and professionals, retirement planning for everyone, the latter better framed as “long life planning.”
Yes, money is involved. But if that’s all that’s being focused on, you are not dealing with true financial life planning. Money is but a tool to support meaning, purpose, and the meeting of responsibilities. Such things are worthy of deep discussions and taking time to do it right!
Lewis Walker is a financial planning and investment strategist at Capital Insight Group; 770-441-2603. Securities and advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of SFA which is otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group.