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The Journey: How to find a financial planner if you're not wealthy

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

January 12, 2015


Q: I am a 72-year-old senior, and a lot of my friends have financial planners. They don’t live in my area and have more money than I do, but they seem to think it’s very wise to have a planner. How do you go about finding one you can trust? I am afraid to trust a stranger with my money. My husband and I (second marriage) have no money in common and I will get nothing from him if he dies first. I am the owner of the modest house we live in, and I have savings of about $100,000.

A: There are a couple of websites, garrettplanningnetwork.com and napfa.org that list advisers who generally are paid for their time as opposed to on commissions.

Also, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants lists its members who also hold a personal financial specialist designation.

That said, I humbly suggest a little soul-searching first to discover how you truly want to manage your finances. Are you looking for a money manager to invest the $100,000 or someone offering more comprehensive skills?

If fear about unscrupulous or unskilled money managers is your overriding concern, you can buy Treasury bonds directly from the government at treasurydirect.gov or put the money in certificates of deposit backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. A quick scan at Bankrate.com recently showed top-performing CDs paying 2.4 percent for a five-year period, so you could ladder the money out, choosing shorter term rates for money you will need before then.

You could also look at immediateannuities.com which offers quotes on fixed annuities that begin right away in exchange for a lump sum. A recent search found that $100,000 would generate about $623 per month for a woman your age.

There also are new advisory platforms — Wealthfront, Betterment and Charles Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios among them — that automate the money management process at prices far below the traditional cost of an independent adviser.

My hunch, though, is that you are asking for much more comprehensive advice.

You mentioned that you and your husband don’t have money in common and you would get nothing from his estate if he dies, but have you considered other consequences, such as Social Security benefits? Even if his benefit is smaller than yours and wouldn’t result in a larger widow’s benefit for you, the loss of his monthly check is something to consider when thinking about your financial future.

Do you have a mortgage or other debt, life insurance policies or desires for passing money to other family members when you pass away?

All of these questions should ultimately factor into how you decide to manage the $100,000 and can be used as conversation points as you vet potential advisers.

Q: My husband is 70 and I am 58. He has had heart surgery and cancer. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 11 years ago and expect to need a caregiver or nursing home within another 10 to 15 years, and my husband is concerned that he won’t be around by then to care for me. Because I don’t have long-term care insurance, will my home be at risk for nursing home costs? I have about $325,000 in savings. We have a son to whom I would want to leave an inheritance. We are purchasing a new home in a few months. Should we put it in a trust? Am I allowed to keep a certain amount of assets and still qualify for Medicaid?

A: If nursing home care is more than five years away, you have some time to plan. Buying a new home to downsize in retirement can be a smart strategy if it reduces living costs and leaving an inheritance is a common aspiration. But if you are facing serious health issues, be sure to carefully consider these options.

Qualifying for Medicaid requires one to be impoverished, and there is generally a five-year look-back period, so asset transfers within that time can result in delays before Medicaid would kick in to cover costs. If your husband is living when you enter a nursing home, he could keep some assets and income, though the amounts vary by state.

A primary home generally can be exempt from your countable assets used to determine Medicaid eligibility, but a lien potentially could be placed on it after your death. And if your husband dies while you are in a nursing home, the state could go after his estate for reimbursement.

"There is definitely a trend toward more recovery" by nursing homes and states looking to be paid back for money spent on nursing care, said Melissa Negrin-Wiener, a partner in the Melville, N.Y., law firm Genser, Dubow, Genser & Cona.

An irrevocable trust is one strategy people have used to protect their homes, but be aware of all the implications.

"You could sell the current home and buy the new one with an irrevocable trust," but if you set up the trust you generally wouldn’t have access to the home equity, she said.

By definition, you typically can’t undo these types of trusts, so start interviewing qualified attorneys now.