The Importance of Planning for Widowhood

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

According to the Administration on Aging, in 2010 there were four times as many widows as widowers. Over half of all women over 75 live alone, and one third of all women who become widows are under the age of 65.   About one third of all women who reach 65 are likely to live to 90.  Twenty seven percent of unmarried women, between ages 65 and 69, are poor compared to only 7% for all married women.  Women frequently have erratic work experience, due to family obligations, resulting in lower pensions than men.   Only about one third of all women will receive a pension in comparison to about two thirds of all men.  

These are just a few statistics indicating why it is crucial for women to plan ahead for the uncomfortable, but very real possibility of becoming a widow.  Many couples spend years planning for retirement together, but avoid planning for the possibility of living alone.  Couples need to develop a plan that addresses issues that must be dealt with upon the death of a spouse, as well as a plan for long term financial security for the surviving spouse. 

Start by working with an Estate Planning Attorney, whom you both feel comfortable with, to draft your wills and powers of attorney.  Part of this process should include reviewing the beneficiary designations on all of your retirement accounts and insurance policies to be sure they are consistent with your estate planning goals.  This is also a good time to discuss end of life preferences with one another.

The next step is to organize your finances and ensure that you both know what you have, where you have it, and how it can be accessed.  Take an active role in managing your finances.  If you are uncomfortable or don’t understand your finances, do some reading, take some classes or ask your planner to help you better understand your financial situation.   If you decide to work with a financial planner, take the time to select someone with whom you have complete trust and confidence – someone you can rely on as a trusted resource, should you become a widow.

Ensure that you have adequate emergency reserves to cover funeral expenses and living expenses for several months while the estate is settled.   The loss of a spouse is extremely difficult and you don’t need money worries on top of the tremendous emotional hardship you will be experiencing.

Incorporate the possibility of losing a spouse in your long term financial planning.  Run retirement scenarios and develop a plan that meets your goals together and on your own.  Review and understand survivor benefits associated with Social Security and Employer Pension Plans.  If your projected cash flow falls below your expenses, consider purchasing term life insurance or developing contingency plans to reduce your expenses. 

The Widow’s Guide to Social Security Benefits

The Widow’s Guide to Social Security Benefits (via Credit.com)

As a Certified Financial Planner™, I work with a lot of widows trying to navigate the tricky world of Social Security benefits after their spouse passes away. Social Security provides you, as a widow, with a choice between your own Social Security benefit based on your work history, and a survivor…

Stock Can Be a Good Option in Retirement

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane M. Young

As we approach retirement, there is a common misconception that we need to abruptly transition our portfolios completely out of the stock market to be fully invested in fixed income investments.   One reason to avoid a sudden shift to fixed income is that retirement is fluid; it is not a permanent decision. Most people will and should gradually transition into retirement.  Traditional retirement is becoming less common because life expectancies are increasing and fewer people are receiving pensions. Most people will go in and out of retirement several times.  After many years we may leave a traditional career field for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  However, after a few years of leisure we may miss the sense of purpose, accomplishment, and identity gained from working.  As a result, we may return to work in a new career field, do some consulting in an area where we had past experience or work part-time in a coffee shop.

Another problem with a drastic shift to fixed income is that we don’t need our entire retirement nest egg on the day we reach retirement.   The typical retirement age is around 65, based on current Social Security data, the average retiree will live for another twenty years. A small portion of our portfolio may be needed upon reaching retirement but a large percentage won’t be needed for many years.   It is important to keep long term money in a diversified portfolio, including stock mutual funds, to provide growth and inflation protection.   A reasonable rate of growth in our portfolio is usually needed to meet our goals. Inflation can take a huge bite out of the purchasing power of our portfolios over twenty years or more.   Historically, fixed income investments have just barely kept up with inflation while stock market investments have provided a nice hedge against inflation.

We need to think in terms of segregating our portfolios into imaginary buckets based on the timeframes in which money will be needed.  Money that is needed in the next few years should be safe and readily available.  Money that isn’t needed for many years can stay in a diversified portfolio based on personal risk tolerance.  Portfolios should be rebalanced on an annual basis to be sure there is easy access to money needed in the short term.

A final myth with regard to investing in retirement is that money needed to cover your retirement expenses must come from interest earning investments.  Sure, money needed in the short term needs to be kept in safe, fixed income investments to avoid selling stock when the market is down.  However, this doesn’t mean that we have to cover all of our retirement income needs with interest earning investments.  There may be several good reasons to cover retirement expenses by selling stock.   When the stock market is up it may be wise to harvest some gains or do some rebalancing.  At other times there may be tax benefits to selling stock.

 

Mutual Funds May be Your Best Option

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane M. Young

Generally the typical investor is better off investing in stock mutual funds than in individual stocks. A mutual fund is an investment vehicle where money from a large number of investors is pooled together and invested by a professional manager or management team.  Mutual fund managers invest this pool of money in accordance with a predefined set of goals and guidelines.

One of the primary benefits of investing in stock mutual funds is the ability to diversify across a large number of different stocks.  With mutual funds, you don’t need a fortune to invest in a broad spectrum of stocks issued by large and small companies from a variety of different industries and geographies.  Diversification with mutual funds reduces risk by providing a buffer against extreme swings in the prices of individual stocks.   You are less likely to lose a lot of money if an individual stock plummets. Unfortunately, you are also less likely to experience a huge gain if an individual stock skyrockets.

Another benefit of stock mutual funds over individual stocks is that less time and knowledge is required to create and monitor a portfolio.  Most individual investors do not have the time, expertise, or resources to select and monitor individual stocks.  Mutual funds hire hundreds of analysts to research and monitor companies, industries and market trends.   It is very difficult for an individual to achieve this level of knowledge and understanding across a broad spectrum of companies.  Mutual fund managers have the resources to easily move in and out of companies and industries as investment factors change.

Most individual investors appreciate the convenience of selecting and monitoring a diversified portfolio of mutual funds over the arduous task of selecting a large number of individual stocks.   Stock mutual funds are a good option for your serious money.  However, if you really want to play the market and invest in individual stocks, use money that you can afford to lose.

For diehard stock investors, there are some advantages to investing in individual stocks.  Many stock mutual funds charge an annual management fee of between .50% and 1% (.25% for index funds).  With individual stocks, there is a cost to buy and sell the stock but there is no annual management fee associated with holding stock.

Another advantage of individual stocks is greater control over when capital gains are recognized within a non- retirement account.  When you own an individual stock, capital gains are not recognized until the stock is sold.   In a high income year, you can delay selling your stock, and recognizing the gain, to a year when it would be more tax efficient.   On the other hand, when you invest in a stock mutual fund you have no control over capital gains on stock sold within the fund.  Capital gains must be paid on sales within the mutual fund, before you actually sell the fund.  Mutual funds are not taxable entities, therefore all gains flow through to the end investor.

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