The Gap in Financial Planning

The Gap in Financial Planning

Have you ever assembled a piece of equipment, or perhaps a toy for a child, stepped back and admired your great handiwork, only to find a part (or two) leftover which should have been used? On the outside, your masterpiece looks flawless. On the inside, however, you’re wondering just how important those pieces are. That “gap” could be the most important pieces.

When it comes to financial planning, there is an area we most often see as the “gap” after 35+ years of us working with clients.

The “gap” is this: What happens to you and your family in the event of an unexpected death or disability? We can plan for your investments, savings, insurances, budget and retirement. And all of that is good. But what happens to your minor children in the event you pass away prematurely? I know…not a fun read for today. But, it happens, and we all need to have a plan in place for what we desire to occur when, not if, we pass away. What I am talking about here is an estate plan.

Let me address a few myths when it comes to estate planning:

1) Estate plans are only for rich people. False. Estate plans are for ALL people. We ALL have an estate (https://www.estateplanning.com/What-is-Estate-Planning/)

2) My family will just cordially work out who cares for our minor children. False. More often than not, a judge listening to both sides of the family makes the best decision that he or she can. Whew! How much easier this would have been with simple wills declaring his or her wishes for who should care for the children.

3) The courts will just work out what is fair for everyone involved. False. What is considered “fair” is relative to those involved. Did you know that in many states, Mississippi being one, a spouse receives the same percentage share of an asset as a child would should the deceased die without a will and the asset had no named beneficiary?

These are just a few myths that come to mind. Over the years, we have seen the heartache involved when a person’s estate is not planned well, or at all. They may have sufficient assets to care for loved ones. However, without a properly designed estate plan, disaster can occur, causing stress for loved ones.

We often get asked: “Should I pay an attorney to help, or could I write my own will?” Well, “yes and yes.” You should pay an attorney, and you can write your own will. However, we believe it is much wiser to get professional help, especially should a problem arise down the road. You can attempt to diagnose that continual headache, rash or stomach pain all day long using webmd.com. Or, you can pay a doctor who does this type of work on a daily basis.

So, what are essential parts of an estate plan? Our industry has called it the “Three-legged stool”:

1) Last Will and Testament
2) Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
3) Advanced Healthcare Directive

That stool could have a fourth leg for situations needing a Revocable Living Trust. We won’t go into detail on any of these today, but it’s worth bringing up each of these items to the attorney you choose.

I have observed that the hardest step is the first step – not just in estate planning, but in many important areas of life: Making that first phone call and asking for help.

I am a big believer in professional help. That includes the work we do as financial planners. All your ducks may be in a row, but it’s worthwhile to have a second set of eyes to make sure. We think you’ll be glad you did.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.

A Wake-Up Call

A Wake-Up Call

It’s that time of year for many of us – kids back to school, a new routine established, and a list of to-do’s. I’m a big fan of the change of seasons (but a change in plans, now that’s another story!)

I love that there are biblical writings about different seasons of life, none better than Ecclesiastes 3. Listen to what Solomon wrote:

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

(Now some of you may have thought the Byrds would be credited for the above with their hit song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, but that’s certainly not the case.)

Some view the book of Ecclesiastes as a depressing read. I get that. But I’ve always read this book as a wake-up call. The writer is one of the wisest men to ever live, and he’s reflecting on life at the end of his own. What a gift for us!

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” That’s how this chapter begins – to let us know to expect different seasons of life. There will be seasons to rejoice, and seasons to mourn.

I’ve written in a previous newsletter about learning to live in the good and bad of life. This journey continues. I’ve not yet arrived…nor will I. But it’s worth honestly engaging in the journey rather than ignoring its existence.

What season of life are you in? Mixed emotions of kids going back to school? Rejoicing in an unexpected blessing? Mourning the loss of a loved one? Feeling ashamed for procrastinating in an important area of life, including money?

Know this – you are not alone. My encouragement to you is to bring others into whichever season you are in. We are not wired to go it alone. Connect with others, share with others, mourn with others, and rejoice with others. Our circumstances may not change, but, as we take these steps, our ability to cope does.

Know this also: There is a Savior who walked this earth and experienced different seasons of life: rejoicing at a wedding, mourning at a death, trusting while suffering. Be comforted in this truth.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.

Giving Freely vs. Suffering Want

Giving Freely vs. Suffering Want

There’s a story about a rich man whose land produced an abundant harvest. He was posed with a dilemma as he already had more than enough, but he didn’t have a place to store these additional crops. His solution was to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones. He even imagined what he’d say to himself once done with this work: “Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!”

So how do think this story ends?

“God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods – who gets it?’ That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

If you’re a Christian, this story may be familiar as it’s found in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-21. If not a Christian, you may wonder what does this story have to do with you? A lot, I’d say.

We’re often asked at Rivertree, “What do y’all (or “you all” for my northerners) actually help people do?” We may answer that we help plan for their retirement. Isn’t that contradictory to the story above? It could be if we left out some essential pieces of the full process.

One of these “essential pieces” is us asking, “When you retire, what are you planning to do with your time?” A myth is the joy of the “couch potato retirement.” Now there’s nothing wrong with relaxing more and catching up on some shows. But is that your full-time plan?

I’ve read a book about those who bought into this plan. Their main purpose became themselves. Sound familiar? (Reference paragraph 1). What does the book say happens to these folks? They die sooner than statistically expected. Why is that? They lost purpose. Is there a better way to “retire,” you might ask? We’d say so. Insert “generous living.”

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”  (Proverbs 11:24)

Listen to Tim Keller’s reflection on this verse:

“The more you scatter your wealth, the more you gather it, and the more you try to keep it for yourself, the more it dissipates. How could that be? Think of farmers. The more they scatter seed, the more they will reap. And keep in mind that the seed comes back in better form, as harvest you can eat and sell. In the same way, spiritually wise people realize their money is seed, and the only way for them to turn it into real riches is by giving it away in remarkable proportions (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6).

This is not a promise that the more you give away, the more money you will make. Rather the more you give away wisely to ministries and programs that help people spiritually and physically, the more your money becomes the real wealth of changed lives in others and of spiritual health in yourself. And you will be walking in footsteps of the one who was literally broken and scattered so he could gather us to himself.”

See the difference in self-living vs. generous living? It’s suffering want vs. gaining more. That “more” isn’t money. It’s joy.

There’s a quote from Randy Alcorn that has stuck with me: “The only antidote to greed is giving.” When we are tempted to clinch our fists around money (or build bigger barns), give it away. This breaks greed’s power, whether you’re a Christian or non-Christian.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.

What Can You Do

What Can You Do

I hope you had a nice February. If you live in Mississippi, we had our usual volatile whether. You may need snow gear one day and a swimsuit the next (slight exaggeration but you get the point).

Personally, this February is certainly one to remember as I had hip surgery. Fast forward to today, I’m doing well thankfully. I still have a journey of recovery ahead of me. But, to say it has been a joy ride would not be honest of me.

I had a close friend stop by recently to check on me. He was gracious to listen to me share how hard things have been. We all need folks to just listen sometimes, right? And sometimes, we need a friend to challenge us.

After hearing me share about the things I couldn’t do right now, he asked, “What are things you can do?” I paused. That had certainly not been my focus. I reflected on his question that night and the next morning. I started thinking about not just things I can still do, but what are new things I can do? I mentally came up with a long list and took action on some immediately. My spirits were lifted and some contentment returned.

I’m not writing a message about the “power of positive thinking,” but I am challenging myself, and you, to reflect on this question: “What are things you can do?” More specifically, “What are things you can do to make progress financially?”

With financial planning, there are many aspects that we can’t control and are forced to use some assumptions: inflation, rates of return, life longevity, etc. However, there are many aspects of financial planning that we can control.

What are steps that you can take TODAY to-

  • Begin a debt elimination plan?
  • Implement a budget?
  • Call the lawyer to get your will completed?
  • Increase your life insurance coverage?
  • Increase your charitable giving?

Don’t be overwhelmed by this list. Prioritize. Need help taking steps and prioritizing? That’s exactly what we do. Give us a call. We’d love to help.

Spring is just a few weeks away which I always welcome (well, minus the pollen). Spring is a time of new life, and it can be a time of new hope and purpose.

Take a few new steps and see what happens.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.

So Advisor: How Exactly Are You Paid?

So Advisor: How Exactly Are You Paid?

I hope your January was a good start to 2018. I read an article recently referring to the third Monday of January as “Blue Monday: The Most Miserable (Planning) Day of the Year.” That certainly got my attention as I’m a planner by trade (and by personality my wife and others would say).

Why is that Monday so bad? Well it does make sense to me that the third week is quite hard for any weekly goals set. Getting motivated for two weeks isn’t too hard. But week #3? That’s hard. Maybe just acknowledging this will help some of you give yourselves a break, get back on the saddle and make the progress you desired for this year. Now to our topic…

The financial services industry has gone through some significant changes the past few years, particularly as it relates to advisor products, services and compensation. Many would say the industry began with stock brokers in the 1970’s. If you wanted to buy stock of a particular company, you would call your stock broker and pay a commission. Since then, insert the discount brokers: Scottrade, e-Trade, etc. You can do your own research, buy the stock(s) you want, and pay far less in commissions.

Then mutual funds became popular… particularly in the 1990’s. To have access to certain mutual fund families, you had to go through a licensed financial advisor who got paid a commission. Later on, came the “online mutual fund supermarket” as one advisor calls it. You no longer had to go through an advisor to access top-notch mutual funds.

Fast forward to today, our industry is working through significant legislation initiated by the Department of Labor. In short, advisors who work with clients’ retirement accounts are legally now fiduciaries with the exception of some accounts set up prior to this law. What does that mean? Simply put, advisors must put the clients’ interests above their own. I know what many readers may be thinking: “Wasn’t that requirement already the law?” Well, the short answer is “no” depending upon the setup for the advisor.

So what about us? “Us” being the Rivertree team. Know that we have always operated under the mandate to put our clients’ interest above our own. One way we have done this is by being an independent company. What does that mean? No quotas. We never want to have a conflict of interest when making recommendations simply to meet a quota.

What’s another way? All current Rivertree advisors have accountability to a certification board to operate in a fidiciuary capacity to clients. We did not need a law to make us do this. We wanted to have this additional accountability and have it through Fi360® (Brent and Jonathan) and the Certified Financial Planner® Board (Scott).

In addition, advisor compensation has been under additional scrutiny…and it needed to be. Clients need to know how advisors are paid, whether it’s by fee, commission or both. Which method is better? Well it depends. Our team sees the benefit of having both options available as one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

For example, larger investment accounts can benefit from a fee-based management that involves multiple money managers using different strategies and investments. Additional oversight and accountability can also add value. However, we believe some accounts benefit from commission-based strategies where fees are less over the long run. The clients’ goals can be better accomplished utilizing this method.

Once we meet with prospective clients, listen to their goals, and gather their information, we fully disclose the compensation structure we believe makes the most sense for them rather than giving them a long list of “potential” fees and commissions. Prospective clients can then ask additional questions and make sure they have a full understanding.

In summary, our industry is shifting to a model of less-conflicted compensation. We have been ready for this change.

As always, please let us know if we can be of service. It would be our pleasure.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.