Riding out the pandemic with family presents the perfect chance to lay it all out: priorities, account balances, end-of-life directives.
By John F. Wasik
For far too many families, financial planning is akin to scheduling dental surgery. The prospect of pain and discomfort prompts many to put it off — or not do it at all.
During the pandemic, however, a mortal urgency has forced the issue. Will dependents and heirs be provided for? What about funding a dignified retirement? Fortunately, with many families still sheltering together, the different generations can sit down and address these subjects openly. Key questions can be fielded and discussed.
Rosemary and Jeffery Harris started extensive planning about 13 years ago during another crisis. It was the height of the housing bubble, which burst — leaving them worried about protecting the equity on the home they bought in 2007. They approached a financial adviser in Glen Allen, Va., for a comprehensive financial plan, wanting to sketch out a secure retirement and provide an inheritance for their three daughters, who are in their 30s.
Although they had thought ahead and made portfolio and estate plan adjustments, the coronavirus crisis has put a finer, more immediate focus on the Harris family’s financial future. The couple lost a relative to Covid-19 and wanted to take the opportunity of having time with their daughters to nail down the details and keep them informed.
The Harrises also are focused on their own retirements. Mr. Harris, 62, a wholesale area manager in the oil industry, is on the cusp of leaving the work force while Ms. Harris, 65, is a retired school principal with a pension. Mr. Harris doesn’t have a pension, so his adviser, Aaron Smith of A.W. Smith Financial Group, set up a portfolio that would provide long-term retirement income.
“It’s a scary time, and we’ve been blessed,” Ms. Harris said. “But we were concerned about the pandemic. I wanted to pull out of the market. Aaron advised against that.”
As many families have discovered, it can be uncomfortable to involve children in discussions of how to handle estates after parents die.
“I don’t want to minimize the crisis,” Mr. Harris said, “but we had to sit down and have a broad discussion with our daughters. We told them, ‘Here’s what we have, the value of our insurance and the location of our trust.’”
Their oldest daughter, Ashley Perry, 37, agreed that the discussion was an awkward prospect. “Of course, no one wants to think of their parents dying,” she said. But she knew her parents had planned ahead, Ms. Perry added, so “it makes sense that they would have their finances in order.”
“They taught us how to be financially responsible,” she said. “I feel very grateful.”
If there’s something positive about the pandemic, it’s that it has strengthened some family ties, though not always happily.
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