The Personal Side of Financial Planning
Jake Mason | June 11, 2012
Martha’s husband of almost 60 years passed away shortly before I started working with her. There were a number of financial issues to address after his death, and I was able to help take those off her shoulders so she could focus on coming to terms with her great personal loss.
Her family had moved to Maryland from the mid-west in the early 1960s, and she went on to become a career tax accountant — an uncommon position for a woman of her generation. While she was always down to earth and personable, I could see her training when we met to go over her financial plan and portfolio. Clearly, she had a mind for business and numbers.
Eventually, she asked if her children might be included in our discussions — her assets would go to them, after all. I thought that was a good idea, and so two of her adult children began attending our regular meetings. Over time, I got to know them, as I had their mother.
One morning in late February, Martha’s son called me with the news that she had fallen ill, and was in the hospital in serious condition. After expressing my concern and sending flowers to her room, I went through the details of her accounts. Unfortunately, because of the value of her assets, if she passed away her estate would be hit with steep Maryland taxes — 6 to 16% of every dollar over $1 million. While that was the furthest thing from the minds of her children, it was very much on my own. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a planner is taking care of details like this so that my clients are free to attend to the non-financial aspects of life.
Over the next two weeks, I worked closely with Martha’s son to gift a sizable portion of her estate over to her children, so that what remained would fall under Maryland’s tax exemption level. (When he explained my tax saving strategy to Martha at the hospital, the longtime tax accountant approved wholeheartedly.) It wasn’t easy — her assets were spread across multiple accounts and financial instruments — but her health was declining, and I knew time was of the essence.
We completed the process on a Tuesday in late March. The next day, Martha’s son called to tell me that she had passed away, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. While I was sad at the news and sorry for the family’s loss, I was grateful that I took at least one worry off their minds in her final days. And I was able to ensure that the assets she’d accumulated over years of hard work and sacrifice went to her family and not to the government.
In the weeks that followed, I continued to meet with her children. They weren’t clients, but I wanted to help them complete the financial transition smoothly. That was what Martha wanted, after all.
In many people’s minds, a financial planner is little more than a number cruncher. While that’s certainly part of it, the job involves a lot more than that. We walk side by side with our clients through all the important events of their lives — often, across multiple generations. We help them when a child or grandchild is born, when they get married to the man or woman of their dreams, and when a loved one passes away. We are there with them in the good times and the bad.