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Brain Trust

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Imagine picking the brains of more than a dozen top-notch financial advisors on the key issue for most clients: retirement. That’s exactly what Lyn Fisher and Sydney LeBlanc did with their latest book, Happily Ever After: Expert Advice for Achieving the Retirement of Your Dreams. They sought out 14 financial advisors and retirement consultants who each contributed a chapter to this very thorough book.

For example, David Harris and Christopher Buccheri, heads of the Harris-Buccheri Wealth Management Group of Wachovia Securities, contribute a chapter titled, “It’s Not Too Late: Practical Steps for Your Retirement.” The authors provide sensible steps readers can follow to assess their situation, starting with creating a balance sheet-type document. “No matter what your stage in life, it is a good habit to periodically review your accumulated assets versus any debt,” they write. Inventory should include employee/government benefits such as pensions, 401(k) accounts, Social Security benefits, etc.

They address how much a reader will need in retirement, suggesting that a family will need approximately 65 percent to 80 percent of their previous year’s salary or income in retirement. “But generalizations such as this can often prove disastrous,” they write. Instead they suggest time-lining the first 10 years of retirement on paper so clients can honesty appraise non-discretionary needs and discretionary “wants.” The authors discuss the benefits of retirees taking on some part-time work in order to overcome shortfalls from the accumulation phase, noting it could also provide a smoother psychological transition into retirement.

Dennis Haber with the Senior Funding Group addresses the fact that seniors have a higher probability of requiring long-term care, but often feel they lack the resources to pay for this or fund their retirement dreams. He notes that many seniors are sitting on a gold mine estimated at $2 trillion in assets including $950 billion that can be converted into cash. The gold mine? Their homes. He says seniors can sell their homes, get a traditional loan, or even a reverse mortgage: “No monthly mortgage payments are made by the senior borrower. In fact, the bank pays the borrower each month…Accordingly, the equity in the house decreases…yet it allows seniors to fulfill their unrealized dreams.”

Yale Levy, founder of Roseland Financial Group and an expert on reducing income taxes and eliminating estate taxes, among other things, writes about “Avoiding the Tax Sting with Charitable Giving.” He writes that, “Our tax code is set up in such a way that if we’re proactive in our philanthropy…we actually can create more financial wealth for ourselves, often leave more financial wealth to our family, and, create much more personal and social wealth to support the causes and institutions we are passionate about.”

He discusses a charitable remainder trust which allows you to leave a gift to charity after having used the trust asset as an income source for a particular period of time. “You or someone you choose gets the income now, the charity gets the gift later,” he writes. Levy notes that CRTs are used by donors that wish to give property to charity but don’t wish to relinquish all use of the property right away.

A Charitable Gift Annuity is another option and is an investment that provides a donor with an income stream for life or terms of years, and at the end of that time period, the balance is paid to a charity, writes Levy. Donors receive an income-tax deduction when buying such an annuity, and are able to deduct the excess amount given to the charity above the annuity income they are receiving.

With its myriad of voices from a variety of experts, Happily Ever After provides interesting and needed advice for all readers. Also, it consistently reminds readers that no matter what age or income a person has, it’s never too late to plan for the remainder of one’s life. The thoughtful chapters provide keen insight into the many options available to thoroughly enjoy the twilight years.

Mary Scott is the co-author of Companies with a Conscience and can be reached at [email protected]