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4 life events when you should call an advisor


Allworth co-founder Scott Hanson outlines some of the most crucial times to contact your advisor. 


If you are like most people, your financial life is a long, complex highway system of onramps and offramps, potholes, detours, rest stops, curves, roundabouts, and poorly marked junctions.

But think of it this way: saving and investing are complicated right up until they aren’t. That is because, if you plan and make good decisions, eventually, the road becomes smooth and straight, and you can set cruise control for the remainder of your journey.

With the journey in mind, investment management and the transition into retirement are not the only times to speak with your advisor. What follows are four of the biggest life events (and a few extras) when you should give him or her a call.

1. You have more money coming in than you did before.

Whether it is a yearly bump in salary, a bonus, or the sale of any large asset, if you find that you are about to earn more money, fight the urge to spend more, and instead, speak with your advisor about:

  • How to make that money work for you
  • Ways to avoid paying more than you need to in taxes
  • Whether you need to update your financial plan
  • How the added income might impact your estate plan or retirement date

2. You get a new job or career, or you are forced to retire.

Getting a new job is a major life event. On the positive side, every company-sponsored retirement plan is unique and has its own advantages (and don’t forget healthcare) that must be accounted for, so this means opportunity.

Things such as:

  • Whether to transfer your 401(k) to your new employer’s plan
  • Additional investment offerings such as health savings accounts (HSAs)
  • Access to company stock
  • A higher (or lower) 401(k) match
  • Access to a pension

Do not wait until an understanding about the specifics of your new job’s financial opportunities trickle down to you to act. Work with your advisor to incorporate the available opportunities and update your plan.

Conversely, among the negative work-life events when you should immediately contact your advisor include when you get laid off, or if you become temporarily or permanently disabled.

If you lose your job, or have a health emergency, you should immediately get guidance about:

  • Decisions regarding insurance
  • Severance packages
  • Healthcare options
  • Applying for Social Security
  • Unemployment insurance
  • The choice between taking on debt or dipping into savings

3. You are getting married or divorced.

I recently had a long-term client remarry, and, as both parties had saved well and had large families, the financial decisions surrounding the choice to remarry were particularly complex and the implications far reaching.

What monies/investments (if any) should you blend for tax purposes, and which should you keep separate? Should you have a pre-nuptial agreement? Will you change your retirement account beneficiaries (remember, the beneficiaries in your 401(k) supersede those listed in your will)? And what happens to property?

Thankfully, this couple was financially savvy, so they not only knew what questions to ask, but more importantly, what their financial blind spots were, and they approached this potentially ultra-stressful process with love and patience.

It even seemed to me like they were having fun.

Of course, divorce is typically on the other end of the emotional spectrum, and, as many of you reading this all too clearly understand, a process that can be rife with mistrust and acrimony.

While often necessary, it does not always help that, especially in divorces with varied assets, along with a desire to fight for every penny, you may be encouraged by your attorney to cease communicating with your spouse.

Conversely, your fiduciary advisor maintains a dispassionate (objective) perspective about your financial situation. Simply, they know you and will help you make the best short- and long-term decisions for you.

4. You are expecting a baby, or you have been asked to provide financial support for an adult child.

In the 1989 Steve Martin film “Parenthood,” actor Jason Robards explains to Martin - who is worried about his own son’s difficulties in school - that, “You never stop being a parent. You never score the winning touchdown and spike the ball.”

I have always liked that line.

First, children come with untold costs, and once they begin to compare their video game consoles to those of their classmates and friends… well, it is off to the races.

Many parents believe that, once the kids graduate high school or college, they will be off the payroll, but that is no longer the reality for millions of people.

While providing financial support to adult children may be increasingly common, how much support, if any, and for how long, is a decision that everyone must make based on their own sense of obligation and their personal financial situation.

Advisors are confidantes, buffers, and absolutely every second of the day, realists. And if you are an adult with children, who is nearing or already in retirement, your advisor will help you understand what you can and cannot afford to do, for how long, and whether you are placing your own financial future at risk.

A few additional life events that should prompt you to place a call to your advisor...

While I have written here about a few of the key life events when you should absolutely place a call or draft an email to your advisor, the list does not end there. Others include:

  • When you want additional estate planning guidance
  • If you are considering starting a business (or investing in one)
  • When you inherit money
  • Before making a large purchase (think house or vacation home)
  • Prior to applying for Social Security
  • When your partner becomes seriously ill or dies

After more than 30 years of advising, I have learned that, if I were to choose one, the biggest advantage of working with someone like me (a full time fiduciary) is that I can help keep you from making emotional financial mistakes from which you cannot recover.

When it comes to your finances, while some life events occur suddenly, others transpire gradually. But no matter the duration, one thing remains constant: The people who achieve prosperity rarely do so accidentally. It takes planning and goal setting and near-constant vigilance to get where you want to be.