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Helping Parents Cope with Damage to their Retirement Nest Egg

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The following is a guest post from Mr. GoTo, a baby boomer who blogs at Go To Retirement. On a personal note, I'll be taking advantage of the "email this" button below and send it to my own mother. I hope you will join me and do the same. And don't forget to subscribe to Mr. GoTo's RSS feed here.

Do you have parents who are retired or who are baby boomers in the home stretch toward retirement? Like so many others, have your parents suffered significant damage to their retirement nest eggs? If so, you may not fully understand how that damage may have negatively impacted the mental and emotional outlook that your parents have toward their financial future.

Adult children can be a source of support and advice during this time. Compared to your parents, you may be optimistic because your investing horizon is much longer than that of your parents. You probably have greater emotional and mental resiliency that enables better coping skills. Your job is to carefully and lovingly apply those attributes in a way that can benefit your parents' situation.

I am a baby boomer in the retirement home stretch. My retirement portfolio lost 21% last year and I am one of the lucky ones. Both of my parents are still alive. Fortunately, they are financially comfortable but worried nevertheless about their future.

Here are my suggestions for ways in which you can help your parents with retirement nest egg damage control.

  1. Gently encourage your parents to confront the damage. - You know they are thinking about it. You also suspect they may be stressing about it. Ignoring the problem is bad for their financial health. The stress is bad for their physical and mental health. How do you bring it up? My recommendation is to find a relatively private moment with your parents. Then choose that moment to openly talk about how the market downturn has affected you. That may prompt them to share their feelings. If not, ask them. After you have shared your story of market damage, just ask them how things have gone for them.
  2. Send your parents for a consultation with a fee-only planner. - If your parents are like most baby boomers and retirees, they are not receiving professional advice about retirement investing and planning. Now is the time to change that. You can help by making the arrangements and, if necessary, offer to pay for the consultation. Just be sure you do your due diligence on selecting a fee-only planner who is comfortable working with folks who are like your parents. To find a fee-only planner, check the and National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. Assure your parents that meeting with a financial planner is like meeting with a physician or other professional. They have a problem that needs fixing. The planner is the one who can provide a fix.
  3. Don't let your parents turn to credit cards. - It should go without saying that adding debt to an existing financial problem is to be strongly discouraged. If you think your parents might be inclined in this direction, time for another preemptive strike. Talk about all of the credit card offers that keep arriving in your mailbox and how crazy that is considering what's happening with our economy.
  4. Don't let them take on excessive investment risk. - A natural reaction to suffering market losses is to move money into riskier investments. Sort of like doubling your bets in Vegas. I don't recommend this strategy. Chasing the "next big thing" alternative investment is like rolling the dice. It's time to get smarter about asset allocations, not take on more risk.
  5. Evaluate and adjust their retirement withdrawal rate. - If your parents are already retired and dependent on income from investments to live, encourage them to reconsider and decrease their withdrawal rate. This may require a spending reduction but that beats running out of money completely. I would encourage them to use one of the free financial planning tools and run some "what if" scenarios. A newer one that I have tried and seems to work well is Financial Fate. This is a downloadable (free) software tool. You may need to help your parents set it up and use it.
  6. Have them consider a fixed annuity. - If your parents are in a panic about having a sustainable income and still have retirement savings to provide that income, now may be a good time to have them consider other retirement income sources. A logical place to look is in immediate or deferred fixed annuities. To put this issue in front of them, send them a link to Immediate Annuities where it is very easy to run numbers on different annuity purchase and payout options. Although a fixed annuity may not be the perfect use of your parents' money, if that guaranteed income relieves stress, it may be worth it.
  7. Suggest Downsizing - Lots of baby boomers and retirees have most of their net worth tied up into where they live. If that's the case with your parents, it may be time to look at downsizing. When I say "downsize" I mean finding a place to live where your parents can free up equity to invest and lower their cost of living. Sometimes this requires a geographical re-location as well. For some, this is considered a desperate strategy but it shouldn't be. Downsizing and relocating for affordability is logical and doable. A way to get this issue in front of your parents is to send them a link to Sperlings Best Places where there is an abundance of information comparing different areas of the country, including that all-important cost of living.
  8. Offer a private reverse mortgage - If your parents are really in bad shape financially and need help from family, one way to provide that help with dignity is through a private reverse mortgage. If your parents have equity in their house (or expect to grow equity over time), you can offer to buy that equity. I suggest that you agree on a total sum that you will lend your parents, to be paid out monthly or quarterly. Have a lawyer draw up a promissory note and first or second deed of trust that protects you. The note is paid off (with interest) when your parents sell the house. If you are taking risk because the loan amount exceeds the available equity, then the documents should provide that you share in any increase in value of the house, even if it exceeds principal and interest owed. This may sound too business-like but I think it will help you and your parents accept the entire relationship with less guilt and embarrassment.

I hope that your parents don't need help following a disastrous 2008. If they do, I hope these tips will assist you in providing that help.

If you want to read about retirement planning and retirement living, come visit me at Go To Retirement or subscribe to my RSS feed.

Last updated on February 11, 2009.

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6 Responses to “Helping Parents Cope with Damage to their Retirement Nest Egg”

  1. Miranda says:

    It’s sad to think about this, but it is true that our parents may need our help getting through this tough time. And we should be there for them, since they have probably been there for us. I like the idea of helping them see a fee-based planner, and also the private mortgage idea.

  2. Fit Wallet says:

    I was just talking to my brother about my parents’ financial position. I have no idea how much they lost, but I assume quite a lot. My father is still working as a consultant, but he officially retired from his job about a year and a half ago. My parents are in their early 60s, so they are very vulnerable to the market conditions right now. But looking at my mom’s spending habits and aspirations, you’d have no idea dad retired. My brother and I are worried that her spending habits and desire for a bigger, better house (they live in a very nice 4BR house already!) will keep my father working to the grave–and that if he passes before she does, we will be left with a mess. I hate to think about that stuff, but sometimes you have to.

  3. dong says:

    I took over my parents retirement portfolio last year. I trimmed their exposure, but my parents have still lost quite a bit money.

    As I see it, it’s the responsibility of both my brother and I to help take care of them now. They’ve always lived frugally, and provided for us when we needed it. I want them to enjoy their retirement and more than happy to provide now that I have the chance. I think kids owe their parents something if they’ve had a undue financial setback.

  4. Monevator says:

    It’s tough if you’re under-50 to get into a parental mindset. I had a big discussion with my worried parents about their savings recently, and it became clear the only place they should put money they have coming from a maturing policy was in 100% secure Government-backed savings or investments.

    They are completely caught up in risk right now, and they don’t care about growth at all (with inflation tending towards 0% they might be right there, in the short term).

  5. RateNerd says:

    I had to help my parents out financially which was weird and uncomfortable, but it had to be done. It is important to get them in a good place fiscally, especially if you think they may need health assistance later as well.

  6. Anonymous says:

    With my Dad now having to retire from old age, it is just my Mom working with one income coming in. My advice for children with parents is to make sure they have a IRA for retirement. I insisted for years to Mom to get one and she finally listened.

    Now, I just have to convince her to transfer to money market funds when the next stock market crashes.

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