The possibility of an early retirement is a dream for any client. Indeed, the words “early retirement” conjure pretty images from magazine advertisements (golfing, traveling, grandkids). But what happens when early retirement occurs without a choice? When your client who owns a successful small business is 55 years old and suffers a stroke, what kind of financial changes are in store for his family? Will the business have to be sold? Or how about when your client, an executive of a mid-sized company, goes to work on a Monday morning to find a pink slip waiting for him after some downsizing?
Such scenarios might be more common than you think. A recent Sun Life Financial study surveyed 701 individuals and revealed 22 percent of all retirees in the U.S. are forced into retirement earlier than they expected—mostly due to layoffs or illness. Not surprisingly, a majority (69 percent) of the involuntary retirees say their retirement plans were adversely affected.
No one can predict a sudden health crisis or even a layoff, but advisors can put some simple tactics in play to help clients financially prepare for what might be the worst. Everybody has been taught to keep a savings account worth about three to six months of income. You should encourage your clients to actually do it.
For your clients who own small businesses, Bryan Lee, president of Strategic Financial Planning, in Plano, Texas, says one of the most important preparations should be taken by you, the advisor. Be sure that your client has a succession plan, for example. Also, take the time to understand the dynamics of your client’s business, he says. “One of the big things I try to determine is whether or not the business needs to be sold if something happens to the owner,” he says. If, for example, the wife of the client can run the business after her husband’s death, Lee says there is a lesser need for life insurance since the cash flow from the business can continue. On the other hand, if the business can no longer go on without the owner, then the advisor should prepare his client to purchase more life insurance.
Advisors say one of the last purchases clients consider is a disability insurance policy. “They think [disabling injuries] can’t happen to them,” says one advisor. Your client with an employee disability policy probably needs one, too. “The benefits paid out through a company policy can be 60 percent of income, but it’s taxable, so it may be reduced to about 40 percent of income,” Pearson says. And the sooner your client signs up for disability insurance, the more money they can save since costs increase with age.
No matter how prepared clients may be, the shock of a sudden illness or job loss will take its toll. A job loss “affects everyone mentally. A lot of the time, the job defines the person. It’s who they are. You have to figure out what it means for them financially,” Pearson says.
Rosenberg says the first step should involve an evaluation of expenses that takes into consideration the new loss of income. Make sure your client sets up a new cash-flow budget based on what is needed on a minimum basis. One advisor says that after a re-evaluation of cash flow, his clients concluded they could not contribute to their daughter’s graduate education as they had initially planned. He also explains that for years the wife dreamed of installing a pool in the backyard, but her plans had to be put off for even longer after the re-evaluation.
After re-adjusting the cash-flow budget, Rosenberg suggests tweaking the client’s portfolio to provide some sort of income. “You may want to invest in more dividend-producing products rather than pure growth products. By keeping more money in liquid investments, like bonds and cash deposits, the client can cover some immediate expenses,” he says.
As one advisor puts it, “Our average client has about $2 million or $3 million in assets and is in his mid-50s. The odds of that group being laid off are lower. But we do make sure they are aware of the possibility [of an early retirement], and we do take it into account when we plan.”