Re-thinking retirement issues

Continuing volatility in the stock market has even affluent individuals re-thinking their approaching retirement — and further complicating the matter are increasing health care costs and long-term care costs that can take a chunk out of an estate.

Tom De Meester, senior vice president in Fifth Third Bank’s Private Bank division, manages about a dozen wealth management advisors who work with the bank’s clients on investment strategies, including retirement portfolios. The clients live throughout western Michigan, from St. Joseph to Petoskey.

De Meester said the Private Bank’s clients are individuals who have a minimum of $500,000 invested with Fifth Third, but the net worth of the average client usually ranges from $1.5 million to $3 million, he said.

Even so, the economic uncertainty these days has given them cause for worry.

“Clients have had to re-assess retirement ages depending on what they were exposed to in some of the downturns and the sideways trading we’ve seen,” De Meester said. “It has caused individuals to think a little farther out on retirement dates than they had before.”

Many also have had to re-think how they live in retirement. In some cases, that means downsizing their plans, such as selling the house and buying a condo.

There is a segment of the Private Bank clients who don’t have to worry about re-assessing their retirement plans. “But even those individuals are making decisions,” said De Meester, because “nobody wants to emulate a portfolio that has exposures to the ups and downs of the market today.”

Last week a Dow Jones Newswires columnist wrote that the chance of another worldwide economic contraction now seems less remote “by the hour.”

De Meester said the Fifth Third organization, based on the perspectives of its top executives, is “not predicting a double dip.” However, he noted that the levels of volatility in the market lately could result in some investors experiencing the equivalent of a double-dip “if they’re not managing their assets in an effective strategy.”

As the market went down in 2008 and 2009, many of the Private Bank clients added a cash management strategy to their portfolios, said De Meester. Now, however, “the available returns on short-term or cash management strategies are so limited that today it would be difficult for clients to make that their long-term strategy. You would lose ground to inflation — let alone taxes and fees.”

Health care costs are now frequently raised by well-heeled investors, too.

“We are having conversations with clients around health care and options” for managing the risk of long-term care, and even the potential impact of the federal government’s health care programs.

As for the Obama administration’s health care programs, De Meester conceded that “we don’t know exactly what that will look like” or what the “unintended consequences” might be.

“There are certain ways to insure against long-term care risks,” he said, including life insurance-based policies and health care policies “that can be used to provide for disability or long-term care. So there’s an investment component to the long-term care policies,” he said.

Some clients who have the ability to pay for long-term care are opting for life insurance policies to replace that chunk of an estate consumed by long-term care, he noted.

Fifth Third’s Private Bank is a major player in the investments advisor category in West Michigan, with De Meester estimating that as many as 2,000 or more households are served by it.

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