The financial crisis left many investors scurrying out of the stock market for the safety of the sidelines. Retirees and those close to retirement took especially hard hits, since they had already accumulated most of the savings they're likely to earn. Concerns about running out of money led many to question whether their asset allocation strategy had the right level of risk.
But in the discussion about making our money last a lifetime, we've largely forgotten those who've successfully amassed enough wealth not only to meet their own needs, but also to provide a legacy for their children and grandchildren. If you're in that enviable situation, then you need to understand that the advice you may hear about how retirees should invest doesn't necessarily apply to you -- and that you may be better served by going your own way with your investments.
Having enough with money to spare
No matter how much money you have, you probably worry that it could run out. Especially given all the economic uncertainty of recent years, even investments that most consider to be ultra-safe still carry attendant risks.
For instance, most people think Treasury bills are risk-free. Yet the current debate to raise the debt ceiling has cast a specter of default over Treasury-bill investors. Many rich investors have shifted their holdings to precious metals instead, and although they've preferred to buy bullion directly, their buying has supported precious-metals ETFs SPDR Gold (NYSE: GLD ) and iShares Silver Trust (NYSE: SLV ) . More generally, some have used commodity-related plays such as iShares GSCI Commodity Index (NYSE: GSG ) as a general hedge against financial assets' falling values.
But barring severe disruptions in the financial markets, wealthy retirees often worry more about running out of money than they should. In fact, many end up leaving substantial amounts of assets to their families. If that's the outcome you want for you and your family, then doing some investment planning beforehand can make a huge difference, both for your peace of mind and your family's eventual inheritance.
Three things to consider
If you have a lot saved for retirement, you have more good choices than those who are struggling to make ends meet. In particular, you have flexibility with your investments and your spending patterns, and you can consider giving some of your money away. The following specific advice deserves your consideration:
1. Cut back on stocks.
Most people have to worry about making sure their nest egg will grow during retirement. That's one reason why dividend stocks have become so popular. When you need to generate 4% or more in income to draw from your retirement portfolio, then you need Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR ) , Altria (NYSE: MO ) , and similar stocks with high enough yields to get you that income. Yet high-yielding companies inevitably carry risk; Altria faces the constant threat of litigation losses, while Frontier will eventually see its legacy landline business dwindle.
In contrast, most people can't afford to live on bonds that pay relatively low interest rates. But if you can make it on smaller yields, the decreased volatility in your portfolio may well make you more comfortable psychologically. That's worthwhile, even if it means less growth for your heirs.
2. Convert to a Roth.
Doing a Roth conversion may seem like a silly move, since it involves paying income tax now rather than later. But doing so has two benefits. First, the tax you pay isn't included in your taxable estate at death, potentially saving you as much as 45% in estate taxes. But even more importantly, your heirs can stretch out tax-free distributions from your Roth over their lifetimes, which can lengthen the tax-free treatment for decades.
3. Take a flyer.
This stands in stark contrast to the first point above. But if you have more than enough to live on even in low-yielding investments like bonds or bank CDs, then you may want to give your heirs a chance at more wealth by investing in high-growth stocks.
For these choices, dividends don't matter. The key is share price appreciation, because stocks get an automatic step-up in basis when you die. So by owning Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN ) , as well as other non-dividend stocks that have produced huge growth, and which still have attractive prospects for the future, you give your heirs the best chance to skip out on a huge tax bill after your death. Better yet, you won't have to worry about taxes during your lifetime, as long as you hold onto your shares.
Now and later
A healthy nest egg in retirement is a fair reward for all your saving and investing throughout your career. There's absolutely nothing wrong with reaping the rewards of all that labor yourself. But if you also want to leave something behind after you pass away, then taking a few extra steps to make sure your investing reflects your wishes is well worth the effort.
To learn more about estate planning and making sure as much of your money goes to your family as possible, take a look at our Death and Taxes collection.