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Why Putting Off Your Bucket List Is a Bad Idea

By JJ Burns

February 28, 2019

Retirement is often looked at as the shining light at the end of a long professional career. Ever catch yourself thinking thoughts like these?

When I retire, I'll finally travel the world.

Once my career slows down, I'll get started on that passion project I've been dreaming of.

After my children are grown and out of the house, I'll really begin having some adventures.

The problem with this all-too-common way of thinking is that it isn't rooted in the present. Instead, it glorifies the future—retirement, specifically—as the time when you'll finally honor your truest self and check off the bucket list items that are close to your heart. It makes sense in theory, but it puts a good chunk of your happiness at a future point way down the line. As a longtime wealth advisor, I can say that this is the norm for most folks.

Unfortunately, I've seen this plan backfire more than a few times. The truth is that none of us has a crystal ball. Despite our best-laid plans, we can't control every aspect of what the future will bring. What if you or your spouse experience an unexpected illness in retirement that prevents you from fulfilling those big goals? Or an adult child needs help that takes resources away from turning your dreams into reality. These may sound like extreme circumstances, but things like this happen more often than you'd think.

This is precisely why it's so important not to put off your bucket list until after you retire. The reality is that by then, it may be too late. Sometimes it isn't a serious emergency or health crisis that changes the plan. For many others, it's things like financial restraints or insurance issues that make it near impossible to live out their long-held dreams.

There is a silver lining here, though. These seemingly opposing goals—maintaining financial stability in everyday life and checking off your bucket list—don't have to be at odds with each other. In fact, it's more than possible to nurture both without neglecting either. The answer comes down to smart, values-led financial planning. At JJ Burns & Company, the operative word is "values."

The reason there's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to financial planning is that we all have different values, goals and dreams. For some, it's traveling across Europe and experiencing different cultures. For others, it's volunteering and exploring service projects that make a positive impact on the world. Smart financial planning makes room for whatever you value right alongside life's most practical demands, like contributing to retirement, investing wisely, and protecting and growing your net worth. These things go hand in hand, each supporting the other.

Wise planning empowers you to fill more than one bucket at the same time without negatively impacting either. This involves creating realistic timelines and financial plans to allow you to sprinkle bucket-list experiences into everyday life leading up to retirement. The driving force, in life and financial planning, is striking a balance that feels right to you; working toward fulfilling your dreams in a way that doesn't derail your other responsibilities. This may require asking yourself some big questions and contemplating a variety of trade-offs that will ultimately allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds. This task is a lot more manageable when you have the right wealth advisor by your side to help you weigh your options, explore your choices, and ultimately create a plan that's in line with your values.

We only have this one life, and the reality is that we can't predict what the future holds. Delaying your happiness until your golden years could end up being one of your greatest regrets. (Take it from me; I've seen it firsthand!) Thankfully, better financial planning is the secret weapon that allows you to enjoy life now and in the future. It doesn't have to be one or the other.

This truth guides our financial planning at JJ Burns & Company. We're driven to help each and every client live life to the fullest today, while protecting their financial health for tomorrow.

Love & Money: Couples, Are You Managing Finances Equally?

By JJ Burns

February 14, 2019

Maintaining a successful long-term relationship, and continuing to thrive over the long haul, is a team effort. Both partners have to be all in, both emotionally and logistically. This goes beyond divvying up household duties and co-parenting: one responsibility that's easy to forget about is balancing love and money by managing your joint finances.

There is no ‘best way’ for couples to manage their money—it depends on what works for you and your significant other. Some may feel most comfortable merging all their funds into joint checking and savings accounts, while others prefer the autonomy of separate debit and credit cards. The truth is that both approaches can work, but no matter the option you choose to use, some financial details are indeed intertwined when you're a married couple.

Commingling Your Credit

When newlyweds say "I do," they're uniting more than just their families; their debt also comes under one new umbrella. In other words, your credit score no longer stands alone. Whether you're applying for a mortgage, an auto loan or any other type of financing, lenders will look at your overall financial health, which includes your spouse's credit score. Having the money talk with your partner doesn't have to be complicated. If you haven't already done so, sit down together and put your credit history and current debts on the table. This way you're both on the same page. And if there's any credit repair to be done, you can make a plan for tackling it together.

Learning to Budget Together

An effective budget is really nothing more than a financial game plan that both partners create together. Lead with laying out your joint income, followed by the monthly expenses you have both together and separately. For instance, your mortgage or rent payment would be a joint expense, while your weekly happy hour date with your best friend may be considered an individual spend.

Once you see everything in black and white, communicate openly and honestly to come up with a monthly budgeting plan that works best for the two of you. Some couples may prefer separate checking accounts but joint savings accounts; or you might like the idea of using your spouse's income to cover housing expenses while directing yours to a checking account designated for other bills. At the end of the day, the best option is up to you, but the point is that ironing out the details should be a joint activity—not something that one partner decides and then dictates to the other. Financial knowledge is the foundation of financial empowerment, so no one should be in the dark here.

Planning for the Future as a Team

Equally managing your money also comes down to talking openly about your individual financial goals. Your spouse may be dreaming of traveling the world after retirement, or maybe you've both got your sights set on saving a down payment for a new home. Communicate freely about your big-picture dreams, then strategize as a team about how you'll get there. Building a reliable nest egg that will see you both through retirement doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it requires getting on the same page as your partner early on so that you can begin taking steps to get there—and, hopefully with as little stress as possible.

Whether it's coming up with an investment strategy, a debt payoff plan or a monthly budgeting approach, the most important thing is that you are doing it together. If one partner doesn't have a strong foothold in their finances, what will happen if he or she comes up against an unexpected death or divorce down the road? In the blink of an eye, they may be left to manage their finances on their own.

If making an effective plan feels like tricky terrain, a CFP® professional can help you and your partner clarify your goals and get on the right track together. Communication is key. From there, it's about managing your money as a team.

The Ins and Outs of Retiring Abroad

By JJ Burns

February 6, 2019

Your 60s are a unique time. You're on the home stretch of your professional life, your kids are likely grown, and in the back of your head, you're probably asking yourself what it is you want out of your retirement. But in the run-up to your golden years, finding time to catch your breath and really dive deep into the big questions isn't always easy. Work, family and social obligations have a way of keeping us perpetually busy—giving us the perfect excuse to put off retirement planning.

We don't have to tell you that time goes fast, and if you aren't prepared, retirement could very well sneak up on you. The good news here is that a little planning can go a very long way when it comes to crafting the retirement of your dreams. Of course, it all begins with one very important question: What do you really want to do once you retire?

What Does Retirement Mean to You?

This is a very personal question. For some, it may mean finally embracing a slower lifestyle where you have the time to dig into your hobbies and do as you please. For others, this stage of life is more about exploring new adventures and finally experiencing bucket-list dreams. Whether you prefer to take up rock climbing, big game fishing or work on your garden, being a happy, fulfilled retiree depends heavily on one important factor—planning ahead. 

It all begins, of course, with you. Take a minute for yourself, close your eyes, and envision your ideal retirement scenario. What does it look like? What is it that's going to feed your sense of fulfillment and emotional well-being? These are big questions, so really settle into this exercise.

For more and more people, retiring abroad has been a game changer. There's no shortage of beautiful locales that boast inexpensive, quality health care and low housing costs. Put those things together and it's easy to see why a whopping 3.3 million Americans are skipping Florida and opting for an out-of-the-box retirement destination instead.

How to Plan to Retire Abroad

In some ways, planning to retire abroad isn't all that different from retiring in your hometown. Both require getting a firm grasp on two ever-important factors: Your income and your expenses. The first one goes beyond your nest egg, covering everything from Social Security benefits to pensions to passive income streams like rental properties. This amount isn't really contingent on your location as the numbers will be the same whether you're in Fort Lauderdale or Belize.

It's your expenses that really tip the scales. Coming in on top is usually housing and health care, both of which can be significantly cheaper outside of the United States, depending on where you go. While the average American homeowner spends $1,443 per month on housing alone, expats can live a life of luxury in dreamy Granada, Spain—soaking up five-star cuisine, rich culture, and unbelievable natural beauty—for just $2,500 a month. Health care is also top notch.

So how can Baby Boomers get there? The journey begins with having a candid conversation with an experienced wealth advisor who understands your values, goals and financial position. Together, you can craft a plan that's tailored to you, and then begin taking steps to get there. As the old saying goes: Inch by inch, life's a cinch.

In other words, the best time to start making a roadmap for retirement is always now. This is especially true for folks looking to retire abroad or live in multiple countries during retirement. Planning ahead means thinking about what you'll do with your stateside properties, how an expat lifestyle will affect your taxes, and zeroing in on the destinations that tug at your heart the most.

After working your whole life, retirement is an opportunity to live a life that's in alignment with your greatest desires. The problem is that it's dangerously easy for the busyness of everyday life to derail our efforts to clarify those desires and bring them to life. At JJ Burns & Company, helping people achieve the retirement of their dreams is perhaps the biggest perk of the job—a little bit of forethought and accountability is all it takes.

What to Know About Being Trustee Over Family Assets

By JJ Burns

December 5, 2018

Being appointed a trustee over family assets can feel overwhelming if you aren't familiar with the ins and outs of family trusts. First things first; don't panic. It's a big responsibility, but nothing you can't handle if you've got the right financial advisor by your side.

So what does being a family trustee mean? In the simplest terms, you're being entrusted with handling the family's assets—bank accounts, businesses, real estate, you name it. This includes managing and distributing these assets in accordance with the grantor's wishes, as well as making good on the trust's tax filings.

Family trusts can take a couple of different forms. The first, known as a testamentary trust, is appointed after the grantor's death. The other is called a living trust, which is exactly what the name implies. This is when the grantor, who's still living, signs family assets over to you. This is a common occurrence, especially for what's known as the "sandwich generation." These are folks who are simultaneously raising children and caring for aging parents.

So why would a family member appoint you as trustee? The biggest benefit is that, after the grantor's death, it allows the family to sidestep the costly and time-intensive probate process. And as Legal Zoom points out, it also preserves privacy—there won't be any public record of your family's assets and debts. Another important feature of a family trust is that it protects beneficiaries, like children or disabled relatives, who aren't able to handle their assets on their own.

Now that you know what a trustee actually does, let's unpack some of the most common hurdles. Again, seeing it all in black and white may feel daunting, but knowledge is power. In my 24 years as a Certified Financial Planner, I can tell you that financial awareness is the first step in decreasing stress and putting yourself back in the driver's seat.

Common Challenges of Being a Trustee

The thing about managing a family trust is that—in money and in life—there are a lot of moving parts to consider. In addition to the actual assets, you also have to think about the well-being of the beneficiaries you've been tasked with protecting. After one parent passes away, for instance, you may have to take over the family trust for the surviving parent who's also battling dementia or another degenerative disease that leaves them unable to handle the task.

This is tricky because, well, you're human! In addition to grieving the loss of a parent, the responsibility of caring for other close family members likely weighs heavy on your heart. The same goes for similar situations, like acting on behalf of a disabled sibling. The crux of the problem here is the complexity of juggling these two components—the financial responsibility and your emotional health. One bit of consolation is that this is completely normal and to be expected.

This is precisely why outsourcing the task to a qualified third party is often the best way to go. At JJ Burns & Company, we act as impartial facilitators who are 100% guided by fiduciary duty. In other words, we do right by the grantor and carry out their wishes so that their beneficiaries are cared for as intended—no conflicts of interest, no drama. Every family has their share of baggage, old grudges, and decades-long dynamics. It's simply part of life, but it can create a real headache for those who are handling a family trust. Partnering with a third-party facilitator protects those relationships and takes the pressure off the trustee.

Whether you choose to manage it yourself or team up with a financial expert, a few tasks should be at the top of the to-do list. Chief among them is getting an accurate valuation of the estate as a whole. And through every step of the process, honesty and transparency should always reign supreme.

It's also in everyone's best interests to create some liquidity from assets from the get-go. To put it another way, which assets can be easily liquidated to free up cash for immediate financial responsibilities, like taxes?

Your Action Plan

The first order of business is putting together a competent team of professionals (a financial advisor, CPA, and attorney) to help you shoulder the responsibility. This will help eliminate any conflicts of interest so that you can truly act as an independent facilitator of the trust. From there, it's about really understanding each beneficiary’s needs versus wants.

Prior to becoming a trustee, for example, a sibling may have grown accustomed to an over-the-top annual allowance from your parents. But taking the financial reins may reveal that this isn't sustainable over the long haul, so appropriate changes need to be made to preserve the estate's longevity. This requires making well-informed decisions that are based on the facts, as well as the parameters of the trust. Above all, advisors can help guide the trustee every step of the way.

Keep the lines of communication open so that beneficiaries can articulate their needs and wants. And be sure to revisit your family's values as needed so that you're really preserving the grantor's legacy and wishes. If you get ensnared by financial details, it's easy to lose sight of what matters most—family. Throughout your journey as a trustee, come back to your family values again and again to help guide you.

At JJ Burns & Company, we understand the complicated family dynamics that come into play here. We're also well-versed in the many financial nuances and tax responsibilities that go hand in hand with taking over a family trust. With the right team behind you, the road ahead doesn't have to be a bumpy one.

I Came Down with a Chronic Illness. Now What?

By JJ Burns

October 23, 2018

If you've been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you already know that it affects more than just our physical health. Digesting the news and coming to terms with this new reality often takes a toll on our mental health, relationships, family life, career and finances.

The latter is particularly important. Chronic illnesses account for 86% of our nation's $2.7 trillion annual health care expenditures. What's more, researchers say it isn't uncommon for folks with chronic health conditions to spend hundreds—or even thousands—every year, on top of their regular insurance premiums. Things obviously vary widely depending on the type and severity of the condition, but the main takeaway is that if you aren't prepared, a chronic illness could do a number on your finances.

Like anything else, knowledge is the key to empowerment. At JJ Burns & Company, we’re no stranger to serving clients who are living with chronic conditions. Our first order of business is restoring your financial confidence and putting you back in the driver's seat. Here's how.

Get a Handle on Your New Health Care Expenses

Understanding your outgoing expenses is the foundation of every financial plan. This is especially true for those with a chronic illness. Depending on your diagnosis, you may find yourself up against a long list of new health care expenses. The average person battling Parkinson's disease, for example, spends close to $23,000 every year in medical expenses. Connect with your health care providers to get a clear idea of what you can expect. Between medications, doctor visits, therapies, medical equipment, home health care aides and the like, is it possible to ballpark your annual medical needs and expenses? (Joining a support group is a great way to connect with those who are in the trenches and can provide some valuable perspective.) From there, it's time to take a deep dive into your health insurance policy to project your out-of-pocket costs.

There are a lot of numbers to crunch, which is why it's always wise to sit down with your financial advisor to map out a big-picture plan before making any moves. (We'll touch on this more in a moment.)

Leverage Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Tax-friendly funds like health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) can go a long way in easing the financial burden of a chronic illness. Each lets participants earmark pre-tax money to be spent on eligible medical expenses. FSAs have a use-it-or-lose-it setup (funds don't roll over from year to year), whereas HSAs stay with you over the long haul.

An HSA is particularly good to have in your arsenal because not only can you withdraw from it for medical expenses tax-free at any time, those funds become 100% yours, no strings attached, once you turn 65. You can spend the balance any way you wish. Just keep in mind that HSAs are only available to those who have a high-deductible health plan. They also have contribution limits ($3,450 for single folks under 55; $6,850 for families). That said, it's worthwhile to check in with your employer about whether they offer an HSA. If not, you can open one on your own if you meet the eligibility requirements.

Continue Honoring Your Life

A new diagnosis, while certainly life-changing, doesn't have to derail your dreams. Instead, it's about balancing your life with this new reality. Once you've connected with your medical team and have a firm handle on what to expect, take the time to really revisit your bucket list. What experiences stand out to you the most? Which line items ignite a sense of excitement within you?

Let this intuition guide you and your financial advisor so that your financial plan stays aligned with your values. Sometimes a chronic illness can be a blessing in disguise in that it reminds you what's really important in life. Taking an extended family vacation and making memories together, for instance, may suddenly feel like the best use of your money.

Reevaluate Your Investment Strategy

This really underscores the importance of having an in-depth conversation with your financial advisor as early as possible. A chronic illness complicates your finances, which is why our clients never have to go it alone. Depending on your health situation, your advisor may suggest reallocating your assets to free up more liquidity. If your illness is preventing you from working, whether temporarily or permanently, responsibly bridging that income gap becomes priority number one.

At JJ Burns & Company, we don't believe in making rash decisions. Instead, we take the long view and consider your overall financial health before tweaking your investment strategy. Remember: Our goal is to set you up for long-term success and stability. This is where estate planning comes in.

Despite the misconception, this isn't reserved only for those knocking on death's door. On the contrary, it's a simple way for anyone, regardless of where they are in life, to preserve their wealth and safeguard their family's future. After all, this is what financial planning is all about.