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Many investors are focused on the “when”, “where”, and “how much” questions when it comes to retirement. Much of financial planning is focused on these questions too. In this column, we focus on other important items to consider in the years before retirement. These strategies may make a positive difference as you embark on financial freedom and security.

Estate Planning
If you die without proper estate planning, it could create unnecessary anxiety for those left behind and needlessly waste a portion of your assets on taxes, attorney, and probate fees. Have a lawyer review your will, account titling, powers of attorney, medical directives, and beneficiary designations to make sure everything is up-to-date and appropriate for your stage in life. You want to be certain that you and your beneficiaries are properly protected. Knowing that you are prepared should provide peace of mind.

Organize Necessary Documents
Now that your documents are up-to-date, do your loved ones a favor and organize it all in one place. Conrad Siegel has developed a Personal Roadmap to help with this task. Also, sharing a duplicate set of documents with a trusted family member or attorney is a good idea. Contact your Conrad Siegel Investment Consultant or e-mail askaquestion@conradsiegel.com to request a copy of our Personal Roadmap document.

Health Care Insurance
Medicare begins at age 65. If you plan to retire before 65, make sure you understand your health coverage options and costs. Even after Medicare begins, some costs are not covered. For that reason, you will want to investigate Medicare supplement plans that fill in the “gaps”. The Medicare program is complex. Applying late may cause delayed benefits or increased premiums. Make sure you know the rules for your situation. You may also want to consider long-term care insurance.

Take on debt while working
As a rule of thumb, large debts should be avoided for most retirees, but there are circumstances where new debt can make sense, such as financing a new home for retirement or an RV for traveling. Why now? The loan application and qualification process will be easier while you still have earned income. You may be able to negotiate lower interest rates and better terms if you have a solid credit score and low overall debt.

Use vacation time to “test drive” retirement
Make a list of the areas you might consider moving to during retirement and use your vacation time while you are still working to visit them. If you enjoyed it in the winter, go back in the summer as well. Who knows, it might end up becoming your future home.

Declutter
If you plan to move or downsize in retirement, then get your home ready now. Clear the clutter, complete the repairs, and update whatever is necessary to tip the sales process to your advantage.

Retirement planning is not a DIY project
Planning for financial independence is not a do-it-yourself project. Work with your Conrad Siegel investment consultant to make sure your financial plan is up-to-date. You have saved your whole working career for retirement, you do not want to cut corners as you approach the home stretch.

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In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Conrad Siegel’s Pennsylvania offices were abruptly closed on March 19, 2020, under the order to close all non-life sustaining businesses in the state. A few days later, on the 23rd of March, the S&P 500 Index bottomed out after a devastatingly fast decline of 34% from its high in February. The world was in a state of disarray and nobody knew what tomorrow would bring.

A year later, restrictions are still in place but there is a renewed sense of hope that we will soon be able to put the fears of virus the behind us. That we will once again be able to spend time with family and friends without that worry that we may be contributing to the spread. That we can all return to work and those that lost jobs will soon find a promising opportunity. That small businesses will experience renewed foot traffic and not have to contemplate closing their doors.

As we all anticipate these things, the word “NORMAL” has been the most overused word of the past 12 months. We cannot help but look forward to better times. Financial markets, which are a forward-looking indicator, have recovered and surpassed even the most optimistic projections from a year ago. So, what lessons have we learned from the past year while seeking out the new normal?

Emergency funds: We should always be prepared for emergencies. Building an emergency fund is one of the first steps toward achieving financial success and stability. We typically recommend saving 3-6 months’ worth of expenditures in a money market account for quick and easy access. Encourage your loved ones to start saving, no matter how long it may take to build this fund, so they will be prepared for those times they don’t see coming.

Life insurance: Speaking of the unexpected, the pandemic is a good reminder that risk management is a pillar of financial planning. While death is not an easy topic to think about and plan for, the necessity of life insurance to provide for our family if the worst happens cannot be ignored. There are a lot of products out there and we typically recommend certain types over others, so reach out if this is a topic you would like to review or if you would like us to make an introduction to a trusted agent.

Estate planning: Piggybacking on the last topic, let’s not forget about the importance of having wills and estate planning documents in place and up-to-date. Procrastination is common in this ever important area. If you do not have a will, Power of Attorney, and health care directives, do not delay in setting up an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Once again, we are happy to provide referrals in this area. Finally, don’t forget to check your beneficiary designations.

Bear markets have always come to an end. But, knowing that does not make it any less frightening when watching markets drop. Recency bias causes humans to have an affinity with recent events over historic ones. When financial markets are tumbling, this bias causes us to believe the recent past will continue into the future as we hear calls that “this time is different.” Reacting to this fear and impulse in the early spring of last year could have caused you to miss out on the rapid ride up the markets experienced despite many predicting further turmoil.

Long-term investing takes discipline. We have all heard the stories of market-timing and stock-picking that promise a fantasy of riches. Speculation is not long-term investing, and often these stories do not end happily ever after. This is why Conrad Siegel believes in investing in a broadly diversified portfolio that you feel comfortable sticking with regardless of market conditions, what you read in the headlines, or hear in the news. Your strategic asset allocation, or mix of stocks and bonds, should be based on your risk tolerance levels and your financial goals to provide you with a level of comfort even when a global pandemic has been declared.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you would like to review any of the financial planning aspects discussed above.

We want to make sure you are confident in your future, knowing that you planned for the unknowns ahead. Here’s to looking forward to normal!

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Conrad Siegel’s Thomas Terhaar, CFP®, ChFC® dives into the topic of estate planning and what it means for you.

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Members of our investment team join together to discuss investing in a volatile market.

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Conrad Siegel is joined by Apollo Lupescu to discuss the options investors have in mitigating market downturns. Tune in as we take a historical look at turbulent markets.

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Very few things in life are as important as getting your financial house in order.  While many New Year’s resolutions dissipate rather quickly, here are a few MORE resolutions to get you one step closer to getting your financial house in order.

Write down your most important financial goals:
This can be an important starting point by compiling a list of what you want to accomplish in life, whether it be to retire early, buy a vacation home, travel, start a business, etc. By committing these goals to paper, this provides concrete objectives for which to strive and attain.

Develop or revisit your financial plan:
Consider working with an advisor on a financial plan or, if you have done so already, revisit that plan to make sure it is still viable. Financial plans create a foundation for your long-term financial well-being. By having a financial plan in place, you have visibility into your current financial situation and an evolving working model to help you realize your future financial goals.

Review current investments and your risk tolerance:
This should be done at least annually, if not more often, especially when life situations or circumstances change. Compare the performance against a benchmark to measure success and make sure your current asset allocation is still appropriate for your situation and does not exceed your tolerance for risk.

Create a budget and track spending:
This does not have to be complicated, but try to develop a plan of how your income will be distributed between spending and savings. Tracking your spending is a great way to create awareness of what you are spending and where. The most common way to track spending is to use either financial accounting software or create a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and list all expenses each month by retailer or provider.

Save more money:
If you are able, maximize contributions into tax-deferred retirement accounts. Retirement experts often suggest saving 10-15% of current income into retirement accounts and when within 6-8 years of retirement, increasing to 15-20% or more. However, if you lacked savings discipline earlier in your career, these figures may need to be higher.

Be prepared for a financial emergency:
Having an emergency fund can save you from going into debt or raiding retirement savings when the unexpected occurs. Consider keeping at least 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses in liquid assets available to safeguard against an emergency, unforeseen expense, or layoff from employment. A cash cushion can also provide you with important peace of mind.

Create or update a will:
This is crucial for virtually everybody. No one likes to think about death, but having an up-to-date will can ensure that your assets will be divided according to your wishes. Don’t forget to include a power of attorney and health care directives. If you have children under 18, make sure you name a guardian in the will for your children in the event of a simultaneous death with your spouse. Without a named guardian, the government decides the fate of the children. If you have a will, review it annually.

Review your insurance coverage:
This is an important step to do annually to ensure that your insurance coverage (life, health, disability, auto, homeowners, umbrella, etc.) is appropriate. It also may make sense to bid out your insurance coverage on occasion, especially if your rates increase dramatically.

Review beneficiary options:
Neglecting to update your beneficiary designations could have devastating results for your loved ones. Attorneys say this happens more often than you would think when a person dies and the assets or insurance proceeds go to a distant relative, or worse, an ex-spouse! Make sure you update beneficiary forms whenever you have a major life event (marriage, divorce, birth, or death of loved ones) and review your designations every year.

Be more charitable:
Many people include charitable giving in their budget to give back to their community. If itemizing tax deductions on your tax form, you can often deduct these donations for income tax purposes. Charitable giving can also be an important part of an estate plan, both for lifetime giving and bequests after death. Besides donating money, you can consider donating blood, clothes, toys, and your time.

Check out your free credit reports:
Under federal law, a consumer is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. These credit bureaus must provide a central access point where a consumer may request a copy of his or her credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. It is important to note that they are required to only provide a free credit report and not the actual credit score. It is advisable to do this on an annual basis to ensure that your credit record remains accurate and for awareness against identity theft.

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The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, better known as the SECURE Act, was signed into law on Friday, December 20th, 2019. This is the first major piece of retirement legislation in over a decade. It has been characterized as “monumental and sweeping” given the rule changes associated with Traditional IRAs.

Here are the major changes that will be affecting individual investors:

RMDs Will Start at Age 72, Not 70½ – Starting on January 1, 2020
The new law pushes the age at which you need to start withdrawing money from your Traditional IRA to age 72, from age 70½. If you turned 70½ in 2019, you will still need to take your RMD for 2019, no later than April 1, 2020. If you are currently receiving RMDs because you are over age 70½, you must continue to take your RMD. Only those who turn 70½ in 2020 (or later), may wait until age 72 to being taking required distributions.

You Can Contribute to Your Traditional IRA after Age 70½
Beginning in the 2020 tax year, the law will allow you to contribute to your Traditional IRA in the year you turn 70½ and beyond, provided you have earned income.

Inherited Retirement Accounts
The new legislation eliminates the so-called “stretch” provision, starting on January 1, 2020. Upon the death of the account owner, distributions to individual beneficiaries must be made within 10 years. If you are already taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from an inherited IRA, you will not be affected. There are exceptions for spouses, disabled individuals, and individuals not more than 10 years younger than account owner. Minor children who are beneficiaries of IRA accounts also have a special exception to the 10 year rule, but only until they reach the age of majority.

Adoption/Birth Expenses
Another new option for parents seen in the new law allows penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans for birth or adoption expenses up to certain limits ($5,000). Such withdrawals would still be subject to income taxation, only the 10% penalty is waived.

Expanded Provisions for 529 College Savings Plans
The definition of qualified higher education expenses is expanded to include student loan payments and the costs of apprenticeship programs. Withdrawals of as much as $10,000 from 529 education-savings plans can be used for the repayment of student loans.


As with all major Federal legislation there are gives and takes. The give was the extension of the RMD start date by 18-months to age 72. The take was significant, the elimination of the stretch provision for inherited IRAs. This means that inherited IRAs will be taxed sooner and at potentially higher rates than before. As a result, individuals need to reevaluate the legacy objectives associated with their traditional IRA assets. Some of the considerations in planning may include: Roth conversions, Qualified Charitable Donations (QCDs), Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs) and bequeathing other assets.

Roth Conversion – convert traditional IRA funds into a Roth IRA. You would pay the taxes now, but your beneficiaries’ withdrawals would be tax-free under current law. This strategy also benefits if marginal tax rates increase in the future. It would be best to do a series of smaller conversions over a number of years to spread out your tax burden.

Qualified Charitable Donations (QCD) – make a donation directly from your IRA to a qualified charity. The donated amount is excluded from taxable income, possibly resulting in a lower tax bill. This is the best money to give to charity, as it has never been taxed, and will not be taxed in the future.

Charitable Remainder Trust – an IRA can be left to a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). This would act as a stretch IRA, even under the new rules. A non-charitable beneficiary, such as a child, would receive annual payments from the CRT over his or her lifetime (or a pre-determined period of years), with income tax assessed as the payments are made. Whatever remains in the account upon the child’s death (or the expiration of the term of years) would pass to one or more charities of the your choosing tax-free.

Bequest Other Assets – instead of passing on the IRA, deplete those savings and bequeath assets from your taxable accounts. Taxable accounts will receive a step-up in basis at the time of death. Because the beneficiary is free to sell inherited stocks whenever they wish, they can time their sales to mitigate a steep tax bill, rather than being forced to make withdrawals during a 10-year window.

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You have likely been saving, investing, and planning for retirement for years, if not decades. Having a workable and flexible financial plan is essential as you approach the end of your working career. But retirement readiness also includes non-financial planning or life planning. What are you going to do once you reach your goal? Retirement is a major lifechanging event that will require an emotional adjustment.

Hopefully your retirement will be filled with many rewarding and productive years. However, just like other phases of life there will be bumps along the way. Retirement is a whole new chapter of your life; it isn’t a permanent vacation. You will likely experience a range of emotions. There will be a sense of joy and freedom as you pursue travel, hobbies, and more time with family and friends. There can also be concerns surrounding no longer working as you transition from saving for the future to instead spending what you’ve saved. You might also experience a feeling of letdown after so many years working and planning, this can lead to loneliness, boredom, and disillusionment.

Most major life-changing events involve an ongoing process of emotional adjustment. Retirement is no exception. Retirees must face what is essentially the last transition of their lives. Typically, you will move through a 6-Step process when dealing with this transition. At some points you may be in two phases at once, others might skip a phase entirely. No two retirement journeys are exactly alike. Flip the page for a more in-depth look at each phase and the characteristics associated with it.

Considerations as part of your Life Planning:

  • Are you retiring “to something” or “from something?”
  • Is your identity tied to your career?
  • Is your social network primarily your coworkers?
  • What will your daily schedule look like in retirement?
  • What will your home look like? What will you do with your free time?
    • Travel
    • Enjoy Hobbies
    • Start A New Career
    • Volunteer
    • Social Network

Pre-retirement – Planning Time

During your working years, retirement can appear to be both a distant goal and a cause for worry. You save for it, you might develop a financial plan for it, but have you devoted thought to what you will actually do once you reach your goal? Too often we get caught up in the busyness of our daily lives: kid’s activities, paying for college, paying down the mortgage, and having fun too. It is hard to focus on the future, when there are so many demands on our time today. The default concern becomes making sure that enough money is allocated to long-term savings each year. If you are looking for a better transition from working to retirement, sketch out a flexible plan on how you anticipate spending your time.

The Last Day – Smiles, Handshakes, Farewells

By far the shortest stage in the retirement process is the last days of work. This is often marked by some sort of dinner, party, or other celebration. In some respects, this event is comparable to a marriage ceremony, a new chapter of life has started, off to the honeymoon…

Honeymoon Phase – No More Alarm Clock

Of course, honeymoons follow more than just weddings. Once the retirement celebrations are over, a period often follows where retirees get to do all the things that they wanted to do once they stopped working: travel, indulge in hobbies, visit relatives and so forth. This phase has no set time frame and will vary depending upon how much honeymoon activity the retiree has planned.

Disenchantment – So this is it?

The emotional high of the retirement has worn off, now the day-to-day reality of the new situation is visible. The big question becomes: How am I going to be productive in retirement? After looking forward to this stage for so long, many deal with a feeling of disappointment. Now is the time to address the needs of daily living, the honeymoon is over. This phase can also be associated with loneliness, monotony and feelings of uselessness.

Reorientation – Building A New Identity

Fortunately, the disenchantment phase of retirement doesn’t last forever. Retirees begin to familiarize themselves with the landscape of their new circumstances and navigate their lives accordingly. This is easily the most difficult stage in the emotional retirement process and it will take both time and conscious effort to accomplish. Self-examination is required: “Who am I, now?” “What is my purpose at this point?” and “Am I still useful in some capacity?” It is important to develop satisfactory answers to these questions. One way to get started is to set small goals. Working on goals can give you a sense of purpose. Accomplishing new things can give you a sense of achievement. Unfortunately, some retirees never exit this stage. If you find yourself struggling seek advice from experts, friends, or family.

Routine – Your New Normal

Finally, a new daily schedule is created, new marital ground rules for time together versus time alone are established, and a new identity has been at least partially created. Eventually, the new landscape becomes familiar territory and retirees enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose.

The Bottom Line

“People can maximize current enjoyment partly by spending time and other resources to produce ‘imagination capital’ that helps them better appreciate future enjoyment.” Life planning is important to a successful retirement. Those that have given serious time and thought to what they will do following retirement will generally experience a smoother transition than those who haven’t planned. It is never too soon to begin mapping out the course of the rest of your life.


Source: “The New Retirement Mindscape,” Ameriprise Financial Inc.
1G. Becker Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

All investment advisory services and fiduciary services are provided through Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors, Inc. (“CSIA”), a fee-for-service investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with its principal place of business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Registration of an Investment Advisor does not imply any level of skill or training. CSIA operates in a fiduciary capacity for its clients. Investing in securities involves the potential for gains and the risk of loss and past performance may not be indicative of future results. Any testimonials do not refer, directly or indirectly, to CSIA or its investment advice, analysis or other advisory services. CSIA and its representatives are in compliance with the current notice filing registration requirements imposed upon registered investment advisors by those states in which CSIA maintains clients. CSIA may only transact business in those states in which it is noticed filed, or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from notice filing requirements. Any subsequent, direct communication by CSIA with a prospective client shall be conducted by a representative that is either registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration in the state where the prospective client resides. For additional information about CSIA, please refer to the Firm’s Form ADV disclosure documents, the current versions of which are available on the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov) and may also be made available upon request.

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