Get your own financial adviser, not your husband’s golf buddy – Daily News

on Jul4
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Graduations last month seemed even more meaningful after the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic lockup.

Watching the excitement of young people starting their lives in the new light of our own reemergence could make us more reminiscent than usual of our own rites of passage.

Remember that freedom of movement you felt with your first car? Remember how liberating it felt to have your own money to spend from your first paycheck? You probably did not have the same feelings the first time you met with your first adviser or accountant. Still, there are meaningful benefits to hiring financial professionals who have a relationship exclusively with you and who do not “belong” to your parents or spouse.

The most obvious reason to have your own professionals is to ensure that they have your best interests at heart. This is never more critical than during a divorce. I have seen advisers help one spouse (generally the husband) “shelter” assets and income from the other spouse. In one case, several partners in a CPA firm, with the help of their adviser and golf buddies, set up multiple shell corporations for the sole purpose of misreporting assets in their divorce negotiations. None of the spouses felt the need to engage a CPA because they were married to CPAs, but a good, outside CPA could have told them assets were being underreported.

A less nefarious reason to engage your own professionals, especially within a business, is that you need to have your plans taken seriously.

Imagine if, five or 10 years ago, you had a great idea for a new business. Your husband suggested you speak to a golf buddy/CPA about it. The CPA said your “little” business idea sounded “cute” and could generate some excellent write-offs. He tells you that an S-corp is the way to go, so the losses your business will generate will offset your husband’s salary. (Notice he is assuming you are going to lose and not make money.)

He does not offer much more advice or explanation, and you leave feeling confused and defeated. He has moved on to work on his “real” business clients.

What if your business, now set up by your husband’s golf buddy as an S-corporation, took off, and you later wanted to sell the company for millions of dollars? Because your spouse’s CPA filed your company as an S-Corp, the entire sale will be taxable when it did not need to be. Yes, if he had been more careful with the decision-making, up to $10 million of the stock sales would have been tax-free under the small business stock rules. His carelessness and inability to take you seriously cost you millions of dollars in taxes.

If instead, you had hired your own CPA, they could have worked with you as a partner, helping you to build the value of your business while reducing taxes.

If you want a seat at the table about what your retirement will look like, how your children will be educated and how your estate will be settled, you should have relationships with at least some of the professionals your family relies on.

The wife of a business client made several appointments to work with me on different projects. She came to know and trust me over time enough to confide, when she was terminally ill, that her husband was “popular” and had many, many affairs over their 50-year marriage. Her primary concern was that she did not want any of his “girlfriends” moving into the home where she raised her children.

She also wanted to make sure “her half” of the estate would go to her children and not be spent by the girlfriends. Their trust, drafted by the husband and an attorney she did not know and to whom she had barely spoken, did not specify any of this.

If she had not felt comfortable enough to discuss the issue with me, we would not have acted with a new estate attorney, her family and a trustee. Her home and other assets would not have passed to her children.

Of course, the above are extreme examples. Many spouses and children have been well cared for by thoughtful, caring heads of households with the help of their professionals. A family friend had a lifetime, close friendship with his CPA. They played golf, but they also did an excellent job at planning. The wife never read the tax returns or even knew the names of their investment advisers. When the husband died unexpectedly before age 50, his planning was sufficient to care for her and their two boys.

In this case, the wife was fortunate her spouse and his adviser were looking out for her. That is not always the case. Also, I have nothing against golf.

As we reported in our column over the past couple of weeks, women are less likely to hire advisers. They start planning later, and they are less likely to be engaged in the financial planning process than their male partners. Women also feel less comfortable talking about their finances with friends. Part of the reason for this is that men have developed relationships and even close friendships with their professionals.

If young women developed relationships with advisers early on, it might be the key to their successful involvement in the planning process.  However, even if you are not a young graduate starting out, it is never too late to seek sound advice from trusted professionals.

Michelle C. Herting, CPA, ABV, AEP, specializes in estate, trust and gift taxes, and business valuations. She has three offices in Southern California.

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