Randy Gardner, retirement and estate planning professional and CSUF Mihaylo College Personal Financial Planning Program lecturer. The Cal State Fullerton Mihaylo College Personal Financial Planning Program is welcoming Randy Gardner as a new lecturer. He is an author, speaker and founder of Goals Gap Planning LLC.

With more than 35 years of experience in the retirement and estate planning fields, the Harvard alumnus will teach FIN 408 – Retirement Planning and FIN 409 – Estate Planning, two new courses that will equip students to advise clients on preparing for major financial life events.

Gardner discusses his background and how people at all stages of life can plan ahead to maximize their golden years.

What first drew you to the retirement and tax planning fields?

I started my career as a tax attorney and adviser with Ernst & Young. I was well trained in tax, but realized the advice clients wanted crossed over to other disciplines, namely investment, insurance, retirement and estate planning, what I refer to as the financial planning circle of subjects that are the core of academic programs in personal financial planning across the country. It made me realize that reducing client tax burdens is not the center of the advising relationship, accomplishing a client’s life goals is.

From that moment on, I approached client planning, teaching and writing with a holistic perspective – focusing on whole-life planning and evaluating every subject in the circle before giving advice.

Among clients’ biggest concerns are: running out of money before they die; being a financial burden to their families while they are alive; and being able to pass their property to their loved ones and favorite charities in a simple, meaningful way after they die. The desire to address these concerns drew me to retirement and estate planning.

How can people in various stages of life prepare for retirement?

There are three phases in retirement planning – the accumulation phase (roughly ages 18 to 59), the transition phase (generally ages 59 to 71) and the distribution phase (retirement to death). As retirement advisers, we help people in all three phases.

In the accumulation phase, we are helping clients save and invest in a tax-wise fashion; in the transition phase, we are helping clients think through decisions with regard to Social Security, Medicare and net worth allocation; and in the distribution phase, we help clients live their dreams wisely and confidently.

Generally, I would say to 20-year olds, “although you do not realize it, you are in the stage when you are making the most important decisions in your life, such as college, academic major, career, spouse and geographic location. Find yourself, your passion and your life partner while paying off student loans, resisting the urge to overspend on transportation and housing, and saving what you can for the future.”

To 30- and 40-year olds, I would say, “you are probably in or entering the 20- to 30-year child-rearing tunnel. Just as you try to discipline your children, try to discipline yourself. Make healthy choices. Good health is the greatest wealth for you and your family. Protect yourself from life’s risks with insurance. Save 10% in a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or individual retirement account (IRA). Invest carefully, balancing risk and return with your targeted retirement date in mind. Buy your family home with the goal of having it paid off by your mid-60s. Resist the urge to overspend on your children, while helping them obtain the best education you and they can afford.”

To someone in their 50s and 60s, I would say, “you are likely emerging from the child-rearing tunnel and entering another period when you are making important decisions that will affect you for the rest of your life. Rein in your spending, pay off your house and cars, pick your retirement and Social Security start dates (they are not necessarily the same), transition your health coverage to Medicare, and organize your net worth so it will last your lifetime.”

These are all topics I cover in the retirement course. Retirement planning is more important now than ever before. People are living longer, and there are many demands on our paychecks. It is important to remember that for the final quarter (or more) of our lives, there won’t be a paycheck, and we need to be setting money aside now to cover our future living needs.

When should people start thinking about estate planning?

With the federal estate tax exemption set at $11.18 million, only one person in 100 will owe estate tax. However, tax planning is a small part of estate planning, which is primarily concerned with who will make decisions for you if you become incapacitated and who will inherit your property after you pass away.

The modern estate plan includes a revocable trust, pour-over will, financial power of attorney, advance health-care directive and a HIPAA authorization. Six out of every 10 adults have none of these documents in place, but everyone over 18 should at least have a financial power of attorney and a health-care directive. You never know when you might be in an accident or have a medical event and need someone making decisions on your behalf. You can download these documents for free from a number of online sources.

Anyone who owns property, including a bank account or a car, or has children should have a will to indicate who will manage their affairs, inherit their property and raise their children. A revocable trust is the centerpiece of the modern estate plan, and everyone who owns real estate or more than $100,000 of property should have a trust in place to avoid the cost, delays and publicity of probate. Similar to buying insurance for your car and home, meeting with an attorney to execute estate planning documents is the responsible thing to do for you and your loved ones.

What are the traits of a good retirement and estate planning professional?

There is an old saying, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” I think caring is the paramount trait. Clients flock to advisers who are trustworthy and have a helping mentality, putting their clients’ interests first.

To caring, I would add three additional Cs:

Competent – Do you know what you are doing? Financial planning is complicated. An adviser must learn the principles of financial planning. Advisers who have earned the certified financial planner (CFP®) designation by completing coursework and passing the CFP exam are in high demand because clients know they are experts in the field.

Current – Are you willing to work hard at tracking current developments? The financial planning field is rapidly evolving. The Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, federal and state legislatures, the courts, the real estate and investment markets, and academic research are constantly reshaping the planning landscape. At the same time, there are constant changes in your clients’ lives, including job changes, graduations, births, deaths and marriages. It is important for advisers to monitor these professional and personal developments and help their clients respond to threats and opportunities.

Comfort – Are people comfortable with the advice you give? Some advisers take unnecessary risks and worry their clients. As an adviser, sometimes you are giving advice that is tried and true while other times you are giving advice that is on the cutting edge. Either way, you need to be sensitive to each clients’ goals, concerns and comfort zone.

Clients are happy to pay reasonable amounts for advice that helps them solve their problems. There are many types of financial advisors and many ways that they are paid. Some of the roles include financial planning, which is paid hourly; salaried employees of banks and financial institutions; investment advisors paid a percentage fee for assets under management; commission-based real estate and insurance agents; and professionals combining two or more of these roles.

However, in my opinion, the greatest reward is watching clients achieve their life goals. If you are willing to master the knowledge, apply the knowledge to your clients’ lives, and care about your clients’ futures, you have the traits needed to succeed in financial planning.

For More Information

For more on careers in financial planning, or for information on the Mihaylo College’s CFP board-registered Personal Financial Planning Program, visit the Personal Financial Planning Program website or reach out to the program’s student assistant, Brandon Pope, at zz-bpope@fullerton.edu.