This article appeared in 2014 as "Sudden Wealth: Ensure That Today's Windfall Lasts," and has been updated.
Financial advisors can help suddenly-wealthy clients ensure that today's windfall lasts longer than tomorrow but doing so requires more than financial acumen. Clients also need help understanding the life transition that they are making.
"It's a huge transition. You're not just dealing with the windfall of the money, but also a major shift in life stages," says Jean Arias, managing director of AMG Group of Raymond James. "Even in a positive case like winning the lotto, there's a big shift.”
Complicating matters, the suddenly-wealthy is a diverse group; widows may be suffering emotional distress, young athletes may be immature and lottery winners may be bewildered by their new status.
"You try to get them to manage their cash flow and lifestyle," says Susan Bradley, author, CFP and founder of the Sudden Money Institute. "That makes sense. But it doesn't always work because there is the human experience, not just the logic. To make this work, you need to understand the human dynamic."
For these types of clients, there is often a disconnect between spending today versus how long the money will really last. An executive may have a 30-year career in which his or her salary gradually rises. An athlete may play his last game while still in his 20s.
"Yet many athletes spend like the gravy train is never going to end," says Jason Katz, founder of Katz Wealth Management and a managing director for UBS who has worked with professional athletes, celebrities and a lotto winner.
Katz says these types of clients often live in the moment. One of the biggest financial mistakes these types of clients often make is rushing to buy big ticket items like houses without regard to the long-term costs. And too often they make custom additions to their new mansions, adding on basketball courts and music studios, which future buyers may not be interested in acquiring.
Developing a financial plan to make the money last can be for naught if the client doesn't understand how their life has changed and how it may change again. Arias, who has worked with inheritors and widows, says that accomplishing that requires compassion and communication.
"You need to frame it in a way that they get it, and understand the structure," she explains. "I can have all these initials behind my name, but if I can't get on the same level with the client and understand how to communicate, then I can't fully help them to the best of my ability."
The first thing Katz recommends to clients is to do nothing with their wealth. Live life normally. Instead of spending binge, he proposes they create a wish list, sit on it for a week or a month and then come back to it to see if they really want those items. This helps his clients get a financial plan that meets their realistic needs and desires both today and in the future.
But financial advisors, Katz argues, shouldn't aim for cheap tricks, trying to act like their celebrity or athlete client.
"Giving a bro hug and trying to relate to a 20-year-old isn't going to work. It's contrived. It'll be awkward for you and them. Try to be yourself and they will respect you more," Katz admonishes.
Bradley suggests always keeping the client engaged in formulating the goals of the financial plan, so that the advisor and client are co-creating agreements on spending policies, such as spending on family members.
"The advisor has a place to go back to if the client wants to change," she says. "This is how we mapped it out. How do you want to change it? What do you know now that didn't before?"
Providing this kind of understanding and perspective doesn't necessarily end after the first pay check. Athletes who've reached the end of their careers and celebrities whose 15 minutes of fame are over enter a new life phase in which the paychecks may not be as big. Katz sits down with his clients and revisits their financial plans.
"I'll say 'You're at a different phase in your career, and let's revisit your financial plan. Is there media work in your future? Is there another career change in store for you?'" he says, noting that some may go into sales to leverage their fame and personality.
In a sense, it's the same conversation every advisor has with a client. "It's all based on the financial plan: what are you spending, what are you making and what are your goals."
Eugene Lee, a sports agent and president of ETL Associates, says that perspective and long-term thinking is what the best advisors bring to the equation.
"You want to rely on a sound, prudent financial advisor to get you on the right track," says Lee. "Once you retire, you don't want to take a drastic dip.
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