Known for research on the 40-plus population, the MetLife Mature Market Institute is the insurance company's center on aging and longevity. Director Sandra Timmermann spoke with contributor Michelle Lodge about its latest study on grandparents and how advisors can best serve these early baby boomers as they plan their retirement.

1. What is a common mistake that advisors make in dealing with the generational transfer of assets?
Some clients may choose to help their children and grandchildren now, rather than leave them an inheritance. That's one conversation that financial advisors need to have with clients and may not. They also need to make sure that what the client does for his or her children and grandchildren financially is tempered with setting up funds for a client's future. A client could be laid off unexpectedly at 62, live to age 100 or end up with a number of chronic health conditions. The advisor must strive to make sure that the client has enough money to have a secure retirement and take care of healthcare needs, so that it doesn't come back and bite the family later. If the client gives away too much early on to family members, those relatives could in turn have to support the overly generous client.

2. What were some of the surprising findings of your study on grandparents?
The grandparents are younger—between the ages of the late 50s to early 60s—they are more affluent than previous generations of grandparents, they are college-educated and many of them are still working. And to quote directly from the study, here's something the financial advisors may find useful to their practice: "In the past decade, many grandparents have seen substantial and real increases in their household income, while their offspring have fallen behind. The percentage of inflation-adjusted household income that accrued to households ages 55 or older has risen from 28% to 34%, which meant a real income increase. . .of $695 billion. During the same decade, the real income of households ages 25 to 44 declined from 43% to 35%, which meant a real aggregate income loss of $312 billion."

3. What are other differences between this current generation of grandparents and previous ones?
Some may want encore careers. I know a man who left a big accounting firm to teach high school math and is much happier now. Some boomers could get laid off before retirement and may need to find a new career out of necessity or piece together a life from part-time work, coupled with Social Security and a pension plan. Another person may start a new business, such as opening a bakery after having lost his or her job.

4. How are grandparents helping their grandchildren financially?
Grandparents 55 and older are spending $2.43 billion annually on secondary and primary education for their grandchildren. A decade ago, they spent about $853 million. They are also buying things for them, like toys, computers and infant wear, and helping out by buying them cars and car insurance. They are also giving their children money for basic living expenses or letting them move in with them.

5. What should advisors say to those close to retirement, who have seen their savings diminished?
Tell them not to do anything rash with their money. Work becomes a really important part of this equation. If it's possible for the client to extend his or her work life longer, that might be a very good option. They would be able to save more in their 401(k) account and take advantage of the company match. They could defer their Social Security payouts to age 70, so they get a higher monthly amount. It's also important for them to keep getting benefits as long as possible, even if they work part-time, because Medicare and even Medigap insurance are expensive.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All On Wall Street content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access