Email of the day (3)
Comment of the Day

February 07 2011

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day (3)

On leaving a portfolio for a spouse:
"Thanks for you daily reviews. I did have a question that I think others may have as well. I have well over 40 years in investments and still have not seen this addressed. Maybe you and the collective can help.

"I know my way around the investment world, but my wife has no interest. What happens upon my death? Should I leave her with a portfolio of unmanaged stocks, mutual funds or a money manager. All of these might be ok, but things change. What might your plans be? I know this is a tough one, but I welcome your thoughts..."

David Fuller's view Thank you for this vitally important question, certain to be of interest to many subscribers, as it is to me.

Speaking personally, it is not a question of Mrs Fuller being disinterested - far from it, but her preferred solution is to keep me alive, mind reasonably intact, for as long as possible. This is gratifying but only postpones the succession problem.

My first suggestion is not to give up on the spouse who is not drawn to markets the way we are. This is a delicate issue, like most things in marriage, and a teacher / student approach is unlikely to work. I find it helps if Mrs Fuller has accounts in her own name, such as her ISA, as we live in the UK, and to which she has also contributed from her own income. She also has sole access to her accounts and places her own buy and sell orders, albeit selecting from my suggestions to date.

At some point in any investor's life the portfolio emphasis needs to switch from capital formation to preservation. This can be a gradualist process or commence when one retires and no longer has a career salary. It also depends on the investment environment. For instance, in the mid 1980s double digit long-dated government bond yields should have been an obvious choice for capital preservation, but most people did not see it that way as they feared inflation and were still interested in gold. However inflation had peaked in most countries.

Today, western long-dated government bonds have distinctly unattractive yields, and inflation is rising. High yielding shares are a better path to capital preservation but are certain to be more volatile than government bonds were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Lastly, on the very difficult question asked in the email above, none of us knows what the future holds. However we can prepare a sensible roadmap which attempts to address challenges and risks which we suspect may lie ahead. This can be prepared privately or preferably, I suggest, on a consultative basis with our heirs. It should also be updated as time and circumstances allow. There can be no certainty that it will be followed, for better or worse, but it could offer a loving and considered plan, which our heirs are likely to appreciate.

On seeing this copy, Eoin added:

"I seem to remember that Jesse Livermore, despite being an extremely active trader, chose to put together a portfolio of high yielding rail and utility shares for his wife before his suicide."

I guess he knew that he would be trading less actively in future.

This is a big, interesting and important topic, and others within the Collective are welcome to share their own thoughts.

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