Estate Planning

Wha+ 1S Your Passw@rd?

A couple of weeks ago, I told the story of how I was victimized by a thief. Thankfully, I’ve been made whole by my financial institution, but I’m not particularly satisfied with some of the answers I received regarding how the crook convinced the bank they were me.

As it turns out, the bad guy didn’t convince the bank they were me. Rather, they convinced the bank that they were my wife! They spoofed my home phone, which made it appear that they were calling in from my number. With that, they were able to convince the bank to allow access by providing a minimal amount of personal information that could have been obtained anywhere, such as a Facebook profile.

Frankly, the bank in question probably didn’t follow their own security procedures. But if I had taken all of the advice I offered up in “5 Tips to Avoid Being Ripped Off”, it likely would have thwarted the crooks. One of the tips was to use randomly generated passwords that you can store securely in a password management application such as LastPass. I've found that using a tool such as this has  other benefits, as well.

Preparing to Get Hit by Life

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon sang in a verse of Beautiful Boy. Mike Tyson put it more bluntly, “Everybody’s got plans…until they get hit.”[i]

I think back to my early 30’s when the .com bubble was expanding. Business was good in the financial trades, with stocks rising 20% every year and customers literally standing in line to invest. Retirement seemed a certainty by the time I was 40. Along the way, a new baby, a move to California, a “once in a generation” bear market, another baby, a move back to Texas, another “once in a generation” bear market, and a foolish notion to start a new business now have me approaching 50 and planning to work for the foreseeable future.

While some may argue differently about the bear markets, most would probably agree that none of those life events were catastrophic. But what if something had happened that truly altered my plans, or those of my family?

Probably the most obvious catastrophe that most people think of is an untimely demise. The odds of that happening are pretty low when you are in your 30’s. For example, according to the Social Security Administration's cohort life tables, a 30-year-old male has a 98.5% chance of living to age 40, 95.5% chance of making it to 50, and a 90.5% probability of reaching his 60th birthday. Ladies have even higher odds of reaching the golden years, with nearly a 94% chance. With odds that high, it isn’t surprising that term life insurance is relatively affordable.

Insurance works best when it is used to protect against low probability but high impact events, such as premature death. Nevertheless, paying an insurance company for 20-30 years of protection that is very unlikely to be used isn’t high on the list of expenses most folks look forward to paying. But the thought that our families would have to move because they can’t afford the mortgage or that the kids would be forced into debt to pay for college are enough to motivate me to write that check each year.

But there are other risks that are more likely to impact you than an early death. According to the SSA’s Disability and Death Probabilities, a male born in 1996 has about a 20% chance of becoming disabled before retirement age. Unlike death, with a disability you not only lose your earning potential but continue to need to support your family AND yourself.

Both life and disability insurance are important tools for protecting yourself from a knockdown blow, but they will cost you. How much you should buy can vary based on your personal goals, attitude towards risk, and family situation. An independent financial advisor may be your best resource for helping you answer the question of how much and then find solutions that suit you.

In addition, other steps to protect you and your family from a potential KO are:

Establish liquidity. An emergency fund with several months’ worth of expenses set aside is the easiest solution, but establishing credit before it is needed can also be effective. A line of credit or a credit card may be difficult to obtain or more expensive to use if you wait until the primary breadwinner has stopped winning bread.

Review the beneficiaries on your accounts and insurance policies. These designations work very efficiently to transfer assets after death without going through probate. However, failing to name them, or having the wrong ones (i.e. ex-spouses, minor children) can complicate or ruin your plans.

Write a will. Clearly state who should inherit your property and take care of your minor children, pets, etc. Appoint an executor that is willing and able to execute the will when the time comes.

Consider trusts. There is a myriad of trust types that accomplish different objectives. They can help avoid probate, protect assets from creditors, and insure they ultimately pass to the heirs or causes of your choosing.

Set up health care directives. Living wills, medical power of attorney, and HIPPA authorizations spell out your desires, who can make decisions, and who can even talk to doctors about your condition. These tools can insure that your wishes are followed in the event you aren’t able to communicate and help avoid emotional conflicts between well-meaning family members.

Establish durable power of attorney. In case you are unable to make financial decisions, having a trusted person (spouse, child, etc.) appointed as your attorney-in-fact that can handle your affairs can make life much easier on your family.

Title your assets correctly. All the steps previously mentioned can be voided or made more complicated by not titling assets correctly. On a financial statement, it is helpful to list the registration of all your assets so that your financial planner or attorney can help identify potential disconnects with your plans.

Finally, it’s also a good idea to put a recent copy of your financial statements, wills, trusts, insurance policies, deeds, and other important documents in a place where they can easily be accessed by your attorney-in-fact or executor.

Don’t know where to start? Get in touch to discuss your plans.




Flingin' It - 8/19/16

Flingin' It is an occasional version of the Accountable Update where I throw out a variety of topics that may potentially impact ATX Portolio Advisors' clients and friends. I will also share articles from other sources that I enjoyed or found interesting. I hope some of it sticks!

In this edition, I have a quick update on a proposal from the Treasury Department that could significantly impact estate plans for some readers. I also share a piece from DFA where the relationship between GDP growth and stock market returns is explored. Finally, I included an always entertaining article by Jim Parker from his Outside the Flag series. Enjoy!

Popular Estate Planning Technique Curtailed By Proposed Treasury Regulation

Family Limited Partnerships (FLPs) have been a popular estate planning tool for high net worth families' over the past 15 years or so as a series of Tax Court rulings favored their use. On August 2, the Treasury Department proposed new regulations that will remove or severely restrict the primary tax benefit of FLPs, discounted valuations for lack of control and marketability of family controlled entities.

Currently, FLPs allow for the value of property placed into the partnership to be discounted, which can reduce the size of an estate, and ultimately estate taxes. General Partners, usually the older generation, can further reduce their holdings (and estate taxes) by gifting partnership interest to limited partners, typically the heirs, while retaining control of the property. 

Unable to get anything done in Congress, an increasingly assertive Obama administration is essentially taking authority through Executive action from the vacuum created by gridlock to further their agenda, in this case, estate tax reform. Since multi-millionaires are the only impacted group, don't expect much outcry from either side of the aisle as what essentially is a "1%" loophole, is closed. 

What should you do? The regulations must go through a 90 day comment period and wouldn't be enacted until 30 days after that. If you have an estate valued greater than $5.45 million as an individual or $10.9 million as a married couple, there is still time to call up your estate planning attorney to see if there is any need or opportunity to review or update your estate plan. 

If you would like to be introduced to a qualified estate planning attorney, feel free to get in touch to discuss your situation.

Economic Growth and Equity Returns

A relevant question for many investors is whether their view of economic growth should impact how they invest.

Opinions about future economic growth often differ across market participants. For example, in a survey of more than 60 economists conducted by the Wall Street Journal in June 2016, estimates of US GDP growth in 2017 ranged from 0.2% to 3.7%.[1] A relevant question for many investors is whether their view of economic growth should impact how they invest. In this regard, they may be surprised to find that the historical link between annual GDP growth and equity returns has been quite weak.

Exhibit 1 shows annual GDP growth vs. annual returns for developed and emerging markets. These plots indicate that there has not been a strong relation between GDP growth and equity returns in the same year. For example, in developed markets country/year combinations[2] when GDP growth was positive, the spread in returns was substantial: 323 country/year combinations had returns above 10% while 192 country/year combinations had returns below −10%. We see a similar pattern in realized returns for developed markets country/year combinations when GDP growth was negative. Emerging markets show a similar pattern.


Exhibit 1.       Annual GDP Growth and Equity Market Excess Returns

Sources: World Bank, MSCI, Morningstar. Shorter time periods shown for some countries due to data availability. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. See Data Appendix for details.

Sources: World Bank, MSCI, Morningstar. Shorter time periods shown for some countries due to data availability. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. See Data Appendix for details.

Despite this weak relation between GDP growth and stock returns in the historical data, investors often ask whether shorter-term fluctuations in economic cycles impact stock returns in the near term. Stated differently, while on the surface Exhibit 1 presents a weak picture of GDP growth and stock returns in the same year, is there a relationship between the two that is not obvious from this exhibit? 

To address this question, we examine 23 developed markets from 1975 to 2014 and 19 emerging markets from 1995 to 2014.[3]  Each year, countries are classified as either high or low growth depending on whether their GDP growth was above or below that year’s median GDP growth, defined separately for developed and emerging markets. We then look at stock market returns of high and low growth countries over the following year. The return for each group of countries is the average stock market return of all countries in the group weighted by countries’ market capitalization weights.

Exhibit 2 shows that, historically, differences in GDP growth over the past year contained little information about differences in equity returns this year. In both developed and emerging markets, average annual returns were similar for high and low growth countries. In fact, low growth countries had slightly higher average returns than high growth countries, although this return difference was not reliably different from zero. In other words, there is no evidence that this return difference occurred by anything other than random chance.


Exhibit 2.       Equity Returns and Economic Growth in High and Low Growth Countries [4]

Sources: World Bank, MSCI, International Finance Corporation (World Bank). Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Filters were applied to data retroactively and with the benefit of hindsight. Returns are not representative of indices or actual strategies and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment. Actual returns may be lower. Please see Data Appendix for more information.

Sources: World Bank, MSCI, International Finance Corporation (World Bank). Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Filters were applied to data retroactively and with the benefit of hindsight. Returns are not representative of indices or actual strategies and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment. Actual returns may be lower. Please see Data Appendix for more information.

Can superior forecasts of short-term future economic growth help improve investment decisions? To address this question, we extend the analysis and assume perfect foresight about GDP growth over the next year. We now study the returns of high and low growth countries over the same year we measure GDP growth. This is not an implementable strategy because investors do not have the advantage of knowing economic growth in advance. They must rely on GDP forecasts, adding additional uncertainty. Exhibit 2 shows that even under the assumption of perfect foresight, using GDP data would not have generated reliable excess returns for investors. In developed markets, low growth countries had higher average annual returns than high growth countries, whereas in emerging markets, high growth countries had higher average annual returns than low growth countries. Neither difference in returns was reliably different from zero. This suggests that markets quickly incorporate expectations about future economic growth, making it difficult for investors to benefit from growth forecasts even with the advantage of perfect foresight. Differences in equity returns across countries seem to be driven more by differences in discount rates than by differences in GDP growth, even under a perfect forecasting scenario.


Many investors look to economic growth as an indicator of future equity returns. However, the relation between economic growth and returns in the historical data has been shown to be weak. This should not come as a surprise given that returns are determined by discount rates and investors’ aggregate expectations of future growth. Surprises relative to those expectations, whether positive or negative, may cause realized returns to differ from expectations. The evidence presented here suggests that differences in GDP growth contain little information about differences in stock returns in the same year and over the subsequent year. This means that it is difficult for investors to earn excess returns by relying on estimates of current or future GDP growth—even estimates that perfectly forecast GDP growth over the next 12 months.

[1].   “Economic Forecasting Survey,” Wall Street Journal,
[2].   Each observation in Exhibit 1 represents, for one country in one calendar year, the equity market excess return over one-month US Treasury bills as well as the rate of GDP growth. For example, one of the observations shows that in the US in 2014, the equity market excess return was 12.7% and GDP growth was 2.4%.
[3].   See Data Appendix for details. 2015 GDP growth data was not available for most countries at the time of writing.
[4].   A t-statistic is a measure for the reliability of an average return difference. Normally, a t-statistic of at least 2 in absolute value is necessary to reliably say that the result is different from zero.

Data Appendix

Developed markets since 1975 (unless stated differently):
MSCI Australia Index (net div.), MSCI Austria Index (net div.) (from 1980), MSCI Belgium Index (net div.), MSCI Canada Index (net div.), MSCI Denmark Index (net div.) (1980), MSCI Finland Index (net div.) (1988), MSCI France Index (net div.), MSCI Germany Index (net div.), MSCI Hong Kong Index (net div.), MSCI Ireland Index (net div.) (1988), MSCI Israel Index (net div.) (1999), MSCI Italy Index (net div.), MSCI Japan Index (net div.), MSCI Netherlands Index (net div.), MSCI New Zealand Index (net div.) (1988), MSCI Norway Index (net div.), MSCI Portugal Index (net div.) (1990), MSCI Singapore Index (net div.), MSCI Spain Index (net div.), MSCI Sweden Index (net div.), MSCI Switzerland Index (net div.) (1981), MSCI United Kingdom Index (net div.), and the MSCI USA Index (net div.).

All of the following emerging markets are included since 1995 for Exhibit 1.

For Exhibit 2, since 1995 (unless stated differently):
MSCI Brazil Index (gross div.), MSCI Chile Index (gross div.), MSCI China Index (gross div.) (from 1996), MSCI Colombia Index (gross div.), MSCI Egypt Index (gross div.) (1998), MSCI Greece Index (gross div.), MSCI Hungary Index (gross div.), MSCI India Index (gross div.), MSCI Indonesia Index (gross div.), MSCI Korea Index (gross div.), MSCI Malaysia Index (gross div.), MSCI Mexico Index (gross div.), MSCI Peru Index (gross div.), MSCI Philippines Index (gross div.), MSCI Poland Index (gross div.), MSCI Russia Index (gross div.) (1998), MSCI South Africa Index (gross div.) (1996), MSCI Thailand Index (gross div.), MSCI Turkey Index (gross div.).

A country is included in the analysis for Exhibit 1 in a given year if MSCI index return and GDP growth data are available and in the analysis for Exhibit 2 if MSCI index return, country weight, and GDP growth data are available. Returns are in USD. GDP growth is real GDP growth in local currency, converted to USD using constant 2005 USD as provided by the World Bank.

Source: Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This information is intended for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee an investing strategy will be successful.

Outside the Flags

History on the Run

When news breaks and markets move, content-starved media often invite talking heads to muse on the repercussions. Knowing the difference between this speculative opinion and actual facts can help investors stay disciplined during purported “crises.”

At the end of June this year, UK citizens voted in a referendum for the nation to withdraw from the European Union. The result, which defied the expectations of many, led to market volatility as participants weighed possible consequences.

Journalists responded by using the results to craft dramatic headlines and stories. The Washington Post said the vote had “escalated the risk of global recession, plunged financial markets into free fall, and tested the strength of safeguards since the last downturn seven years ago.”[1]

The Financial Times said “Brexit” had the makings of a global crisis. “[This] represents a wider threat to the global economy and the broader international political system,” the paper said. “The consequences will be felt across the world.”[2]

It is true there have been political repercussions from the Brexit vote. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister and overhauled the cabinet. There are debates in Europe about how the withdrawal will be managed and the possible consequences for other EU members.

But within a few weeks of the UK vote, Britain’s top share index, the FTSE 100, hit 11-month highs. By mid-July, the US S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average had risen to record highs. Shares in Europe and Asia also strengthened after dipping initially following the vote.

Yes, the Brexit vote did lead to initial volatility in markets, but this has not been exceptional or out of the ordinary. One widely viewed barometer is the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX). Using S&P 500 stock index options, this index measures market expectations of near-term volatility.

You can see by the chart above that while there was a slight rise in volatility around the Brexit result, it was insignificant relative to other major events of recent years, including the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the eurozone crisis of 2011, and the severe volatility in the Chinese domestic equity market in 2015.

None of this is intended to downplay the political and economic difficulties of Britain leaving the European Union, but it does illustrate the dangers of trying to second-guess markets and base an investment strategy on speculation.

Now the focus of speculation has turned to how markets might respond to the US presidential election. CNBC recently reported that surveys from Wall Street investment firms showed “growing concern” over how the race might play out.[3]

Given the examples above, would you be willing to make investment decisions based on this sort of speculation, particularly when it comes from the same people who pronounced on Brexit? And remember, not only must you correctly forecast the outcome of the vote, you have to correctly guess how the market will react.

What we do know is that markets incorporate news instantaneously and that your best protection against volatility is to diversify both across and within asset classes, while remaining focused on your long-term investment goals.

The danger of investing based on recent events is that the situation can change by the time you act. A “crisis” can morph into something far less dramatic, and you end up responding to news that is already in the price.

Journalism is often described as writing history on the run. Don’t get caught investing the same way.

[1]. “Brexit Raises Risk of Global Recession as Financial Markets Plunge,” Washington Post, June 24, 2016. 
[2]. “Brexit and the Making of a Global Crisis,” Financial Times, June 25, 2016. 
[3]. “Investors are Finally Getting Nervous about the Election,” CNBC, July 13, 2016.


About Jim Parker
Jim Parker is a Vice President for DFA Australia Limited, a subsidiary of Dimensional Fund Advisors. As head of the communications and marketing team in Australia, Jim helps create strategies to communicate Dimensional's philosophy and process in ways that engage clients, prospects, regulators, and the media. He does so through presentations, books, papers, and articles, including his "Outside the Flags" column and, more recently, his weekly "Coffee Break" links to interesting articles. 

Jim joined Dimensional in 2006 after 25 years working as a journalist in newspapers, television, radio, and online media. His specialty was financial journalism, particularly in relation to economics and financial markets. Jim holds a bachelor of arts in social and economic history from Deakin University and a journalism certificate from Auckland Technical Institute.

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP ("Dimensional") is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. This content is provided for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.