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tl;dr    My 70'ish mother and 80-year-old, non-retired father have combined holdings of ~$1.44 million, haphazardly scattered over a number of instruments; help me help them design an intelligent strategy which grows their assets while providing a minimum income (note: their combined Soc Sec benefit per annum is ~$40k).

Background    My father is 80 years old, an immigrant from the Old Country, and still works four to five days a week. My goal here today: educate myself enough about an investment strategy appropriate for our family which will bring him some measure of comfort and, ideally, relieve him of his belief that he "must keep working".

Investment history    Being an Old Country immigrant, he's not been the most prudent with his investments: he's stubborn, financially naive & generally distrustful; and, unfortunately, despite the admonitions of his financial advisor at the time, he sold a majority of his assets during the 2008 recession, converting his moderate-risk portfolio (roughly 60:40 stocks-to-bonds) to an inappropriately conservative one (nearly 95 percent bonds).

I've developed a functional degree of financial literacy but by no means consider myself sophisticated. I have my own meager investments with robo-advisors that, given market's rallying since recession, have earned money-weighted returns of ~25 percent.1

I cringe thinking about returns missed by converting to a 95 percent bond portfolio.2,3


1 I expect this to regress to the historical mean for my particular allocation.

2 I'm doing my best to make sure that this missed opportunity cost does not influence choice of portfolio allocation, i.e., behaving more aggressively on account of “missing out on the recovery.”

3 Unfortunately, at the time, I myself was financially naive and wouldn't have known how to advise him anyway. No matter, the past is gone; fortunately, I found out about this “strategy” two years ago and advised we leave the major bank which oversaw his "actively managed" portfolio of bonds at 1 percent fees. (His investment "advisor" threw a fit when informed the SEP-IRA would be transferred to Vanguard.)


Current holdings    Since that time, I've essentially become the steward of our family's investments, which makes me somewhat nervous but which I know is better than the alternative. When I went through all his investment accounts, SEP-IRAs, CDs (*slaps forehead*), insurance policies & annuities, I was surprised to find he and my mother have a combined $1.4+ million in holdings (not including our childhood home, which is fully paid-off and perhaps can fetch $500k [the original price; purchased 1999]). In addition, they receive a combined Social Security benefit of ~$40,000 per annum.

Below are the holdings. Where possible, I've included return rates and any known fees (according to brief phone conversations with issuing company's representatives; i.e., I have not reviewed actual contracts so I am almost certainly being duped to some extent); also, I've grouped holdings by instrument type and then by descending order of rates of return:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    amount($)  | type [fees, %]                               | return(%)
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       25,000  | life insurance policy #1 [?]                 | 3.0
       30,000  | life insurance policy #2 [?]                 | 2.0
       14,000  | life insurance policy #3 [?]                 | 1.5
       32,000  | life insurance policy #4 [?]                 | 0.5
       41,000  | life insurance policy #5 [?]                 | 0.0

      222,000  | annuity #1 [?]                               | 4.0
      115,000  | annuity #2 [?]                               | 4.0
       50,000  | annuity #3 [?]                               | 4.0
      410,000  | annuity #4 [?]                               | 3.0
       25,000  | annuity #5 [?]                               | 3.0

      197,000  | Vanguard SEP-IRA [0.30 + expense ratios]     | market
      115,000  | Betterment SEP-IRA [0.25 + expense ratios]   | market
       12,000  | Wealthfront SEP-IRA [expense ratios only]    | market

       25,000  | certif. of deposit                           | n/a
        6,000  | certif. of deposit                           | n/a

        2,000  | random penny stock                           | market

       64,000  | mom's IRA                                    | market
       23,000  | mom's nonretirement portfolio                | market
        5,000  | mom's annuity                                | 3.0
        2,000  | mom's certif. of deposit                     | n/a
        1,000  | mom's certif. of deposit                     | n/a
        5,000  | mom's certif. of deposit, SEP-IRA            | n/a
        6,000  | mom's certif. of deposit, IRA                | n/a
        1,000  | mom's certif. of deposit, IRA                | n/a
        5,000  | mom's brokerage                              | n/a    

     ?500,000  | home (mortgage fully paid)                   | market  

Questions    The intentions of this post are many, but most important is to query the very thoughtful community that is StX$ to get a sense of “what I don’t know that I don’t know.” Here are the questions:

High-level question

  • Question 1    Given the size of my parents’ holdings — and what seems to me, at least, to be a considerable Social Security benefit — can our family “afford” to be a little more growth-oriented3 with respect to portfolio strategy?

Life insurance questions

  • Question 2    The life insurance policies: I understand these least well; the current values are, to my understanding, the “surrender values”. If the listed values are indeed the “surrender values,” am I correct in understanding that my father can recover, in full, the amount stated for each policy?

  • Question 3    I’m not sure if life insurance policies are the most appropriate instrument for him to hold right now; my siblings and I are adults and I’m not sure our family would “need” the death benefit; also, it seems unusual to me that he can hold the policy until his death; from the company’s perspective, this seems, errr, not profitable. (Since, I would assume, each policy has a payout of several $100,000s.)

Annuity questions

  • Question 4    Next, the annuities. The best of them return at four percent annually. He does not pay into any of them anymore; he is in the distribution phase for all of them. Perhaps it is better for the value in the annuities — the greatest proportion of his holdings — to earn at market rates? (In other words, is $822k too much money to sit in annuities?)

Certificate of deposit questions

  • Question 5    My general belief is that these were all terrible decisions stemming from my father's inappropriate risk-aversion; he has continually "renewed" the CDs over the course of a decade; he does not fully appreciate the notion of inflation and purchasing power, so, it seems to me, he made little to no return on money he did not need to "protect for the short term." My inclination is to invest the cash value of the CDs as soon as they mature, so long as they do not create a taxable event.

Conclusion    In general, my inclination is to move the value my parents have in life insurance policies4, CDs, and annuities to a balanced-oriented portfolio5, somewhere in the range of 50:50 to 60:40 stocks-to-bonds. The rationale for this being that my parents will draw minimally from this hypothetical portfolio (given their SS benefits) and, in the very likely event of a market downturn, I am confident I can ensure he does not make the same unfortunate mistake of emotionally selling-off assets.

I would be indebted to this community for their thoughtfulness, critiques, and ideas. If you got all the way down here, I thank you massively for tolerating my longwindedness and ignorance.


4 Again, I am least knowledgeable about what to do with these life insurance policies. Perhaps I first need to request and fully review the contracts.

5 https://personal.vanguard.com/us/insights/saving-investing/model-portfolio-allocations

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  • 3
    "Help me design a strategy" and asking for "thoughfulness critiques and ideas" are not questions that can be answered on a Q&A site. Off-Topic.
    – abelenky
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:09
  • 1
    Welcome to the Money SE. Please take a few minutes to complete the tour. While thoroughly written out and full of pertinent details, this isn't the proper forum for it. Take your questions, break them down independently, and search this site for similar questions that already have answers. It's not possible for us to assist every specific scenario.
    – BobbyScon
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:54
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    For #2 and #3 - life insurance should not be an investment. It should be to provide lost income that others depend on. It does not sounds like they need life insurance at this point. Whole life policies are typically terrible investments (from a return standpoint).
    – D Stanley
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:55
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    What you are asking for is not an answer to a question; you are asking for professional-level advice. Mar 31, 2017 at 17:06
  • 4
    Your dad is 80, your mother is 10 years younger, the life insurance is for her not you and your siblings. Your dad is an immigrant who has amassed $1.44mm of net assets and you’re describing him as not financially prudent; I’d say the opposite. Your parents are nearing the limit of their life expectancy and probably shouldn’t be in the market at all. You can’t get in a time machine back to 2008 to change that decision, chasing it now while they have 10 fewer years to live isn’t wise. Your dad wants to work because that’s his ethic, a bank balance won’t change that.
    – quid
    Jul 15, 2021 at 15:30

1 Answer 1

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This is not the answer you were hoping for.

I recommend that you stay out of it and let your parents do what they want with their money.

They are obviously very good savers and very thrifty with their money. At this point, they likely have more money than they need for the rest of their lives, even if it doesn't grow.

It sounds like your parents are the kind of people that would worry too much about investing in the stock market. If you invest them heavily in stocks, it will go down at some point, even if only temporarily. There is no need to put your parents through that stress and anxiety.

At some point in the (hopefully distant) future, you will likely inherit a sizable sum. At that point, you can invest it in a more intelligent way.

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  • 1
    Thanks for your feedback, Ben; you make some very valid points. Much appreciated. Mar 31, 2017 at 19:08

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