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6 Money Moves to Make on Leap Day

Use February 29 to answer estate, insurance and investing questions


There’s a holiday for virtually everything these days, but Leap Day — the February 29 that shows up on the calendar once every four years — should be a national holiday of long-term financial chores.

It’s not as much fun as International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) or National Donut Day (June 3), but Leap Day is perfect for financial planning because most investors are taking a leap of faith when it comes to everything being all right with their financial life and because most of these chores don’t need to be done more than once every four years.

Revisiting your financial documents and accounts with a special eye on updating information that has changed or become outdated may not help you immediately — which is why people let it drag for years or decades — but it pays off in avoiding headaches and much worse later.

If you’ve been married, divorced, re-married or had other life changes, your beneficiaries may be out of date.

So this year on Leap Day, do the following:

1. Review and update insurance policies

Make sure your beneficiary information is current and  review and update appropriate your coverage.

For example, if your car was old the last time you checked coverage and now is four years older, it may no longer be worth paying for collision coverage, since the premium is high but the benefit has shrunk. If your teenage kids have matured into college graduate students and are still on your policy, make sure their status has been upgraded so you aren’t stuck paying new-driver rates.

Schedule an insurance review if you work with an agent, just to know the ins and outs of all of your coverages, because they change over time and most people don’t review the fine print.

2. Review and update your estate plan

Time passes, life moves on, laws are altered, circumstances change. Look at your will and estate plan to make sure it is current on the laws and your family situations; make sure your choice for an executor is up-to-date and appropriate.

Contact your attorney/estate planner to ask what would be different if they were doing the work for you today compared to when they set things up originally. If the state-of-the-art in planning represents a big improvement, upgrade your plan.

3. Check beneficiary information on retirement plans and workplace insurance coverage

Most people fill out these papers when they start a job and never change them. If you’ve been married, divorced, remarried or had other life changes, your beneficiaries may be out of date, especially your secondary or contingent beneficiaries. In a worst-case scenario, that means your benefits will go directly to the wrong people, no matter what it says in your will.

4. Update your financial and health-care declarations

Talking to a lot of folks who have been through divorce — and having been through one myself in 2015 — it’s clear that most people forget to update their durable powers of attorney, health-care proxies and more.

You don’t need a divorce for this to be a problem; many people make their parents the emergency decision-makers, which is fine in your 20s, but not good in your 50s when your parents are much older and there’s a spouse and/or children in the picture.

5. Reconsider your asset allocation

Unless all of your money is in target-date funds or investments that change allocations as you age, an asset-allocation plan is not “set it and forget it.”

“You’re four years closer to reaching retirement age, and a top-down review of your investment strategy is in order,” explained Barry Zischang of RBC Wealth Management. “This would start with an analysis of your asset allocation. Has market volatility, up or down, caused your allocation to drift from where we originally set it? As a result, are we now taking too much risk, or not enough? Is it now time to rethink the allocation all together, perhaps beginning to focus more on income and safety, and less on growth?”

6. Evaluate your financial adviser

Most people consider their portfolio and how they are doing when they have an annual review with their financial planner or money manager, but don’t really consider the relationship with the adviser itself.

This is not about portfolio performance, but rather about getting what you want. If the adviser hasn’t provided the level of assistance you think is necessary or warranted — and it’s their fault because you have given them sufficient information — it’s time for a sit-down. Explain what you are looking for, and take steps to improve the relationship.

Include a review of your tax expert in your Leap Day chores, too. Ask about any different approaches you might take to help reduce or delay your tax burden.

Some people stay in bad advisory relationships for years. This kind of review will help make sure you are not one of them.

These six basic chores — some of which take several steps plus a meeting with a professional — may seem a bit steep to complete on Leap Day itself, but don’t let that stop you. Treat Leap Day as a starting point — with the intent of finishing in time for another once-every-four-years occurrence, the presidential election in November.

By Chuck Jaffe
Chuck Jaffe is a senior columnist for MarketWatch. Through syndication in newspapers, his "Your Funds" column is the most widely read feature on mutual fund investing in America. He also writes a general-interest personal finance column and the Stupid Investment of the Week column. Chuck does two weekly podcasts for MarketWatch, and frequently makes guest appearances on television, and on radio shows across the country.

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