February 5, 2024 Letter to Clients

 Happy New Year everyone. We hope you and your families enjoyed a wonderful holiday season. Each of us in our office did and we especially enjoyed having our college-aged children home for their winter break. Their laundry, perhaps not so much…but their company, yes.  

In addition to celebrating the holidays, investors celebrated the close of 2023 as the S&P 500 marked a gain of over 24%, with the Dow reaching nearly a record high. January had the gains extending into the new year, marking the first time both the Dow and S&P 500 having notched fresh records on consecutive days since November 2021. The rally, starting in November, extended beyond big tech companies, buoyed by a resilient economy, easing inflation, and the prospect of lower interest rates ahead. Despite previous uncertainties, investors embraced the Federal Reserve’s December forecast of three potential interest rate cuts in 2024, solidifying confidence in a welcomed, positive year-end to 2023 for the market.  

 For this first letter of the new year, we wish to focus on items that are as important to your financial well-being as the investment strategy of your portfolio; and actually can be of greater importance. Here, we’ll discuss the importance of protecting ourselves from scams, making certain our estate planning is in order, and accomplishing simple financial well-being tasks that can make a big difference in the years ahead, not just for ourselves but for our loved ones.  

 Estate Planning: Not Always as Complicated as It Sounds 

Everyone has an estate and regardless of estate size, a well-crafted estate plan safeguards your assets, ensuring they pass to intended recipients. It grants peace of mind by legally securing the fulfillment of wishes as we and our family members age and facilitates the provision of care for our loved ones and for their assets. The first steps of estate planning mentioned here are not complicated and for the more complex planning a reputable estate planning attorney can make certain that all bases are covered.   

 

  • Beneficiaries:  Listing beneficiaries on every account: bank accounts, workplace retirement plans, pension plans, IRAs, non-IRA investment accounts, life insurance etc… is the simplest form of estate planning. Listed beneficiaries supersede what is listed in a will, minimizing probate delays and costs. If accounts lack listed beneficiaries, they will undergo probate, delaying and possibly jeopardizing the intended distribution of funds. Contact our office and we will gladly review your beneficiaries listed on the accounts our firm manages.   

 

  • Financial Records: It is not uncommon that in many families, one spouse often manages many of their family’s financial matters. It’s advisable to maintain updated records of bank accounts, credit cards, retirement plans, life insurance, estate documents, etc… in a secure place known to both spouses and/or grown children. This ensures that in the event of a spouse’s death, the surviving spouse, grown children, or trusted individuals have easy access to vital financial information, sparing them the difficulty of piecing together scattered records during what is typically an emotional time. 


Each of us at LePage Financial have created binders for our own families. Nothing fancy, a simple store-bought binder with labeled sections for each of the various items mentioned above which includes a printed page of the company name, account/policy type and number, beneficiaries, attorney, and financial advisor contact information etc…. that we attempt to keep updated as often as possible. And while these records may not always be perfectly updated, they are a great resource and will make things much easier for our loved ones.  For our clients, including the contact information for our firm in your binder or files is recommended.  

 

  • Planning For Aging Family Members: Discussing estate planning for yourselves as you age or as the children of aging parents can be difficult but is necessary. It is best to have this conversation while everyone is still healthy and of sound mind. Waiting too long can be very costly, both financially and emotionally. When thinking of estate planning, many think of a will and perhaps a trust, however planning for the elderly years needs to be more thorough than that and, in some cases, additional documents are likely to be needed to not only plan for health care, but for assets. This is where consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is advisable, and we recommend including us in your planning discussions.  

 

  • Life Insurance: Although often overlooked, life insurance can be an affordable tool to make certain that those who are dependent on you financially receive the financial support they need in the event you pass away. There are various types of life insurances to meet different needs and there are just as many varying reasons people purchase life insurance. Should you wish to discuss life insurance as part of your family’s financial plan, we invite you to contact our office.  

 

Safeguarding Your Green: Navigating the Headaches of Scams  

Everyone, young and elderly alike, can fall victim to scams. Technology has brought great advances and convenience to our financial world, however, with that it has also brought the prevalence of scams reaching alarming levels, posing a significant threat to individuals and businesses alike. Scams come in various forms, from sophisticated online schemes to traditional phone-based frauds and they can be quite convincing. As an investment firm committed to safeguarding your financial interests, we believe it's crucial to address the rising issue of scamming and empower our clients with knowledge on prevention strategies.  

Cybercriminals employ many advanced tactics to make their schemes almost effortless. Take phishing emails for example. A phishing email is a type of cyber-attack where attackers attempt to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial details, or other personal information. These emails often appear to be from a trustworthy source, such as a reputable company or a government agency, and typically include a sense of urgency or a call to action to prompt the recipient to click on a link, download an attachment, or provide the requested information. There are also fake websites, malware to gain unauthorized access to personal and financial information, and phone scams, where individuals pose as legitimate entities to extract sensitive information or money, remain a persistent threat.   

If you suspect that you are being targeted by a scam, it's essential to act promptly. First and foremost, refrain from sharing any personal or financial information at all costs. Disconnect any communication channels immediately. These scams can take many forms, but the scammers often impersonate a well-known company, such as a bank, online retailer, delivery company or government agency. They might say there was suspicious activity in your account, your bill is past due, your item couldn't be delivered, they are attempting to collect a bill or taxes, they may request you provide information from your Medicare card etc…. For example, if an individual is claiming they work for your bank or are informing you that suspicious activity is occurring within that bank, immediately hang up the phone and call the bank’s main phone number and confirm that this problem was in fact endorsed by the bank. For online scams, consider changing passwords and enabling two-factor authentication on your accounts as this ensures additional security.   

Being diligent and remaining educated is the most important hedge against these types of threats. Working with a bank who offers great customer service and customer rapport is a beneficial first start in additional ease and security in an event that something was to occur. Hopefully, together through education, alertness, and awareness, we can all build some resilience when it comes to protecting our financial and private information.   

Our future letters will delve deeper into the factors influencing the economy and stock markets throughout the year. Let’s take a brief look at potential recurring themes expected in 2024. The Fed’s monetary policy is still a bit of a wild card, although the January decision to hold interest rates steady was in line with Wall Street expectations. Yet, the committee’s assertion that it won’t decrease the target rate until it has greater confidence inflation is moving sustainably toward 2% does have investors speculating the Fed may delay the anticipated rate cuts this year. Geopolitical risks continue to play a big role in the markets. As just one example, the inflationary impacts of developments in the Red Sea as it pertains to shipping disruptions remains uncertain, and while these events pose a risk, so far, the impact appears more modest relative to COVID-era disruption. Elections, a prevalent theme in 2024, involve over 40% of the global population eligible to vote in their national elections, culminating in the US presidential election in November.  

We look forward to keeping you informed of these themes and others as this new year takes shape.  

 

Best Wishes, 

Steve LePage                  Colleen Bianco