Keeping It All Straight

I’m not only my parents’ only child, but also the only niece and granddaughter in my mother’s family.  As such, my first experience with family estate planning came early on, as my grandparents began making annual transfers of their assets to the next generation.  With each year’s gift, my grandfather provided specific guidelines on which equities to purchase, which my mother as my custodian followed explicitly, even keeping the same brokerage.  She trusted his years of investing experience more than her own judgment, and we felt that since it was ultimately his hard-earned money it should be his decision anyway.

Though I was aware of the account, as a minor I paid little attention to it.  When I joined an NASD-regulated firm after college and moved to open my retirement accounts, I took a look at the list of permitted brokerage firms and opened my account with Fidelity (I can’t really give a thoughtful reason why).   It wasn’t until I came of age to take custody of my grandparents’ gifts a couple years later that I realized I was holding accounts with two separate firms and no clear way to view my overall portfolio.

I could have consolidated the accounts, but fortunately my grandfather’s brokerage was also on the allowed list.  I didn’t intend to trade the account very actively, and wasn’t sure what fees would be involved with rolling the account over, so I opted to keep them separate.  I also reasoned that maintaining multiple accounts would give me more flexibility to make different types of trades, and benefit from the strengths of the different brokerages.

When an aunt passed away more recently, I was the beneficiary of her IRA – of course, maintained at a third firm.  Using the same logic, for now I’ve opted to leave the account where it is.  My active trading runs through my personal Fidelity account, so the inconvenience of checking positions and updating my records in separate accounts is pretty infrequent.  Of course, if I start to trade the family accounts, or just can’t keep my passwords straight, I may reconsider the whole strategy.

John Prendergast John Prendergast is the co-founder and CEO of Blueleaf. He serves on the board of WiredTiger, a developer cloud optimized databases. He is also the founder and organizer of the Lean Startup Circle Boston. In addition to his decade and a half as an entrepreneur, John spent nearly a decade as an investment banker and financial advisor.