Advisers still extending hand to Sandy's victims

By Liz Skinner

Nov 25, 2012 @ 12:01 am (Updated 11:15 am) EST

(Bloomberg)

It has been nearly a month since Hurricane Sandy savaged the Northeastern coast, but financial advisers are still helping clients and others in their communities deal with losses.

For more than a week after the storm, adviser Lauren Locker of Little Falls, N.J., and her staff served food at the town's overflowing shelter, even as they spent nights in their own powerless and heatless homes.

They now are helping clients de-cide whether to walk away from heavily damaged vacation houses along the New Jersey coast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn't cover second homes, and many owners without mortgages didn't have flood insurance.

Rebuilding will require meeting stringent building codes that some owners may not be prepared for, Ms. Locker said.

Other clients don't even know how bad their damage is, as they still haven't been allowed into their homes because of safety concerns.

Ms. Locker and her staff continue to look for ways to help.

“Putting in the time and giving someone a hug — those are the things that just handing someone a grocery store card can't provide,” she said.

The three advisers at Sage Financial Partners LLC in Springfield, N.J., which was closed for two full weeks after the storm, did what work they could from their homes and spent their free time assisting clients in need.

One of the firm's advisers had no power in his home but brought his generator to a client without heat who didn't have anywhere else to stay.

“The adviser called to postpone their appointment, and he asked how they were doing,” said Paul Partridge, an adviser at Sage Financial. “When he heard how badly it was going, he drove over to help.”

The advisers then reached out to more clients to see where they could be of service.

They delivered groceries to a client whose car was buried under fallen trees in her driveway and helped another with tree removal, Mr. Partridge said.

RAISING MONEY

Now they are quietly raising money for the parents of a firm employee who lost their auto repair business in Toms River, N.J. They are also making sure the owners speak to the right agencies and complete the proper paperwork.

“When you are involved in people's lives, things come up, and not all of them are good,” Mr. Partridge said. “We are glad when they reach out to us.”

Bernard Kiely, of Kiely Capital Management Inc., is helping a client whose house at the Jersey Shore was damaged by flooding.

He recommends that affected residents look into taking a casualty loss on their federal taxes.

Meanwhile, the federal government is doing its part to give assitance to storm victims.

The government eased restrictions on distributions from qualified retirement plans to ensure that plan administrators don't get hung up on rules and paperwork, and can release the funds faster.

QUICK DISTRIBUTIONS

The Internal Revenue Service is directing administrators of plans without hardship-distribution options to proceed with providing loans.

In fact, close relatives can receive quick distributions to help support those who were affected by Sandy, according to the guidance issued Oct. 16. Taxability rules will still apply.

“The relief is designed to streamline the process by which plans can make distributions and still be qualified retirement plans, and make it easier for people to get their money,” IRS spokesman Eric Smith said last week.

Mr. Kiely said he doesn't expect any client to have to dip into a retirement fund to cover damages, and he wouldn't recommend that they make the move.

“I always tell people, "Going into retirement funds is your last resort,'” he said.

lskinner@investmentnews.com Twitter: @skinnerliz