Portfolio Planning can Lead to Irreconcilable Differences

The judge had to ask the question, and we had to answer it in order to get our divorce finalized. It was all supposed to be pro-forma. "Why are you getting divorced?" the judge asked, his head buried in legal file folders.

"Irreconcilable differences," my wife, Sue, and I answered in unison as our attorneys recommended.

To our surprise, he followed up with a second question. "Differences about what?"

"Investment strategies," I blurted out. My attorney stomped me on my foot to shut me up. The judge was intrigued even though 20 other couples, with their attorneys, were waiting behind us.

Sue jumped in. "He believes in using only index funds in our portfolio. What a mistake! We need to actively manage our investments. Since the tech-stock bubble burst we've been losing money. And I dated a guy before this bozo [that was me] who is now a top mutual-fund manager on Wall Street. His fund has increased 13.2 percent a year even during the bear market. We should have given him our money."

The judge was definitely impressed. "I wish I could get my wife to be as interested as you are in our investments," he said. "Seems like you have a real winner here Hesh, so why are you breaking up?"

Just what I needed, the judge siding with Sue. I quickly counter-attacked. "Your honor, I believe in index funds," I said. "Why waste all that money having someone help you beat the market when the numbers say that over time no one really beats the market."

The judge really seemed interested. He wondered out loud, "You guys seem like a sophisticated couple, didn't you discuss this before you got married?"

I immediately answered. I didn't want Sue saying anything else that would make me look like a fool. "Your honor, when the topic of money came up, we agreed that mutual funds made the most sense and that we would max out our 401(k) s.

Honestly, we were just out of grad school, and we really didn't have much money. The topic just never came up again."

The couples behind us had given up hope of leaving soon; they sat down dejected as their attorneys pulled out their cell phones and began sending text messages to their secretaries telling them to cancel their morning appointments.

The judge called for a recess and invited us back to his chambers. Our attorneys were ordered not to accompany us.

"Listen," he said, "I have a solution. We are going back into court. Just follow my lead." Could we say no? I didn't think so. He pushed us out the door into the court room.

The judge followed us a few minutes later. He began solemnly, "After reviewing the facts and consulting both parties I have negotiated a settlement that they have agreed to." We had? My attorney gave me this look. You know the one that says: you got yourself into this mess, not me.

"As a judge in divorce court, I have heard flimsy excuses for couples to split. And personally I am against the no-fault divorce law in our Commonwealth. However, for the first time I have come across true irreconcilable differences in my court room.

"Adultery can be forgiven, just ask Hillary Clinton, but a spouse that hides his or her investment preferences prior to their marriage cannot. Fortunately, in the case before me, neither side knowingly covered up his/her investment orientation. Therefore, with the powers invested in me, I hereby grant their divorce.

"I am, however, outraged by the attorneys who profited from these clients and raised hopes that their differences might be overcome. I hereby order that all attorneys fees be returned and be placed into a trust fund for the children. I am also issuing a bench warrant for the arrest of the marriage counselor who bilked these two fine people of thousands of dollars in counseling fees in an ill-conceived plot to keep them together.

"Only one question remains, how to invest these funds to ensure an appropriate nest egg for the children. Before I rule, excuse me for a personal digression. Many years ago, while I was in law school at Columbia, I was fortunate to room with Warren Buffett. He was studying for his MBA. (Harvard had been dumb enough to have rejected his application.) I just gave him a call and told him of the case I was ruling on. In his typical homespun manner he said that he could not tell me how to rule on the legal issues. However, he strongly recommended that the trust fund for the children be invested in index funds.

"Now who am I, to disagree with The Sage of Omaha? I hereby rule that the children's trust be invested only in index funds."

Hesh Reinfeld writes a syndicated business humor column. You can read additional examples of his columns on his website: http://www.heshreinfeld.com Or contact him at [email protected]

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