Me & My Money

Estate planning not just for the wealthy

Estate planner Eugene Soo believes it is an everlasting gift that can transcend generations

Estate planner Eugene Soo believes we should all get our financial affairs in order so that when the fateful day comes and we do kick the bucket, everything will be squared away nicely.

His conviction led him to write and publish his first book, The Legacy Of Love, one he feels will appeal to the masses as it contains no technical jargon, legal terminology or complex language.

"It is written for everybody and anybody and I believe that the subject of estate planning should not be limited to the rich and wealthy," said Mr Soo, 37. "Estate planning is an everlasting gift that one can give to the people they love - one that can transcend generations."

He has been an estate planner with Rockwills International since 2010 after starting out as an adviser with a financial advisory firm during his final year of studies at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

As his clientele grew older and richer, many began asking for wealth distribution advice.

Mr Soo decided to upgrade himself and realised that estate planning was a specialised field.

He signed up for a course to be an associate estate planning practitioner and then became part of a pioneer batch that completed the Step Certificate for Financial Services - Trusts and Estate Planning.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A I invested in some China shares many years back and was disappointed to see the capital diminishing to nothing. That lesson taught me not to go into something in which I had no knowledge. The good thing is that I put only a small sum into it and was more affected over the decision than the money.

    I am a curious person who likes to experience new things. Back in my polytechnic years, I studied banking and financial management.

    To put into practice what I learnt in the classroom, I opened a stock brokerage account and bought a few counters to try out.

    It was at a wrong time and markets were slipping, thus I made a loss of $3,000 within the first month. But the mistake turned into one of my greatest lessons in life. Since then, I viewed every module in poly very differently as a way to learn how to ace in my investments. I did extremely well, graduated with a certificate of merit and made it to Nanyang Technological University for my graduate studies.

    Q And your best investment?

    A The best investment is in myself. Over the last few years, I have been setting aside a certain portion of my money to upgrade. I started to engage an English tutor to coach me in my command of English, and a Chinese tutor to help me in my business Mandarin. As a result, I can conduct an estate planning presentation in Mandarin.

    I paid a high tuition fee to a friend just to have regular coffee sessions with me to share his political views. I will constantly sign up for courses to brush up on my knowledge of estate matters and also other related fields of study. Lorna Tan

"I am in the process of achieving my TEP (Trust and Estate Practitioner), the only widely recognised mark for professionals in the trust and estate administration industry," he added.

About eight years ago, he decided to focus on estate planning while his financial adviser wife, Ms Ho Siew Ling, 38, took over his financial advisory business.

Mr Soo graduated from NTU with a degree in business administration in 2006. The couple have a son, Esben, eight, and a daughter, Esther, five.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A My portfolio comprises funds (15 per cent), mostly in fixed income and balanced funds; crowdfunding platforms (5 per cent); real estate investment trusts (20 per cent); insurance (30 per cent); and properties (30 per cent).

Crowdfunding platforms, like funding societies, is something that I have diversified into of late. I believe that there is a lot of potential here as they complement venture capitalists in supporting start-ups.

But be prudent and do some market research first as not all platforms engage a third-party escrow agency to independently manage investors' funds.

I like the stable dividend strategies of real estate investment trusts in the local market. I believe the long-term trend is very promising.

Insurance remains a core item in my portfolio because I believe in the power of leverage, especially when I started out at a very young age. I have witnessed unforeseen events that could wipe out one's cash flow and dreams.

As for properties, I own and live in a freehold apartment in the east. In addition, I have a stake in local commercial properties. I do not have the time to manage overseas assets. I see real estate as a long-term strategy. But more than that, I view it as more of a fixed savings, which is considered less liquid in relation to other asset classes of investments.

I do not have time to monitor the returns, so the majority of my assets are structured for the medium to long term.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I plan to continue to stock up on the above asset classes.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I was constantly thinking of how to grow my wealth (via fixed deposits) when I was much younger. I started working when I was just 13 and earned my first pay cheque. Then I was fascinated by how placing my savings in fixed deposits would earn interest. At that age, earning interest was a big thing and that started my curiosity on how money works.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I do not have a strong belief in a particular asset class, but would rather diversify in a basket of asset classes in which I have knowledge.

I will invest in accumulating knowledge of that particular asset class until I am convinced of how it works, before I am comfortable with adding it to my overall portfolio.

Take crypto, for example, which has been a fad over the last couple of years. I engaged a trainer as my consultant, to explain the entire system to me. In fact, towards the end of the session, he could not even answer some of my questions and ended by telling me that I should just join the craze since everyone was making money out of it. Last year, bitcoin lost two-thirds of its value.

Q What else is in your financial plan?

A Being in the wills and estate industry, I have established a family trust for my loved ones and future generations. This trust aims to preserve the family wealth so that instead of leaving the children a lump sum of wealth when we are long gone, they will be able to tap the assets more for sustenance rather than as a windfall.

I believe that our children should sit on our shoulders and be in a position to achieve their dreams and goals in life, where they are not being burdened excessively on the cost of living, which will continue to rise in the coming years.

The trust also stipulates our family vision, that is, the kind of mission that the money is set out to accomplish. For example, there is a component in the trust that allows the children to use the money to help others.

I always believe that there should be a bigger purpose in having money. Without it, money becomes more of a motivation for self-centred reasons, promoting an inward-looking mentality. This should be the last reason for leaving money behind.

I often advocate this belief in all my talks and sessions with clients; one would always be better off with nothing than to have money with no mission for it.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I am a simple person and do not really need a lot to splurge on myself. Therefore, I will require a basic (excluding the cost of insurance and medical bills) lifestyle in order to retire comfortably.

I have not really thought about my retirement age. In fact, retirement sounds scary to me when I think of the excess time I will have. I am living my best life right now and would not want to exchange that for anything else.

Q What does money mean to you?

A I believe money allows me to buy two things, namely, time and options. Time, once lost, can never be recovered. With money, it allows me to devote the necessary time to spend with my loved ones.

I view money as a resource for me to be able to support the cause that I live for. As I am also a volunteer in my church, I am thankful that I am not being controlled by my time where I have to make ends meet, but rather I can use the rest of my time to pursue things that are of more significance than success alone. In addition, with a surplus in my finances, I am able to give to causes that I believe in.

Q Home is now ...

A A three-bedroom (close to 2,000 sq ft) apartment in the east.

Q I drive ...

A My wife and I share a Honda Stream MPV. As she is the main user, I will just "Grab" around. We renewed the certificate of entitlement two years ago as the car is still fine for us.