When the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund last month began distributing money to the survivors and families of the deceased from the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting, it created an obvious question: How do recipients manage their payouts?
That’s why the Las Vegas Survivors Project was established.
Financial advisers from across the nation have joined in the project to offer free advice as the nearly 532 claimants navigate the complexities of managing large sums of money. More than $31.4 million was distributed.
Greg Phelps, a Las Vegas-based financial planner at Redrock Wealth Management, attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival with his wife and family. He is one of the approximately 40 registered financial advisers offering advice to recipients. The project launched in February.
“I’ve seen people make a lot of financial mistakes upon receiving a one-time distribution of funds like this,” Phelps said in a statement. “Depending on your financial goals and needs, proper planning can help you avoid mistakes from [a] tax standpoint, college savings standpoint, and other areas of concern.”
Financial advisers are not legally required to act in the best interest of their clients, said Benjamin Edwards, associate professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law.
“Almost across the board, Americans really struggle with financial literacy and expecting people to make good savings and investing or asset allocation decisions when they don’t really have a whole lot of familiarity with how financial markets work or the range of products or who they can trust and who they can’t trust, it’s a really challenging thing for people to do,” Edwards said.
The project was spearheaded by Edwards and Knut Rostad, who is the president of the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard. None of the registered advisers sell insurance or investment products.
Each recipient has different needs and there are many ways to approach managing the payout. Regardless of the situation, Phelps urges victims to take their time making a financial decision.
“Life has been hard enough on all the survivors and all the victims. I can’t tell you how many times in my 23 years that they’ve been taken advantage of or they’ve been steered the wrong way and that’s why this project is so important,” Phelps said. “We can’t let that happen to these people because they’ve already been through too much.”
He encourages survivors to reach out to this project or to the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center.
“You’re dealing with a group of 600 or 700 people who were injured or lost a loved one ... There’s no registry of these people anywhere, you can’t just send them an email or a letter and say, ‘Hey we’re here to help you for free — please use us on our expertise,’” Phelps said. “But the more we can get the word out, the more I hope that survivors and victims who receive the distribution will reach out to us.”