Q: Several years ago, our accountant put our individual retirement accounts into a real estate investment. My husband had 5,150 shares worth $1 each; I had 2,715 shares. The name of the investment changed several times before I heard that the deal went bankrupt.
Are these shares totally worthless? What happened to our money? -- D. H.
A: Without knowing more, it's impossible to say precisely what happened to your investments and if you will ever see your money again. In all likelihood, your money is lost.
And to compound your misery, you are not entitled to deduct on your income taxes any losses you suffered on money that had not yet been taxed by the government.
If you want to trace your money, a good place to start would be the California Department of Corporations -- or a similar department in the state in which the company was based -- that might have a listing of the top officers of the company in which you invested.
You might also persuade the accountant who put you into this investment to help you research the whereabouts of your money.
Where did the company file for bankruptcy? Who handled the filing? What assets did the company list? Are creditors' names being taken for possible repayment? These are the types of questions you should pursue.
If you believe that you are the victim of a scam, you should notify the proper authorities, which could include the state Board of Accountancy, if your accountant was a part of the swindle, and the state Department of Corporations, if securities' registration laws might have been broken.
Q: We own a home in Beverly Hills, Calif., with a recently refinanced $365,000 mortgage at 10 percent. We also have a condo in Palm Springs that we have owned for 18 years. Our family business is doing poorly, and we can no longer afford both our homes as well as the $4,000 monthly rent for our office.
We would like to sell our house but cannot afford to put it in the tip-top condition it needs to attract attention in today's soft market. Our only other asset is a $30,000 bank account that is rapidly dwindling. My husband is 64; I am 47. Can you offer any advice?
A: Your first move should be to find a competent financial planner to review your situation and, more importantly, your retirement goals.
You need to be able to answer such questions as: Does your husband plan to continue working? For how much longer? What kind of annual income can he expect to generate? What will happen to your family business -- does it realistically have a future?
What kind of job do you expect to have if your husband retires and the family business closes? What about your retirement savings?
Without knowing the answers to these and other important questions, we cannot offer precise advice here.
But these are the types of questions you should expect to get. Based on the answers you give, your financial planner can help guide your decisions.
Here are some of the choices you face: If you were ready to retire, you could sell your Beverly Hills home, take the $125,000 profit exclusion and move into your Palm Springs condo.
If the family business will snap back into shape once the recession ends and you want to stick with it until then, perhaps selling the Palm Springs condo might generate the kind of cash you need to tide you through these tough times.
You could also try to refinance your Beverly Hills home to take advantage of today's lower interest rates; in some cases, adjustable-rate loans start as low as 6 percent.
You might also consider talking to your landlord about renegotiating your business lease.
Many landlords are surprisingly willing to reduce their rents to keep valued tenants from folding their tents.
Remember, landlords are having a tough time finding tenants now too, so you may be in a strong bargaining position.
Again, you would be well served to talk to a competent RTC professional who can guide you through these problem times and position you strongly for your retirement. The cost of professional advice would be money well spent since it appears that your margin for error is rapidly shrinking.
One last note: Since investment is not your key objective at this point, you might want to select a financial
planner who will charge you an hourly rate and not attempt to sell you any investments that will generate commissions for him.
This selection will cost you more initially, but you should wind up get
ting exactly what you want: problem-solving advice and not insurance policies, real estate investment trust shares or a piece a limited partnership.
/# (Carla Lazzareschi will respond
in this column to questions of general interest. Please do not telephone. Write to YourMoney-Money Talk, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.)