Category Archives: elder care

Before I Go

 

We were asked to speak to a group of retirees at a retirement home recently.  We took as our subject our book: Before I Go.

We wrote it based on the experience we had over three decades helping people deal with the aftermath of a death in the family.  Most often is was the death of a spouse.

When the deceased was the one who managed the family assets and paid the bills, we found that all too often the surviving spouse was at a loss.  Suddenly she was alone, and often had little or no guidance about the financial affairs for which she was now responsible.

Before I Go is a guide and a workbook for couples; a list of things that the other should know in anticipation that one of them will be left alone.

For a copy of the book and workbook, go HERE.  Sharing it with your spouse will be a labor or love.

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Being There

Anyone who has been in a long-term committed relationship understands what “being there” means.

One of the benefits of a stable relationship is that you have someone you can rely in when you need help.  Couples support each other.  Even as traditional roles have evolved, most families still have a division of labor when it comes to certain chores and tasks.  The fact is that some people are good at one thing and not so good at others.  What’s great about compatible couples is that they complement each other and, as a result, they are stronger, smarter and wiser together.

This is why the loss of a companion is such a traumatic experience.

All of a sudden, the person you have relied on is no longer there.  There is a big void in your life.  You may find yourself wondering what you are going to do.

While we don’t promote ourselves as the substitute spouse, in a financial sense we quite often find ourselves in that role.

When a spouse or long-time companion dies, our surviving clients often call on us to provide financial guidance.  Having dealt with hundreds of these transitions, we know the ins and outs of the estate settlement process.  We know the common pitfalls and things that can go wrong and are there to provide advice and guidance to help lift the burden and take care of things correctly and efficiently.

We relieve people from having to do it themselves.

We’ve written a set of books on this issue to help people plan ahead before their time comes, called BEFORE I GO.  The book and workbook are a wonderful compliment to traditional estate planning documents and help to fill in the missing information that those documents tend to leave out.

For a copy of these guides, you can contact us or you can buy them on Amazon.com.  Click HERE for a link.

Let us know if you have any questions or if you or anyone you’re close to needs an experienced and helpful hand working through one of these situations.

 

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At what age are you too old to manage your money?

I was fascinated to read an article with the above title that was published recently.  It was accompanied by a picture of an elderly couple and their caregiver walking with canes.

The article reflects many of our own observations.  We have been managing money for people for over thirty years.  During that time we have seen the effect of age and ill health on the people we work with.

Here’s the good news:

“Most people who don’t suffer from cognitive impairment can continue managing their money in their 70s and 80s, according to a report just published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR). But of course some older Americans, and especially financial novices who take over money management after the death of a spouse, will need help …”

Here’s the bad news:

As we get older our ability to process information slows down.  As a result, the elderly are more likely to be defrauded or abused by financial scams.  They may not open their mail regularly, have problems paying bills and fail to read and understand their financial statements and reports.

If you’ve never made investment decisions, paid the bills, balanced the family checkbook or reviewed the investment accounts you are especially vulnerable.  This if often true of older couples in which the wife managed the household and the husband managed the family finances.

As we get older, there are a few basic things that we should do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

  1. Have a spending plan for your retirement years.
  2. Make sure that your spouse and your financial advisor knows about the plan and knows where your accounts are so that they can be monitored for fraud or abuse.
  3. At some point you or your spouse should agree to transfer your responsibility for managing your investments, and make sure that both members of a couple should know how to run the household finances.

For guidance on these issues, we suggest ordering a copy of BEFORE I GO and BEFORE I GO WORKBOOK.

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The financial risks of dementia

dementia-symptoms-and-brain changes

Dementia covers a broad range of mental diseases that cause a gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember.  It often affects a person’s daily functioning and is different from the decline in cognitive abilities that are the usual effects of aging.  The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

About one in ten people get dementia.  It becomes more common with age and it’s estimated that about half of those over age 85 suffer from it in some degree.

As the disease progresses, most people with dementia require a certain amount of skilled care.  Eventually the family will not be able to provide the 24 hour services that the patient requires and they will be placed in a facility designed to provide that care.

According to the NY Times:

On average, the out-of-pocket cost for a patient with dementia was $61,522 — more than 80 percent higher than the cost for someone with heart disease or cancer. The reason is that dementia patients need caregivers to watch them, help with basic activities like eating, dressing and bathing, and provide constant supervision to make sure they do not wander off or harm themselves. None of those costs were covered by Medicare.

For many families, the cost of caring for a dementia patient often “consumed almost their entire household wealth,” said Dr. Amy S. Kelley, a geriatrician at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York and the lead author of a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

As people age their cognitive abilities deteriorate.  Even before they begin to suffer the effects of dementia, they may become forgetful or lose the ability to focus on their finances.  Obtaining the services of a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) well before this happens – a fiduciary that puts his clients’ interests first – is vital.  And, as people prepare retirement plans, the cost of dementia treatment and care should be one of the things for which they plan.

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Getting Financial Help

When people have financial questions, what do they look for?  According to a recent survey most people are looking for someone with experience.  We want to take advice from people who are familiar with the issues we face and know what to do about them.  We all know people with experience, but financial problems, like medical problems, are personal.  Most people we know would rather not go into detail about their personal finances with family or friends.  They are more comfortable sitting down with a financial professional to discuss their finances, their debts, their financial concerns, and their financial goals in both the short and long term. Professionals will provide advice without being judgmental and are required by their code of ethics to keep your information confidential.

Once people find someone who has a track record of giving good, professional advice, they want personalized advice and “holistic” planning.

No two people have exactly the same problems.  A good financial advisor listens attentively to learn the goals, the concerns and personal history of the people who come to him for advice.

People have specific issues and questions.  For example: a couple, aged 39, is seeking advice about their path to retirement.  They give their financial advisor a laundry list of their assets, their investments, their savings rate, their debts, and the ages of their children and ask if they should be doing something different or are they on the right path.  That’s a very specific question and the advisor’s response is going to be personalized for them.

The plan that the advisor comes up with is going to involve much more than money.  It’s going to take their personal characteristics into account.  This includes personal experience with investing, their risk tolerance, and their closely held beliefs and ethical values.  This is what is referred to as “holistic” planning; taking personal characteristics into consideration.

There is a fairly big difference in the advice sought by

  • “Millennials” (those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the current century),
  • “Generation X” (the children of the Baby Boomers) and the
  • “Baby Boomers” (children of the soldiers returning from World War 2)

“Millenials” say that among their top three concerns are saving for a large expense such as a car or a wedding.  Too many are saddled by debt acquired to pay for higher education and are finding that their degrees are not necessarily an entry into high paying professional jobs.  Their next largest concerns are saving for their kids’ education and putting money aside for retirement.

“Generation X” is primarily focused on saving for retirement.  They are married, own their own home and may have children in college.  Concerns two and three are tax reduction and paying for their children’s education.

“Baby Boomers” have finally reached retirement age.  More than a quarter million turn 65 each month.  As a group they are a large and wealthy generation, but a vast number have not saved enough for a comfortable retirement.  Many are forced to continue to work to supplement Social Security income.  Their number one concern is the cost of health care.  Concerns two and three are protecting their assets and having enough income for retirement.  The three concerns for Baby Boomers are inter-connected.  For many Boomers, Medicare helps them with the costs associated with most medical issues.  However, as people live longer, there comes a time when they are unable to care for themselves and live independently.  Long-term-care insurance was once believed to be the answer but insurance companies found that costs were much greater than anticipated.  The result is that many insurers have stopped offering the policies and those remaining have hiked premiums beyond the ability of many to pay.  The cost of long term care is so high that many Boomers are afraid that their savings will soon be exhausted if they are forced into assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Each generation has its own problems and at a time when the world has gotten much more complicated.  Getting experienced, personalized and holistic financial advice is more important than ever.

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How Advisors Can Help Surviving Spouses

Investopedia published an article we authored.

When the subject of death comes up, a term that’s often used to describe the feelings of those left behind is “loss.” But there is more to that loss than the loss of companionship. There’s also the loss of information, especially if the person who died also handled the family finances.

In my 30 years of experience advising families I have often had to help and council widows who depended on their husbands to manage the family finances. It’s fairly common for families to have several investment relationships. It’s quite rare to find that the spouse who managed the money actually did a good job keeping records and keeping his spouse “in the loop” when it comes to money management. And when her spouse dies, the widow has to deal with a host of organizations whose primary focus is on making sure that they don’t distribute money to anyone who is not entitled to it. The liability is too great. So we typically have a widow dealing with the death of a loved one, plus the Social Security Administration, the husband’s pension plan, and two, three or more brokerage firms who handled the couple’s investments. (For more, see: Estate Planning: 16 Things to Do Before You Die.)

Who Handles the Finances?

One of my earliest experiences was with a widow whose husband took care of all the family finances. He made the investment decisions, paid the bills and balanced the checkbook. He died suddenly and his wife did not know what to do. Childless and with no near relatives, she needed help. (For more, see: Estate Planning for a Surviving Spouse.)

While her husband’s will was up to date, during our first meeting she revealed that she knew nothing about her financial condition. She did not know how much she was worth, what her income sources were or what it cost her to live. It took a while to learn where all the investments were, what her income sources were and how much she needed to maintain her lifestyle. (For related reading, see: Advanced Estate Planning: Information for Caregivers and Survivors.)

Over the years I found that this situation was not uncommon. Balancing a checkbook, paying bills and making investment decisions does not appeal to a lot of people. They are happy to allow their partner to do that for them. The problem with this division of labor does not appear until the individual in charge of the finances disappears either through death or incapacitation.

Helping Manage the Transition

This is the point at which a trusted financial advisor can ride to the rescue. A good one is willing to go through records to see what it takes to run the household. He will be able to determine the survivor’s income. He will know how to identify the family’s investment and bank accounts even if the records are incomplete. Just as important, a financial advisor should be willing to provide more than simply financial advice to the surviving spouse. This is the point where questions arise about selling the extra car, upgrades around the home, moving to be nearer the children – or moving into a senior living facility. These may well be the questions a trusted advisor is able to answer. (For more, see: 6 Estate Planning Must-Haves.)

Advisors who are simply money managers will, at this point, probably find themselves replaced. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Global Private Banking/Wealth Management Survey, 2011, more than half (55%) of the survivors will fire their financial advisor following the death of a spouse. A lot of that will be due to the changing level of service that a surviving spouse needs. (For related reading, see: Why Do Widows Leave Their Advisors?)

But there is actually a better answer to the financial confusion that often follows a death. The best time to gather comprehensive information about family finances is when the couple is still alive.

Why a Will Might Not Be Enough

With due respect to the legal profession, will and trust documents are written to specify how assets are to be distributed at death. With few exceptions, they rarely get down to the kind of detail that allows the surviving spouse to take up where the deceased has left off.

What is needed is a specific book of instructions itemizing financial assets, their location and their ownership. Income will be vitally important to the surviving spouse. Realizing that income will change once one’s spouse dies, it’s important to know what the survivor’s income sources will be. Finally, the cost of maintaining the surviving spouse can be determined while both are still alive much more easily than after one has passed away. And since so many transactions now take place via password protected Internet portals, the survivor needs a list of those portals and passwords. (For further reading, see: The Importance of Estate and Contingency Planning.)

When someone dies, the surviving spouse will always have a period of grieving. But if a little though is given to preparing for the inevitable, grief does not have to be accompanied by fear of an unknown financial future.

To make it easy for couple who want to plan, purchase a copy of our book: BEFORE I GO and the BEFORE I GO WORKBOOK.  Contact us:

 

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Why do elderly Japanese want to go to prison?

I read an interesting comment by Art Cashin that bears considering.

Japan’s prison system is being driven to budgetary crisis by demographics, a welfare shortfall and a new, pernicious breed of villain: the recidivist retiree. And the silver-haired crooks, say academics, are desperate to be behind bars.

Crime figures show that about 35 per cent of shoplifting offenses are committed by people over 60. Within that age bracket, 40 per cent of repeat offenders have committed the same crime more than six times.

There is good reason, concludes a report, to suspect that the shoplifting crime wave in particular represents an attempt by those convicted to end up in prison — an institution that offers free food, accommodation and healthcare.

The mathematics of recidivism are gloomily compelling for the would-be convict. Even with a frugal diet and dirt-cheap accommodation, a single Japanese retiree with minimal savings has living costs more than 25 per cent higher than the meagre basic state pension of Y780,000 ($6,900) a year, according to a study on the economics of elderly crime by Michael Newman of Tokyo-based research house Custom Products Research.

Even the theft of a Y200 sandwich can earn a two-year prison sentence, say academics, at an Y8.4m cost to the state.  The geriatric crime wave is accelerating, and analysts note that the Japanese prison system — newly expanded and at about 70 per cent occupancy — is being prepared for decades of increases. Between 1991 and 2013, the latest year for which the Ministry of Justice publishes figures, the number of elderly inmates in jail for repeating the same offense six times has climbed 460 per cent.

If it weren’t so, so sad, it would be positively elegant. You are an elderly Japanese person who can’t get by. You are not aggressive so you want to commit a crime with no threat or hostility. So, you commit one of the most non-hostile crimes possible –shoplifting.  When the authorities insist you leave and return to poverty, your simple recourse it to repeat the same crime, may even in the same store.  Human adaptation is an absolute wonder to behold. Government planning, however, is prone to bring unintended consequences, usually of the worst order.

People adapt to incentives and the results are not necessarily what was anticipated.  It’s called the law of unintended consequences.

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Five reasons for Trusts

In the past, estate planners usually cited two reasons for setting up trusts:

  • Minimize probate
  • Avoid estate taxes

There are several ways of avoiding probate without a trust and the federal estate tax does not apply to estates under $5,450,000 in 2016.  This removes a big reason for setting up a trust.

Here are five reasons for setting up a trust that are usually not considered.

  1. Divorce.  Setting up and funding an appropriate trust can protect a child or heir from losing family assets in a divorce.
  2. Changing a legal location.  If a trust is revocable the actions of a local court do not inhibit the heirs from moving.
  3. Serving disabled loved ones.  A special needs trust can be used to protect assets for an ill child or spouse.
  4. Minimizing identity theft.  If a trust is set up using its own tax identification number, the trust may be protected if your social security number is compromised.
  5. Protecting the elderly.  As people age, they can suffer cognitive impairment.  If the trust is drafted properly, successor trustees or co-trustees can be named to manage the older person’s financial affairs.
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Protecting Elderly Clients

Much has been written about the vulnerability of the elderly to scams that are perpetrated on them. Because seniors are concerned about health care, con artists prey on the elderly to get them to buy fraudulent products or services. Home improvement scammers prey on the elderly by providing shoddy or unnecessary repairs. Stories about unscrupulous financial advisors are frequently in the news. Funeral homes have been known to get the elderly to spend more than they want or need. Some scammers will read the obituaries and pretend that the deceased ordered products or owed a debt to try to get money from the surviving spouse.

Very often the people preying on the elderly are relatives. Because most of us trust our relatives, it gives them an opportunity to take advantage. Children have been known to move back into the family home and physically abuse their elderly parents. They may employ emotional blackmail. They may threaten to stop visiting or calling.  They may tell their parents that not giving them money means that they don’t love them. Often a demand for money is disguised as help with bills, or presents to grandchildren.

Of course parents make gifts to children and grandchildren all the time. But there is a line beyond which it becomes clear that children are looking to get their “inheritance” early. This can lead to an impoverished parent who loses his independence, or even his home.

It can be very difficult for a concerned financial advisor to protect his client from predatory relatives.  Often the parents want give money to their children and may be unaware of the financial consequences.  As fiduciaries we have to keep in mind that our obligation is to our client; not her children, grandchildren or any other relatives. You may have to tell your client “I know you love your son, but you should not give him the house because you may need to sell it so that you can move into a senior living facility.” Of course this can create a conflict with the relatives who will not appreciate what you are doing.

At some point it may be necessary to get an attorney involved, one who specializes in elder care. This is particularly important if the heirs don’t get along. If the elderly become incapable of managing their own affairs they can assign power-of-attorney to a third party.  If the children are not competent, or if there is a conflict, appointing an attorney as the executor of the estate may be preferable to appointing a relative.

Providing financial guidance to the elderly is much more than managing their portfolio. There is often much more going on that is critical to the well-being of the client, and avoid the chance that they run out of money before they run out of time.

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