Are You Ready to Retire? This Checklist May Provide Some Answers

If you’re like most people over 50, you’ve probably been thinking about retirement for years. When will I retire? Will I be able to afford it? How will I know when the time is right? And what will “retirement” look like and feel like?

At AgingOptions, helping people answer questions like these – and, most of all, helping them see their dreams come true through careful planning – is the cornerstone of our professional work. In our offices, on the radio and in our seminars, one of the questions we get most often is, “How will I know when it’s the right time to retire?” Because we hear questions like that so frequently, we’re always interested in articles from retirement experts attempting to provide some answers. Here’s a good example which we discovered recently on the website Real Deal Retirement. Written by nationally known columnist Walter Updegrave, this one is called “The ‘Are You Ready to Retire’ Checklist.” While we seriously doubt whether any five-question “checklist” can really answer such a profound and important question, we share this article with you because it might help you explore your own situation a bit more fully. But as you’ll discover, we think Updegrave’s checklist, while helpful in some ways, is sadly incomplete.

“If you think you’ve got the means and the inclination to call it a career,” writes Updegrave, “I say go for it. My only caveat is that, before you do, make absolutely sure that you’re not only financially prepared to retire, but that you’re also ready to make the social transition from the work-a-day world to retirement.” It’s hard to argue with that – so let’s see what the Real Deal Retirement article offers on its retirement checklist.

The first question on the checklist is the most obvious: “Do you have the financial resources you’ll need to support you the rest of your life?”  Updegrave adds, “The question is straightforward, but coming up with an accurate answer can be more difficult than you think.” As a solution, the Real Deal Retirement article offers links to some helpful tools including BlackRock’s Retirement Expense Worksheet and the T. Rowe Price Retirement Income Calculator. These are useful if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind filling in numbers, but you can also contact us here at AgingOptions and allow us to refer you to a fee-based financial planner, someone who is not trying to sell you a financial product or insurance policy but who you hire for a fee to give you honest, objective advice. Believe us, if you choose the right planner, the expense will be well worth it.

The second question, closely related to the first, from the Real Deal Retirement article is “Have you considered how you’ll generate income for retirement?” This individualized income plan can include Social Security, part-time work, required minimum withdrawals (RMD) from non-Roth retirement plans, and possibly an annuity to generate steady income. Once again, putting together an income plan for your future is another area where we suggest the services of a qualified planner.

The third question is critical: “Do you have health insurance squared away?” The Bureau of Labor Statistics warns that health care costs will consume about 15 percent of the average retiree’s spending, so it’s imperative that you understand just what Medicare does and does not cover and how to fill in the gaps with Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plans.  If you have questions about these vital programs, we invite you to call us at AgingOptions, or – better still – attend a free LifePlanning Seminar soon where many of your questions will be answered. We’ll tell you more about LifePlanning in just a moment.

Walter Updegrave returns to finances for his fourth question on the Pre-Retirement Checklist: “Is your retirement portfolio in shape?” Once again, this goes back to the issue of income in retirement. “There’s no single correct stocks-bonds mix that’s right for all retirees,” Updegrave writes. “The idea is that you want to invest enough of your savings in stocks to provide the returns you’ll need to maintain your purchasing power over the course of a long retirement, but also enough in bonds to provide some ballast during the market’s inevitable periodic setbacks.”  Again, this is another area where unbiased financial advice is in order.

Finally, Updegrave’s concludes with a question that we think is profound. “Do you have a plan for how you’ll actually spend your time after you retire?” he asks. Since retirement can easily last for three decades, a healthy dose of lifestyle planning is essential in order to “make this phase of your life satisfying and meaningful rather than a period of just marking time.”  The author lumps quite a few questions under the “lifestyle planning” category: for example, he asks, “Will you remain in your current home or downsize to something smaller? Stay in the same neighborhood or relocate to an area with lower living costs? Do you have a circle of friends and family that will keep you socially engaged? Have you lined up activities (part-time work, a workout regimen, a hobby or avocation, charitable work) that can help keep you physically fit and mentally alert?”

So what’s our view of this “Are You Ready to Retire” Checklist? We would give Mr. Updegrave a grade of “Incomplete.” He does a good job of covering finances, which most retirement planners do, and he touches (briefly) on Medicare. But what about long-term care? What about your legal protection? Do his housing questions adequately deal with the choices and limitations you’ll face in deciding where you’ll live as you age? And what about your family – will they be fully supportive of your plans? If not, your best-laid plans could fall apart in a battle between your heirs after you’ve gone. The Real Deal Retirement checklist is silent on these vital issues.

The better answer for retirement preparation is to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar, where you’ll discover a truly comprehensive approach  to retirement planning – one in which finances, legal affairs, medical coverage, housing choices and family communication all work together in harmony. With your LifePlan in place, you’ll face retirement with a newfound sense of security and optimism for the future. Please accept our invitation to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. We offer a range of dates and times, so click here for details and online registration, or call us during the week so we can assist you. Bring your retirement questions and join us at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.realdealretirement.com)

Workers Continue to Neglect Contributions to 401(k) Accounts

It’s hardly big news anymore to report that American workers aren’t doing a very good job of saving for retirement. But just how big a problem this represents hasn’t been carefully studied, until a new analysis done earlier in 2017 which showed that the problem of “401(k) neglect” is even worse than previously thought.

That’s the conclusion from this article which was published some months back on the website of Bloomberg. In the largest study ever of retirement plan participation, researchers from the U.S. Census Bureau reviewed tax data to come up with the most accurate picture to date to show how many employees take part in work-based 401(k) retirement savings plans. These researchers studied the W-2 tax records from 155 million workers representing more than 6 million employers.  What they discovered showed that retirement plans are available to more employees than previously thought – but the total number of participating employees is even less than other surveys have indicated. The bottom line is that only about one-third of U.S. workers are contributing to workplace 401(k) accounts in spite of the fact that such plans are presently being offered to nearly 8 workers out of 10.

The actual number of different companies who offer retirement savings plans to their workers remains surprisingly low – only about one company in seven. That’s because so many of these firms are small businesses. For example, the Census Bureau data showed that fewer than half of all companies employing between 50 and 99 workers offer 401(k) plans compared with about 85 percent of companies with 500 to 1,000 employees.  In the words of Bloomberg, “Want a retirement plan? Work for a big company.” Because they’re so big, those large firms that do offer participatory retirement plans employ about 79 percent of all U.S. workers.

But do these workers take an active role in saving for their retirement? According to the Census Bureau report, about 60 percent do not. That’s a much lower rate of participation than retirement experts had previously thought. And if you add in the workers who are employed by small companies less likely to offer 401(k) plans, only about one-third of American employees are contributing, missing out on tax benefits, savings accumulation and employer matching dollars.

Bloomberg suggests a few reasons why participation rates in 401(k) plans are so low. For one thing, some employees may not be eligible, having joined the firm too recently to earn any company contribution. Others may decline out of ignorance, not knowing how – or why – to sign up.  But the biggest reason could be the hardest one to solve: employees are too strapped to set aside any money in savings. “Any effort to get workers to save for retirement faces a daunting challenge,” writes Bloomberg: “Can Americans spare the money? Student debt and auto loans are at record levels, according to Federal Reserve data, and overall consumer debt is rising at the fastest pace in three years.” Bloomberg’s conclusion: “Retirement is an important goal, but may Americans seem to have more pressing financial concerns.”

This problem of “401(k) neglect” is just one grim statistic in a bleak overall picture of U.S. retirement savings. We can’t begin to count the number of articles in major publications that have sounded the alarm in the past several years concerning the meager amounts that Americans facing retirement have set aside for their future livelihood. Here’s one example we found on the website MarketWatch, which reported last year that “The median working-age couple has saved only $5,000 for their retirement,” according to the Federal Reserve. This article said that the shift from pension plans to 401(k)-style plans which took place beginning in the 1980’s has not worked at all as planned. “The do-it-yourself pension system is a disaster,” writes MarketWatch columnist Rex Nutting.

One analyst estimated that, among those who are within five to ten years of retirement, almost 40 percent have no retirement savings at all. Contrast this with the top ten percent who have put away an average of $274,000 in tax-sheltered accounts. MarketWatch points out that the tax breaks that were supposed to stimulate savings in 401(k) accounts have worked fine for those with means, but for lower-income workers they’ve done nothing. MarketWatch calls this “a perverse tax policy that helps the rich to save but doesn’t help the rest of us.”

So in light of those bleak statistics, where do you turn for a road map to lead you into a secure retirement whatever your financial means? We would like to invite you to spend a few hours at one of the most stimulating and helpful events you’ll ever attend – a free LifePlanning Seminar offered by Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions.  At these highly popular events you’ll learn that finances, as important as they are, are but one component in a well-planned retirement strategy. Rajiv will show you how, with a LifePlan in place, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes when your finances, your legal affairs, your medical protection, your housing choices, and even the dynamics of your family actually work together in well-planned harmony. You don’t need to face your retirement future with fear, regardless of your situation.

Why not invest just a little time and see what we mean? Join others just like you at a LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find dates, times and locations here: then register online or call us for assistance during the week. No matter whether you’re already retired, about to retire, or still years away from retirement, don’t wait – get the vital information you need at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(link to www.bloomberg.com)

Estate Tax Valuation Rules Proposed Last Year Seem Ripe for Repeal

The firestorm broke just one year ago. In the final months of the outgoing Obama Administration, Treasury Department officials proposed new rules that would have drastically affected the process of transferring a family business to heirs on the death of the business owner. The proposed rules would have significantly increased the estate tax burden on children inheriting a family business and, say opponents, could have made it difficult if not impossible for some small businesses to remain in the family.

Within a few months after the rules were announced, the controversy generated what this article that appeared last December in Forbes magazine called “the biggest crowds ever to a Treasury public hearing.” The response (including nearly 10,000 public comments) was so emotional because of what many perceived as the unintended consequences of the proposed valuation rules. Outgoing administration officials had laid out the new stipulations to “close a tax loophole used by the wealthy,” in the words of Forbes. But those opposed to the changes in the law argued that they would “wreak havoc” on the ability of owners of small family businesses to pass along those businesses as a legacy to their legitimate heirs. Among those testifying against the law at the emotionally charged hearing last December were an 83 year old owner of a hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a fifth-generation cattle rancher from California, and the owner of the White Castle hamburger chain, along with many others.

Even at the time, the Forbes article speculated that, considering President-elect Donald Trump’s stated opposition to the estate tax, the new regulations governing transfer of family businesses would probably never see the light of day. Sure enough, just this week we found this article on the Wealth Advisor website titled “Hated Estate Tax Valuation Rules on Trump’s Hit List.” After President Trump ordered government agencies to find ways to reduce tax regulatory burdens, U.S. Treasury officials identified the year-old valuation proposal as “ripe for review.” The public comment period, reports Wealth Advisor, just closed last week.

According to the Wealth Advisor article, valuation discounts allow a business owner to put a lower-than-market value on the asset – in this case, a family business – that he or she plans to give to their heirs. This allows the heirs to escape or reduce gift taxes and estate taxes. “Estate planners and their clients cried foul when the rules were proposed last August,” says Wealth Advisor, “and in Treasury hearings in December. They say there are legitimate reasons for the use of discounts.” They also argue that actual businesses being operated by families should be exempt, as opposed to what are called family limited partnerships which do little more than hold securities. These so-called businesses, financial analysts argue, are more open to financial manipulation at inheritance time.

For those of us in the legal profession trying to advise our clients on the status of the proposed Obama-era rules, there’s a high degree of uncertainty. Based on the commitment of the current administration to reduce the U.S. tax burden, some financial experts doubt whether the controversial changes to the valuation laws will ever be adopted, says Wealth Advisor. What’s more, some argue, if President Trump is successful in doing away with the estate tax altogether, something he has said he wants to do, the question is moot. But until that happens, or until the proposed rules are codified, modified or thrown out, the prevailing advice seems to be to stick with the current rules and to be conservative. “Most people are taking valuations based on principles of current law,” says Wealth Advisor, “regardless of the proposed regulations.”

Our further advice at AgingOptions is that this is one area where you definitely need expert professional counsel. The Wealth Advisor article notes the danger in being “too aggressive” in transferring assets, risking an unnecessary and unwelcome IRS audit. You may also find yourself owing gift taxes retroactively if you fail to provide the IRS with proper forms and adequate disclosure.  If you have a family business you want to pass along to your heirs, careful planning and awareness of the rules – even amidst proposed changes – is vital. Please contact us and allow us to assist you in evaluating your particular situation.

For the rest of us, we would make a similar recommendation when it comes to planning for retirement: you need careful planning and an awareness of the principles that can ensure a brighter and more secure future as you age. This planning goes far beyond finances! You also need to have someone guide you through the maze of medical decisions (both short term and long term) and the significance of appropriate housing choices. There are legal preparations to consider in order to make certain that you and your estate are protected. Finally, you’ll want to plan a family conference so those closest to you will understand and support your wishes. Is it possible to protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to your family? Can you live how and where you want without being forced against your will into a nursing home? The answer is yes – if you have prepared an AgingOptions LifePlan.

There’s an easy, no-obligation way to learn more about the power of a LifePlan. Plan now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar, held frequently at locations throughout the region. Bring all your questions and come to a seminar near you. Simply click here for details and online registration, or contact us during the week. Whatever your circumstances, we can help you face the future with confidence. All it takes is a LifePlan from AgingOptions.

(originally reported at www.forbes.com and www.thewealthadvisor.com)

Hoping for a Phased Retirement? You May Not Have the Option

As today’s baby boomers enter their retirement years, a large number say they are hoping and planning for a “phased retirement.” Gone are the days when an employee hung up their tool belt or put aside the briefcase on their 65th or 66th birthday and simply called it quits. These days the plan for millions of people approaching retirement age is to keep on working part time after they retire, or shift from full time to part-time status at their present employer.

It all sounds good, and it makes a lot of sense, economically and emotionally. There’s just one problem: a large majority of U.S. employers don’t seem to have gotten the message. In spite of all the public relations spin about being “aging friendly,” most companies still refuse to let full time employers cut back their hours or shift to less stressful, less demanding work once they reach retirement age. That’s the conclusion of this new article on the aging website Next Avenue. The title of the article, written by personal finance columnist Kerry Hannon, paints a bleak picture: “Hoping for a Phased Retirement?  Don’t Count On It.”

Hannon’s article is based on findings in a just-released study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. It revealed the sobering fact that, among the 1,800 for-profit employers surveyed, fewer than one-third said they would permit employees to shift from full time work to part time work in order to facilitate a so-called phased retirement. Even fewer – barely one-quarter of respondents – said they would allow aging employees to “take on positions that are less stressful or demanding so they can glide into retirement,” writes Hannon.

“In other words,” she adds, “employees who anticipate a phased retirement by downshifting at their jobs to fewer hours per week are mostly out of luck,” according to the Transamerica survey. This paltry level of support for aging workers is even more ironic when you consider the fact that “71 percent of employers Transamerica surveyed said they believe they are ‘aging-friendly’ and said they offer opportunities, work arrangements and training and tools needed for employees of all ages to be successful.”

According to Hannon’s NextAvenue article, this survey result matches a similar study of phased retirement programs undertaken recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  The GAO reported that the availability of phased retirement “has the potential to provide options that would be beneficial both to the older workers and the overall economy.” But in spite of the benefits and the desire of aging employees to keep working, “formal phased retirement programs are relatively uncommon.” The reasons for this lack of support for phased retirement seem to be fairly simple: employers are worried about disruption, regulation, and cost. “They want full-time employees at their desks and they just don’t have an appetite to manage a workforce that has a substantial number of part-time workers,” Hannon writes. “Many employers don’t want to offer a phased retirement program that they think could be subject to laws and regulations and could be expensive to administer.” And as for the costs, the biggest impediment seems to be an employer’s reluctance to keep paying for the employees’ health and retirement benefits.

But there are plenty of reasons why phased retirement plans are good for business. Those employers in the GAO study who take a more flexible approach have experienced much higher retention of knowledgeable, highly-skilled workers, and their younger workers have benefitted greatly from the transfer of knowledge from their older counterparts.  Companies are able to avoid a sudden “brain drain” when older workers retire by phasing them out more gradually, making it easier to plan for the company’s workforce needs.

The bottom line for you, if you’re counting on a phased retirement, may be to negotiate your own plan. Kerry Hannon writes that “it may be up to you to persuade your employer to let you have a phased retirement.” These more informal arrangements will probably be more common for the foreseeable future than formal phased retirement programs.  “Don’t look for a dramatic change in the availability of phased retirement programs soon, however,” Hannon warns. Even so-called “age friendly” employers are still very slow to put phased retirement plans into practice.  But if you plan to approach your boss about cutting your hours or shifting your work to accommodate a phased retirement, you’ll need to demonstrate that it’ll be worth keeping you on part-time by keeping your skills up-to-date and marketable. Keep adding to your skillset, volunteering for workplace projects, and generally making yourself indispensable.

Are you starting to get serious about planning for retirement? Or have you found yourself having to retire earlier than you planned? Wherever you are on the “retirement spectrum,” we at AgingOptions want to offer some reassuring words: it is definitely possible to create a retirement plan that will allow you to protect your assets as you age, keep you from becoming a burden to your loved ones, and prevent your being forced against your will into institutional care. You can take charge of your retirement and not be at the mercy of an employer, or even Uncle Sam! We call our approach to retirement planning “LifePlanning,” because an AgingOptions LifePlan governs all the critical facets of retirement life: finances, medical, housing, legal, even family. All these must work together harmoniously to ensure that you’ll enjoy the type of secure retirement you’ve always dreamt of – and with an AgingOptions LifePlan in place, you will.

We invite you to invest just a few hours and find out more by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar soon. We offer these popular seminars throughout the area, so to register for the site and date nearest you, simply click here for our Upcoming Events page, or call us during the week. No matter what your retirement dreams, we can help you bring them to fruition with the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

08-12-17 Aging Options (Hr 1)

1st Hour-KTTH & KIRO

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08-12-17 Aging Options (Hr 2)

2nd Hour-KTTH & KIRO

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Are the Feds Reducing Reverse Mortgage Spousal Protection?

If you pass away with a reverse mortgage in place, is your spouse protected – even if he or she never signed the original loan documents? There was a time, until about two years ago, when the answer to that question was unclear, and reverse mortgages could sometimes leave surviving spouses in a tough bind, forcing them either to pay off the loan balance or sell the home. However, with changes to federal laws implemented in 2015, that danger was effectively eliminated, thanks to stronger regulations that ensured greater spousal protection.

Now there’s a growing concern among senior advocates over what seem to be subtle changes embedded in the Trump administration’s budget request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – changes that could potentially undo some of those protections.  A small change in wording could potentially jeopardize reverse mortgage spousal protection, and two US Senators from opposite sides of the aisle have written to HUD Secretary Ben Carson asking for clarification. So says this very recent article in the New York Times, entitled “2 Senators Question Effects of a Reverse Mortgage Proposal.”

As the Times article explains, “Advocates for the elderly persuaded federal housing officials two years ago to offer more rights and protections to the spouse of a borrower who takes out a reverse mortgage and later dies. Now there is concern that a small wording change in the Trump administration’s proposed budget request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development could undo some of those protections — potentially increasing the chances that a surviving spouse who did not sign the mortgage documents could lose a home in a foreclosure.” Two Senators, Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto have written Secretary Carson to find out whether the apparent policy change was intentional or in error. So far HUD has not responded, reports the Times.

The article describes the reverse mortgage market, which has been around for at least three decades, as a “niche” market, with roughly one million reverse mortgage loans currently outstanding. But the future presents a far more robust picture. “Reverse mortgages,” says the article, “are viewed as crucial pieces in helping an aging population plan for retirement, and new lenders are coming into the market.” That’s because reverse mortgages allow a homeowner aged 62 or older to borrow against his or her home equity, and avoid making any monthly payments until the borrower either dies or sells the house.  Adds the Times, “Many predict that with home prices rising again and a growing number of baby boomers reaching retirement age, there will be a revival in this market as the elderly look to supplement their living expenses.”

So what’s all the fuss about concerning the new law?  Here’s how the New York Times describes the issue: “The language that concerns the senators and advocates for the elderly is a proposed change in the National Housing Act that says, in regard to reverse mortgages, that a mortgagor ‘shall not include the successors and assigns of the original borrower under a mortgage.’”   Senators Rubio and Masto, acting on behalf of advocates for the elderly, are worried that, if interpreted rigidly, this wording might mean surviving spouses would not necessarily be allowed to remain in the home unless the entire reverse mortgage balance were paid off. The irony is made even more puzzling because there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the reverse mortgage industry advocating for a more stringent law governing spouses. According to the New York Times, “the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, the industry’s primary trade group, has not pushed for any (such) regulatory changes.”

One Washington, DC lawyer quoted for the article says this may be a case of “bad drafting.” She suggests that it’s possible HUD officials never intended to change policy and that the wording choice was made in error. The problem is, she says, that bad drafting can lead to bad policy, which is why Senators Rubio and Masto want this issue clarified now, not later.

So is there an important take-away from this New York Times article? In our view there are a few facts that stand out. First, our AgingOptions radio listeners and seminar guests should know that a reverse mortgage remains a safe and viable option for senior homeowners. Second, while we can’t claim to know whether the officials at HUD are actually trying to roll back spousal protection, it’s good to know that senators representing both ends of the political spectrum are asking the right questions. These senators clearly realize that many of their constituents are the very people that reverse mortgages are designed to help. Finally, we note that the Times article uses the word “crucial” to describe the importance of reverse mortgages to the retirement plans of millions of seniors, reflecting the shrinking number of “reverse mortgage skeptics” remaining out there.

There’s only one way to find out if a reverse mortgage is right for you and that is to sit down with a thoroughly qualified professional who will answer all your questions and evaluate your particular situation. Laura Kiel of Kiel Mortgage, a frequent guest on the AgingOptions radio program, is one of the best known reverse mortgage experts in the Pacific Northwest and we recommend her with enthusiasm. If you’re ready to find out the facts about reverse mortgages, we encourage you to call Laura Kiel. And if you’re ready to get serious about retirement planning, we invite you to attend one of our free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars, offered at locations throughout the area. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the only retirement plan that weaves all the key elements of retirement into one seamless strategy, allowing your financial, legal, housing, medical and family plans to work together.

Find out more about this revolutionary approach to retirement planning. For a complete list of currently scheduled LifePlanning Seminars, click on this link. Then register online for the seminar of your choice, or call us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you.

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

 

Dealing with Grief Means Choosing to Go On – and to Plan Your Future

“The death of a beloved person is a scenario we all dread, and rightly so. It is one of the most devastating experiences one can endure. In the initial period of time after it occurs, most people wonder whether they’ll survive. So if it happens to you, what can you expect and how do you cope?”

Those gripping lines come from this article we just came across on the retirement website Next Avenue. It was written by author and grief expert Amy Florian who herself had to learn to cope with grief – and eventually to move beyond it – at the unexpected death of her husband in an auto accident. No matter who we are or what our stage of life, some form of grieving over the loss of a loved one is a virtual inevitability, and the Next Avenue article is helpful in letting us know what to expect when grief hits home – and how to face that grief head on in order to learn the lessons only loss can teach us.

Here at AgingOptions we have another reason for sharing this timely article: in our decades of legal experience the pain of grief is compounded exponentially when (in the most common scenario) a husband dies without having made any plans or provision for the future of his wife. When this all too common tragedy takes place, the surviving spouse is left not only with the pain of loss but also with the deep anxiety caused by the need to face an uncertain and potentially bleak future. Our message to you is that it does not have to be this way!  In just a moment we’ll explain how a LifePlan from AgingOptions can help people move on past grief into a more secure future.

The Amy Florian article on the Next Avenue website begins by explaining some of what a person can expect when faced with grief over the loss of a loved one. The initial response, she says, is bound to be a sense of shock and numbness. Actually, in Florian’s view, that emotional numbness is a blessing in disguise:  “The numbness,” she writes, “allows you to compartmentalize as needed, so you can focus on essential decisions and actions.”  Only later will the emotional impact of true grieving set in.

A second expectation you should prepare yourself for when grief becomes your companion is that you’re bound to be surrounded by unhelpful friends and family members. “Despite their best intentions, most people don’t know what to say or do after the death of a loved one because they’ve never been taught,” says Florian. “Many don’t want to say the wrong thing so they say nothing, skillfully avoiding you or talking about anything except what happened. Others do try, yet they repeat what everyone else always does, so their attempts are often neutral or even pain-inducing.” This is where you may want another friend or family member you can trust to act as your buffer and keep the well-meaning-but-inept “helpers” at bay.

Finally, Amy Florian says you’ll be hit with a wide range of emotions. Florian calls this “the spiral of grief.” She says, “You may be angry, sad, relieved, guilty, confused, vulnerable, afraid, searching, despairing or hopeful. You sometimes experience several emotions at once; other times, you cycle through them at a dizzying pace. You are simultaneously genuinely grateful for some things but desperately sad about others. The unpredictable volatility may cause you to feel you’re going crazy. You’re not. It’s all normal for a grieving person.”

She ends her article with four specific suggestions – and we have one more to add. After the death of a loved one, Amy Florian says, do these four things:

  • Face the grief – accept your emotions without apology, allow others to help you, and do what makes you feel best at the time.
  • Be patient with yourself – give yourself permission to mourn and resist the voices (your own and those of other people) telling you to “get over it.”
  • Build memories to carry with you – think about your loved one, talk about him or her with others, and “create memories and stories that you take with you for the rest of your life.”
  • Choose to heal – or as Florian puts it, “Do you choose to live in pain and grief or do you choose to heal? Make the choice, every day, every hour, sometimes every minute. As unbelievable as it seems at first, healing and joy are possible. Your future may be very different from the one you had planned, but it can still be a good one, holding promise, happiness and hope. Choose life.”

If you’re facing grief, your friends at AgingOptions have this invitation for you. When you’re ready to heal and look ahead at the rest of your life, we urge you to come to one of our LifePlanning Seminars. Bring a friend or one of your adult kids. We can guarantee you that this will be one of the most encouraging and uplifting things you can do, because a LifePlanning Seminar will give you a clearer sense than you’ve ever had of what a secure future can look like, with your aging questions answered. Instead of wondering what the future might hold, you’ll discover – maybe for the first time – that in many ways you hold the key to your own future. Let us show you what that can look like.

Take the simple next step and click here for online registration for the LifePlanning Seminar of your choice – or if you prefer we invite you to contact us during the week for assistance by phone. As the words of a popular song remind us, “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” It will be a pleasure to meet you at a future LifePlanning Seminar and to help you rediscover the joy that comes from planning well for a secure future.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

Most Adults Still Avoid this Essential Step in End-of-Life Planning

It’s something almost everyone agrees they need to do. So why do two-thirds of adults still fail to do it?

We’re talking about end-of-life planning, specifically the type of advance planning that tells both your family and your health care team exactly how you want to be treated when you’re close to death.  Generally called “advance directives,” these documents guide those caring for you when you’re no longer able to make your own decisions, something that can happen at any stage of life, not just old age. Here at AgingOptions, in counseling our clients and talking with radio listeners and seminar guests, we encounter story after story describing how difficult it is for loved ones when someone is facing the end of their life without ever having told their medical team or their own family exactly what they ought to do.

This recent article that appeared on the authoritative website Kaiser Health News puts the scope of this failure to communicate into perspective.  It qu0tes a recent study in which analysts reviewed more than 150 separate research projects in order to evaluate the state of end-of-life planning for more than 800,000 U.S. adults. Of this large group of people, only about one-third had some form of advance directive in place – either a “living will” to spell out their health care preferences or a health care power of attorney specifying who would have the power to make health care decisions on their behalf. Those older than 65 were a bit more likely than the rest to have one of these documents in place, but the total number of seniors – about 45 percent – still leaves more than half of older adults who are continuing to avoid end-of-life planning.

The irony is that things on the planning front should be getting better. The Kaiser Health News article points out that in 2016 Medicare began reimbursing doctors for time spent in counseling beneficiaries about their end-of-life preferences. It’s too early to tell if this step will have much of an impact on the number of people making these critical plans, but experts suggest people will still choose to steer clear of addressing their desires for their final days. So the question is why? If the need for planning is so clear, why do two-thirds of people insist on avoiding this topic altogether?

“There are many reasons that people are reluctant to sign a living will,” says the Kaiser report. While specific health care forms may vary from state to state, they all ask people to spell out what medical intervention they want under various medical circumstances: ventilators, feeding tubes, CPR and other emergency procedures. One medical instructor in analyzing the data observed, “Many people don’t sign advance directives because they worry they’re not going to get any care.” She added that in some people’s minds the directive “becomes this very scary document that says, ‘Let me die.’”  That’s the kind of fearful and unpleasant topic many people simply choose to avoid – but when they do, they’re not doing their families any favors.

Some people also may fear some unintended consequences when doctors need to act on an end-of-life directive. As one geriatrician put it, “People generally want to live as well as they can for as long as they can.” The Kaiser article adds, “If that means going on a ventilator for a few days in order to get over a bout of pneumonia, for example, many may want to do that. But if their living will says they don’t want to be put on a ventilator, medical staff may feel bound to honor their wishes. Or not.” This is where clear advance communication between the patient, the family and the medical team becomes essential. As the Kaiser article explains, living wills may be legal documents, but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to reinterpretation from medical staff and loved ones.

We do take issue with one particular quote from the Kaiser Health News article. It comes from a woman named Ellen Goodman, described as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and founder of something called The Conversation Project, designed to give people the tools to help them talk openly about end-of-life issues. Goodman says, “The most important thing is to have the conversation with the people that you love around the kitchen table and to have it early.” While we agree with the sentiment, we disagree with the method. In our experience, casual chats around the kitchen table, as charming as that may sound, can never take the place of serious planning guided by a trained, experienced legal professional. Time and time again we’ve heard horror stories about families fighting tooth and nail over the care of a beloved parent because Mom or Dad had failed to make their wishes unambiguously clear, and now each adult child has a different recollection of those “kitchen table conversations.”

What’s the answer? We strongly suggest that you contact us at AgingOptions and bring your loved ones together for a professionally guided family conference. This invaluable process will go far beyond end of life planning, and will result in a greater sense of clarity and peace of mind than you thought possible. Call us during the week and we’ll explain more.

We also highly recommend that you and your loved ones make plans now to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. During this information-packed few hours we’ll cover a full range of retirement planning issues – medical, financial, housing, legal and family – and we’ll explain how these all work together harmoniously in the form of an AgingOptions LifePlan. It’s far and away the most comprehensive approach to retirement planning you’ve ever seen! Remember, the seminar is free, but you’ll need to pre-register for the event of your choice because space at these popular seminars is limited. Click here for dates, locations, and online registration, or contact us during the week for assistance. Don’t let another month go by without making the most important plan of your life! We’ll look forward to seeing soon you at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.khn.org)

Cost of Caregiving Can Hit “Like a Tsunami,” says Recent AARP Report

As anyone knows who has served the needs of an infirm loved one, being a caregiver exacts a heavy emotional toll. Not only must the caregiver deal with the pain of watching a loved one in decline, but he or she must keep up their own strength for the day in, day out physical exertion that caregiving can demand. Being a caregiver can be a lonely road, leading to isolation and depression.

On top of the emotional pain, there’s another cost – a financial one. According to a recently-released report from the AARP, more than 40 million Americans serve as caregivers of one type or another, and the huge burden of their out-of-pocket unreimbursed expenses is typically unrecognized and under-reported. This significant financial load, as described in this article in the Washington Post, can strike the caregiver’s family “like a tsunami,” in the words of one 51-year-old woman from New Hampshire caring for her husband with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the AARP report, which surveyed nearly 1,900 family caregivers last year, the majority of caregivers – more than 75% – spend in excess of $7,000 annually on costs of care. Caregiving costs can easily consume as much as one-fifth of the caregiver’s income, a total which puts an especially heavy burden on lower-income households.  Tragically, that spending total rises dramatically when caring for someone with dementia, averaging close to $11,000 per year. Generally, the older the person is who needs care, the greater the out-of-pocket costs. The woman from New Hampshire featured in the Washington Post article had been forced to deplete $168,000 from the couple’s retirement accounts before her husband was able to receive Social Security disability payments. He is now institutionalized.

According to the Washington Post report describing the findings in the AARP study, out-of-pocket expenditures by caregivers cover a wide range of expenses. Caregivers often shell out cash to renovate homes with safety features such as wheelchair ramps and bathroom grab bars. Some caregivers end up assuming a loved one’s mortgage and making other household payments. Then there’s the cost of specialized equipment including wheelchairs, scooters and beds, the cost of insurance premiums, and the high cost 0f home care aides or respite services. These can quickly add up to an overwhelming financial burden.

The AARP study also showed that caregiving takes a toll on the caregiver’s work and lifestyle. Nearly half said they had stopped taking vacations, and a similar number reported that they had been forced to compensate for extra out-of-pocket costs by cutting back on restaurant meals. Almost one caregiver in five had saved money by scaling back on their own doctor visits, while others saved by spending less on groceries and even dipping into their own children’s education funds. About a third of those holding jobs had been forced to change their hours or take time off, paid or unpaid.

While there’s no simple answer to the burden of caregiver costs, here at AgingOptions we do have a few suggestions.  First, we encourage you and those closest to you to schedule a family conference at the earliest possible opportunity. These conferences, guided by our experienced and professional staff, will allow you and your family to plan ahead so that everyone is clear about their caregiving expectations and responsibilities. We’ve seen too many families fall apart because they failed to communicate clearly about these highly sensitive and important matters.

Also, if you are already in the difficult position of serving as a caregiver to someone you love, we encourage you to seek professional advice. Don’t continue to sink into deeper and deeper isolation and financial stress! We hope you will to contact us here at AgingOptions so we can discuss your situation and suggest ways to help alleviate the financial and emotional stress you’re facing. You may discover that there is support available to you through Medicaid or the Veteran’s Administration, for example. Senior centers and other state and local agencies may also be places where you can find assistance.

Another excellent way to get some fresh perspective is to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars.  During these highly popular, information-packed seminars, we cover a broad range of retirement-related issues including those particular challenges facing caregivers.  Regardless of your situation, if you’re approaching retirement – or even if you’re just entering this exciting time of life – an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar is perfect for you, helping you see how all aspects of retirement planning – financial plans, legal affairs, medical insurance, family dynamics and housing choices – all work together. We assure you, this will be a few hours extremely well spent!

So feel free to contact us during the week and let us assist you. Alternately, for immediate LifePlanning Seminar registration, click here and select the seminar date, time and location of your choice. Then register online. We will count it a privilege to work with you to help you plan for a secure and fruitful retirement!

(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)