AgingOptions Life Plan: Finance

“Will I have enough assets in order to not run out of money before I run out of life?” is top of mind for all of us in the final third of our lives. In answering this, preservation, positioning and passing of accumulated wealth goes beyond traditional estate planning. It calls for all affected family members to be participants in a model that integrates health, housing and elder law considerations.


Three things you should do about Social Security

Most Americans treat Social Security benefits about the same way they treat paying into Social Security.  That is, they pay almost no attention to it at all.  Many are like a friend of mine who is sure that she won’t live particularly long because she has diabetes.  It’s true that her diabetes is likely to rob her of a few years of life, but she’s paying no attention to the fact that she has it under control or to the fact that despite her own nearness to retirement age, her mother remains very much alive.  Therefore, she’s hoping to apply for her benefits as soon as she hits the minimum 62 years of age.  Since her husband is close in age to her and has the same intentions, my friend is likely to feel robbed in the not too distant future.  Since it’s absolutely against the law to force people to make the decision you would make, I thought I’d offer some tips in lieu of beginning my life of crime by hijacking Seniors at the SSA office.

  1. Use a calculator and I don’t mean the one in your kitchen junk drawer. I’m recommending that you take the time to find out when it’s best for you to apply for benefits. About 13 percent of Baby Boomers never married. For those permanently single individuals, your claiming choices are fairly simple. You can take benefits at early retirement age, wait to full retirement age or wait until age 70 and claim you maximum amount then. Everyone else should use a Social Security calculator. Luckily, the price of using one begins at my favorite price—free. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on the best five free Social Security calculators. You can read that article here.
  2. Hire a financial advisor. The calculators will provide you with some strategies but those strategies won’t take into account other retirement funds and how to balance the tax benefits and claiming options available. Even the single Baby Boomers have options about timing when to begin claiming other retirement benefits and whether or not being able to postpone claiming Social Security benefits will end up with a larger benefit in the end. Financial planners cost money but they can end up paying for their advice within just a few months if you go to one who really knows Social Security and retirement benefits. Contact our office for a list of advisors that understand Social Security is an annuity with benefits.
  3. Educate yourself on Social Security. There are all sorts of wild hares out there when it comes to Social Security. And they can make it especially confusing. Spend some time learning about how a divorce, a death, a late-life marriage, a dependent child or dependent grandchild can change your Social Security strategy. If you change your mind about retirement and get back into the game, how will that affect your benefits? I often recommend “Ask Larry,” a PBS regular feature that by the sheer number of posts about the topic can awaken an appreciation for just how complicated Social Security really is. One of his most recent articles speaks about how your benefits could change over the years and you could miss money you should have earned. Not surprisingly, Social Security doesn’t keep an eye on everyone’s benefits and notify them when they could be claiming more so it’s your job to know when something might change to your benefit.

Respect your Social Security benefits.  The final combined retirement benefit is likely larger than any other retirement benefit you have.  Understanding basic information about how that benefit can grow or shrink can mean the difference between living comfortably and living in poverty.

Scams

‘Ware the Robocall.  It should be the name of some bizarre horror film but instead it’s a warning to seniors about yet another scam.   Robocalls are the automated calls you receive from political candidates or telemarketing companies. Some of them sound personalized.  Nearly all of them are a waste of your time but some of them are worse than that because they are looking to scam you.  That’s the case with a new call falsely claiming that AARP is providing “free” medical alert devices (it’s not).  Another one that AARP is reporting this week appears to have live individuals handling the phone and they claim that the U.S. government requires you to verify your personal information in order to continue participating in AARP-related services (it doesn’t).

Older people get scammed a lot.  They don’t like to be rude and just hang up on the person intruding on their lives and they often make the mistake of thinking that they can get rid of a time wasting caller by agreeing to services or providing information.  It doesn’t work that way.  If you provide them with anything, they’ll just annoy the daylights out of you and worse yet, they are likely to cost you money you haven’t budgeted for throwing away.  Do yourself a favor and keep up with the most current scams, share information about scams with your family and friends and never provide scammers with personal information (including your name).

What can you do when Mom’s having housing issues?

Caregivers often find themselves in tricky situations.  Here’s a situation that can come up that can require trained help to overcome.

Your mom has dementia and resides in a nursing home.  She never lasts very long in any particular nursing home because she enters other client’s rooms, undresses and slips into bed with them (don’t scoff, it happens).  You can see that this would bother other patients but your mom either doesn’t remember doing any of those things or else promises not to do them again only to do them again a couple days or weeks later.  Within weeks, each nursing home she has been in has called to tell you that she can no longer reside with them.  Do you have any options?

The answer is yes and those options don’t include pulling out your hair or doing anything drastic.

Nursing homes aren’t really allowed to kick Mom to the curb without looking for solutions.  Here are four things you can do while they look for a safe option:

  • Contact the Long Term Care Ombudsmen. Every state is required to have someone who acts as an advocate for people residing in nursing homes, adult family homes and assisted living facilities. Frequently these advocates are residents of the same place as the program relies heavily on volunteers. This might seem to take some of the teeth out of the program but my own personal experience is that they work tirelessly to find resolutions that work for both parties.
  • The National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) also recommends that people contact the National Consumer Voice for resources. This leading organization has represented consumers and their advocates with issues related to long-term care since the ‘70s.
  • Hire a geriatric care manager. You can cut your own stress level down by hiring these trained professionals to assess the situation, determine what steps your family will need to take and whether or not your mom is in the best place for her.
  • Hire an Elder Law Attorney to protect your mom’s rights. Click here for a list of your rights but recognize that sometimes the thing to do is to hire someone who is already very familiar with your mom’s rights and what can be done to protect them.

Fighting back against identity theft

People 65 and over are more likely to have a “nest egg,” own a home and have excellent credit from a lifetime of working, saving and investing.  These sterling qualities attract con artists in droves, which is why consumers 60 and over accounted for 20 percent of identity theft complaints in 2013 according to credit-reporting company, Equifax.

Identity theft is the number one consumer complaint according to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission report.  Last year consumers filed over one million fraud-related complaints with a total value of $1.6 billion.  Because only 61 percent of those reporting the fraud filed the dollar value of the fraud, that number is likely to be low ball.  Victims reported that U.S. companies perpetrated about 88 percent of the reported fraud cases and that most consumers received an initial contact through either the telephone or e-mail.

Why do thieves target older adults so often?  Aside from the points above about their overall value as victims, older adults may find themselves open to identity theft through their health care services or tax filing says an Equifax white paper, which lists nine areas that leave them vulnerable.  Those areas include having a caregiver with access to their personal information, interacting more frequently with the healthcare system (which reports nearly universal data breaches), a Medicare card that includes their Social Security number, and the increased chance that a fraudster can access your dead spouse’s Social Security number.

In 2013, identity thieves defrauded older adults by pretending to be employees of the National Do Not Call Registry.  Callers asked victims to verify their information when of course they were gathering personal information they could later use.  Another scam involved a company that purportedly offered free transportation to Medicare recipients.  Apparently, the possibilities are without limit.

So how do you keep your personal information out of the hands of scammers?  Equifax offers these suggestions:

Eliminate as much junk mail as you can from your mailbox by removing yourself from mailing lists.

You can opt out of offers from insurance and credit card companies by contacting OptOutPrescreen.com online or by calling 1-888-567-8688.  The service is operated by the three credit reporting companies and will ask for your Social Security number.  When you contact them, you’ll be asked whether you choose to opt out for 5 years or permanently.  Read more about this service on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

You can also contact the federal government’s National Do Not Call Registry.  It is a free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home. To register your phone number or to get information about the registry, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register.

Examine carefully any requests for personal information before responding to them.  Federal government programs generally do not approach citizens, preferring instead to have citizens approach them.  Therefore, you can expect that phone calls from the IRS, Social Security and the like are unlikely to be asking you for Social Security number, credit card information or other personal information.  If you must provide personal information, for instance when you pay online for an item, ensure that the site is secure before paying.

Monitor your credit report and your bank account.  I attended a meeting once where the speaker found that people who were scammed had originally had charges on their credit card or bank account for less than a dollar.  Scammers found people’s personal information and then charged the account for a minor amount of money.  That charge verified that the account was active and yet flew under the radar for the banks.  Once the account was verified, the scammer used it for amounts that were more substantial.  You can check each of the three major credit reporting bureaus once a year.

Understand how Medicare uses your private information.  You have the right to limit how businesses that provide Medicare services use and give out your personal information.   If you are aware of the rules they have to play by, you can limit your exposure to the bad players.

Understand what the current scams are.  In the name of being forewarned is forearmed, keeping track of what scams are currently making the rounds provides you with the knowledge to avoid becoming part of the latest statistics.

A reader recommends these two fraud and scam resources.

  1. The Washington State Attorney General’s office for scam alerts.  That website is:

You can sign up there to receive an e-mail alert of scams and other consumer-related news.

  1. AARP operates a service called Fraud Watch Network.

Again, you can add you name to their e-mail list to receive fraud-related information; and they have a Facebook page you can “like” to be notified of fraud-related information.  You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

Last but not least…share.  This includes not only talking to your friends about current scams that you know about but also being willing to step up and identify yourself if you’ve been scammed.  There’s no shame in being scammed whether the scammer is someone from Nigeria or a member of your family.  They’ve had an opportunity to learn personal information about you that makes you vulnerable.  If you’ve lost money or personal property, you may never be able to recover it but you can help the next person avoid being in the same boat.

For more stories about fraud:

Staying alert to the threat of a scam

Protection against identity theft for both the living and the dead

Protecting older family members from scams

 

 

Scam alert

You would think that we would just run out of things lazy people can use to scam the rest of us but it just isn’t so.  A client walked into our office this week with a notice from the National Record Service.  The business claimed that they should get a Certified Copy of their Deed as evidence that their property was transferred to them for the low, low price of $69.50.

The Better Business Bureau rates them at F with 136 complaints and failing to respond to complaints.  Homebuyers don’t need a copy of the deed.  They’ll receive the original for free as part of the regular real estate transaction. The register of deeds office automatically mails the original back to the homeowner once the transaction has been recorded.  Anyone who wants another copy of their deed can get one for a few dollars at their county register of deeds office.   There’s actually a notice on the letter that says in All Caps and in a slightly larger font that the rest of the document that “MANY GOVERNMENT RECORDS ARE AVAILABLE FREE OR AT A NOMINAL COST FROM GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.”

Anyone over the age of 65 is automatically bombarded by messages from people looking to separate you from your money.  That means that if you belong to that age group, you must increase your vigilance against thieves.  If you receive anything unsolicited (by phone, e-mail, regular mail, or the guy at your door, you should be suspicious of ANY plan, idea, scheme, business deal, or any proposition that requires you to provide your money on short notice.