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.


Study find savers are healthier

Saving for retirement pays back with your health.  At least that’s what a study out of Washington University found.  Workers who save for retirement evidently feel they have a stake in staying alive to enjoy it.  The result, if you’re saving for retirement, you’re probably taking better care of your health.  Researchers found that if you had a 401(k) plan, you likely paid better attention to lab results and did something to improve them.  Of course, it may not be a causal relationship.  It could be that those people predisposed to saving for retirement are naturally the sort of people who care about their health, and are conscientious in other ways.  Here’s the story.  So, what do you think?  Are you the sort of person who naturally did all the things you were supposed to do including saving for retirement or the type that saved for retirement despite a desire to bungee jump off a bridge in Australia?

Seniors get exploited–a lot–and most often by family members

Five percent or more of seniors in the United States are financially exploited (it’s estimated that only one in 44 victims report the crime), most often at the hands of family members.  Financial exploitation is the most frequent form of elder abuse and yet it mostly escapes the examination it deserves.  That’s the findings from a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

About 60 percent of financial abuse occurs at the hands of immediate family members, usually adult children.  Add in so-called friends and neighbors for almost 20 percent more and you get a picture of vulnerability.  Most often the people at the greatest risk are those with the greatest to lose—the poor.

  • Financial abuse includes:
  • Taking money or property
  • Forging a signature
  • Forcing a signature
  • Using property without permission
  • Scams of all sorts
  • And fraud.

Sometimes the abusers feel they have the right to do so because they’ll “inherit it anyway,” because they have a negative relationship with the abused and feel entitled or want to prevent siblings or other family members from inheriting.

In the United States, over 70 percent of the nation’s wealth is controlled by people over the age of 50.  Many of those people do not recognize the value of their assets (especially their home or other real property).  In addition, many older people have been left behind when it comes to the tech world, leaving them vulnerable to people looking to take advantage of their lack of understanding about computers and other electronics.

If you think a loved one has been financially exploited, look for patterns of unpaid bills, new “friends,” legal documents your loved one doesn’t understand, missing property, unusual financial activity and the absence of documentation.

Financial exploitation hurts everyone regardless of whether you are the initial victim.  About 10 percent of victims will eventually be forced to resort to Medicaid as a result of being exploited.

For more information about this crime, go to http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/.  To report fraud, go to http://www.stopfraud.gov/protect-yourself.html.

 

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.