Can Your Estate be Divided Unequally and Still be “Fair”?

Here at AgingOptions we have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients in the area of estate planning. It’s interesting how frequently we’ll be in the middle of a discussion concerning how a client wants to dispose of his or her assets after death, only to have the client look us in the eye and ask – sometimes sheepishly – “Do I have to divide everything among my children precisely equally?”

Because this question comes up a lot, we wanted to revisit the issue by reviewing a column that appeared last year in the “Wealth Matters” section of the New York Times. The title really caught our attention, because it immediately calls to mind the issue we just cited: “How a Will Treating Children Differently Can Still Be Fair.” If you’ve ever wrestled with the notion of dividing your estate unequally among your heirs, we encourage you to read this helpful article to see what the New York Times had to say about this potentially touchy – even explosive – issue.

“Children crave equal attention from their parents,” the article by Times reporter Paul Sullivan began. “So when it comes to inheritance, which can seem like a final accounting of that love, anything but an equal split can be tough to grasp.”  Sullivan then went on to ask, “Is there ever a time when inheritance should be uneven? And if so, can uneven still be fair? The answer to both questions is yes.”  But, as the Times piece emphasized, good, clear, timely communication is essential to avoid hurt feelings, family strain and even painful litigation.

If you stop and think about it, the article points out, good parents raising kids seldom treat each child precisely equally. That’s because each child’s needs and circumstances vary. Instead the effective parents tend to emphasize treating each child with fairness and equity. So when it comes time to plan your estate, it’s appropriate for you as a parent to consider each adult child individually, gauging their life circumstances and making the decision to distribute your assets unevenly based on need and other, more emotionally-driven factors. But if you decide to take this course of action, you may need to prepare for some pushback from the offspring who think they were treated unfairly.

The New York Times quoted an anonymous woman married to a well-to-do man in the tech industry. On the surface this woman appeared to be much better off than her siblings, so when her mother began preparing to divide her estate she planned to give this daughter a much smaller share.  Unbeknownst to the mother, however, the daughter was subject to a pre-nuptial agreement barring her from controlling her husband’s assets. She was actually far more vulnerable than her mother realized. “Just because I married someone with money doesn’t mean I should get cut out,” the daughter in the New York Times article said.

In another case of an uneven bequest, a mother planned to favor her daughter, a school teacher with a modest income, over her son, a well-off doctor. But the doctor felt cheated, as though he had done all he could to please his parents only to be “disinherited.” In the end, after lengthy and productive conversation, the daughter received a larger share, but the son wasn’t left out entirely. Above all the sibling connection was maintained through effective communication and not severed, as all too often happens.

We know of one local case where an ailing mother made her two daughters – who did not get along – co-executors of her estate. The mom did this to avoid favoring one over the other, but her desire to treat her daughters “equally” ended up causing far more family friction than if the mother had chosen the more mature and responsible daughter and let her take the lead in executing the estate. In this case the mom’s hopes to avoid causing offense actually backfired.

There are several other instances of unequal estate distribution cited in the New York Times article involving circumstances that can get much more complicated. In some cases the unequal split is accidental and unplanned, as when one child inherits a gift with a tax liability, or when there are children from multiple marriages, or when a family business is involved. In these cases we strongly urge you to sit down with professional counsel, because these issues left unresolved can tear families apart for generations to come. Here in our office we see the tragic results of this lack of planning all too often. We will be happy to meet with you at any time at a carefully planned family conference where a wide range of issues including inheritance can be laid out and reviewed to avoid future painful surprises.

So the bottom line is communication. Leaving your estate unequally to your children may indeed cause potential problems, but as the New York Times put it, “All these problems can be minimized, if not fixed, with a conversation.” Paul Sullivan in the Times added this warning: “The downsides of not getting this right are huge.”

As with so many aspects of retirement, the key is planning – but not just any type of so-called planning. At AgingOptions we take a uniquely comprehensive approach to retirement planning that we call LifePlanning. Part of the LifePlanning process involves good, honest, timely communication with your family, something with which we can definitely assist you. Having a plan in place is important, but if your loved ones have no idea what your wishes are, or why you made the choices you made, conflict and bitterness can result. Besides good family communication, your LifePlan will help you make wise housing choices, prepare all your legal documents, secure necessary health insurance and protect your assets in your retirement years. The result will be a happy, secure, rewarding retirement, and a family who will be grateful to you both now and after you’ve gone.

Why not start investigating the LifePlanning approach to retirement by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar? You can click here for dates, times and simple online registration, or call our office for assistance. Bring your retirement questions – and see if you don’t agree that LifePlanning is the most thorough, balanced approach to retirement planning that you’ve ever seen. It will be our pleasure to help you as you journey toward the retirement you’ve always dreamed of.

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

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Reverse Mortgage Changes May Mean The Time to Apply is Now!

In a move that caught mortgage experts off guard, the federal government has just come out with proposed changes to the regulations governing reverse mortgages – changes that one lender called “huge” and “very significant.” Since the announcement of the rule changes came to light, there has been a spate of news articles – such as this one from the website NextAvenue – most of which seem to have a common theme: if you had contemplated a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly called a reverse mortgage, now may be the time to get moving, or your borrowing options may be about to become less attractive.

In the words of the NextAvenue article, “One way to supplement your income in retirement is about to become tougher. The Trump administration just announced new policies taking effect Oct. 2 that will increase the upfront cost of reverse mortgages for many borrowers and reduce the size of the loans.” The article goes on to suggest that “If you’re 62 or older (the reverse mortgage age requirement) and have been thinking about converting your home equity into cash, you may want to apply for a reverse mortgage before the new rules kick in next month.”

According to analysts, the changes announced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were triggered by a feeling on the part of the Trump administration that the HECM program is costing the government too much money. As a result, unless the proposed new rules are modified, borrowers taking out reverse mortgages after October 2, 2017 will receive less money than before and, depending on how they draw out the proceeds, they will likely pay higher costs.

Instead of paraphrasing, we’ll quote directly from the NextAvenue article to explain the changes coming for loans made after Oct. 2:

  • “There will be new limits on the total amount you can borrow through a reverse mortgage. Today, the average reverse mortgage borrower can draw 64 percent of home equity, but that will drop to about 58 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • “The upfront mortgage insurance premium for most reverse mortgage borrowers will soar. Premiums for those taking less than 60 percent of the loan proceeds upfront will go from the current 0.5 percent to 2 percent of the ‘maximum claim amount.’
  • “The upfront mortgage insurance premium will fall slightly for people taking more than 60 percent of the loan proceeds upfront. It will drop from 2.5 percent to 2.0 percent.
  • “Annual mortgage insurance premiums will drop. The annual premium will fall from today’s 1.25 percent of the outstanding balance to 0.5 percent. This change ‘preserves more equity for borrowers over time by slowing the rate at which the loan balance grows,’ the HUD press release said.”

Obviously, interpreting these changes to determine how they impact your particular situation requires the services of a trained professional in the reverse mortgage arena. One such expert who we at AgingOptions recommend on a regular basis is frequent radio guest Laura Kiel, one of the most experienced and trusted names in the reverse mortgage field. We encourage you to contact her immediately or attend one of her excellent reverse mortgage seminars very soon to get the facts. Call us at AgingOptions during the week and we’ll assist you.

The NextAvenue article also emphasizes that time is of the essence if you want to beat the deadline.  It quotes Peter Bell, CEO of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, who says that “The industry will try to accommodate as many people as possible before October 2nd.”  Some lenders, says NextAvenue are already “working feverishly” to meet with clients who have yet to complete applications and go through the HUD-required counseling sessions.  “I spent several hours making a ton of calls yesterday with our salesforce to tell people that if they’re on the fence about getting a reverse mortgage, see a HUD-approved reverse mortgage counselor,” said one lender. “As we get to the end of September, those appointments will be full.”

With all of this sense of urgency, potential borrowers need to remember that reverse mortgages aren’t appropriate for all homeowners. “Their costs can be high,” says NextAvenue, “and…the money is not free. The amount borrowed plus interest and fees must be repaid. Other home equity options, such as home equity loans or home equity lines of credit, could be less expensive.” Again, consult a trusted professional for personal advice – but you’ll need to act fast and plan well in order to save before the rates and other details are adjusted.

Housing and financial questions such as those involving reverse mortgages are critically important as you plan for retirement, but they’re only part of a much bigger picture. Here at AgingOptions we counsel our clients and radio listeners that, in order to have a retirement plan that is truly comprehensive, they need something more: they need a LifePlan. An AgingOptions LifePlan, unlike other so-called retirement planning strategies, not only answers vital questions about finances and housing but it also answers your questions about the best choices in medical coverage as you age, the best ways to ensure you are protected legally, and the best tactics to involve your family in your planning. If you want to protect your assets as you age, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of being forced into an institution against your will, you need an AgingOptions LifePlan.

To find out more, without cost or obligation, please accept our invitation and attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar near you. We offer many choices of locations, dates and times, so click here for details and online registration, or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to answering your questions soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at (www.nextavenue.org)

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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)

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CNBC: When Siblings Fight over Money, it Usually Involves the Parents

The headline on the recent CNBC story sounds optimistic: “Sibling money fights are rare,” it says. But then there’s this kicker: “but there’s a common cause: parents.” In other words, when siblings quarrel over finances, Mom and Dad are usually at the center of the battle.

You’ll find the CNBC article by clicking on this link.  What we noticed as we reflected on this subject is that despite the optimistic tone, which emphasizes how “rare” it is for brothers and sisters to fight over money, if you read between the lines you’ll find that a surprisingly large number of these siblings do in fact find themselves battling over family finances, and that those battles are usually triggered by the parents, for reasons we’ll explore in a minute. The article is based on a report from Ameriprise Financial that was done in late 2016. This report, called the Family Wealth Checkup, surveyed some 2,700 adults between the ages of 25 and 70.

What Ameriprise researchers found, says CNBC, is that only about 15 percent of siblings responding to the survey admitted that they do have arguments with their fellow siblings over money. (Other respondents said they “talk” with their brothers or sisters about finances but the issues don’t turn into fights.)  But what we noticed is that, of those 15 percent of siblings who say they are “financial fighters,” two-thirds report that those fights usually put parents at the center of the conflict. In other words, when fights over money erupt between siblings, Mom and Dad are at the center of the battle in two cases out of three. Based on our quick math, that means fully 10 percent of adults will probably find themselves arguing, fighting, sometimes even suing other siblings over financial issues having to do with Mom and Dad. That’s a lot of people. And remember, that number represents only those who willingly admit to having these battles. How many more won’t confess family fights over finances, or are young enough that they have yet to experience just how ugly a family money fight can be?

So what are the “parental” issues that trigger family wars over money? The CNBC article lists at least three broad common categories of friction that can set off a financial fight.

The first sore point, says Ameriprise, is the amount of financial support given to each child by the parent during their lifetime. Obviously each adult child’s circumstances can be different, but it’s easy to see how parents can be accused of favoritism by giving more support to one sibling over his or her family members. Sometimes the age of the adult kids is a factor in this perception of inequity. This survey last fall from Fidelity reported that almost half of millennials (those in their early 20s to mid-30s) say Mom and Dad have helped them with their living expenses, and more than 20 percent are still living at home (or have moved back in). If that millennial has older and more established siblings, resentment over “favoritism” might be brewing that could come out later, in some very unhealthy ways.

The second trigger point for family fights involves how the parents plan to divide their inheritance when they die. Nothing says that estates have to be divided equally among siblings, but in our experience the time to talk about your gifting plan is now, not when the parent has died and one or more siblings resents being (in their view) unfairly treated. This is also true if the parent plans to do something unexpected, such as leaving a large bequest to a non-profit or university. The sooner your kids know your plans, the less potential for conflict after your passing, even if having the conversation now can be touchy.

The third source of family friction, says the survey, is how much each sibling is expected to contribute to a parent’s financial support in old age. This is a huge arena for major conflicts in our experience here at AgingOptions. CNBC recommends coming up with a well-crafted caregiving plan in which each sibling’s capacity for financial assistance is blended with their ability to help in more hands-on, tangible ways. The sibling with more resources who lives farther away, for example, might be able to contribute more money while the one who is visiting and spending time every day is paying less money but contributing more daily effort.

So what’s our solution here at AgingOptions? Are we satisfied with a situation in which at least 10 percent of adult siblings (and probably many more) face the prospect of going to war with their own brothers and sisters over issues involving how they were treated by Mom and Dad, and how they in turn will treat their parents as they age? No, we find such a situation appalling, especially when the solution seems to us so very obvious: hold a family conference under the direction of one of our professional estate experts at AgingOptions. Bring parents and siblings together around the table, and go carefully down through a list of potentially contentious issues. Based on our many years of experience, we confidently predict you’ll declare that having a family conference under the guidance of AgingOptions is the best decision you ever made, and we believe your children will concur.

But Mom and Dad, here’s what you need to do first: attend a free LifePlanning Seminar are learn about the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan . The fact is, you need a blueprint so that you can build the retirement you’ve always hoped and dreamed about, where you can protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of being institutionalized against your will.  With a LifePlan, every facet of retirement comes together: financial, legal, housing and medical – not to mention, of course, your family. To find out dates and times and to register online, simply click here, or contact us during the week.

Step one: attend a LifePlanning Seminar and begin to create the plan for your future. Step two: bring your family together for a conference designed to minimize conflict and preserve family harmony. It can be done – with the help of the professionals at AgingOptions!

(originally reported at www.cnbc.com)

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BULLETIN: Senate Health Care Proposal Means Big Medicaid Cuts

By now just about everyone has heard at least some of the details of the Senate’s version of the American Health Care Act – the law that Republicans have been crafting in order to fulfill an eight-year-old promise to their voters to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. After the house passed their version of the AHCA in May, all eyes turned to the Senate to see what legislators would craft behind closed doors. The final proposed bill, released to the public on June 22nd, looks a lot like the House version, but with some proposed differences.

Now the debate will begin in earnest. But no matter what eventually happens to this legislation, the big news to us here at AgingOptions is the impact of the AHCA on Medicaid, the federal and state program which pays for all or part of the medical needs of more than 73 million Americans, most of them the low income elderly.   This is a major story to watch, because for many of our clients, radio listeners and seminar guests, Medicaid will play a significant role in their eventual long-term care. If you have a small to medium sized estate, understanding the issues surrounding Medicaid has never been more urgent.

Since the Senate released its version of the bill, there has been a blizzard of news reports and analyses trying to make sense of its provisions and changes. This article just published on the website of The Atlantic does a good job of describing the proposed new health care law from a more liberal point of view, as indicated by its title: “The Senate Puts Medicaid on the Chopping Block.”  The bottom line, says the article, is that the Senate’s version of the AHCA “restricts and slashes Medicaid funding deeply over the next decade” – and, we would add, well beyond that time if the law passes unchanged.

We should, of course, point out the obvious: we live in politically turbulent times. It’s entirely possible that the Democrats may return to power in the House in 2018 or the Senate (or even the White House) in 2020, and if they do they would likely attempt to roll back the GOP’s changes to Obamacare. But whether or not that happens, anyone regardless of political persuasion can see that we are entering a time of great instability and unpredictability in national health care policy, and if you (like millions of other retirees and those facing retirement) are counting on Medicaid to be there for you, you may need to think again. Don’t base your future security on a dangerous illusion!

There are far too many details in this proposed law for us to discuss here, but the changes to Medicaid rules in both the Senate bill and the House bill are what really caught our attention. Some of the particulars involve the GOP’s aim to roll back the expansion of Medicaid to many who formerly had been ineligible, a provision of Obamacare that a large number of Republicans have long disliked. Many of those now covered by Medicaid are part of the group often called “the working poor,” people who are employed but unable to afford health insurance in the marketplace. The Senate bill would phase out Medicaid expansion funds more slowly than the House version, which makes the Senate version sound less harsh.  But the new law, if passed, would have immediate unintended consequences. “Seven states,” says The Atlantic, “have ‘trigger laws’ that would immediately void their Medicaid expansions with any change in federal support,” which could suddenly add millions to the ranks of the uninsured.

We are also especially concerned about the proposal in the new law that changes what is now open-ended Medicaid funding into a “block grant” to the states. This change, says The Atlantic analysis, turns Medicaid into “a per-capita cap scheme, where states receive a capped amount of funding each year per enrollee.” This shift, say analysts, “would underfund Medicaid over time, leading to a growing gap between the number of patients who would be eligible under current guidelines, and the funds available to pay for their care.” The eventual outcome would be “large-scale shortfalls in every state, which would need to be closed by reducing enrollment or benefits, and cutting capacity to respond to disasters and public-health crises.” The ones who would suffer the most would be children, seniors and the disabled.

Critics of the new proposed law call it “a massive constriction of the safety net. It will have a substantial impact on both wealth and health, shifting the benefits of public policy away from the poor and the sick, and toward the healthy and the affluent.” Whether or not you agree, as we said before, it has never been more urgent that you become well informed about the need to protect your assets and cover the costs of your future health care needs with a Safe Harbor Trust or other well-planned financial and legal tool.

The best way to begin getting the answers you need right now is to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these at locations throughout the area, and because of the recent spate of headlines we expect our currently-scheduled seminars to fill up rapidly. Click here for details and online registration, or call us for assistance. Don’t let the changes in the health care law catch you off guard! We’ll see you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar in your area.

(originally reported at www.theatlantic.com)

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High Profile Legal Battle Reveals Growing Crisis in Estate Planning

Here’s an update on a story we brought you just one year ago. It’s another sad example of how even those with vast personal wealth sometimes fail to plan carefully for their declining years. No matter how rich and powerful they are, the result of this planning failure is often a disaster, with vicious courtroom battles, accusations of manipulation, and an endless supply of headlines for the news websites and tabloids. But don’t miss the important lesson for us all: if we don’t plan properly today – and if we don’t make certain those who are looking after us in our declining years thoroughly understand and support our wishes – we could be setting our own families up for a similar fate a decade or two from now. Even fights over modest-sized estates can quickly become bitter, stretching family bonds past the breaking point. Is that how you want to be remembered?

In 2014 the news was filled with stories of the decline and eventual death of music legend Casey Kasem. Sadly, what really attracted the attention of most of us wasn’t the account of Kasem’s influential career in pop music, but the ugly fight over his care and his estate as the former radio star suffered from deteriorating mental and physical capacity. The battle over Kasem’s custody, and his money, made for a real-life tabloid soap opera.

Now, as we first wrote in 2016, it’s happening again – only this time the stakes are even higher. The key player in this most recent headline-grabbing drama is Sumner Redstone, the billionaire media mogul whose company controls both CBS and Viacom. Redstone has a personal fortune estimated at $5 billion, and his media empire is worth eight times that much. However, the 93-year-old Redstone also suffers from what some claim is advanced dementia, and his diminished capacity has triggered a battle royal between children, grandchildren, business partners, former mistresses – and, of course, armies of attorneys.

There has been a barrage of media coverage of the Redstone Affair. Click here for an excellent analysis we read last year about this sad saga in the New York Times. Lest you think this battle over money has been settled, think again: just a few days ago another lawsuit was filed by a former companion of Sumner Redstone, which you can read about by clicking here.

The details of the war over CBS, Viacom and Redstone’s personal fortune would fill several pages, and we won’t attempt to review them here. But what really caught our attention was this statement at the start of the New York Times article: “With a fortune estimated at over $5 billion, Sumner M. Redstone could afford the best estate planning that money could buy,” said the Times. “What he ended up with is a mess.”

The whole saga of the death of the rich and famous can be sad, even pathetic. Pop star Prince died without a will. Casey Kasem died in a reduced mental state with those supposedly closest to him fighting it out in court and in the media. Now Sumner Redstone, a wealthy and influential tycoon just a few years ago, has become a humiliated figure while an unseemly war rages around him. Here at Aging Options, we pass these stories along to you, not out of a voyeuristic desire to gloat over the misfortunes of the powerful, but as a warning: you don’t have to be rich and famous to need a carefully designed estate plan.

As people age, many will begin to lose the capacity to make sound decisions about their affairs, leaving them open to undue influence by caregivers and others. The New York Times quotes Chicago estate planning specialist Kerry Peck who says that “the Redstone pattern is happening in epidemic proportions.” He adds that sometimes older men are influenced by younger women who meet them in “places you’d consider safe, like senior centers, churches and synagogues. They start as caregivers and then become romantic suitors. We’re seeing these scenarios with stunning frequency.” When this happens, the wishes of children, grandchildren, and other loved ones can literally be tossed out the window. The Times calls this “a huge issue nationally,” even for people of modest wealth.

There is a long section in the New York Times article detailing possible solutions to this problem including the creation of a trust that determines who can make decisions for you in the event of incapacity. (Ironically Sumner Redstone has such a trust in place, but because it does not adequately define the term “incapacity,” no one can agree if he is of sound mind or not, and the courts are trying to step in to untangle the resulting legal mess.) Another expert quoted in the Times piece said, “In drafting a trust like this, you need very clear standards and protocols for determining [mental] capacity.”  Sadly, the Times concludes in considering Redstone’s short-sightedness, “no amount of legal advice can save people from an unwillingness to face their own mortality and cede control while still in full control of [their] faculties.”

As Rajiv Nagaich also emphasizes, lack of planning alone is seldom the entire problem. Too often our fiduciaries – those we select to manage our affairs – either fail to understand their duties or are unwilling to carry them out, either through ignorance or self-interest. “Death and disability create a highly emotional environment,” says Rajiv, “even for estates that do not have significant value. The more resources you add, the more you magnify the problem.” The missing piece, says Rajiv, is “having a well-managed family meeting conducted by a someone really skillful who is not part of the immediate family.” The professionals at AgingOptions can assist you with this critical planning tool if you’ll contact our office.

Few of us will ever have the resources of a Casey Kasem or Sumner Redstone. But all of us want to protect our assets as we age, avoid becoming a burden to our loved ones, and escape the trap of unplanned institutional care.  “Without a good, thorough family meeting,” Rajiv emphasizes, “it is highly unlikely that these goals will come true – no matter how well your legal documents are written and how much money you have in the bank.”

Yes, these are touchy issues. But here at Aging Options we want to offer our services as your guide through the maze of retirement and estate planning. It doesn’t have to be overly complex! When it comes to retirement, our comprehensive approach takes all aspects of your retirement plan, or LifePlan, into account: legal affairs, financial plans, health care requirements, housing choices and family ties. With a LifePlan in place, you can face the future with confidence and peace of mind. To get started, why not join us for a free LifePlanning Seminar? You’ll find all the information including online registration by clicking this link to our Upcoming Events tab.  We’re confident you’ll thoroughly enjoy this information-packed session.

Remember, even the wealthy like Sumner Redstone or Casey Kasem can fail to plan adequately. With our help, that won’t happen to you! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com and www.mynewsla.com)

 

 

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CMS Shifts Gears: Nursing Homes Can Still Require Binding Arbitration

One of the final elder care policy moves of the Obama Administration will not be implemented after all, thanks to a ruling just announced by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (also called CMS). The new regulation means that nursing homes can continue requiring residents to sign binding arbitration agreements as a condition of admission.

The change in regulation, which potentially affects thousands of nursing home residents, is described in this article on the website of Modern Health Care. Under President Obama, the CMS had been poised to change the law by making it illegal for nursing homes to insist on binding arbitration agreements, which make it impossible for residents and their families to take nursing home operators to court to resolve disputes. The Obama-era law had been part of a comprehensive overhaul in long term care regulations which was to have begun taking effect last November. Instead, while some of the law’s provisions remain intact, the rule which would have outlawed binding arbitration has been tossed.

As the Modern Health Care article explains, “Arbitration agreements prevent families who believe their loved ones received bad care at nursing homes from suing.” The article goes on to state that families often feel “pressured” to sign the contracts, and they don’t always understand precisely what they’re agreeing to. “The nursing home industry prefers arbitration,” says Modern Health Care, “since it offers a less costly alternative to lawsuits.” Nursing home operators say they fear the financial impact of expensive lawsuits.  “The cost of prolonged cases, along with falling reimbursement rates, could force some nursing homes to close, industry stakeholders say.”

It’s no wonder that the industry prefers binding arbitration. Not only do these agreements eliminate much of the risk of hyper-expensive lawsuits, they also limit liability even when the nursing home loses.  “(Residents) only find out later that awards through arbitration in nursing home cases are usually lower than those reached in court,” says the Modern Health Care piece.

As recently as last fall, the picture looked quite different – in fact, the industry was bracing for precisely the opposite outcome.  We found an article on Senior Housing News written in late September 2016 that the practice of requiring binding arbitration agreements was about to be outlawed. The ruling was going to apply to Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers, along with assisted living providers and even private-pay providers whose practice was to insist their residents agree to arbitration and forego their right to sue. But the surprise of the November election and the resulting change of administration triggered a reversal of the rule with an outcome much more favorable to the nursing home industry.

According to the Modern Health News article, not all of the Obama-era rules changes are being rescinded. “The 700-page proposal contained several other revisions to long-term care provider regulations, many of which the Trump administration will preserve,” says the article. Nursing homes are required to fully explain the arbitration requirements both to the resident and to family members or other representative. Nothing in the agreement can prohibit or discourage the resident communicating with federal, state or local officials.  Also any arbitration agreement must be written in plain language, not legal jargon, and must be posted for residents and visitors to see.

Naturally the CMS put a positive consumer-friendly spin on this new rule change. In their statement the agency said, “We believe this revised approach is consistent with the elimination of unnecessary and excessive costs to providers while enabling residents to make informed choices about important aspects of his or her healthcare.” But here at AgingOptions we take a different view. Any ruling that restricts patient rights for the sole purpose of preserving industry profits fills us with concern. Frivolous lawsuits don’t help anybody, but requiring aggrieved residents and their families to submit to binding arbitration where the deck may be stacked against them and where any settlement is bound to be lower strikes us as a one-sided solution to the problem. It may be business-friendly, but it isn’t resident-friendly.

A better solution in our view is to avoid the problem altogether. By carefully planning your retirement well in advance using our powerful approach called a LifePlan, you’ll be able to keep from becoming a burden to your loved ones while you avoid being forced to move into a nursing home against your wishes. We’ll show you how to link your financial, medical and legal plans in such a way that you can protect your assets, so that you’ll have the resources you need to allow you to live where you want with the care that you require. If this sounds like the answer to your retirement needs, it is. Maybe it’s time to find out more about this planning breakthrough.

It’s easy to do: simply invest a few hours and attend a free LifePlanning Seminar near you. Bring your loved ones and get your retirement questions answered by Rajiv Nagaich, the Northwests’s premier elder care attorney and retirement planning expert. Click here for dates, times and online registration at an upcoming seminar, or contact us during the week and we’ll be happy to assist you.

(originally reported at www.modernhealthcare.com)

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The Critical Conversation No One Wants, but Everyone Needs

If you’ve listened to our AgingOptions radio programs or attended our AgingOptions events, you know the great emphasis we place on family communication when it comes to retirement. So many problems can be avoided in retirement if aging parents and their adult children can get on the same page about planning for the future! Yet because issues of aging can be a delicate topic, too many adult kids won’t bring it up, and too many parents choose to avoid it altogether. The resulting conspiracy of silence dooms all too many families to a future of strife, dissension and even courtroom battles when parents start to decline or have passed away.

It seems that every few months there’s another round of headlines describing adult children battling with spouses and former spouses over the money left behind by some recently-deceased celebrity, or by someone famous who has declined into dementia. One of the best known recent cases was that of Casey Kasem, whose deteriorating mental health and eventual death in 2014 triggered a battle royal that was played out in the press. Despite being worth more than $80 million, this sad celebrity was denied the privilege of spending his declining years in his own home, something that could easily have been achieved with the right planning and preparation ahead of time. That’s what frustrates us here at AgingOptions: these family wars can almost always be avoided!

With that in mind, we call your attention to this very interesting article that just appeared on the financial website Motley Fool. The title says it all: “So Awkward, So Necessary: Important Discussions to Have With Your Aging Parents.” The author, financial writer Mary Crawley, writes, “Talking with your parents about estate planning is probably one of the last things you’re interested in doing. But not having that discussion is far worse, as avoiding it can leave you in the dark about your parents’ plans, assuming they have them in the first place.”

Author Crawley lists “five things in particular everyone should talk with their aging parents about.” Her list as reported in the article includes legal documents, the location of important papers, long-term care plans, your parents’ living situation, and what she calls “the real reason you’re asking them such personal questions.” While this basic list is a good place to start, we feel there are important questions missing. But before we cover our recommendations, here are a few highlights from hers.

  • Legal Papers: Gallup reports that only 44 percent of Americans have prepared a will. The Motley Fool article suggests you should make sure your parents have not only a will but also a trust, some form of health care proxy, a living will outlining their end of life wishes, and a durable power of attorney so your parents’ affairs can be managed if they are incapacitated.
  • Other Important Documents: “Do you have any idea where your parents keep their important paperwork,” asks Crawley – real estate deeds, car titles, bank records and so on? Our guess is that when the time comes that you need these critical papers your parents might not be in any condition to help you find them. The article lists several key documents you should ask your parents to gather, and then store them together in a safe place to which you have access. “You don’t want to end up searching through their home for paperwork while you are grieving or stressed,” writes Crawley.
  • Long Term Care Planning and Living Arrangements: The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that more than two-thirds of seniors who are 65-plus will develop some form of disability and more than one-third will enter a nursing home. The time to think about both the financial and the emotional burden of long-term care is now, not when you’re in a crisis. You also need to have a realistic conversation about Mom and Dad’s future housing desires: is staying at home realistic? Would they want to downsize, or move to be closer to other family members? Are they considering a retirement residence? This is where the services of a well-informed third party such as our partner company Better Care Management can prove invaluable as you evaluate options for your aging parents.

We disagree with the Motley Fool article in one key area: the article implies that you can successfully have this type of critical family conversation on your own. In our view, that’s a mistake. Not only will you need a professional to guide the discussion, but you also need to make certain that person is well organized and thorough so that you cover all the important bases without getting trapped in an emotional minefield. When we at AgingOptions conduct a family conference, we explore a broad range of issues. We ask about the parents’ housing aspirations and desires as they age. We talk openly about the role the seniors want their family to play in their future care. We go over the estate planning documents, not necessarily in detail, but in a general way so the family knows what legal framework has been established. We talk about everything from who the executor of the estate will eventually be to how a parent wants his or her remains handled after death. As Rajiv Nagaich says, “These are not easy discussions to have on your own. But unlike a family member, a professional can open a very awkward door and the rest is much easier.”

Finally, and most important, you want Mom and Dad know you’re not bringing these matters up in order to hasten their demise or collect your inheritance, but because you love them and you care about honoring their wishes. “Families delay having these conversations because, let’s face it, it’s hard to talk about the fact that someday our parents will die,” says the Motley Fool article. Your goal is to honor their wishes and choices for their future by discussing them now while they are able-minded and healthy. Above all, don’t procrastinate. Because you love your parents and care about their well-being, you need to have this difficult conversation now. We hope you’ll call our office and schedule a family meeting very soon. We’d be honored to serve you.

Our advice to anyone who wants both input and control over their retirement is to seek out the services of a professional guide, one who knows the terrain and who can help you achieve your goals and dreams. That’s what we do here at AgingOptions, with the power of a planning process we call LifePlanning. In just a few hours at a free LifePlanning seminar, we’ll show you how financial, legal, housing, medical and family planning all work together, allowing you to enjoy a secure and fulfilling future as you age. We invite you to come to a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar soon! Click here for details and online registration, or call us during the week. And as we said above, don’t procrastinate – you have nothing to lose except your fears for the future. Age on!

(originally reported at www.fool.com)

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Financial Abuse of Elders Growing More Common, More Costly

Elder financial abuse is even more widespread and more costly than experts had believed – and the incidence of abuse appears to be rising fast. That’s the conclusion from a surprising and disturbing study we read about late last year on the financial website of Time magazine. You can click here to read this important article – and if you’re a senior, or if there’s a senior friend or loved one in your life, you definitely should. This information, while a few months old, is still very timely, and we consider it vital for you and your loved ones to know.

In 2014, Allianz Life surveyed caregivers and estimated then that about 20% of senior adults had experienced financial abuse, including various forms of fraud, scams, and identity theft. That statistic was bad enough. However, when the company repeated the survey in 2016, the number of victims had skyrocketed to 37% of all senior adults, or about three of every eight seniors. To make matters worse, many if not most seniors don’t want to talk about their financial victimization, silenced by guilt, shame and fear. “Most people think it will never happen to them,” says AARP’s Debra Whitman quoted by the Time article. “But it does. And it does on a daily, hourly basis.”

The average loss for those victims of elder financial abuse is a staggering $36,000, with some data showing even larger losses. Sadly, the dollar loss – from which few seniors will ever recover – is only part of the trauma of financial fraud. Even smaller financial losses, says AARP’s Whitman, “can have cascading impacts on financial security and stability and even their health.” Many scam victims suffer emotional and mental trauma from their experience, and for some the fraud and accompanying sense of stress, sadness and shame trigger early mortality. Financial abuse of older Americans truly can be a life or death issue.

The Time article points out that the rise in frequency of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is part of the problem of financial fraud. Alzheimer’s disease now affects nearly 5.5 million Americans, a number which is expected to double by 2050, and even those in the earliest stages of the illness can lack the ability to manage finances well. But Time goes on to say that, “even without dementia, the aging brain may have trouble making sound financial decisions.” According to geriatrics expert Mark Lachs of Weill Cornell Medical College, “Many older Americans suffer a pattern of imprudent financial decision making known as ‘age-associated financial vulnerability.’” Lachs calls this a “defined pattern” of making unwise decisions when it comes to money, decisions with lasting negative consequences.

Since the Time article appeared, this article on the same topic was published on the website of Forbes magazine. It listed four warning signs, or risk factors, that increase the likelihood you or someone you love may be a potential victim of financial abuse. The first is poor physical health which may tend to cause a senior to be less diligent about their finances. The second, as we mentioned above, is the increasing prevalence of cognitive impairment. The third warning sign is difficulty with the activities of daily living, and the fourth is social isolation. Put these four together and you have a senior who is frail, confused, vulnerable and alone, a combination that greatly increases the odds of financial victimization.

Unfortunately, with so many scam artists and criminals trying to separate seniors from their money, there are few simple answers to the escalating problem of elder financial abuse. Some of the common-sense basic methods of protection are more important than ever these days, and if you’re a child, caregiver or friend of a senior, you may have to be the one to help implement these safeguards. For example:

  • Don’t answer the phone, especially if you don’t recognize the number on caller ID.
  • Even if caller ID seems innocent enough, screen your calls before saying hello.
  • Never give out personal information over the phone – hang up.
  • If the caller claims to be from a known company, you can always call the customer service number on your bill or statement, and verify that the call is legitimate.
  • The same precautions also hold true for emails.

What about giving a trusted family member access to your accounts as a way to guard against fraud? This might be a good option, but you still need to be cautious, since financial abuse of elders can often take place at the hands of those closest to you. We recommend you contact us here at AgingOptions and let us review your situation and suggest some solid precautions. It’s possible, for instance, to allow a trusted person to have “view-only” access to your accounts so they can see unusual activity and alert the bank without having direct access to your funds. No matter what, it’s essential that we all begin to take financial abuse of elders even more seriously. The financial security, even the very life of someone you love may depend on it.

Are you starting to take the challenge of retirement planning more seriously? We hope so. Heading into your retirement years without a solid plan is a recipe for disaster. At AgingOptions we offer a type of retirement planning that is unlike anything else we know of – a comprehensive plan called a LifePlan that encompasses far more than mere financial planning. With your LifePlan in place, not only will your financial security be assured, but all other aspects of retirement living will be included in one comprehensive plan: legal protection, housing choices, medical coverage and family communication. LifePlanning is the key to a secure and fruitful retirement future!

Find out more about this breakthrough approach to retirement planning by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. We offer these throughout the Puget Sound region, so click here for dates, times, locations and online registration . If you prefer, you can contact us during the week and register by phone. If you’re a senior, bring your spouse and adult children – this information is important for everyone. We’ll look forward to assisting you as you plan for a retirement that is fruitful, rewarding and secure.

(originally reported at http://time.com/money)

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Wall Street Journal Says Get Ready! Congress is Coming After Your 401(k)

The members of Congress enjoy one of the best retirement plans in America. But that doesn’t stop them from coming after yours! So says this recent article from the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Writing in the Journal, financial columnist Jason Zweig warns that, as part of its tax reform deliberations, Congressional negotiators have cast their hungry eyes on the 401(k) accounts that form a vital part of the retirement plans for a vast number of working Americans. Ironically, says Zweig, our elected representatives aren’t even considering changes to their own retirement plans which are not only extremely generous but remarkably safe. “The lucky participants in one of the best retirement plans around are coming after yours with a meat cleaver,” Zweig writes – so it might be time for us working Americans to grab our pitchforks and defend our retirement savings.

Here’s the problem. As Congress and the Trump administration debate the fine points of tax reform, they’re looking for revenue wherever they can reasonably find it. Right now, as most of us know, the contributions we make to an employee-sponsored 401(k) plan (or a similar 403(b) if you work for a non-profit organization) are taken out of your paycheck pre-tax, giving you a healthy incentive to set aside retirement savings in an account that is tax-deferred. You won’t pay taxes on the contributions you make or on the interest earned until you begin making withdrawals, usually when you retire. (This assumes you are not saving money in a Roth IRA in which contributions have already been taxed and the withdrawals can be made tax-free.)

So what’s the danger? Here’s how the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Zweig describes it. “At a meeting with members of the Senate Banking Committee earlier (in April),” says Zweig, “Gary Cohn, the director of the White House National Economic Council, discussed ideas that would remove pre-tax benefits from retirement accounts including 401(k)s and shift them to after-tax benefits, according to people familiar with the discussions. It wasn’t clear how seriously the administration is evaluating any specific proposal, these people said.”

Apparently Congress is tired of waiting for you and me to pay income taxes on our retirement savings. For that reason they want to tax us before those funds go into our retirement accounts. And here’s the real eye-opener: “Taxing retirement-plan contributions Roth-style,” Zweig writes, “would generate roughly $1.5 trillion over the next decade the way the government reckons the numbers…So giant a pot of honey may be hard for Congress not to raid.”

Besides giving Uncle Sam a windfall at our expense, the great danger in this plan is that it removes one of the real incentives for most of us to save for retirement. “It’s hard for most people to save for a goal that glimmers faintly decades in the future,” says the Wall Street Journal. “Take away the tax incentive, and many savers might no longer see the point of even trying.”

One of the financial experts quoted in the article describes a solid financial plan for retirement as a four-legged stool, comprised of a pension, a 401(k), Social Security and supplemental savings. But only a relatively tiny fraction of workers today earn a pension. (By the way, that’s something else Congress doesn’t have to worry about: in 2015 the average pension earned by a retired member of Congress was over $41,000, and a Senator or representative with 30 years of service qualifies for well over $105,000 in annual pension.) If you remove the incentive for people to save in a tax-deferred account, fewer and fewer will approach retirement with anywhere near enough money set aside. The retirement crisis is only going to get worse.

So what’s the answer, according to the Wall Street Journal analysis? Mandatory savings is one idea that has been floated, requiring people to save for their future. Leaving the present system alone is another option. But “at a bare minimum,” says Jason Zweig, “if Congress is going to hack away some of the tax advantages of private retirement plans, it should make matching cuts to the cushy federal system.” It only seems fair, after all. And if you are the protesting kind, Zweig has this advice: “If you have a pitchfork in your garage, keep it handy. Your 401(k) might need defending.”

As interesting as this article is, we here at AgingOptions believe it makes a mistake common to many stories about retirement: it focuses entirely on finances. There’s no doubt that having a good financial plan in place is essential to your retirement security, but it is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Protecting your assets is all well and good, but have you considered how to cover yourself against medical emergencies, both in the short term and long term? Few things will drain your bank account more quickly that a long term care crisis. What about housing? Simply assuming you’ll be able to stay put in your home indefinitely is extremely naïve, even dangerous. There are also legal safeguards you’ll want to put in place to protect your assets and to make sure you won’t become a burden to your loved ones. And speaking of your loved ones, you need to make certain your family knows your wishes as you age, and will support the choices you make.

All these elements – financial security, medical coverage, housing choices, legal protection and family communication – together make up an AgingOptions LifePlan, the most comprehensive retirement plan we know of. If this sounds like a unique and powerful approach to planning for your retirement future, it is. Why not take just a few hours and find out more, without any obligation? Plan now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location that’s convenient for you. We assure you, you’ll be very glad you did.

For dates, times and online registration, click here – or, if you prefer, call our office for assistance during the week. Discover how to enjoy a secure and rewarding retirement with an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at https://blogs.wsj.com)

 

 

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