What Truly Matters: Passing Along Your Beliefs, Values and Wisdom to Those You Love

“Does your estate plan have a gaping hole? Forget your wealth and possessions: Your beliefs, values and wisdom could be the most treasured assets you pass down to the ones you love.”

That’s the challenging premise behind this article that was published recently on the Kiplinger financial website. Written by legacy planner Laura Roser, the article makes the important point that estate planning too often concentrates entirely on tangible items – on our stuff, in other words – and overlooks extremely important aspects of our legacy that reveal who we truly are as individuals. “Oftentimes, people don’t think about the intangibles they should pass on to their heirs,” says Roser. “Estate planning is so wrapped up in transferring financial assets that this becomes the focus. Once your financial team hands you your estate plan, you think you’ve got all your bases covered: You’ve got life insurance, a trust to avoid probate, an appointed executor and so on. But,” she asks, “what about your wisdom, beliefs, values, important family traditions and stories?” As a powerful illustration to her point, Roser quotes an African proverb: “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

No doubt as someone reads these words they envision a complicated and time-consuming process that’s beyond their abilities, such as writing a book-length biography or hiring a videographer. But according to Roser, capturing your legacy for your loved ones doesn’t have to be so complex.  If you prefer, she says, “keep your documentation process simple and write a short letter detailing your principles and feelings.” Even a few well-chosen words in a letter serve as “representations of your thoughts, heritage and life journey” that can one day “become the foundation upon which your family members build their lives.”

Most of us can relate to this idea to some degree, because we probably wish we had more insight into the thoughts, feelings and values of loved ones who have died. We may have grandma’s jewelry or dad’s high school yearbook, but these mementoes don’t reveal more than the basics of our loved ones’ lives. Apart from the emotional benefits, according to Roser writing in the Kiplinger article, there are also tangible benefits to sharing your story with generations yet to come. “Studies conducted at Emory University have shown that kids who know about their family’s past are more empathetic, have better coping skills and have higher self-esteem,” she says. “There are other benefits to passing on your life stories as well, from decreasing depression in older adults to connecting with family and building trust to increasing the likelihood of a successful wealth transfer.” Sharing your heartfelt values with your heirs can have a lasting, even multigenerational impact.

Roser writes that each of us possesses three broad “asset categories.” These include:

  • Character assets: Your meaningful relationships, values, health, spirituality, heritage, purpose, life experiences, talents and plans for giving.
  • Intellectual assets: Your business systems, alliances, ideas, skills, traditions, reputation and wisdom.
  • Financial assets: Your physical wealth, investments and possessions.

The last category – financial assets – is generally the easiest to transfer. However, Roser says, the challenge with passing along things like character and values lies in finding ways to make these intangibles just as physical as your financial assets. “Even though your mother’s love, memories of summers at your grandparents’ house and lessons you’ve learned throughout your life may be more important to you than your car, there’s still the problem of turning those feelings, thoughts and insights into something that can be passed on to others.” She advises creating what she calls a “legacy vehicle” in order to make a tangible item out of something inherently intangible – a biography, memoir, book, letter, video or piece of artwork. The more artfully you capture what truly matters to you, the more meaningful and exciting it will be for your family to discover your core values, beliefs and personality in generations yet to come.

Roser concludes with four steps to help you get started in creating your legacy vehicle, including setting your goals, taking an inventory of what’s available to you, making a plan including how you want your creation copied and distributed, and then starting with some simple tasks to get the ball rolling.  We think this is a good idea. Long after you’re gone, will your kids and grandkids recall what kind of person you were, what mattered to you, and how you lived your life? Having a legacy vehicle in place is a good way to ensure that they will.

Here at AgingOptions we like the concept of passing along to those you love the core values that have driven you in your earthly life. But we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that all too many seniors enter into their retirement and post-retirement years without making absolutely certain that they have informed their family about exactly how they want to live out the rest of their lives. Does your family fully understand your wishes – not just about how you want to die but about how you want to live as you age? And have you made sure through careful planning that you’ll have the financial, legal, housing and medical structures in place so you can live as you wish? We urge you to wait no longer, but instead to join Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions at one of our highly popular, extremely informative LifePlanning Seminars where we discuss these very issues. These free seminars, held throughout the region at various times each month, will open your eyes to the power of comprehensive planning and show you the way forward.

So why not take a simple next step and join us for a few hours? There’s no obligation whatsoever. Click here for details and online registration, or contact our office during the week and we’ll assist you by phone. As the Kiplinger article suggests, a “legacy vehicle” is a great idea, but don’t overlook the more immediate question of how you’ll spend your remaining years. We’ll see you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Meanwhile – age on!

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

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Families Dealing with Dementia Need to Understand the Perils Ahead

If you are part of a family dealing with dementia, you know what a bewildering and painful journey it can often be. Part of the great and unanticipated tragedy of dementia is the emotional and relational damage it can wreak, not just on the one with the illness, but on loved ones as well.  In the words of geriatric psychiatrist Marc Agronin, writing in the Wall Street Journal, “When a family member suffers from dementia, we tend to view it as an individual tragedy. But too often this wrecking ball of a disease takes a toll on the entire family.”

Dr. Agronin is the author of this powerful and insightful article that appeared in the Journal a few weeks ago. We want to share it with our AgingOptions Blog readers and radio listeners because we know from our interaction with many of you that you have struggled with the unexpected pain that having a loved one with dementia causes for siblings trying to come to grips with this unpredictable disease. “Even under the best circumstances—with state-of-the-art care, well-intentioned caregivers, and sufficient social and financial resources—the trajectory of most forms of dementia is difficult to control,” Dr. Agronin writes in the Wall Street Journal. Dementia, he asserts, is usually chronic, with symptoms that will only get worse. On top of that, today’s health care system with its lack of geriatricians and its tendency to have medical specialists who don’t communicate with each other, working in their individual silos, makes the challenge for families even greater.

“In the face of these challenges, the families of individuals with dementia struggle to maintain emotional equilibrium along the way,” says Agronin, “especially when the spouse of the afflicted has already died, leaving decisions about care in the hands of the children. That’s when this disease of one damages the well-being of many, sometimes turning close and loving siblings into estranged and shattered combatants.”  But the doctor is quick to add that it doesn’t have to be this way. “If families understand the perils, they can navigate them without imploding,” he states.

We know one of the burdens, of course, is the often devastating economic toll that serving as a caregiver for someone with dementia can demand. “Families of persons with dementia spend billions of dollars—thousands a month per household—on health care, supplies and paid caregivers,” Dr. Agronin says.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the average unpaid caregiver, typically an adult daughter, works almost 22 hours a week on the loved one’s behalf.  Factor in lost wages, reduced productivity and resulting impact on retirement savings and the total adverse lifetime financial impact for a typical caregiver quickly tops $300,000. Yet, as ominous as that sounds, Dr. Agronin writing in the Journal says that “the economic toll often pales next to the emotional one.”  This emotional burden is especially hard on adult siblings who find themselves thrust by a parent’s illness into completely uncharted territory.

In a particularly poignant section of the Wall Street Journal report, Dr. Agronin lists some of the reactions he has witnessed among siblings to the pain of a parent with dementia. “I have seen people, for instance, who were simply not in a position to take care of a parent with dementia,” he writes. “So, perhaps after trying for a while, they send the parent to another sibling. They are relieved of the burden, but they are racked with guilt. Other children often relish the opportunity to organize a parent’s care, finding meaning in filial duties. But they can also find themselves increasingly frustrated and resentful when siblings critique their caregiving approach. Meanwhile, some children become enraged and depressed as they watch their parents go through changes that they struggle to believe are true. They might even reject the dementia diagnosis and medical interventions.”  Suddenly, Agronin suggests, siblings who have respected and admired one another from a reasonable distance are forced into painful interactions that can literally cause relationships to break apart.

There’s much more to this important article and we recommend you take the time to read it (once again, here’s the link.)  But before we leave this topic, we want to paraphrase Dr. Agronin’s recommendations for dealing with what he calls “a terrible disease that can wreak havoc on all those who must deal with it.”  The keys, he suggests, are assessment, communication and planning.

  • First, families must know precisely what they are dealing with. “This requires a comprehensive baseline assessment by an expert in dementia, and regular monitoring by both medical and behavioral specialists,” says Dr. Agronin. This puts everybody on the same page as far as knowing what exactly is going on.
  • “Second,” he says, “the caregiving family needs to meet early on and establish basic goals and ground rules.” How will they divide responsibilities?  What if someone can’t sustain their role?  How much financial outlay can they afford?  Caregivers need to coordinate a common plan for the type of care and the roles that each can play.
  • “A third and crucial step,” Agronin writes, “is to assign a point person for coordinating daily care and decision making.” This can be a third party such as a geriatric care manager or other professional if that’s best for family dynamics. This person can serve as a mediator for disputes and in extreme cases can be court-appointed.

Families need to understand, Dr. Agronin concludes, that caregiving for one with dementia can last an average of 8 to 10 years.  It’s “a long journey [that] requires constant learning, renewal and reinvention to survive.” But while dementia brings great heartbreak, it can also “bring families together in a common purpose, and to fulfill an endless debt to a parent that most children want to accomplish. The key is for families to understand that core emotional need and to realize that a win-win approach is possible, resulting in relationships that are closer, healthier and more resilient—not in spite of their parent’s illness, but because of it.”

Planning ahead for a devastating illness may be tough for most of us to contemplate, and we may hope to avoid illnesses such as dementia in our future. But one thing is certain: we can’t avoid growing older, and that means we must do a better job of planning for retirement. If your goal is a secure and fruitful future, with your assets protected and your wishes honored, you’ll never get there if you focus merely on any one aspect of retirement planning, such as finances or health insurance. At AgingOptions we advocate an approach we call LifePlanning, one in which all the essential elements of retirement mesh together: your financial plan, your medical coverage, your legal protection, your housing choices, and your family communication. A LifePlan becomes your blueprint allowing you to build the retirement you’ve always dreamed of. It’s easy to find out more, and there’s no cost or obligation: plan now to join AgingOption’s Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. Click here for details, and then register online or contact us by phone. It will be our pleasure to welcome you to an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.wsj.com)

 

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Caregivers who Handle a Loved One’s Finances Face Higher Stress

An article just published on the aging-related website NextAvenue should be a must-read for anyone who is caring for an aging loved one or family member. It’s called “Caregiving’s Taboo Subject: Coordinating the Finances.” The story, written by NextAvenue’s Money and Work Editor Richard Eisenberg, reveals some surprising findings about how many caregivers are responsible – either in part or entirely – for the financial affairs of those they care for, and at the same time how few of them ever talk with their loved one about their role as money manager. This silence about money coupled with a general lack of good information for caregivers on how they should handle their responsibilities is a big part of the reason why being a caregiver is so stressful, and often so expensive.

The article cites a “groundbreaking” study (Eisenberg’s term) just published by Merrill Lynch and AgeWave, an aging-related consulting firm. It’s called The Journey of Caregiving, and according to the NextAvenue article it documents (among other things) the extent to which caregivers become enmeshed in managing their loved ones’ money. In putting the study together, researchers interviewed more than 2,000 caregivers, excluding professional caregivers and those looking after adult children, so they could get a better snapshot of the roughly 40 million Americans who are informally caring for older loved ones. Of these, says Merrill Lynch, more than 9 out of 10 could be classified as “financial caregivers,” which means they either coordinate and manage their loved one’s financial affairs or they provide direct financial support – or both. (The report says about two-thirds of all adult caregivers directly contribute money toward their loved one’s care.)

What’s particularly surprising, however, is the fact that 75 percent of caregivers say they have never discussed their financial responsibilities with the person they’re caring for. That’s why people involved with the study call finances “a taboo subject” and say they were “floored” by the magnitude of the issue. “Many of America’s financial caregivers (especially the financial coordinators) are overwhelmed, if not perplexed, about how to perform these duties,” writes NextAvenue’s Eisenberg. The report authors called the caregiving journey “emotionally, physically and financially taxing.”  Within two years of assuming their caregiving duties, and faced with escalating financial responsibilities, the majority of caregivers told Merrill Lynch  that their loved ones needed “full assistance with their finances,” inferring that the caregiver could no longer handle the burden.

According to the Merrill Lynch AgeWave study, many caregivers quickly discover that they don’t know where to go for expert advice on the decisions they’re being asked to make on their loved one’s behalf. “This idea of being a financial coordinator is a little bit complicated,” said the CEO of AgeWave. “People are doing it honorably and with respect, but without much guidance. They’re kind of winging it.” This level of complexity rises dramatically when the one receiving the care has dementia, which is the case for more than 20 percent of caregivers. According to NextAvenue, “A 2015 AARP caregiving study found that caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia spend, on average, 54 percent more than the average caregiver.” The article adds that financial caregivers “collectively spend an estimated $190 billion per year on their care recipients for out-of-pocket, care-related expenses.”

But that’s not the whole financial picture. “Sometimes,” writes Eisenberg, “the indirect financial costs — lost hourly wages, reduced Social Security benefits and lost 401(k) contributions — are higher than the direct ones.” The Merrill Lynch report cites one example of a 54 year old woman who switched to part-time work to take care of her mother. This woman’s direct out-of-pocket costs came to $26,000, but her indirect caregiving costs totaled $31,000. “Her total caregiving costs during the six years assisting her mother: $384,000.” Still, surprisingly, more than half of all caregivers said “they have no idea how much they’ve spent on caregiving-related expenses,” and nearly half couldn’t estimate the amount they spent on them in the last month.

Here at AgingOptions, having walked the caregiving journey ourselves and shared the experience with many hundreds of others, we think the recommendations that conclude the NextAvenue article make sense. They are:

  • “Talk openly with your family about this topic.” In our experience this is best handled at a family conference where an objective professional can facilitate the discussion. Parents can say who they want caring for them and how they want financial matters handled. Obviously the sooner this conference takes place, the better.
  • “Find out where your parents’ medical, legal and financial documents are.” At least one-third of respondents in the Merrill Lynch survey said “a top challenge was locating passwords and account information.”
  • “Get professional help.” The article suggests consulting an estate planning attorney as well as a financial adviser because “It’s easier for a third party to help start the conversation.” If you do not have a trusted financial adviser for your family needs, contact us at AgingOptions and we will gladly refer you.

After all these bleak statistics, we were very glad to read the report at the end if the NextAvenue article that revealed this encouraging fact: more than 90 percent of caregivers said they are “grateful for the opportunity to help someone they care about,” and more than three-fourths would “gladly” do it again. Even with the challenges, caring for a loved one is an honorable activity that can give great meaning to our lives. Just ask anyone who has done it!

Our passion here at AgingOptions is to help our clients, radio listeners and seminar guests live out their retirement years with joy, purpose and security, allowing them to protect their assets as they age and avoid becoming a burden to those they love. If you’re ready to learn how your finances, medical needs, legal protection, housing preferences and family communication can all work together in retirement, then you’re ready to discover the power of a LifePlan from AgingOptions. We invite you join Rajiv Nagaich at a LifePlanning Seminar soon – a free opportunity for you to discover the impact of retirement planning as it was meant to be. Click here for details and online registration, or contact us by phone for assistance. A LifePlanning Seminar from AgingOptions will help you see retirement in a whole new light! We’ll look forward to seeing you soon.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

 

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Some Surprising Things Millennials Want to Hear from Boomer Parents

Here at AgingOptions, one of the hallmarks of our LifePlanning process involves clear, complete family communication. Over the years we have dealt with many difficult situations in which Mom and Dad never sat down with their adult kids to go over their retirement plan and explain their wishes and preferences as they age. This lack of openness can lead to tragic consequences – witness some of the high-profile cases in the news in recent years involving celebrities like Casey Kasem and broadcasting tycoon Sumner Redstone. (Click here for an article from our Blog about Casey Kasem’s sad family meltdown.)

So we were particularly interested to run across this article from last year on the website NextAvenue entitled “What Millennials Wish Their Boomer Parents Would Tell Them.” Since we have always been strong advocates for good family communication, this article is music to our ears. We hope you’ll read it and take it to heart.

The article quotes a study from Fidelity Investments, conducted every two years, which asks questions about personal finance, estate planning and caregiving. (The NextAvenue article contains a link to the study.) Based on the findings in that research piece, the author of the NextAvenue article, Richard Eisenberg, has this advice for Baby Boomer parents: “Your Millennial kids are willing to offer assistance, when needed, as you age,” he writes, “but you need to do a better job now telling them what you may need them to do someday.”

It’s true that none of us wants to be a burden to our loved ones as we age. In our professional practice and on our radio shows we often advise clients and callers on ways to avoid becoming an encumbrance in the lives of our family. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help as we age – in fact, the Fidelity study suggests our kids actually want us to.

A few findings from the survey stood out to us. For example, 93 percent of parents surveyed said they considered it unacceptable to ever become financially dependent on their children. However, when asked a similar question, only 30 percent of the adult children felt the same. The kids seem far more accepting of helping their parents financially than the parents are of accepting that help.

A few other statistics pointed out the “communications disconnect” we alluded to above. More than 9 out of 10 adults said one of their kids would serve as executor of their estate – but when Fidelity surveyed the adult kids, fully one in four of those identified as executor had no idea they would be filling that role one day. Similarly, nearly three-fourths of adults identified one of their kids as being responsible for helping with future long-term caregiver responsibilities, but a full 40 percent of those kids didn’t know Mom or Dad was expecting that kind of help from them.

There’s much more. This one caught our attention:  69 percent of parents say they have had detailed conversations with their adult children about wills and estates, but more than half of those kids say they haven’t! Perception, it seems, doesn’t always equal reality.

We also strongly concur with the recommendation from the article that your adult kids need to know where your financial records are and who your financial advisers are. Make sure this information is readily available.  NextAvenue reports, “The survey found about 30 percent of families disagreed on whether the children knew where to find important family documents such as wills, power of attorney…and health care proxies.” Yet if you become one of the millions of Americans suffering with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, access to that information will be critically important.

As we said, we encourage you to read the article because it will stimulate your thinking about how to talk to your kids about retirement and end of life issues. Feel free to call us here at AgingOptions for some further ideas. We would welcome the opportunity to host your family here in our office for a “family retirement conference,” something we have done many times. Having these talks in a neutral, professional setting can defuse tension and help open lines of communication, and having an objective third party as the facilitator will help keep the conversation productive and on track. We can also help you prepare a full inventory of information that you can keep in a central location for your adult kids in case it’s needed.

Family communication is just one aspect of a comprehensive retirement plan. You’ll also need to plan for your future medical insurance coverage, your housing choices and your financial preparedness. Your legal affairs will also need to be in order so your estate is protected. Is there one comprehensive approach to retirement planning that deals with all these facets? Fortunately the answer is yes! We call it an AgingOptions LifePlan, and there’s no planning process quite like it. To learn more, and to start developing your own LifePlan, why not register today to attend a free information-packed LifePlanning Seminar coming soon to a neighborhood near you?  Click here for our Upcoming Events page  where you’ll find scheduling details and simple online registration. We’ll see you there!

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

 

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Death of Tom Petty Reminds Us of the Need to Plan for our Later Years

It has been about a month since rock and roll legend Tom Petty died suddenly of apparent cardiac arrest. To us here at AgingOptions, it seems like any time a celebrity passes away, the topic of end of life planning comes up once again. While there’s much we don’t know about the handling of Petty’s estate – his net worth was recently estimated at $95 million – it shouldn’t take a well-publicized death to remind us that we owe it to our families, and to ourselves, to make careful and complete plans for the later stages of our lives, long before it’s too late.

This important article on end of life planning appeared this week on the aging-related website NextAvenue. “The loss of the 66-year-old musician (Petty) serves as a reminder that tragic events can happen no matter one’s age or seeming good health,” the article states. “It’s another opportunity to bring up an unusual, but critical, conversation topic with loved ones — advance care planning and advance directives.”  These are legal documents that specify your end of life care preferences, and also name someone to be your health care proxy in case you are seriously ill and unable to make your wishes known. This person can also be known as a health care agent.

Just about everyone agrees that it’s important to have end of life discussions with family members. “According to a survey by The Conversation Project, a campaign to promote communication about death and dying, 90 percent of people say talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important,” says the NextAvenue article. But how many have actually done so? Only about 27 percent. The reason there is such a huge disconnect between good intentions and actual practice is our comfort level with discussing end of life issues. “It may seem uncomfortable to bring up the serious subject of end-of-life care choices with family members,” says the article. “The topic can be intimidating and scary for many. However, when a conversation is approached with thoughtfulness, preparation and love, participants likely will be grateful for the resulting clarity and reassurance that they understand a loved one’s wishes for care at end of life.”

University of Southern California gerontologist Professor Susan Enguídanos says, “This is one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have with your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be scary; it can be a thoughtful exchange and an ongoing conversation as health conditions change.” There’s also an important elements of self-interest in making your wishes known well in advance: USC’s Professor Enguídanos, an expert on palliative, hospice and end-of-life care, says that patients are much more likely to get the kind of care they want in the later stages of their lives if they complete an advance directive and communicate their choices clearly and unambiguously with family members well ahead of time. The disconnect between good intentions and actual practice is dramatically illustrated by the fact that, according to Enguídanos, more than 70 percent of adults say they want to die at home, in comfortable surroundings – but barely 25 percent actually do so.

Talking over your end of life wishes is essential, but talk alone is inadequate to protect your wishes and provide clear instructions for your family. “It’s not enough just to talk,” warns NextAvenue. “Advance directives are legal documents. You are not required to hire an attorney to draw one up, but you do need to put your wishes in writing.” Of course, based on our experience at AgingOptions, we strongly feel that an attorney’s input is essential to make certain your directives are honored and not ignored.

The NextAvenue article lists a few other important points that are helpful to know concerning advance directives (these are according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization). You should know that:

  • Your advance directive goes into effect as soon as you sign it in front of the required witnesses.
  • Advance directives may be known by other names, such as a health care directive, health care (or “durable”) power of attorney with living will, or an advanced statement of will regarding treatment.
  • Once your legal directives are completed, you’ll want to make several copies of the completed documents and keep the originals in an accessible place (not a safe deposit box). Give copies to your health care agent and to your doctor.
  • Remember, if a loved one call 9-1-1 for you, those emergency responders must perform their lifesaving duties and are not allowed to honor your advance directive.
  • If you spend considerable time in more than one state, it’s a good idea to also fill out the advance directive specific to that state. State laws do vary.
  • An advance directive remains in effect until you change it.

One final tip: don’t simply prepare an advance directive and forget about it. You need to review your advance directive occasionally to make sure it still represents your wishes, because family dynamics can change dramatically. You probably don’t want an estranged ex-spouse acting as your health care proxy! In our work here at AgingOptions we’ve encountered a great number of instances in which people neglected end of life planning entirely, and you can believe us when we say this is one more case in which failing to plan can have disastrous consequences. Why not put your mind at rest by seeking out professional advice in this vital area?

Remember, too, that discussing your end of life wishes is only one aspect of proper planning for your later years. Your loved ones also need to be informed about the type of housing you desire as you age, the level of transparency you expect among your family members in dealing with your care, and the amount of resources you expect to have available to meet your needs. That is why a properly devised LifePlan is so important: to identify health, housing, financial and legal issues that go into proper retirement planning.  Do you really have an adequate plan in place – one that will help you preserve your assets, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and help you escape the trap of being forced into institutional care against your will? It’s time for you to learn about a breakthrough in retirement planning, called an AgingOptions LifePlan – the only approach to retirement that blends all the facets of retirement into one seamless plan, giving you a blueprint to help you enjoy a vibrant and secure future. You can find out more, at no cost, simply by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars with Rajiv Nagaich, at a location that’s convenient for you.

Click here for dates, times and online registration – or call us for assistance. Then join us at a LifePlanning Seminar soon. Whether you need planning for the end of life, or for enjoying the rest of your life, AgingOptions is on your side!

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

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Outrageous! New Report Sheds Light on Elder Abuse by Guardians

Could you as a senior suddenly find yourself removed from your home, forced into institutional care, and placed under the complete control of a stranger? In some instances, the shocking answer is yes – such an unthinkable outcome could actually happen.

A pair of very recent articles has shed important light on the shameful reality of elder abuse across the U.S., abuse that is perpetrated with the tacit consent of the authorities by court-appointed guardians. The first article, this long and damning report from the October 9, 2017 issue of New Yorker magazine, made our blood boil. It’s called “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights,” and it tells the tale of a couple from Las Vegas, living independently, who in one shocking day found themselves in the clutches of a court-appointed guardian. In this couple’s case, it took two years of legal battles by their adult daughter and others before their freedom was restored, during which time their health had deteriorated and their finances had been decimated. Eventually the guardian in this couple’s case was indicted for perjury and theft.

How could such an outrage take place, under the so-called watchful eye of the court system? To help answer that question, we turned to this follow-up article, written in response to the New Yorker exposé, that appeared on the website of Reuters news service. Reuters reporter Mark Miller asks, “Are unsuspecting seniors around the United States being scooped up without warning from their homes, placed in nursing homes and having their possessions taken away? Sometimes, yes.” Miller calls the New Yorker article “a frightening portrait of a private guardian who was able to obtain a court order” giving her complete control over a couple, with no advance notice. “The abuses of private-guardian systems in some U.S. states have been on the radar screens of policy and legal experts for years,” adds Miller. “When I circulated the article to readers recently, the questions started coming in about guardianship. How pervasive are the problems around the United States? Could this happen to me? What steps can I take to protect myself from this kind of abuse? Good questions, all.”

In order to comprehend what’s going on, some definitions are in order. Mark Miller, in the Reuters article, says, “Guardianships are a legal relationship created by state courts that give one person the authority to make decisions in the best interest of someone judged to be incapacitated – and when no family member or friend is available to assume the role.” He explains that a public guardian is generally appointed when the so-called incapacitated person has no resources, but private guardians are typically assigned when people have financial assets. The New Yorker article makes it plain that some unscrupulous guardians actively search out elderly prospects, often infirm or alone and with money in the bank, in order to gain control of the unsuspecting senior’s life and line the guardian’s own pockets.

Mark Miller’s article explains how the system is supposed to work. “Two legal requirements must be met before a court appoints a guardian,” he writes. “First, there must be a finding of incapacity. But there must also be a court decision that there is a need for a guardian – that is, no one has already been designated by the alleged incapacitated person to act as their agent or trustee before they became disabled.” According to Reuters, national data on the number of seniors living under the care of a guardian is very limited. “But,” says Miller, “a 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified hundreds of allegations of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010.” In 20 cases reviewed by the GAO, guardians were found to have “stolen or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million from 158 incapacitated victims, mostly older adults.”

Even though many cases of guardianship are both honest and necessary, and the actual number of abuse cases is relatively rare, the problem is only going to increase as the population ages unless something is done. In the words of Mark Miller in Reuters, “Systematic reform will require commitment by the states to use more care in the selection, training and monitoring of guardians.” This will include much more thoughtful oversight and accountability of guardians, and an end to the complacency of the courts in cases where a single guardian is assigned control of hundreds of people, as was the case in the Nevada scandal described in New Yorker.

So given this frightening prospect of ending up under the control of a guardian, how can you protect yourself? This is absolutely where AgingOptions steps into the picture. Miller advises people to “Be honest about the risks, and the need to plan in advance. Whenever possible execute legal Power of Attorney documents for your finances and healthcare. In other words – have a succession plan, not just for inheritance, but for your care needs while you are still alive.” We urge you to take Miller’s advice – and ours – and talk with a trusted advisor soon in order to ensure that your assets will be protected in retirement, and you can avoid being forced into institutional care against your will.

An AgingOptions LifePlan is a strong guarantee that your wishes are more likely to be respected.  As Rajiv Nagaich says, “Guardianships are mostly avoidable.  It’s only when there has been no planning ahead of time and no Power of Attorney in place that a guardianship generally becomes necessary.  Guardianships also become important when an agent who is appointed under a Power of Attorney arrangement becomes domineering and refuses to allow transparency.” Rajiv adds, “By planning ahead, including establishing requirements for transparency and providing the proper resources so that no agent is working alone, we can literally make most of these issues go away.” We invite you to take action now by joining Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar where critically important issues like these will be discussed, along with other vital aspects of retirement that involve your financial, legal, housing, medical and family plans. You can find all the seminar details here, including times, dates, and locations, then register online or contact us by phone.

The article in Reuters ends with this powerful quote from elder law professor Katherine Pearson at Penn State University. “In an ideal world,” Pearson says, “no one would need guardianship because you already have planned for your needs while recognizing the potential that you could need help.”  We say a loud “Amen!” to that! Come join us soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you and discover the path to a secure retirement.

(originally reported at www.reuters.com and www.newyorker.com)

 

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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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