Kiplinger: the Four Keys to a Happy and Prosperous Retirement

Here at AgingOptions we’re always just a little bit skeptical when we see an article with a title like “4 Keys to a Happy and Prosperous Retirement.” Still, this article with that very title just appeared on the authoritative financial website Kiplinger, and as we read it we found ourselves nodding in agreement – even though we do think the author missed a “fifth key” which we’ll talk about in a moment.

Financial Planner Wesley Price wrote the Kiplinger piece, but happily his advice is not all about money. Typically the only thing most financial planners focus on is – you guessed it – finances, and there’s no doubt that a reasonable source of income is essential to a secure retirement, but we know plenty of well-to-do retirees who are just plain miserable. In the Kiplinger piece, Price makes a good case that three of the four keys to retirement satisfaction have little to do with money and plenty to do with other, more fundamental things.  As Price writes, “Everyone knows that preparing for retirement is front and center these days in America,” adding that an average of 10,000 people “take the plunge” into retirement every day. “Commercials and print ads urge us to save more and get financially prepared for the big day. But are you prepared for those things that might be even more important than how much you accumulate toward retirement?” That’s an important question. Here’s an overview of the four keys to a happy, prosperous retirement as planner Wesley Price describes them.

The first key, writes Price, is to Visualize Your Ideal Retirement Lifestyle. This isn’t some New Age form of visualization but an attempt to think of retirement in a brand new way. “In our practice,” Price says, “the part I love most is the light in a retiree’s eyes when they discover they have enough resources to accomplish a life-long dream they had given up on long ago. Most people have been working hard their whole careers, raising a family and dealing with life as it comes. They often fail to think about their futures in a meaningful way.” Among the questions he suggests pre-retirees ask are these:

  • “What one or two things bring me the most energy and joy in life?”
  • “If money weren’t an issue, what would I probably be doing with my time?”
  • “What dreams or aspirations did I have when I was younger that I would really like to reconnect with now?”
  • “What does my ideal future life look like?”
  • “How do my spouse and loved ones fit into my plan?”

The second key from the Kiplinger article is to Stay Engaged and Have a Purpose. Price notes that “the happiest retirees stay busy with something meaningful in their lives.” In fact – and this is also something we have observed – “the happiest retirees are often busier in retirement than they were when they worked full time.” Here are a few ideas on engagement:

  • “Volunteer or get involved in your community.”
  • “Take a class, join a club or learn a new skill.”
  • “Pick up an old hobby from the past or try a new one.”
  • “Travel somewhere new or spend time in nature by camping, fishing or hiking.”
  • “Stay spiritually connected or close to a support group that can help when life gets difficult.”

Price’s third key is hard to argue with: Take Care of Yourself, he advises.  “The No. 1 concern of retirees is actually being healthy enough to enjoy their retirement years,” he writes. “After all, a large retirement nest egg means little if you don’t have the health to enjoy it.” We completely agree. His advice is pretty straightforward: get plenty of physical exercise, watch your diet, and join a health club or other group to help you stay motivated and active. He also suggested you stimulate your brain with challenging games, but from the research we’ve done this advice seems insufficient: the best kind of mental stimulation, we’ve read, comes from interpersonal interaction and conversation. Part of your program of mental stimulation needs to include staying socially active and engaged. (Here’s a link to an AgingOptions Blog article from July 2017 that talked about the positive impact of social interaction on cognitive health.)

Finally Price zeroes in on Getting Your Financial House in Order. His advice is familiar. Those preparing for retirement should develop a retirement income plan that provides secure, steady income not dependent on the stock market. Income sources such as pensions, annuities, and Social Security can provide this predictability. He also recommends retirees continue working part time doing something they truly enjoy, which provides fulfillment as well as a means to bridge an income gap if one exists. In the Kiplinger article, Price also recommends buying long-term care insurance if retirees can afford it.

So what’s the “fifth key” that we think Price leaves out? That’s easy: he says nothing about the importance of a comprehensive plan to tie all the various facets of retirement into one blueprint. At AgingOptions we call this a LifePlan, and it’s the only type of plan we know of that is truly comprehensive, ensuring that the critical elements – finances, housing, medical coverage, legal protection and family dynamics – all work together seamlessly. In our experience the real key to happiness and fulfillment in retirement is a LifePlan.

Why not take a bit of time and find out more? We invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at one of our free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars, where in just a few hours you’ll gain powerful new insights into what retirement planning should be. These seminars take place at locations throughout the region, so you can click here for all the details, then register online for the seminar of your choice. Our recipe for a happy and fulfilling retirement: visualize your ideal future, stay engaged, guard your mental and physical health, prepare yourself financially – and above all, follow the right plan: an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

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Program Provides Long-Term Support to Vets – but Most Never Apply

Veterans Day 2017 may have come and gone, but the need to provide better information to veterans concerning benefits available from the VA never seems to diminish. Recently we encountered this troubling article on the aging website NextAvenue – troubling in that it tells the tale of yet another senior benefit that too often goes begging because people in need don’t realize they’re entitled to receive it.  In this case we’re talking about a program offered by the Veterans Administration called Aid and Attendance.

The NextAvenue article was written by popular author and television host Joan Lunden. In a very transparent way, she tells the story of her own mother who had lived independently for many years until worsening dementia made living on her own unmanageable. “When my mom’s dementia no longer made it possible for her to live alone,” Lunden writes, “I began searching for an assisted living community.”  An adviser from a senior-living referral service discovered something surprising:  unbeknownst to Joan Lunden, her mom was eligible to receive benefits through the VA that would help offset the costs of her care, a benefit no one in the family even knew she was entitled to.

“By the time I learned about the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pensions Benefit,” writes Lunden, “my mom had already spent years in assisted living. She and I had no idea that the federal government guarantees veterans and their spouses some long-term care assistance.” Her mom qualified because she had remarried a man who was a World War II vet. Lunden said that when she found out about this program, she got to work immediately. “I pulled together the necessary paperwork and sent in her application. But as life would have it, by the time my mom was accepted by the program, it was too late. She passed away just before her 95th birthday.”

What surprised us about the NextAvenue article is this statement: “In going through this process,” Joan Lunden reports, “I learned that, shockingly, only 5 percent of these assistance funds are even applied for, because people simply do not know about the program. And for that reason, [in honor of] Veterans Day, I want to spread the word to those Americans who could really use this well-earned long-term care benefit.”

Here at AgingOptions we have a deep understanding of benefits available to veterans, and we think Lunden’s observation is accurate: many vets are entitled to benefits they only find out about years too late. (For that reason we strongly encourage you to contact us with any benefit-related questions.)  According to the NextAvenue article, in the case of the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit (often called simply “A&A benefit”), veterans who are qualified can receive up to $1,794 per month. The surviving spouse of a qualifying veteran can receive up to $1,153 monthly; a qualifying couple can receive as much as $2,127 per month.  “The money, which is tax-free, can be used for in-home care, board and care, an assisted living community or a private-pay nursing home,” says Lunden. “This is helpful for many vets and their families because neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for assisted living care. It’s kind of like a private nursing home insurance policy you haven’t had to pay into.”

Of course, not every veteran qualifies. In order to receive benefits, a veteran or spouse must meet requirements including:

  • Wartime service: “The veteran had to have served at least 90 days of active duty with at least one day during one of the specified wars. He or she must have had an honorary discharge.”
  • Financial need: This means assets of under $80,000 (excluding a home and a car) plus maximum income limits.
  • Medical needs: “The veteran or spouse must need assistance with eating, bathing or dressing.”

For a good overview of VA Aid & Attendance, including a questionnaire to help you determine if you or a loved one might qualify, you can visit this website called VeteranAid.org. Once you apply, says Joan Lunden, “it takes six to eight months, on average to get approved; some applicants wait more than a year. But once the application is approved, it’s applied retroactively to the date of application.”

One of the best ways to find out what benefits you may qualify for, including VA benefits, is to sit down with someone who really knows the lay of the land, and that describes our staff of experts at AgingOptions. Rajiv Nagaich advises that when people look at VA benefits, they also need to keep Medicaid in mind.  “VA has very limited benefits,” says Rajiv.  “Medicaid is the more robust of the two programs – and for most beneficiaries, it turns out that the planning that has to be done for VA benefits actually interferes with Medicaid benefits.” For that reason it’s essential that people get good advice.  “The real question is not whether one can get VA or Medicaid,” Rajiv warns. “The real question, whichever benefits you pursue, is how you can give your loved one the very best quality of life possible without either your loved one or you running out of money.”  With that priority in mind, caring for your loved one actually becomes a housing issue, as Rajiv puts it, and then a financial question. First, by making the right housing choice, it means your infirm loved one won’t have to make multiple moves; second, once you know all the costs involved with the appropriate housing, you can then decide between VA and Medicaid, either separately or jointly.

The bottom line is that you need solid counsel from a good elder law attorney. In our radio programs, in our seminars, and in our offices, we have counseled thousands about their benefits, and we can do the same for you. But we can do much more than that: we can also be your guide to help you build the type of secure and fruitful retirement you’ve always wanted, allowing you to protect your assets and your independence. The secret is a type of retirement plan called a LifePlan, one that weaves together all the “strands” of retirement into one unbreakable cord: financial preparedness, medical coverage, legal protection, housing options and family communication. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the key to peace of mind as you move into the next phase of your life journey.

Find out more by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. You’ll find a listing of all currently scheduled seminars right here on our Upcoming Events page where you can also register your planned attendance online. (For assistance by phone please call us during the week.) Bring all your benefit questions and others as well, and join us – it will be our pleasure to meet you.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

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“Observation Status” – In Spite of New Laws, What You Don’t Know Can Still Cost You!

You have an urgent medical problem, so you go to the hospital, where you remain for several days. Your doctor then recommends a short stay in a nursing home for rehabilitation.  Because you’re covered by Medicare, you assume those nursing home costs will be paid for, since Medicare typically covers up to 100 days of rehabilitative care following surgery or some other qualifying medical procedures.

So imagine how you would feel, after returning home, to get a bill for the entire amount of the nursing home stay. That’s what’s happening to thousands of seniors. The reason: the hospital never formally admitted you as an inpatient. Instead you were kept under observation status, and because of that, Medicare will probably decline to pay for your rehabilitative care.

On our radio program and in our law practice, we receive many calls from people who have experienced this shock. Now finally there is a federal law on the books that took effect last year: it requires hospitals to inform patients that they are being kept under observation status, which leaves them personally liable for any subsequent charges for a rehabilitative stay in a nursing home, and not being admitted as regular patients. This new law theoretically alerts the patient and allows them to consult with their physician, hopefully to get the hospital to change their status to that of an in-patient so any future rehabilitation will be covered by Medicare. The new law went into effect in August of 2016, and in good Congressional form it has a catchy name: the “Notice of Observation Treatment and Implication for Care Eligibility Act,” or NOTICE Act for short. But the new rules have plenty of loopholes, as you’ll see below.

This problem, which until now has not been widely publicized, was highlighted over a year ago in this revealing article on the website of the New York Times. It spotlights the story of an 85 year old Pennsylvania woman who was hospitalized for six days of “observation” as a result of a fall. She then spent five months in rehabilitation in a nursing care facility, most of which should have been covered by Medicare. Instead she received a bill from the nursing home for $40,000. Medicare refused the charge because the hospital had never formally admitted her.

What’s going on here? According to the New York Times, it all has to do with the economics of modern health care. “Hospitals have been keeping patients…in limbo – in ‘observation status’ – for fear of being penalized by Medicare for inappropriate admissions,” reports the Times. Medicare won’t pay for nursing home stays following hospitalization unless the patient has been in the hospital for at least three consecutive days – and days spent “under observation” don’t count. No wonder patients and their families are feeling blindsided.

The NOTICE Act requires hospitals to tell any patient who stays longer than 24 hours that they are under observation status and that any future rehabilitation may not be covered by Medicare. This law passed with strong bipartisan support, and proponents predicted that the law would require hospitals to issue some 1.4 million notices a year. But in our view, and that of most experts in senior health care, the more important next step is to change the law so that all time spent under observation counts toward the three-day Medicare qualification for rehabilitative care. Until then, patients and their families have got to be on guard to avoid major sticker shock after Mom or Dad comes home from a temporary stay in a nursing care facility. In fact, if you really want to dive deeply into the details of the NOTICE Act and some of the problems with it, this article on the website of the Center for Medicare Advocacy provides helpful if somewhat complex background information. The bottom line in our view is that the protection for the patient under the revised law remains inadequate. (In Washington State in 2016, a proposed state law to require better patient notification of observation status passed the House unanimously. However, the bill died in the Senate.)

By the way, this issue is still very much in the headlines, as this article from CBS News will attest.  It’s called “Medicare billing: Hospital ‘observation’ can cost you,” and it describes the exact type of circumstances as the New York Times article from last year. This article just appeared this week, and it’s clear that very little appears to have changed when it comes to this controversy. If you or a loved one is facing any sort of hospitalization that may entail release to a rehabilitation facility, we encourage you to read the article in the New York Times or the one from CBS News, then inform yourself. These loopholes need to be closed! There are class-action lawsuits in the works, but until the rules are clearly changed, make sure you ask the right questions or you could be in for a shockingly expensive surprise.

(The Center for Medicare Advocacy, in an effort to better inform consumers, produced a handy one-page Infographic on the issue of observation status. To view this helpful information, click this link.)

If you need advice on any aspect of retirement – medical needs, legal affairs, financial security, or housing choices – we here at AgingOptions stand ready to be your advocate. You are welcome to contact us at any time for a consultation concerning any particular need you may have. One of our particular specialties is to work with clients to help them develop what we call a LifePlan, a retirement plan which takes all aspects of retirement into account, and helps you face the future with confidence. You can quickly and easily find out more about LifePlanning by registering to attend one of our highly popular LifePlanning Seminars, offered without cost or obligation. In just a few information-packed hours spent with Rajiv Nagaich, you’ll gain a brand new perspective on the process of planning for a fruitful and secure retirement.

You can register online for a LifePlanning Seminar near you by clicking here for our Upcoming Events page , or by calling our office during business hours. Don’t face the daunting task of retirement planning alone! With the professional team here at AgingOptions as your guide, you’ll discover a new optimism about your future years. It will be our pleasure to serve you.

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com and www.cbsnews.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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It’s Smart for Senior Retirees to Live Frugally – or Is It?

Retirement is usually portrayed in magazine ads and on television as a carefree time when seniors, freed at long last from the shackles of the 9-to-5 grind, finally get to live it up. Those ads picture happy older people (in designer clothes) partying on cruise ships, biking along the Rhine, golfing in Maui, and generally enjoying one well-earned, expensive adventure after another.

The reality for most retirees, of course, is far different.  For seniors on severely limited income (often derived exclusively from Social Security) a retirement life of modest means is anything but glamorous. Still, however, there is strong evidence that some middle-class retirees may be living more frugally in retirement than they need to, which can not only bring harm to the economy but also cause these seniors to skip out on socializing and other beneficial activities because they fear they can’t afford it. That’s the conclusion from this recent article we just discovered on the website of US News. It’s called “Why Retirement Makes Seniors Frugal (and Why That May be a Problem).”

“Seniors tighten their belts in retirement, and that may not always be a good thing,” the article states.  One financial expert who has researched this phenomenon says that seniors with higher incomes are generally living much more frugally than they need to, trimming their spending an average of 2.5 percent every year even at a time when the average value of their estates continues to rise.  This expert, CEO Matt Fellowes of a company called United Income, says, “While it may seem as though there can be no harm in living frugally, both seniors and the economy can suffer when spending declines.”

The biggest reason many seniors grow anxious about spending their retirement funds is that retirement marks a huge psychological shift, says US News. “For workers who have earned a paycheck for decades,” the article states, “the shift to using income from retirement accounts can be difficult.”  That’s because, “After spending a lifetime saving money, it can feel unsettling to begin pulling cash from accounts that were previously off-limits.” The issue is often more psychological than financial. In essence, once retirees actually do cut the umbilical cord and retire, they’re essentially paying themselves out of their retirement savings, and “they get scared,” experts say. Even when these seniors can clearly afford an expense such as a new car or a modest vacation, retirees often grow very apprehensive and insist on scrimping – even those retirees who are relatively affluent, according to the US News report.

The article points out the twin concerns that can drive seniors to be tight-fisted in retirement. “Health care costs and the economy,” says US News, “rank high as motivation to cut spending. In particular, today’s longer lifespans breed uncertainty about if and when retirement money will run out.” Today’s seniors know that, once they reach 65, the odds are they’ll live at least two more decades, and the uncertainty over rising medical costs coupled with fear of another recession like the one ten years ago can cloud their thinking. Ironically, the higher rate of media consumption – especially television watching – by seniors might be partially to blame.  “While people 35 to 44 years old watched an average of two hours of TV programming each day in 2016,” says US News, “the number jumps to four hours for those 65 to 74 years old.” Because national news tends to sensationalize market fluctuations, some seniors may grow more fearful and hold onto their money more tightly than they need to.

So, you might be asking, what’s wrong with retirees being extra thrifty? “Being frugal may seem like a virtue, but it doesn’t come without faults,” says US News. For one thing, extreme thrift can become a quality of life issue: “It’s difficult for seniors to enjoy retirement if they refuse to spend any of their money and become obsessed with penny-pinching.”  But there’s a potentially deeper problem in than “seniors may delay preventive [medical] care or withdraw from social activities in order to save money. Both can have a negative effect on senior health and well-being,” the article states.  There’s also a significant economic impact. The research firm Nielsen has estimated that, by this year, baby boomers would hold 70 percent of disposable income in the U.S. Think of the impact if some of these saved dollars were injected into our economy instead of being hoarded unnecessarily.

One possible balanced solution suggested in the US News analysis is to divide retirement resources into two “buckets.” The first consists of guaranteed sources of income which might include Social Security payments, traditional pension plans and annuities. Ideally seniors might be able to adjust their lifestyle so their fixed expenses – basic living costs and medical expenses – can be covered by these sources.  Once those costs are covered, US News proposes, other “lifestyle expenses” including travel and dining out can be paid for from savings and funds withdrawn annually as part of required minimum distribution from retirement accounts.

We know this article raises a host of questions, and it does point to an underlying issue: in order to protect your assets and enjoy your retirement, you need a solid financial plan.  Here at AgingOptions we have several highly reputable and objective professional planners to whom we can refer you if you need to sit down with someone and prepare for your retirement future. However, we caution you that planning for finances alone is far from sufficient: you need a plan that properly covers all the facets of retirement and ensures that each one meshes seamlessly with all the others. These facets include finances, housing choices, medical coverage, legal protection, and family communication. The only plan we know about that accomplishes this is a LifePlan from AgingOptions.

We encourage you to spend a little time and join Rajiv Nagaich for a free LifePlanning Seminar in your area. You’ll find a complete listing of currently scheduled LifePlanning Seminars by clicking here for our Upcoming Events page. There you can register your attendance online, or contact us for assistance during the week. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to show you the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan to help you secure the retirement of your dreams.

(originally reported at www.money.usnews.com)

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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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Proposed Law Requires Medicare to Warn of Steep Late Fees

We’re still in open enrollment season for Medicare – it continues through early December 2017 – and maybe you’ve decided, even though you’re 65, that you don’t need to enroll because you’re feeling fine and don’t need health insurance. Well, this recent article from the news website Reuters says you’d better do your homework, because you may not feel so good once you see the late enrollment fees you could be incurring.

The article, written by reporter Mark Miller, provides an important warning to those approaching age 65 about the high costs of delay in signing up for the popular government health care program for seniors. “Medicare enrollment is automatic if you already have claimed Social Security benefits before your 65th birthday,” writes Miller. There’s usually no premium for the hospitalization portion of coverage, called Medicare Part A. But here’s the kicker: generally when you turn 65 you can only decline what’s called Part B coverage – the one that takes care of doctor’s visits and more routine health care needs – as long as you’re still working for a qualified employer and receive your primary insurance through work. “Everyone else,” warns Miller, “needs to watch the deadlines. Unless you are exempted, Medicare requires that you sign up for Part B during a window beginning three months before your 65th birthday and ending three months after.”

What happens if you don’t enroll when you’re legally required to? You’ll pay a penalty – and not just a one-time penalty, but a premium hike that will last you the rest of your life. For each 12-month period you delay signing up, Medicare will boost your Part B premium by 10 percent forever. In other words, delay 5 years and your premium goes up 50 percent. According to the Congressional Research Service, about 750,000 Medicare beneficiaries were hit with fees in 2014, paying an average of 29 percent higher premiums than their peers. That may be a tiny percentage of Medicare enrollees, but if you’re a senior on fixed income a boost that large in your premiums will be a painful burden – and a gift that keeps on giving.

According to Reuters, the problem of late enrollment fees is compounded by the fact that Medicare does a generally poor job of warning those approaching 65 of the financial risks.  As Miller writes, when it comes to those burdensome and often unanticipated late fees, “a heads-up would be nice” – which is why both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are considering a new piece of proposed legislation called the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification Act, or “BENES Act.” The bill actually enjoys bipartisan support, a rarity in Washington, D.C. these days. Reuters explains, “It would require the government to send a notification letter in the year before your 65th birthday – the first date of Medicare eligibility. The letter would explain the enrollment rules, and, importantly, how Medicare interacts with other insurance coverage you might have” (especially employer-provided medical plans).

Part of the late enrollment problem stems from the fact that full retirement age (for starting Social Security) and Medicare eligibility age used to be identical at 65. But for several years they have been “decoupled,” says Reuters, with people starting Social Security at any age between 62 and 70, while the Medicare eligibility threshold remains unchanged. This has caused misunderstandings, especially for those still employed. Generally you need to be working for an employer with more than 20 employees for your company plan to be considered primary, according to the article – if your employer is smaller than that, “you should enroll in Part B at 65 to avoid being underinsured.” (If you are exempt from Part B requirements because of coverage by your employer, you have a window of time after you quit working during which you need to get enrolled.)

The confusion about coverage was made worse, writes Mark Miller, with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Many older people not yet Medicare-eligible purchased coverage through the ACA exchanges, assuming they could keep those plans after they turn 65. “By law, however, an exchange insurance plan can refuse to cover your healthcare costs if you are eligible for Medicare. And if you sign up for Medicare late due to reliance on an exchange plan, late enrollment penalties will be applied.” In other words, you need to understand the Medicare rules or you’ll find yourself in a bind. Maybe, says Miller, the new BENES Act will help warn some people in time. “More workers will get caught needlessly in the late enrollment trap as the baby boomer age wave accelerates and as more people work longer,” he says. “Giving them a clear advance warning about the risks – and how to avoid needless extra cost – is not too much to ask.” We agree.

Right now there’s a lot going on in the health care calendar, and all the overlapping deadlines can be confusing. Open enrollment for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (in other words, Obamacare) is going on right now for those under 65, with a shortened ACA enrollment period that runs through December 15th.  Medicare open enrollment is also on now for those 65-plus but with a different end date: it closes December 7th.  There’s also an extended window of time in early 2018 for those seeking to opt back into Traditional Medicare – from January 1st through February 14th. We urge you not to wait to get the advice you need, or you could miss a deadline and end up paying costly penalties.

Whether it concerns Medicare, or Social Security, or a safe harbor trust, or any of a hundred other topics, we imagine you have plenty of questions about planning for retirement. Wouldn’t it be great to get solid, objective advice from a trusted source? That advice may be closer than you think. If you’re ready to learn how all the facets of your retirement can be combined into one solid and comprehensive plan, then you need to take the time to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar featuring Rajiv Nagaich. With a LifePlan, your financial, housing, legal, medical and family plans all come together – no more worrying about inadequate preparation or gaps in your planning. There’s nothing else like a LifePlan!

To learn more, simply invest a bit of time – no cost or obligation – and join us for a LifePlanning Seminar. Click here for details and online registration, or give us a call. It will be our pleasure to meet you at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar near you.

(originally reported at www.reuters.com)

 

 

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CBS Calls Reverse Mortgage the “Rodney Dangerfield of Retirement”

Earlier this year, we ran across an article that we wanted to share again, because we think the premise is still valid. In spite of all its advantages, and an ever more robust set of legal safeguards, there are still millions of homeowners apparently unwilling (or too uninformed) to take advantage of one of the most versatile financial products available: the reverse mortgage.

We got a kick out of the question asked by this article that appeared last spring on the website of CBS News. The article began, “Aging boomers probably remember Rodney Dangerfield as the comedian who lamented, ‘I don’t get no respect.’”  Then CBS asks, “Are reverse mortgages the modern equivalent in the retirement planning world?”  In other words, is the reverse mortgage the Rodney Dangerfield of Retirement?

We have to agree that it sometimes seems so. Despite the wide availability of the reverse mortgage, also called an HECM or home equity conversion mortgage, the number of eligible homeowners who have taken out these loans is shockingly low – only about two percent. This is in spite of the fact that middle class Americans in the 65-69 year old age group generally have more equity in their homes than they have in other assets combined, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

According to the Center for Retirement Research, the majority of retirees will only tap into their home equity when they finally sell their home in order to move – some to a smaller home, some to a retirement home or nursing home, and a surprisingly large number who move to a more expensive house. So why don’t more eligible homeowners explore the power of a reverse mortgage? CBS News says there are two chief reasons: the perception of high upfront costs, and the bad reputation these loans earned in many consumers’ minds when they first came on the market. Some of this negative image stemmed from disreputable lenders who used manipulative tactics to entice borrowers into taking out loans that failed to protect them and their spouses. But new regulations have eliminated much of the risk, and the costs are nowhere near as high as some people think.

The CBS News article cites a book written by retirement expert Wade Pfau, Professor of Retirement Income at The American College in Pennsylvania. In the book, called How to Use Reverse Mortgages to Secure Your Retirement, Pfau deals head-on with many of the biggest misconceptions people have about home equity conversion mortgages. Here are some of the issues where misunderstanding about reverse mortgages is the most persistent.

  • High Costs: Pfau says that reverse mortgages do have upfront costs just like any other loan, but competition is driving down some of these costs so shopping around is the best practice. Even with these costs, the power of an HECM to secure your financial freedom makes these loans worth the upfront expense.
  • Family Expectations: Some homeowners say they want to pass a debt-free home along to their children, so they are reluctant to consider a reverse mortgage. But Wayne Pfau suggests that careful use of a reverse mortgage can actually increase the legacy passed along to heirs if utilized properly. (This concern about heirs highlights an issue we always emphasize at AgingOptions: the importance of involving your family in your retirement deliberations.)
  • Title to the Home: People still seem to think that a reverse mortgage means the title to their home is held by the lender, but this isn’t true. The homeowner retains the title, and the loan need not be repaid until the homeowner moves or passes away.

HECM rule changes in recent years have helped remedy two other issues that used to give reverse mortgages a black eye. In former days desperate borrowers sometimes spent down their home equity far too quickly, leaving themselves in worse financial shape than before, but now the government requires anyone taking out one of these loans to go through a counseling session to make sure they understand what they’re signing up for. Newer rules also limit how much home equity can be tapped and how fast. The other former trouble spot involved non-borrowing spouses who too often found themselves evicted because of the harsh terms of old-style reverse mortgages, a problem which was solved in 2015 with new laws ensuring spousal protection.

If you’re considering a reverse mortgage but need more reasons to say yes, the CBS News article cites several possible uses for an HECM – even though we’re not in full agreement with some of them. For instance, a reverse mortgage can eliminate your house payment, dramatically improving your cash flow in retirement. A reverse mortgage can provide the means to delay Social Security, giving you necessary income while allowing your government benefits to grow significantly. With a reverse mortgage line of credit, you can supplement your income during times when the stock market is in a downturn so you’re not depleting your other retirement funds when their value is low. Finally, one of the main advantages of a reverse mortgage is the freedom from worry that a reverse mortgage line of credit can bring: with this growing credit line in place, the retirement worries that plague many retirees are reduced dramatically.

With all those advantages, is a reverse mortgage right for you? There’s no simple answer to that question, because everyone’s situation is unique. But our view at AgingOptions has always been that the absolute best reasons to take out a reverse mortgage are (a) to upgrade your present home so you can age in place, and (b) to augment other financial sources so you can hire the in-home help you will probably need someday. Because we see the reverse mortgage decision as part of a larger discussion of retirement planning, the other stipulation we would make, says Rajiv Nagaich, is that your family has to be on board. “Before you take out a reverse mortgage,” says Rajiv, “our advice is that you have to have had a family meeting to make absolutely certain your loved ones will support your desire to age in place, and not allow the medical community to convince them otherwise.”   We’ll be happy to talk with you about how and when to have that all-important family conference – and the sooner you plan it, the better.

We also urge you to contact us at AgingOptions so we can refer you to a trusted reverse mortgage expert like our frequent radio guest Laura Kiel – someone whose number one goal is not to “sell” you a reverse mortgage but to give you professional objective advice so you can make the right decision.

We can also help you make the right decisions when it comes to all aspects of retirement planning.  Is there a way that your financial plan, legal plan, medical plan and housing plan can all fit together? Is there a strategy to make certain your family is supportive of your wishes and has the means to carry them out as you age? The answer is yes, with an AgingOptions LifePlan, the most comprehensive type of retirement plan you’ve ever seen. Find out more by attending one of our free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars soon, and bring your retirement-related questions. Click here for information and online registration, or contact us for assistance during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at www.cbsnews.com)

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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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You Can’t Achieve Your Goals if You Don’t Know What They Are

We saw this article in the October 2017 issue of Kiplinger online, and it immediately resonated with us in a big way – because it says something we at AgingOptions have said repeatedly, in LifePlanning Seminars, on the radio, and with our clients.  When it comes to retirement, the truth of the matter is that you can’t hit a target you can’t see – much less one you’ve never even taken the time to identify. Yet that’s what millions of Americans are trying to do as they enter their retirement years.

The article, written by an investment adviser named Zach Grey, starts with a conundrum that sounds all too familiar.  “Financial advisers spend a lot of time talking about the importance of building a retirement plan,” Grey writes. “Still, every day I meet people who have no idea what they want to do, what they have and what they’ll need to truly enjoy this time in their lives.” In other words, they’re heading blindly into retirement trying to hit a target they can’t even see, and apparently just assuming that everything will work out for a secure and happy retirement. This kind of shortsighted thinking is almost guaranteed to cause stress, even disaster, in your future – and yet careful planning for a well thought-out retirement is something many otherwise intelligent people still refuse to do. Why is that, we wondered?

In Zach Grey’s words, “I see [clients] getting caught up in the day-to-day busyness of life without setting any goals for their future. (Saving, quitting and going fishing doesn’t count as a plan.)” This is true for many professional couples where the closer they get to retirement age, seemingly the busier they get, with the result that they never seem to get around to that most essential activity of careful, comprehensive retirement planning. In our interactions with thousands of retirees and future retirees, we’ve also noticed a shocking amount of complacency when it comes to retirement planning, sometimes almost a “whistling in the dark” kind of denial that pretends all one’s financial, housing, legal and health challenges in retirement will just disappear if we simply look the other way. This is foolish and immature, yet we see evidence of this type of denial all the time.

Another reason some people fail to plan adequately for retirement is that they think they have enough money set aside, so they have nothing to worry about. But we think this is a dangerous delusion, and Zach Grey writing in Kiplinger seems to agree. “Blindly saving won’t get you far,” he writes. “You need to target exactly where you’re going, and how you’re getting there, with a written plan.”  He goes on to say, “Sometimes, people come in feeling very confident. They’ve decided how much they’ll need to withdraw every month, and they think they have that money in place. But they’ve overlooked health care, long-term care, taxes, inflation, market risk, estate planning and other issues that could take down their retirement.” In other words, they had money but no plan.

Like Zach Grey, we also see clients and seminar guests who have made up their minds when they want to retire, without taking into account whether their dreams are reasonable. Grey cites one couple he met with “who already had decided they were going to retire in about three years. The husband had even told his supervisor that was his plan. But what neither of them had done — ever — was take the time to determine if that date was even feasible given their finances. They hadn’t put together a budget or an income plan to see if they could handle life without paychecks.”  In another instance, a woman had come to see Grey because she was retiring in three months and was already training her replacement at work. However, as Grey discovered, her meager retirement savings were simply not sufficient.  “She was about three months away from retiring…and she had no idea how she was going to pay herself from one month to the next, other than with Social Security. And there was another problem: Because she was filing before her full retirement age, her benefits would be [permanently] reduced.” This woman had vague hopes and unrealistic dreams, but no plan.

“I know it takes time and money to pull together a comprehensive written plan with the help of a financial adviser,” writes Zach Grey. “It’s not a pleasant way to spend your free time, and the topics we cover may make even the best savers anxious. But if you want to hit your retirement goals, you must decide what they are. You’ll have a much better chance at success if you’re not shooting at a target you can’t see — or one that doesn’t even exist.” We agree completely – but at AgingOptions we think you need to go several steps farther.  A financial plan, as important as it is, is still not enough to guide you into a bright and secure retirement future. Instead, you need an AgingOptions LifePlan – the only retirement plan of its kind. We work with you to develop a plan that encompasses the five essential elements of secure retirement: finances, legal affairs, housing strategy, medical protection and family communication. Your LifePlan is your blueprint, allowing you to build the retirement you’ve always dreamed of – the one that’s just right for you.

There’s an easy, obligation-free way to find out more: join us soon for a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. These popular events take place in locations throughout the area, and we would love to have you join us soon for a seminar in your area. Click here for dates, times and locations, then register online or give us a call for assistance.

You can’t hit a target you can’t see, much less one you can’t even visualize. But with an AgingOptions LifePlan, that target becomes crystal clear – and your retirement future can be right in the middle of the bullseye. Age on!

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

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