Kiplinger Endorses Reverse Mortgages, Warns of New Fees and Regs

In back to back articles on the authoritative Kiplinger financial website, the highly regarded financial source recently came out with a piece strongly endorsing the power of the reverse mortgage to help retirees better afford retirement – then followed up days later with another article warning of big changes to come in reverse mortgage fees and regulations. It’s a vivid example of the changing nature of the market for these powerful financial tools.

First let’s cover the so-called “bad news” about reverse mortgages, also called Home Equity Conversion Mortgages or HECMs. In this article about the new regulations, Kiplinger Editor Rachel Sheedy warns that “The government is changing the loan’s insurance costs and reducing how much applicants can borrow—and the window for borrowing under the old rules is closing fast.” (We also wrote about this change last week on the AgingOptions blog in an article you can access by clicking here.) How fast? The new rules are slated to take effect October 2nd. Kiplinger’s Sheedy calls this “a surprise move” and says that the new regulations, while appearing to hike fees and lower borrowing limits, may actually represent “a mixed bag for borrowers.” That’s because, while some costs are rising, others are not, and it will take a consultation with a reverse mortgage expert to determine how the new rules affect each individual borrower.

We won’t go over the changes in detail here – you should read the Kiplinger article for some of the specifics.  Suffice it to say that, if you qualify for a lump sum payout of up to 60 percent of the loan amount you’re entitled to, your up-front fees are going up significantly. (For those allowed to borrow more than 60 percent, there is actually a slight drop in fees.) Another change affects the cost of on-going insurance – it’s going down, so much so that one expert says the lower premiums could save $750 per year for every $100,000 borrowed. For many borrowers, writes Rachel Sheedy, “The lower ongoing cost (of insurance) may offset much or all of the higher upfront cost.”

However, one of the most significant changes is that, for many borrowers, the total amount of available proceeds is dropping. Kiplinger’s Sheedy says, “The adjustments will hit most new borrowers, cutting potential proceeds by 10 percent to 12 percent.” While older borrowers will still have an advantage over younger ones, “most everyone will now qualify for less than before.” Kiplinger warns that the changes “are raising costs across the board, while simultaneously lowering borrowing power.” And with the extremely tight October 2nd time frame, “it will be tough for anyone just starting the process to beat the deadline.”

What with the just-announced regulatory changes, it’s ironic that this second Kiplinger article about HECMs appeared at just about the same time (actually a few days before) as the first one.  Here, in a piece called “Reverse Mortgages that Work,” Kiplinger Associate Editor Pat Mertz Esswein called the HECM “a versatile solution” and “a path to provide retirees with flexibility and security.”   She quotes statistics from the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association that estimate only about 3 percent of those eligible to set up a reverse mortgage have actually done so, and part of the reason may be past bad publicity. “Many financial advisers and consumers continue to think of reverse mortgages as loans of last resort,” Esswein writes. “But some potentially detrimental features have been corrected. And over the past several years, financial researchers have found that a reverse mortgage taken as a credit line early in retirement can grow, providing steady income or buffering financial shocks, even for well-heeled borrowers.”

The article goes on to describe many of the terms and features that have made the reverse mortgage so attractive to hundreds of thousands of homeowners, including the wide variety of payout options and the fact that proceeds from a reverse mortgage are tax free: an HECM doesn’t affect Medicare costs, taxes on Social Security benefits, or eligibility for Medicaid, writes Kiplinger. And while no repayments are required while you remain in the house, you can repay the loan balance any time if you choose, and without penalty.

If you think a reverse mortgage may be right for you – or even if you’re wondering – we urge you not to wait any longer. Contact us at AgingOptions and let us introduce you to a trusted advisor, someone like Laura Kiel, who will help you assess your situation objectively. But you need to hurry if you want to get ahead of the impending changes in government regulations! Laura and her colleagues will do their best to confer with you before the deadline comes.

If you’re facing retirement and are plagued with uncertainty – with more questions than answers – we can help. Our primary mission at AgingOptions is to assist people just like you as you plan for a healthy and secure retirement, free from the worry that you’ll exhaust your assets or end up as a burden to those you love. In order to help you accomplish your retirement dreams, we employ a strategy we call LifePlanning, a comprehensive approach to retirement planning in which all the vital elements of your retirement – finances, legal protection, medical coverage, housing choices and family communication – work interdependently. There’s no better retirement plan than a LifePlan from AgingOptions.

Don’t take our word for it. Plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, where you can bring your questions, get the answers you’re seeking, and see for yourself. There are several seminars coming up soon, so click here for details and online registration, or contact us during the week. It will be our pleasure to meet you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you.

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

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Assisted Living May Be Ideal for Many Seniors, but Families Have Got to do Their Homework

If you subscribe to the authoritative magazine Consumer Reports, you were probably intrigued just as we were by the October 2017 issue. The cover showed the hand of a frail senior being tenderly held by a much younger hand, beneath the headline, “Who Will Care for You?” The subtitle said, “Understanding the facts about elder care and assisted living will help you and your family be prepared and protected.” On the inside we found a 13-page special report in which Consumer Reports investigators took a deep dive into the plusses and minuses of this multi-billion dollar senior care industry.

As a result, this comprehensive and at times controversial report has already been picked up by other news outlets and has spawned several articles including this one on the aging website NextAvenue. Editor Emily Gurnon of NextAvenue zeroed in on the Consumer Reports article and wrote her own, focusing on some of the complaints that have begun to surface about assisted living facilities. “With the boomer generation aging into their 50s, 60s and 70s and many of their parents now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, there is an increasing need for long-term care,” Gurnon writes. “Most older Americans would stay in their homes if they could, but health problems and lack of assistance often make that impossible.”  For many seniors who need some help but not the intensive medical care of a nursing home, the growing number of assisted living facilities offers a strong option. “But,” says Gurnon,“according to a story in the October issue of Consumer Reports, consumer complaints about assisted living facilities are on the rise.”

Gurnon cites the Consumer Reports investigation which showed that many of these long-term care communities are plagued by staffing shortages and resulting inconsistent care. What’s more, while assisted living facilities are often (but not always) regulated and inspected by state officials, they are usually not under any federal government regulation. The words from Consumer Reports are stark: Oversight of assisted living facilities is “uneven at best,” the report says. “A good one can be an excellent choice for someone who can no longer live on his or her own. A bad one could put your loved one at risk.”

So what is a family member to do in attempting to evaluate a care facility for mom or dad?  One of the best places we suggest you begin is by contacting a Care Management service who can provide you with vitally helpful information about your choices and next steps. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we can recommend a Care Management professional who will guide you through the maze of important decisions that you are facing. But if you’re just starting the investigatory process, here are four questions Consumer Reports suggests you ask in order to help separate the viable assisted living options from the places to avoid.

The first question is, What kind of help will my loved one need?  This may seem obvious but it’s essential that you start with a complete and objective medical evaluation of your loved one before selecting a care facility. “Assisted living communities vary greatly in the amenities, services and levels of care they provide,” writes NextAvenue’s Gurnon. “In general, they will help residents — whose average move-in age is 84 — with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and taking medications. But some may not have a licensed nurse on staff, according to Consumer Reports, which means your parent may be sent to the emergency room for an evaluation after a fall, for instance. And some will not take residents who use a wheelchair or have multiple chronic conditions.”

Second, make sure you ask, How good is the care at the facility you’re considering?  Make sure it’s licensed and that recent inspections have shown no red flags. (Here’s a helpful link where you can find licensing and inspection information for facilities in Washington state.)  Gurnon writes that “The most frequent complaints…included understaffing and delays in response to residents’ calls for assistance.” She adds that “Most of the staff at assisted living centers are low-paid, often making just minimum wage, and may be only minimally trained.” If you can’t get the info you need from the staff, “try talking to current residents or their relatives about the facility. Find out: Do staff respond promptly to issues? Does medication arrive on time?” You should also pay a surprise visit during mealtimes and on weekends see how the place operates during off-peak hours.

The third question Consumer Reports says you need to ask is, How much does it really cost?  Assisted living is expensive, averaging more than $3,600 per month in 2016. Almost all that cost will be out-of-pocket unless your loved one qualifies for Medicaid. Make sure you find out what services are included in the basic rent and which ones cost extra.

Finally, Consumer Reports urges you to ask, Can my loved one be forced to move? The threat of eviction was a major cause of complaints, writes NextAvenue, either because of unpaid bills or because of worsening health. Make sure you read the terms under which your mom or dad can be forced to move, and find out how much notice the facility is required to give you. “And be wary of verbal promises from a marketing director that your parent will always have a place there,” Gurnon writes. “The marketing and sales people are trying to fill apartments.”  They may not always give you a straight answer.

The bottom line is, before you select a home, do your homework. As we said, the best way to start is by contact AgingOptions so we can refer you to a Care Manager, the person best equipped to guide your evaluation process with solid, objective information. We know from personal experience and hundreds of testimonials that there’s no better solution to solving the emotional and financial puzzle of choosing a care facility for someone you love.

If you need similar help “untying the knots” surrounding retirement planning, we can help there, too. At AgingOptions we offer a unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning that we call LifePlanning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enjoy retirement secure in the knowledge that your assets will be protected as long as you live, you’ll never become a burden to those you love, and you won’t be forced against your will into institutional care? A LifePlan makes this retirement dream come true. Come to one of our AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars and discover for yourself how your financial, legal, medical, housing and family plans can all work together interdependently.  You’ve never seen a retirement planning strategy like it!

For a complete list of seminar dates, times and locations, click here – then register online or give us a call. Let us guide you into the retirement you’ve always hoped for!

(reported at www.nextavenue.org)

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Some Big Reasons NOT to Claim Social Security Benefits at Age 62

We recently ran across this article about Social Security on the MSN website. It was reprinted from the financial site Motley Fool, and in the “Fool’s” typically irreverent style the provocative title caught our eye: “When Claiming Social Security at 62 is a Really Bad Idea.”

We share this article with you knowing that many of our readers and radio listeners have already made the decision to start benefits early. But if you haven’t, the Motley Fool article does provide some helpful food for thought on reasons why delay is almost always the preferred strategy. For those of you who pay close attention to planning your Social Security benefits, none of this article’s suggestions will come as a surprise, but others of you who are just beginning to think ahead about retirement may find this information timely indeed.

First, the Motley Fool article shares some Social Security background data we find interesting.  “According to the latest monthly data release from the Social Security Administration (SSA),” the article says, “just over 42 million retired workers were receiving a benefits check from the SSA.”  Out of this sizeable group, “more than 25 million of them are reliant on Social Security for at least half of their monthly income.” This is significant because most financial experts say Social Security was always meant to augment other retirement income, not to be a senior’s primary income source. In explaining this situation the Motley Fool article is blunt:  “A history of poor saving habits and the wrong investment choices has left the current generation of retirees, and likely future generations, particularly reliant on Social Security.” (It’s another strong argument for sound and comprehensive retirement planning.)

With that in mind, the article advises, it’s more important than ever that those still working and looking ahead to retirement remain focused on maximizing their monthly Social Security payout. Motley Fool says that there are three factors each beneficiary can control in order to accomplish this goal:

  • Your work history: it’s in your best interests to work at least 35 years because Social Security will use your 35 years of highest earnings when calculating your benefits.
  • Your earnings history: because the government considers your highest-earning years, the longer you work into your 60’s the more likely you are to compensate for your early work history when you probably earned less.
  • Your claiming age – and for many seniors this is the big one, says the Motley Fool article. The age at which you start benefits has a huge, lifelong impact, not just on you but very probably on your spouse if he or she outlives you.

Most of us know that, for those born between 1946 and 1954, full retirement age is 66. However, you can choose to begin taking a reduced benefit at age 62. Some do this because they feel they have to as a result of loss of employment, while others start benefits early because they are in poor health and don’t expect to live through their 70s. But for every year a beneficiary waits beyond 62 to start taking those payments, the annual payout goes up by about 8 percent until benefits max out at age 70. Wait until then and you receive the highest payment possible, and your surviving spouse (assuming you were the higher wage earner) will continue to receive that higher benefit after you pass on.

If the advantages are so clear, writes the Fool, most people wait until 70 to start benefits, right? Hardly. The Center for Retirement Research in Boston reports that only three percent of seniors wait until 70 to enroll. In contrast, a whopping 45 percent begin benefits at age 62. While we would argue that claiming early is a poor strategy for most people, the Motley Fool article calls it “an absolutely terrible idea” if you’re in one of these categories:

  1. Don’t start benefits early if you’re entering retirement with very little savings. These are the people, says the article, who need to keep working as long as possible because they will be relying on Social Security benefits for the rest of their lives – and a permanent reduction in those benefits will prove potentially crippling later on.
  2. Don’t start benefits early if you’re the higher-earning spouse. Because your benefits will grow faster than your spouse’s if you wait, it’s even more important for you to delay as long as you can. Also once you die your spouse’s survivor benefit will be based on yours, so the longer you wait the better it will be for him or her. If you really need an income boost at age 62, your lower-earning spouse can start benefits then, but it will almost always be a better idea to wait as long as you both can.

Are you facing retirement with a host of questions about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits and the like? Are you in a quandary about your housing options or wondering how to involve your family in your retirement planning? Then we urge you to accept our invitation to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. There you’ll see how financial plans, legal strategies, housing choices and medical coverage can all be arranged so that they work together – and you’ll discover how to ensure that your family understands and will support your wishes. That way you can face retirement with confidence, security and joy. To find out more about upcoming LifePlanning Seminars from AgingOptions, click here for details – then register online for the seminar of your choice, or give us a call.

Don’t enter into your retirement years without a plan. Let AgingOptions show you the power of a LifePlan! We’ll see you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.

(originally reported at www.msn.com)

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Hey, Boomers: Your Millennial Kids Don’t Want your Precious Heirlooms

We had to chuckle as we re-read this article that was published in USA Today  last fall. It was titled, “Boomers often rebuffed when passing down heirlooms,” and it describes – in humorous but accurate terms – the emotional disconnect between boomer parents and millennial kids when it comes to all that stuff Mom and Dad have lying around the house.

“Have you ever offered a cherished treasure to someone you love,” USA Today writes, “only to have that person react as if you were trying to give them plutonium?” If so, says the article, chances are you’re a boomer parent and “the recoiling recipient is your Millennial or Gen X child.”

Lest you think this article exaggerates, here’s another one from earlier this year that we saw on the aging-related website NextAvenue. “Sorry,” the article says. “Nobody Wants Your Parents Stuff.”

The problem, says the USAToday article, is one of priorities. Boomers have traditionally enjoyed accumulating lots of stuff, especially so-called precious heirlooms from earlier generations. How many of us have boxes stored here and there with Grandma’s china, Aunt Betty’s antique silver pitcher, or Uncle Bob’s collection of corn-cob pipes? And that’s not to mention the furniture that takes up all that space in our larger-than-average houses.  By contrast, our adult kids generally don’t want to clutter their lives with all that stuff. USA Today says these younger adults, devotees of Ikea, care more about experiences than material things, and they’re used to a more “nomadic” lifestyle, moving from one cramped urban apartment to the next. This combination of priorities and limited space tends to make them highly selective when it comes to accepting “heirlooms” from the parents.

“The fact that one generation’s treasures are another generation’s trash,” writes USA Today, “is bad news indeed for stuffed-to-the-gills Boomers.” Those of us in the boomer age range between 50+ and 70+ are beginning to worry about what will become of all those so-called precious possessions should we choose to downsize, which many boomers say they plan to do. “The big unanswerable question,” says USA Today, “is: What will ultimately happen to all the unwanted stuff?”

This may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s not. “Many boomers and Gen X’ers charged with disposing the family heirlooms, it seems, are unprepared for the reality and unwilling to face it,” says the NextAvenue article. The piece quotes Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, who says, “It’s the biggest challenge our members have and it’s getting worse.”  The NextAvenue article goes on to list what it calls “8 Tips for Home Unfurnishing” – an entertaining and helpful place to start getting rid of all that stuff. (The most relevant tip is #8: Prepare for disappointment.)

At AgingOptions, we talk with clients and radio listeners all the time about aging in place – making their present home suitable for their needs as they grow older. Some homes can be made age-friendly rather easily, while others will require much more expensive work to widen doorways and adjust counter heights and do all the other modifications that will accommodate us as we age. But as you consider modifying your house, we suggest you should also think about downsizing your possessions. It does a great disservice to our kids to hang onto all our stuff year after year. We can’t count the number of times we’ve heard from adults whose parents have passed away, and now the kids are forced to deal with all the clutter and all the stuff Mom or Dad couldn’t bear to part with. Do yourself and your kids a favor and undertake the “purging process” now, while you’re still healthy enough to do it.

Are all Boomers into their stuff and all Millennials resolutely anti-materialistic? Not necessarily, says USA Today.  There are certainly “Boomer minimalists, Millennial sentimentalists and Gen-X pack rats.” And one glance on eBay or Craigslist will show just how big the market is for collectibles. Nevertheless, the article points out, “the move among young folks toward a simpler look is well documented — and has larger implications, for the planet, furniture stores, junk removal services and auction houses.” Maybe it has implications for you, too. If so, now would be a good time to have an honest conversation with your adult children – and if they don’t want all your precious possessions, you’ll have some tough decisions to make. But don’t let your kids’ lack of interest hurt your feelings: it’s part of a societal trend.

So as you contemplate retirement, are you starting to consider your housing options? We encourage you to get some good advice now to help you get ready for whatever your housing choices are in the future. We also want to remind you that retirement planning demands a holistic approach, one that includes much more than where you’ll live. What about financial planning? What legal preparations should you make to secure your estate and provide for your care as you age? Have you prepared yourself with the right medical insurance? Is your family fully informed of your desires and will they fulfill your wishes in retirement? All these become part of a retirement plan we call a LifePlan, a truly comprehensive plan that provides you with a firm foundation on which to build the retirement you’ve dreamed of.

There’s a simple way to explore the LifePlanning process further: spend a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. During these information-packed sessions you’ll discover how to protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones – and you’ll be well on your way to creating a LifePlan of your own. For dates, times and online registration, click here, or call us during the week. Bring your questions, too! We’ll look forward to seeing you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you.

(originally reported at www.usatoday.com  and www.nextavenue.org)

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Government Warning: Federal Officials, Nursing Homes Not Doing Enough to Prevent Elder Abuse

Everyone agrees that abuse of any kind perpetrated on vulnerable elderly residents in care facilities is abhorrent.  Yet a recent warning issued by the Office of the Inspector General in the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) charges that the process of preventing and reporting elder abuse is woefully inadequate at just about every level, from local nursing homes to state agencies to the officials in charge of Medicare and Medicaid administration.

The warning comes in a 14-page memorandum (you can access it here) sent just a few weeks ago from the HHS Inspector General to the leadership at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Even in the light of the stilted bureaucratic language of such documents, the report is striking. “The purpose of this memorandum,” says the IG, “is to alert you to the preliminary results of our ongoing review of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries in skilled nursing facilities.” The bottom line, says the report:  “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has inadequate procedures to ensure that incidents of potential abuse or neglect at skilled nursing facilities are identified and reported.”

According to an analysis about this disturbing finding from the watchdog group Center for Medicare Advocacy, the audit by HHS was part of an ongoing effort to better understand – and more effectively combat – elder abuse. Here’s how the Center for Medicare Advocacy describes these findings, which came after an OIG investigation of emergency room records for Medicare beneficiaries, a review of State Survey Agency reports, and interviews with officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “The preliminary results are striking,” says the summary report. “Of the beneficiaries whose injuries may have been caused by abuse or neglect, a significant percentage (26 percent) may not have been reported to law enforcement by the hospitals, despite states’ mandatory reporting laws.” Nursing homes are also failing to comply with tougher rules about reporting elder abuse mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

In short, from top to bottom, says HHS, not enough is being done to protect seniors from physical and sexual abuse in the very places where they’re supposed to be safe: skilled nursing facilities.

According to the warning sent from HHS to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the laws governing suspected abuse couldn’t be clearer. Skilled Nursing Facilities “must ensure that all alleged violations, such as mistreatment, neglect, or abuse (including injuries of unknown source)…are reported immediately to the administrator of the facility and to other officials, including the [State] Survey Agency,” says the HHS document. These allegations then must be investigated with results reported within five days. If the alleged violation is verified, says HHS, “appropriate corrective action must be taken.”

But it is clear from the findings in the HHS document that these policies are often being ignored or circumvented. HHS identified 134 suspicious incidents of probable elder abuse covering 33 states in the U.S. during 2015 and 2016. According to the Office of the Inspector General, “Many of the incidents of potential abuse or neglect that we identified may not have been reported to law enforcement.” The IG found that while 96 of the 134 incidents had been reported as required by law, “we found no evidence in the hospital records that the remaining 38 incidents (28 percent) were reported to local law enforcement despite State mandatory reporting laws requiring the hospitals’ medical staff to do so.”

The conclusion was stark. HHS found that procedures put in place by Medicare and Medicaid officials to prevent elder abuse are inadequate.  Health and Human Services officials reported “significant concerns that incidents of potential abuse or neglect at Skilled Nursing Facilities have gone unreported.” The only way to combat elder abuse, the HHS report inferred, is for all agencies to meet their responsibilities, including residents, families, nursing home staff, state agencies and the federal officials in charge. The report suggests that some of the links in the chain of reporting and prevention appear to be broken.

We echo the words of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a long-time advocate for the rights of nursing home residents. They “urge [the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to take strong enforcement action.” They add that “Medicare beneficiaries in nursing facilities deserve to live with dignity and in safety. Elder abuse devastates the lives of its victims and must be reported appropriately.”

So what can you as a family member of a nursing home resident do?  We suggest two things. First, says AgingOption’s Rajiv Nagaich, don’t be naïve. “Looking to the government for a good fix to the problem of elder abuse is foolish,” says Rajiv. “Government officials have already acknowledged that their systems are broken! We strongly advise our clients and radio listeners to use their own resources to ensure future security safety and happiness.  Get a care manager in place and let him or her guide you. Seniors and their families need to take this problem seriously and plan with care!”

Our second piece of advice is, don’t be uninformed: elder abuse, while statistically rare, is still too frequent, and can tragically go unreported. Be on the alert for any signs that something is amiss with your loved one. Be observant and ask questions. You might also want to review this list of abuse prevention tips from a website called Elder Protection Center. As a caring loved one, family member or friend, you may be the first line of defense against abuse – and if you see something, for heaven’s sake say something, to nursing home staff, administrators, and (if necessary) law enforcement.

Elder abuse in nursing homes is not only a medical and family issue, it can also be a housing issue, since failing to plan ahead may force a senior into a substandard institutional facility. The best way to ensure that you’re able to live the life you want as you age, on your terms, is by starting right now to prepare an AgingOptions LifePlan – a retirement plan that blends housing, family, financial, legal and medical aspects of retirement together into one seamless blueprint. Why not take the time to learn more, without cost or obligation?  Come to a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar where you’ll get your questions answered concerning this revolutionary approach to retirement planning. For all the details plus convenient online registration, click here, or call us during the week and we’ll be glad to assist you.

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A Family Caregiver Contract Can Prevent Conflict, but Getting it Right May Require Professional Guidance

If you’re searching for the best person to provide in-home care for an aging loved one, you may have a family member in mind – a sibling, adult grandchild, or other relative who you can trust to provide the kind of care your loved one deserves. Maybe you’re the one tapped to be the caregiver. No matter what the situation, as we have unfortunately seen countless times in our AgingOptions practice, these arrangements often start out well but too soon degenerate into misunderstanding and family fights. The caregiver may come to feel unappreciated while the rest of the family thinks the caregiver is getting preferential treatment. These kinds of disagreements left to fester can literally tear families apart.

Because we understand so well the issues involved in this type of family care situation, we found our attention drawn to this insightful article from the Kiplinger website.  The advice from this recent article: if you are in a situation where you or some other family member has primary caregiving responsibilities for a housebound loved one, you should consider drawing up a family caregiver contract. These contracts, says Kiplinger, can range from informal agreements to complex legal documents. But as you’ll see, while we support the concept, we were surprised that the Kiplinger article doesn’t do a stronger job of recommending when you should consult an attorney. We’ll discuss that more in a moment.

As the Kiplinger article explains, “Family caregiver contracts, also called personal care agreements, range from informal…to complex professional contracts drawn up by lawyers.” These documents, says Kiplinger, are typically created “when one relative is handling most of the care for an elderly parent. A contract enables family members to spell out payment, a work schedule and expected duties.”  The idea is that, by clarifying expectations, a family caregiver contract can avoid misunderstanding and, at least in theory, get family members all on the same page when it comes to a loved one’s care.

There’s another important facet of caregiving that needs to be spelled out in these contracts, writes Kiplinger: compensation. Signing a family caregiver contract allows families to “formalize the compensation for a relative who is making financial sacrifices to provide care.” It’s common for family members serving as caregivers to cut back on their works hours or even stop working altogether in order to be available for their duties. On top of this loss in income, primary caregivers typically incur out-of-pocket expenses that are too often unaccounted for, expenses of which other family members may be completely unaware. (A 2016 study by AARP estimated the average annual out-of-pocket costs for a family caregiver at $7,000.) On the positive side, the family member providing primary care may be living in the relative’s home rent free, something that a family caregiver contract can take into account.

So let’s say you decide to follow Kiplinger’s advice and sit down to draw up a family caregiver contract. This is often where things can become difficult.  “Sometimes,” says Kiplinger, “drawing up a contract stirs up emotions tied to sibling rivalries and past disputes. Non-caregiving family members may resent paying a relative whom they see as living rent-free in a parent’s house.” Another major problem is procrastination: “families often don’t draw up contracts until a crisis arises,” warns Kiplinger, which means you’ll be trying to negotiate caregiver arrangements under extreme emotional pressure – a recipe for major family problems and potentially disastrous divisions.

Here’s where we have a problem with Kiplinger’s advice. The article suggests you call a family meeting to discuss the contract. “Set an agenda, and keep it narrowly focused,” the article says, and make it clear from the outset that this is “a business meeting and not a therapy session.” Kiplinger goes into detail about some of the items that belong in the contract: starting date, work schedule and payment details, for example. This is all well and good as far as it goes, but in our experience it’s the rare family that can sit down for this type of emotionally charged and finance-driven conversation without having an attorney present. At AgingOptions we conduct this type of family meeting frequently, and we guarantee that our professional legal staff will come up with questions and issues you had never dreamed of. An objective third party can also serve as referee when and if things get testy. Having a professional meeting with your family helps ensure a positive, productive outcome.

No matter what issues your family is facing, a family conference hosted by AgingOptions is an excellent way to minimize future problems and maximize cooperation.  Contact us here at AgingOptions and let us explain how this type of conference works. And when it comes to retirement planning in general, AgingOptions is your number one resource for creating a plan that’s truly comprehensive. Besides dealing with family issues – something too often overlooked in retirement planning – we also take housing choices, legal issues, financial protection and medical coverage into account, making certain that all these facets of retirement work together seamlessly.  There’s no other retirement plan we know of that accomplishes what an AgingOptions LifePlan can do for you.

There’s a quick and easy way to find out more: take just a few hours and attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. In fact, why not bring your family members with you so you can all get the same excellent information? These highly popular events are offered at locations throughout the region, so click here for dates, times and locations, then register online or by phone during the week.

Conflicts, confusion and family quarrels don’t have to be part of your retirement future. Chart a course to the retirement you’ve always hoped for with the help of an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.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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Studies Appear to Link Disrupted Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease

Could it be that losing sleep might add to your risk of developing dementia? Or are patterns of sleep interruption not actually a cause, but an early indicator of future cognitive impairment? Either way, two recently reduced studies are adding to the growing body of evidence that healthy sleep and a healthy brain are somehow linked.

This article, for example, appeared just a few weeks ago on the NBC News website. It’s called “Poor Sleep Raises Alzheimer’s Risk,” although the title sounds a bit more definitive than the article itself.  The article, written by health reporter Maggie Fox, begins, “There’s more evidence that losing sleep can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the latest in a series of studies that show even a little sleep loss can add up to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s, the leading cause of dementia.”

The NBC News piece quotes a study just published in the professional journal Neurology. In the study, conducted by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine, analysts looked at the health outcomes for 321 people over the age of 60 who had volunteered for a sleep study during the 1990’s. During the 12 years after the study, 10 percent of the group developed dementia, most of whom were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found what appeared to be a correlation, fairly small but still significant, between lack of REM sleep and the development of cognitive impairment. (REM sleep refers to the “dreaming phase” of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement – “REM.”) The less REM sleep observed in the study group, the greater the likelihood of developing dementia.

The big question is why this correlation exists. “Our findings point to REM sleep as a predictor of dementia,” said the study leader. “The next step will be to determine why lower REM sleep predicts a greater risk of dementia.” In other words, does poor sleep cause dementia or simply predict it?

It’s certain that people with dementia develop interrupted sleep, which often plays havoc with their families and other caregivers. It’s not uncommon for those suffering with dementia to be awake in the middle of the night, sometimes up and about doing things that are inappropriate, such as trying to cook a meal or pack a suitcase.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association website (www.alz.org), “Many people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their sleep patterns.”  Sleep disruptions are fairly common even among older adults without dementia, “but these disturbances occur more frequently and tend to be more severe in Alzheimer’s. There is evidence that sleep changes are more common in later stages of the disease, but some studies have also found them in early stages.”

Another Maggie Fox article from the NBC News website (you can click here to read it) shed some light as to why sleep disruption and dementia might be linked. This article also referenced a scientific study, this one released a few months ago in the journal Brain, that demonstrated how a single night of interrupted sleep results in an increase in the brain proteins believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease. These researchers hypothesize that a good night of deep sleep helps the body clear away these brain proteins while interrupted sleep may allow too much of them to build up. One of these compounds, amyloid, is “the protein that clogs the brain of Alzheimer’s patients,” writes NBC’s Fox.

Doctors theorize that amyloid is produced during times of normal waking brain activity. When we enter deep REM sleep our brains stop producing this clogging compound and the “normal clearance mechanisms” can work as designed. But too much amyloid built up the brain increases the risk of clumps called plaques, which appear to be linked to various forms of dementia.

So what’s the take-away from articles like these? Until researchers come up with some clearer answers, and more effective treatments, dementia is still going to present us with more questions and speculation. Meanwhile, there are several healthy habits all of us – especially seniors – should adopt, habits that will not only help us feel better but may also prevent, or slow, the onset of dementia. No doubt you’ve heard this list before:

  • Get plenty of exercise, not only aerobic but also strength-bearing exercise.
  • Stay socially active – don’t allow yourself or a loved one to slip into isolation.
  • Quit smoking, and only use alcohol in moderation.
  • Get your blood pressure under control and keep it there.
  • Make sure your diet is healthy – some studies have shown that the Mediterranean Diet with less red meat and more healthy oils, vegetables, grains and seafood is better for the brain.
  • Get plenty of sleep, as the articles above suggests.

Is there any one type of medical professional who can help you accomplish all this? The answer is yes. Here’s another recommendation to add to that list: make sure you have a geriatrician in charge of your health care. As you age, your physical, mental and emotional needs change, so you need to make certain that a properly trained geriatric physician is the quarterback of your health team.  Please contact us here at AgingOptions so we can refer you to a geriatrician whose practice is near you.

What about planning for all other aspects of retirement? Do you have a plan in place that can help you protect your assets so matter what life throws your way? Are you able to say with assurance that you’ll be able to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones? Do you know that you’ll manage to escape ending up being institutionalized against your will? The only plan that can help you face retirement with true confidence is an AgingOptions LifePlan. A LifePlan combines financial, medical, legal, housing and family plans all in one carefully crafted retirement blueprint. Why not take a few hours and find out more? Accept our invitation to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar near you. For details and convenient online registration, click here, or call us for assistance over the phone. We’ll look forward to meeting you at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar soon.

(originally reported at www.nbcnews.com)

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Who Bears Most of the Costs Associated with Dementia? Families Do.

A great number of articles have been written in recent months about the increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. Today there are more than 5 million Americans, nearly all seniors, suffering with the disease, a group whose care this year will cost the nation almost $260 billion.  These costs, according to experts, could exceed $1 trillion by 2050 as the number of people diagnosed with the disease is projected to triple.

You’ve probably heard numbers like these before. But one fact which startled us, and which should get your attention if you’re caring with a loved one diagnosed with dementia, is that by far the largest share of these staggering costs are borne by families. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that looked at the lifetime cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of severe cognitive impairment.  We found some of the basic information about this sobering reality in this article from the website Insurance News.

According to the article, public health experts from Brown University wanted to find out just how costly caring for someone with dementia can be over the course of his or her lifetime. They came up with a mathematical model derived by studying Medicare records and other national studies, a model which allowed them to simulate the progression of dementia in a patient who had just been diagnosed.

The model the team came up with was a real eye-opener. In the U.S. an average individual with dementia will receive almost $322,000 worth of medical care over a five year period.  This compares with an average of less than $140,000 in care over the same five-year period for the person without dementia. And here’s the shocker: of that $322,000, about 86 percent is borne by families, in the form of informal care expenses, co-pays and other out of pocket care costs. That represents a staggering average cost of more than $55,000 per year for five years for the family of the loved one with dementia, either in direct cash outlay or in the value of care services the family is providing.

This figure comes close to the statistics compiled by the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org). According to the group, there were almost 16 million family and friends in 2016 providing care to those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. When the value of these unpaid caregiving services was calculated it came to about $46,000 for each dementia sufferer. That’s in addition to the medical costs associated with dementia, currently approaching $260 billion: Medicare and Medicaid cover two-thirds of that amount, but about $56 billion comes in the form of out of pocket costs paid for by families.

Of course the greatest burden to those caring for loved ones with dementia is emotional, but the financial cost makes the sadness even more acute. The pain of watching a beloved parent or friend slip into the twilight of Alzheimer’s disease is terrible enough, but it’s compounded by the growing realization that caregiving brings with it a potentially catastrophic financial weight. Here at AgingOptions we talk every week with people who find themselves in this devastating situation, and our advice for you is not to try to go it alone. There are excellent resources online, such as the Caregiver Center on the Alzheimer’s Association website (click here for the link.) But one of the best things you can do is to get some professional advice, and that’s where we can assist. For example, a family conference, guided by one of our experienced professional staff, will help ensure that everyone in the family is on the same page when it comes to caring for mom or dad. Another excellent idea is for you and your entire family to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

LifePlanning is our descriptive term for a type of comprehensive retirement planning offered only by AgingOptions. Traditional retirement planning, which focuses almost entirely on finances, is literally a recipe for disaster – like trying to make a stool that can stand securely on just one leg. Our conviction, built on decades of experience, is that all the aspects of your retirement planning have to work together: finances, housing choices, medical coverage, legal protection and family communication. That way all five facets of your retirement plan reinforce each other.

We invite you to bring your questions about all aspects of retirement and plan now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location convenient for you. In just a few hours you’ll discover an approach to comprehensive retirement planning that will guide you into the future you’ve always dreamed of. For dates, times and online registration, click on this link, or call us for assistance during the week.

No one wants to become a burden to their loved ones as they age, but dementia can unravel the most carefully-laid plans, robbing families of their assets and often forcing loved ones into institutional care. No matter what your situation, get the facts now so you can prepare for whatever the future may hold. We’ll see you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

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Nearing Retirement? Six Financial Moves You Still Need to Make

This week we ran across this article on the Yahoo Finance website, written by Jeff Rose of Credit.com. We have to admit, we were a bit suspicious of the title: “Ignoring These 6 Financial Moves Could Ruin Your Retirement.”  In our experience, articles like this tend to be far too simplistic, focusing on financial planning at the expense of everything else – an approach that we’ve found to be a recipe for disaster. So we were somewhat pleasantly surprised when we read the six recommendations and found them more useful than we had expected. Still, while the Yahoo Finance piece does offer some helpful advice, we think it leaves out some very important components of retirement planning, and that there’s a lot missing from this list.

“You finally have enough money to retire,” writes Jeff Rose. “The excitement is palpable, and you can hardly believe you’ve reached this milestone.” However, he adds, before your retirement dreams can come true “you still have some work to do if you want to actually stay retired.” In other words, if you don’t complete a handful of important tasks now, “you could wind up heading back to work part-time or cutting back on spending just to get by.”

So what are these six financial moves? Let’s take a look and see what Jeff Rose got right and what (in our view) he may have overlooked.

The first must-do task is to “have the money talk with your adult kids.”  Rose cites a Pew study from 2015 that says more than 60 percent of U.S. parents helped their adult kids financially during the past 12 months. In the words of the Yahoo Finance article, “Helping adult kids may not have been a big deal when you were working, but it can make a huge difference to your bottom line once you’re on a fixed income. This is why you need to have the ‘money talk’ right away.” Your adult children need to know that you can’t keep supporting them financially once you’re retired or your own security could be jeopardized. “If you set expectations early, your adult kids will have time to learn how to fend for themselves and break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.” It’s hard to argue with that suggestion, although in our experience it’s certainly not a good idea to wait so long to have the family conference Rose is talking about.

Second on the list is to “dial down your investment risk.” Rose writes, “It’s crucial to reconsider your desired level of risk as you start getting close (to retirement).” What too often happens is that people set up their 401(k) portfolio while they’re still employed and then never bother to adjust it again. Shifting your portfolio away from riskier stocks toward a blend of stock and bond funds could be good advice, but in any event don’t overlook the importance of a “portfolio tune-up.”

The third recommendation is also one we subscribe to: “meet with a financial planner.”  Again, though, while meeting with a planner is a good idea, waiting too long to get solid financial advice is a bad one. “There is no one-size-fits-all retirement income portfolio or investment approach retirees should take,” says Jeff Rose, but “a financial planner can find the right mix for your financial goals.” The sooner you sit down with a planner you can trust, the sooner you can get yourself onto the right financial course – but remember our strong advice to select a fee-based financial planner and not one who has a product to sell. Contact AgingOptions and we can recommend a trusted, experienced financial planner who meets these criteria.

Number four on the list sounds a lot like number three. Jeff Rose advises you to “create a long-term financial plan” – because “with a solid plan in place, you won’t have to stress over market fluctuations that would normally leave you stressing out.” Of course this makes sense, but we always remind our clients, radio listeners and seminar guests that a financial plan absolutely must be made in concert with the rest of your planning process! That’s why a LifePlan is the only approach to retirement planning we endorse. We’ll tell you more about LifePlanning in a minute.

The fifth item is to think long and hard about your long-term care options.” “No one ever thinks they’re going to need long-term care or have to move to some kind of facility,” Rose writes, “but more and more individuals are finding out that’s not the case.” For that reason, “even if you don’t think it’s ever going to happen, you still have to prepare.” The article only mentions two types of preparation – buying long term care insurance and what he calls “setting up steps with your children.” We think this simplistic approach is woefully inadequate. It takes careful preparation and solid professional advice to make certain you can avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age – which is all the more reason why a LifePlan is absolutely essential.

Finally, Jeff Rose’s article from Yahoo Finance advises that you “decide how to handle Social Security.” Considering that this article is written for the benefit of those about to retire, we can’t really understand why Rose tacks this advice onto the end as an afterthought. In our experience, the time to talk about and plan for your Social Security strategy is years before you stand on the doorstep of retirement. Most people know that waiting to draw benefits until age 70 not only maximizes those benefits for the recipient but also in many cases for a surviving spouse – so if this is your strategy, then you must plan well ahead to make it happen. The important thing is to weigh your options carefully, and if possible do so years before you have to make a Social Security decision.

As is so often the case, we find the advice from this article to be basically sound but definitely insufficient. The only way for you to plan adequately for the type of retirement you’ve always hoped for is to adopt the type of planning strategy that takes all the critical facets of retirement into account: finances (of course) but also your legal strategy, your housing plan, your medical protection and your communication with your family. The sooner you learn about LifePlanning from AgingOptions, and the sooner you adopt the LifePlanning precepts, the sooner you can begin experiencing the kind of retirement security that only a LifePlan provides.

Ready to find out more? It’s simple to do: come to a free LifePlanning Seminar. Click here for upcoming dates, times and locations, then register online or call our office for assistance. An inadequate retirement plan is almost worse than no plan at all, because it can lull you into a false sense of security. For true peace of mind, you need a LifePlan from AgingOptions!

(originally reported at https://finance.yahoo.com)

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