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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Looking for an Alternative Lifestyle in Retirement? Consider Co-Housing

People often say that the baby boomers like to put their generational stamp on things. Well, it appears that now they’re doing to the field of senior housing. The “advance wave” of this huge group of men and women is now a few years into their 70’s, and while a majority still prefers to age in place in their own home, a growing number seem to be rejecting conventional housing choices and seeking out new living alternatives.

Maybe that’s what attracted our attention to this interesting article that we just discovered on the website Kaiser Health News. This article talks about the growing trend toward co-housing – still a tiny segment of the senior housing market, but clearly an expanding one. “In 2010,” writes the author Sharon Jayson, “no U.S. cohousing communities were geared toward seniors.” There are now 13 co-housing communities targeting the 55-and-older demographic, with another 15 either under construction or in the early planning stages. The title of the Kaiser article says it all: “For Active Seniors, Cohousing Offers A Cozier Alternative To Downsizing.”

C0-housing, as the name implies, is a newer form of living where some spaces are private and others are shared.  It is definitely not a throwback to the 1960’s. “It’s not a commune,” writes Jayson, “and there’s no sharing of income, though decision-making is by consensus.” The whole concept is built around shared resources, from simple things like lawnmowers and tools to shared living spaces including a communal kitchen “clustered near a common space where homeowners meet regularly to share meals and build community.” There’s often an apartment or other guest quarters for out-of-town visitors, shared by the residents. Homes are private, but smaller. Typically the community is organized like a condominium or homeowners association, with a board and regular monthly dues to maintain common facilities.

This kind of housing development is not necessarily new: there are nearly 170 co-housing communities nationwide. However, almost all are intergenerational, writes Kaiser Health News. What appears to be new and different is the trend toward co-housing that is strictly for seniors, many of whom desire to downsize into a space that’s easier to manage while still maintaining a strong sense of community and closeness with like-minded neighbors. These boomers are often not interested in what they perceive as stodgy living in a traditional retirement residence.  “As increasing numbers of aging adults eschew the idea of institutional living, cohousing has become an attractive option,” says Sharon Jayson.

There’s even a group called the Cohousing Association of the United States, or Coho/US for short. Recognizing the growing interest of seniors in co-housing, the association this year launched an initiative called Aging in Cohousing in order to help communities launch new projects – or as they put it, “to empower cohousing communities to create physical and social environments that allow people to flourish as they get older.” The concept revolves around age-friendly communities that have been designed to allow seniors to age in place, with residents providing what the association calls “some level of co-care for aging members.”  It’s an ambitious initiative, and if you want to learn more, here’s a link to their website.

It may be common for friends who have known each other for a long time to talk about living in proximity to one another as they age, but that’s not the case with the communities profiled in the Kaiser article. “In most cohousing communities, the residents start as strangers who plan to help each other for the rest of their lives,” writes Jayson. Part of the home-buying process “includes months of getting-to-know-you activities that precede the purchase.” It’s also important to recognize that, while residents care for one another in a neighborly way, the expectation is that people are healthy enough to live on their own. “We are people who have the ability to live independently who intended to come together to form a community,” one resident from Portland, Oregon, said.  “We made it really clear: We’re not a care facility.” Even as residents age, the article emphasized, “cohousing communities don’t aim to be continuing-care or nursing facilities, homeowners say.” Or in the words of another resident, “None of us moved in here with the idea of bathing or dressing our neighbors. There are certain things we’re committed to doing and certain things we’re not.”

Is co-housing right for you? At AgingOptions we’re encouraged to see the rise of new and different housing options to match the needs and preferences of present and future retirees, but choosing the type of housing choice that’s best for you is a critical decision, one that needs to be made with other aspects of retirement in mind. Will you have access to the medical care you need? Will your family be able to be engaged with you as you age? Are you fully protected legally? Will you be able to afford the retirement you hope for or are you in danger of outliving your assets? If your assets should prove inadequate for the long haul, the odds that you will become a burden to those you love are significantly increased. What’s the solution?

Fortunately we have the answer: you need an AgingOptions LifePlan.  Only this revolutionary type of retirement plan combines all the essential elements – finances, medical, housing, legal and family – and ensures that all these puzzle pieces fit together. Your LifePlan gives you the tools to build the retirement you’ve dreamed of! Why not invest just a few hours to learn more about this exciting retirement planning breakthrough? Join Rajiv Nagaich at a LifePlanning Seminar near you. These popular, information-packed sessions are absolutely free and are offered at locations throughout the region. For dates, times and details, and simple online registration, click here for our Upcoming Events page. We’ll look forward to seeing you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.khn.org)

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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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A Special Thank You from AgingOptions to All Our Veterans

Veterans Day 2017 marks the 99th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, hostilities with Germany formally ended. What we now call Veterans Day was called Armistice Day until 1954.

President Woodrow Wilson declared in his first Armistice Day message on November 11, 1919: “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.” Since that day millions of American men and women in uniform have served, and many thousands have fought and died in battles around the world, to defend this nation and preserve her way of life, and for that we are profoundly grateful.

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, there are currently more than 12.4 million veterans in this country who are age 65 and older. These veterans served in conflicts small and large, local and global, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and even in the Persian Gulf War. While all vets deserve our appreciation and support, the welfare of these aging veterans is of particular concern to us at AgingOptions, because we believe that everyone – and especially those who wore the uniform of the United States – deserves to age with dignity, security and purpose. We want to do what we can to help ensure that our aging veterans receive the support and benefits to which they are entitled.

So on Veterans Day 2017 we join in acknowledging the men and women who wear our country’s uniform today, and in honoring the long ranks of those who have gone before. Thank you for your service. We proudly salute you!

With gratitude,

The Family at AgingOptions

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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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Challenging the Stereotypes: Time to Reverse the Image of Aging

Would you like to live an average of 7 ½ years longer than your peers? Here’s one way to do it: change the way you think about aging.

That was one of the hopeful and thought-provoking observations we encountered in this timely article that we recently read on the Kaiser Health News website. The article is all about the need to challenge the common misperceptions about growing older – “negative stereotypes that portray older adults as out-of-touch, useless, feeble, incompetent, pitiful and irrelevant,” in the words of the Kaiser article. “From late-night TV comedy shows where supposedly clueless older people are the butt of jokes to ads for anti-aging creams equating youth with beauty and wrinkles with decay, harsh and unflattering images shape assumptions about aging.” The article’s author, aging expert and author Judith Graham, adds that, “Although people may hope for good health and happiness, in practice they tend to believe that growing older involves deterioration and decline.”

The implications of these negative stereotypes go far beyond mere embarrassment, says Graham. The sad reality of the widely-held perception of aging as a time of inevitable decline and marginalization is that these “dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling,” she writes. As people start experiencing some of the changes that are often associated with growing older, including simple things like stiff knees or hearing problems, and if they have “internalized negative stereotypes, [their] confidence may be eroded.” They start to become stressed out and lose motivation. Their self-talk becomes negative: “I’m old, and it’s too late to change things.” They stop trying to learn or accomplish anything new.

Writes Graham, “Health often suffers as a result, according to studies showing that older adults who hold negative stereotypes tend to walk slowly, experience memory problems and recover less fully from a fall or fracture, among other ramifications. By contrast, seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer.” In other words, if you want to live longer, you may want to start by changing your mind about growing older.

Judith Graham writes in Kaiser Health News about a recent forum on aging conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. At this scientific gathering, experts discussed the question of how to reverse these negative stereotypes surrounding growing older. One suggestion from researchers is for each of us to become aware of “implicit biases” – those “automatic, unexamined thoughts that reside below the level of our awareness.” One of the study participants, a chief medical officer with AARP, offered a personal experience, recalling when she had to use a cane after recovering from a severe injury. Because so many of us associate an older person using a cane with dependence and helplessness, this woman was surprised at how often she was treated in a patronizing way. It made her start to internalize the message of being physically incompetent and unable to care for her needs. “I would come home feeling terrible about myself,” she confided.

Once we become aware of these subtle anti-aging biases, says Judith Graham, we need to develop strategies to combat them. For example, instead of assuming an older person with a cane is feeble and in need of help, it would be a better idea to treat them with respect and simply ask whether or not they need assistance. We should embrace new images of aging in our own minds: focus on older athletes, for example, or entertainers like Tony Bennett or Norman Lear, or older business or political leaders – people still going strong and leading energetic and vital lives well into their senior years. If you find yourself looking at those older than you through the lens of a negative stereotype, one sure way to change your image of those with more years under their belts than you have is to go visit some of them and get to know their stories. Often you’ll find that these older men and women are still active and enjoying life, not settling for some stereotypically negative existence.

Of course, the Kaiser Health News article admits, sometimes aging does bring unavoidable physical impairment, but that does not mean seniors should become negative and self-deprecating. “Bolstering positive images of aging and countering the effect of negative stereotypes needs to be a central part” of everyone’s thinking, Graham advises.  Older adults can accomplish this change in mindset “by choosing to focus on what’s going well in their lives rather than what’s going wrong.” Based on our experience here at AgingOptions, we would add that negativity tends to breed negativity, and if you are surrounded by pessimists, it may be time to seek out more positive and forward thinking friends.  “The thing is to accept whatever is happening to you, not deny it,” stated one expert speaking about adjusting attitudes about aging. “You can’t keep things as they are: You have to go through a necessary reassessment of what’s possible. The thing is to do it with graciousness, not bitterness, and to learn how to ask for help, acknowledging the reality of interdependence.”

At AgingOptions we have interacted with thousands of senior adults, in our office, on the radio, and at our seminars, and we agree with the premise of the Kaiser Health News article. It has been said countless times, and it bears repeating, that we should never underestimate the power of positive thinking. One thing we also know from experience is that there’s no better way to change fear about the future into optimism than to develop a truly comprehensive retirement plan. We call this an AgingOptions LifePlan, and it is designed to serve as your blueprint as you build the type of retirement you’ve always hoped for, one in which your assets are protected, you can avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and you can escape the fate of being forced into institutional care against your will. With a LifePlan in place, your finances, health care needs, housing options, legal protection and family communication are all taken into account: each becomes part of your LifePlan, working seamlessly with all the other facets. It’s our view that nothing gives you more peace of mind than a carefully crafted LifePlan.

It’s easy to find out the rest of the story: join us soon for a LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. For a complete listing of currently scheduled seminars, simply click here – then register online or call us during the week for assistance. Change your mind about growing old and it will help you live longer; guard your retirement with an AgingOptions LifePlan and you’ll be far more likely to enjoy a fruitful, vital and secure future. Age on!

(originally reported at www.khn.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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