retirement planning

Aging’s Effects on Financial Decision Making

Aging’s Effects on Financial Decision Making

Graying hair, shrinking bones and weakening muscles are all natural side effects of the aging process. But did you know that your fluid intelligence—or ability to reason, identify patterns and solve problems—also declines as you get older? It’s true, and according to experts at the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia University, this makes it difficult for anyone over the age of 60 to make sound financial decisions.

That’s startling information, especially if you’re trying to care for an aging parent and are approaching retirement yourself. Fortunately, learning to identify the earliest signs of financial decline can help you recognize and manage the situation before it deteriorates further. These signs include slowness completing financial tasks (such as figuring the tip at a restaurant or writing a check at the pharmacy), missing important details in financial documents, and confusion about basic financial concepts.

If you notice that your parents are exhibiting any of these signs or are having difficulty with basic arithmetic, forgetting to pay their bills, or engaging in risky spending or investment behaviors, it may be time to have a conversation about their money management plans. Some may be hesitant, fearing that accepting assistance is akin to surrendering their independence. However, you can assure them that even minimal support will be beneficial.

For example, simple tools such as automated bill payment can go a long way towards reducing the incidence of age-related financial errors. Help them set up a payment schedule with their bank online and they won’t need to remember to pay their mortgage, utilities or cable bills. Consolidating debts can also help, leaving your parents with fewer creditors to worry about.

You may also want to talk to your parents about signing a financial power of attorney. This legal document will enable you—or whomever your parents select as their agent—to manage their finances should they no longer be able to do so themselves. It can be set up so that it goes into effect as soon as they sign it (durable financial power of attorney) or when a doctor has certified that they are incapacitated (springing financial power of attorney).

They can choose to give their agent as much or as little power as they wish including the authority to pay their everyday expenses, handle their mortgage and real estate transactions, collect their Social Security and other government benefits, invest on their behalf, manage their retirement accounts, handle bank and other financial transactions, file and pay their taxes, and transfer property to a previously created trust. They can revoke a durable financial power of attorney at any time as long as they are mentally competent.

If you’d like to learn more about financial planning for retirement, money management after retirement, or how you can help your parents safeguard their future with a financial power of attorney, give us a call today.

Five Subtle Signs of Dementia

Five Subtle Signs of Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is a term commonly used to describe a wide range of symptoms associated with a severe decline in memory and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of diagnosed cases of dementia. Vascular dementia—caused by a stroke—is the second most common type of dementia diagnosis. However, even vitamin deficiencies and thyroid issues may case dementia symptoms.

Symptoms of dementia vary greatly by patient. Memory loss and problems with communication, focus, judgement and visual perception are among the most commonly recognized signs. However, long before the condition advances to that level, other more subtle symptoms may be present.

Difficulty chewing hard foods may indicate an increased risk of dementia. A group of Swedish researchers discovered that older individuals who have trouble chewing hard foods are more likely to suffer from mental decline. They postulated that when you have fewer teeth (like many older individuals do) you chew less. This ends up reducing the blood flow to the brain, which increases your risk of dementia.

Difficulty walking at a steady pace may also predict dementia risk.Multiple studies suggest a correlation between walking speed and cognitive decline. In one, researchers discovered that participants’ with slower average walking speeds also had smaller hippocampal and average total brain volumes. Shrinkage of key portions of the brain is common with dementia.

Lower morning activity may indicate an increased risk of dementia. When scientists followed a group of 1,300 healthy women over the age of 75, they found 39 percent had developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia after five years. Among them, the women who were less active early in the day were 80 percent more likely than their morning-loving counterparts to fall into the impairment or dementia group.

The development of type 2 diabetes may also predict dementia risk. Australian researchers who examined data from 14 studies and more than 2 million participants found diabetes was associated with a 60 percent increased risk of dementia for both men and women. They also found that diabetic women were 19 percent more likely to develop vascular dementia—the variety common after a stroke—than were men.

Being overweight at middle age may indicate an increased risk of dementia. When a Swedish researcher analyzed data collected from 8,534 elderly twins, she discovered that those who had been overweight 30 years earlier were more likely to have dementia once they reached the age of 65.

Depression may also predict dementia risk. One study of more than 13,000 participants found that late-life depression doubles the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Their research also revealed that suffering from both mid- and late-life depression triples the risk of vascular dementia development.

Are You Planning to Age in Place?

Are You Planning to Age in Place

As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”The statement holds true for both 18- and 80-year-olds, and these days more of the latter are choosing to remaining in their residences rather than move into retirement communities. Known as “aging in place,” this requires the ability to remain independent and live safely in one’s own home. It’s a goal anyone can attain—provided they’ve properly planned to do so. Here are a few steps to get you started.

Evaluate your current and future health. While you can’t know for certain how your needs may change in the future, your current health can provide clues. Talk to your doctor about any chronic illnesses or issues you’re dealing with and the effect they may eventually have on your mobility and mental state. Depending on your situation, you may only need a little assistance with shopping, preparing meals or remembering to take your prescriptions in order to remain safely in your own home as you age.

Research sources of assistance. If you have family and younger friends in the area, they may be willing to help you out with day-to-day activities. If you don’t, you can still find someone to provide any kind of assistance you may need.

Personal Care – If you need help bathing or dressing, look for a part-time personal care aide.

Health Care – If you need help remembering to take medications, monitoring your vitals, completing rehab exercises or maintain medical equipment for a chronic condition, you may need to hire a home health aide.  Medicare may even pay for the service.

Homemaking – If you find it difficult to get to the grocery store, you can look into delivery services for both food and household items. A cleaning service can help you keep your home in tip-top shape, and a landscaping company can keep your yard neat and tidy.

Cooking – Meal delivery programs bring healthy, nutritious meals right to your door. You might also find a nearby senior center with a cafeteria, or hire a home care aide who will also assist you with meal preparation.

Modify your home as necessary. To remain safely in your home as you age, you may need to make a few modifications.  Consider installing a ramp to your front door, removing floor rugs, and adding grab bars in the tub or shower. Add extra light switches and nightlights in hallways, ensure stairways have sturdy handrails, and remove raised doorway thresholds. These and other changes can reduce your chances of dangerous falls.

Consider possible emergencies. If you suffer a fall or become ill, prompt treatment can be essential to a full recovery.  But if you’re living alone, you may not be able to easily get to a phone. Consider investing in a medical alert device that will enable you to alert the proper authorities at the touch of a button. You can find the top ten Consumer Affairs recommended services here.

You should also prepare a durable power of attorney for healthcare. This legal document will enable you to name a proxy to make healthcare decisions for you if you ever become too ill or otherwise unable to speak for yourself.

Prepare for the cost. Some of the services and products you need to age in place may be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance or long-term care insurance. Talk to each of your insurance providers about coverage under your policies. In the long run, even paying for some assistance out of pocket could cost you less than moving to an assisted living or nursing home would.

Depending on your situation, you may also be eligible for Federal, State and local government benefits. You can find out more about the possibilities at www.benefits.gov. You may also want to search the National Council on Aging’s benefits website for additional options.

Whatever your age, it’s never too early to plan for the future. Contact us today for retirement planning assistance.

Making Medicare Work for You

Making Medicare Work for You

More than 10,000 new people enter the Medicare program every day according to the AARP—and many of them either are misinformed or haven’t had the time to learn what to expect. Errors are common and can carry significant costs. Whether you’re a senior who is new to Medicare or you have been on the program for a while, you and make Medicare work for you by considering these costly mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t assume you don’t qualify for coverage.

You automatically qualify for Part B coverage (for doctors’ services, outpatient care and medical equipment) and Part D (for prescription drugs) if you’re 65 or older, a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and have lived in the states for at least five years.

Qualifying for Part A (hospital insurance) is a little more complicated. You must have earned at least 40 credits by paying payroll taxes over the course of your career, qualify under your spouse’s work record, or pay Part A premiums. Delaying Medicare sign-up until you’ve earned 40 credits on your own could result in permanent late charges.

2. Don’t assume you must be full retirement age before you sign up.

While full retirement age is now 66 for most people, you must sign up for Medicare when you turn 65 unless you have health insurance coverage through your employer or your spouse’s employer. If you don’t have that type of coverage and you delay your Medicare application, you’ll pay costly permanent late charges.

3. Don’t assume good health means you can skip Part D.

If you’re not currently taking any prescription drugs, you may be tempted to skip Medicare Part D. However, no one knows what the future holds, and you shouldn’t wait to buy prescription coverage until you actually need it. Go without and suffer an unforeseen illness or injury and you could pay thousands out of pocket.

4. Don’t assume you can only sign up for Medicare during “open enrollment.”

Open enrollment (from October 15 to December 7 each year) is only for current Medicare consumers who want to make changes to their coverage. If you’re turning 65, you will have your own enrollment period. If you have employer health coverage, you can delay signing up for Medicare. If you do not, you’ll need to enroll around your birthday. Miss that deadline and you’ll pay permanent late charges.

5. Don’t miss out on Medigap full protections.

Medigap is supplemental insurance you can purchase to cover a portion of traditional Medicare out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles and copays. In order to benefit from full federal protection, you need to buy Medigap coverage within six months of enrolling in Part B. Do so and Medigap insurers won’t be able to deny coverage or charge a higher premium based on your current health or preexisting conditions.

6. Don’t neglect to check into programs that may lower your Medicare costs.

Premiums, deductibles and copays can all eat into your savings. If you retirement income is limited, you may qualify for a program that can reduce your costs. If you qualify for a Medicare Savings Program, your state will pay your Part B premiums. If you qualify for the federal Extra Help Program, you’ll get low-cost Part D prescription drug coverage.

Medicare insurance is complicated. If you need assistance understanding the requirements and potential costs of Medicare coverage, contact your insurance provider.

Use Social Media to Save Money

Use Social Media to Save Money

According to data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 43 percent of Internet surfers age 65 and up report using social media. This number has more than tripled since 2009, with seniors increasingly turning to websites like Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends, view pictures of their grandchildren, and connect with others who have similar hobbies and interests.

 

While baby photos, funny cat videos, and the details of your cousin Velma’s hip surgery are all excellent sources of entertainment, social media has another use many seniors overlook: saving money. It’s not a secret that you’re among the fastest growing social media demographic, and retailers have taken note. Many are feverishly promoting their brands and products on Facebook, Twitter and within other social media sites and cell phone apps. Consider the following suggestions to help you reap the rewards.

 

Give Them a Thumbs-Up

You’ve seen the little symbol of a hand giving a thumbs-up on Facebook. The number next to it indicates how many people have clicked the “Like” button on a specific post or page—and you should consider joining them. When you “Like” a store or brand, you’ll soon notice special offers, coupons and sales notices popping up within your news feed. Many of these promotions are for Facebook fans only—and often for a very limited time—so paying attention is an easy way to save at your favorite retailers or on products you use regularly.

 

Get to Tweeting

Unlike many celebrities, you have better things to do than broadcast 140-character messages about what you ate for lunch or dreamt about during a nap. You’re retired not insane, after all. However, Twitter can pay off if you think of this social media site as a constantly updating news ticker where you control the content. Follow money experts for tips and advice. Follow the AARP for news and exclusive discount opportunities. Follow your favorite retailers and brands for money saving deals.

 

Don’t Hesitate to Check In

The popular social review site, Foursquare, can be used to “check in” at restaurants, stores and other vendors and retailers you visit. Doing so requires a GPS equipped cell phone (most are these days) and the Foursquare app (it’s free), but the installation is well worth it. Many establishments use Foursquare as a digital loyalty card, presenting frequent visitors with money saving in-app coupons. The more times you check in, the greater the reward.

Don’t Let a Long-Term Care Event Ruin Your Golden Years

Don’t Let a Long-Term Care Event Ruin Your Golden Years

Preparing for retirement requires more than just socking money away in savings and investment accounts. You must also deal with the various factors that will inevitably take a bite out of your carefully tended nest egg. These include common considerations like annual taxes and increasing inflation as well as (potentially) decreasing social security income. Unfortunately, many seniors stop there and fail to address the biggest risk to their post-retirement financial heath: a long-term care event.

 

Long-Term Care is Costly

According to DailyFinance.com, long-term care in an assisted living facility costs an average of $3,300 per month. An expense like that will devour $120,000 in savings in a little more than three years. A private room in a nursing home is even more expensive, averaging $222 a day. And these costs are likely to go up—they’ve already increased 6 percent annually over the last five years.

 

Fortunately, Seniors Have Options

If the idea of spending all your assets in the event that you develop a medical condition—like Alzheimer’s—is horrifying to you, take heart. Other options include relying on a family member to provide in-home care and buying long-term care insurance. Many seniors prefer the latter, and surveys have shown that “I don’t want to be a burden to my family” is often the main reason they choose to make a long-term care insurance purchase.

 

Long-Term Care Insurance Offers Nest Egg Protection

Health insurance and Medicare are of little use in a long-term care situation. They cover immediate medical expenses, while long-term care insurance helps with the costs of continuing care. Most plans cover out-of-pocket expenses—from dressing and bathing assistance to skilled nursing—associated with home care, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

You can purchase long-term care insurance as an individual policy or as part of a group plan. Many employers offer a group long-term care insurance option as a supplementary benefit. If you’re not yet retired and your employer offers such a benefit, purchasing coverage through it will likely result in a premium that is lower than that of an individual plan. You can also forgo medical underwriting.

Of course, purchasing long-term care insurance as an individual is better than forgoing coverage at all. Premiums will be higher and increase steadily after the age of 60, as much as 6 percent to 8 percent per year under some plans. The underwriting process can also be quite thorough, including medical record review and memory recall tests to screen for age-related cognitive decline. And unlike health insurance, you can be denied coverage. For this reason the best time to apply, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, is in your mid-50s.

Don’t let a degenerative health condition, advancing age or unexpected accident ruin your golden years. Experts say the probability of needing long-term care is one in two for women and one in three for men. If you’ve yet to consider the benefit of this nest egg-protecting tool, talk to your insurance professional about your coverage options.

Why You Might Consider a Professional Trustee

Why You Might Consider a Professional Trustee

One of the most vital decisions to ensure preserved legacy and proper estate execution is electing the right professional or family trustee for investing and properly distributing your estate. Being well-organized, well-rounded, and functionally capable of administrating your trust as per the document, and having a clear history of integrity concerning investment and legal issues are desirable characteristics of a trustee. Whether or not the family member named as the trustee is willing and capable of undertaking the long-term responsibility necessary to manage your trust assets is a big consideration. The family member can always hire a tax professional, lawyer, estate professional, or financial planner to assist them. However, you should still be confident that the selected trustee has sufficient financial skills and temperament to make quality decisions that will best benefit the well-being of your family. Most estate experts favor designating trusteeship to an adult child or spouse, just so long as there’s a cordial family dynamic and the relative shows financial competency.

Aside from financial know-how, common reservations frequently involve the health of potential trustees and rivalries or conflicts among primary family members. These reservations may spur concern beyond whether the potential trustee has the knowledge of applicable financial matters, and create questions of whether potential trustees have the emotional stability and diplomacy skills to serve as sole trustee of your estate. In the event that you have even the slightest reservation about fully trusting a family member to solely execute your estate, you might consider obtaining the services from a professional trustee; a trust company for example.

The following elements and information might be helpful for those considering pursuing a professional trustee, such a corporate fiduciary or a bank:

 

Select A Professional Trustee For Complex and Larger Estates

Most people are usually more likely to name a family member as a trustee in cases where their estate is small and financially simple. On the other hand, people with a large or financially complicated estate that’s difficult or overwhelming to administer are more apt to benefit from utilizing a professional trustee with the necessary skill, knowledge, and time needed to properly manage the complex interpersonal, tax, and investment issues of the trust.

 

Consider A Professional Trustee When Family Members Lack Good Dynamics And Financial Skills

After evaluating the dynamics of your family and the financial skills of potential trustees in relation to tax management and securities, you might find that potential familial trustees lack the ability to carry out the provisions and terms of the trust in a manner that would best suit the needs of the beneficiary, such as in minimizing estate and income taxes and investing funds for a maximum return. If you lack confidence that your family can get along or oversee the trust in a manner that best benefits your named beneficiaries, you might consider naming a family member as a co-trustee to a professional trustee -or- naming a professional trustee as sole trustee.

 

Choose A Trustee Based Off The Intent And Purpose Of Your Trust

Evaluate the intent and purpose of your trust, assess professional fees, and choose a professional trustee accordingly. For example, a trust with an objective to oversee asset distribution to minor and young children, might be best accomplished under a professional trustee that is keen and flexible to the evolving needs of the trust. Another consideration might be having a professional co-trustee to serve as a check and balance system for decision making in larger estates and trusts that involve a blended family dynamic.

In closing, keep in mind that a professional trustees will most often be accompanied by an annual fee, most often based on the specific responsibility of the trustee and a percentage of the trusts’ value. That said, choosing the most appropriate professional trustee can give you the peace of mind that your estate or trust will be handled with care and knowledge.

5 Tips for Beating the Retirement Blues

5 Tips for Beating the Retirement Blues

Retirement can be an exciting new chapter in a person’s life. But for some seniors without partners, the idea of facing retirement alone can be frightening. Being single and retired can make people feel unsure about what to do next. After all, they expected to spend this part of their lives as part of a couple pursuing all of the things they had put off in their earlier years. However, the death of a spouse, or divorce has changed that expectation, and now these single retirees are left wondering how to go on.

If you are facing retirement alone, it’s important to remember that being single and retired doesn’t mean that your best days are behind you. You can still enjoy an active life and beat those feelings of loneliness.Here are five tips to help you:

  1. Learn all of those things you always promised yourself you would if you had the time – Browse the Internet for courses you can enroll in online. Find out what adult education courses your local high school/college offers. If you always dreamed of pursuing a college degree, this is the time to do it. Try a creative hobby like gardening, or painting. Keep yourself intellectually active and involved and you won’t have time to feel depressed.
  2. Find new friends – If you have a hobby, or activity you enjoy, see if you can find a local club dedicated to that activity/hobby. If not, try organizing your own group. Many venues like the local library offer meeting space to groups. You can also contact your local high school/college’s adult education program to see if you can teach a course about your hobby.
  3. Adopt a pet – Animal shelters are always searching for loving homes for abandoned animals. Pets provide unconditional love and companionship for those who care for them. Just be sure that whatever animal you adopt, you have enough money and time to properly care for it.
  4. Look for a significant other – You may find romance by joining a singles group at your church or at the local senior center. These groups are designed to allow people to meet in relaxed situations while engaging in organized activities such as card games, trips, and dances. Even if you don’t find romance, joining one of these singles group will provide you with a place to meet other people and a lively social calendar.
  5. Volunteer – Most non-profits depend upon volunteers to accomplish their missions, so they are always actively recruiting. Becoming a volunteer will not only give you a sense of accomplishment, it can also give you the opportunity to pursue a job you always wanted to try.

How to Choose a Retirement Community

America is home to millions of seniors over the age of 65—and their numbers are rapidly increasing. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, there were more than 39 million seniors in 2009. They expect the senior population to increase to more than 72 million by 2030.

While disease and age-related health concerns will require some seniors to move in with relatives or take up residence in nursing homes, many others want to live on their own for as long as possible. If you’re among them, buying or renting property in a retirement community is a viable way to eliminate the burden of home maintenance while preserving your independence.

Of course, selecting the right retirement community can be challenging. From 55+ and 62+ neighborhoods featuring single family homes to apartments within a senior housing complex, you’ll find numerous types of residences from which to choose. Fortunately, you can make the process easier if you consider the following factors before signing on the dotted line.

Your health – Do you suffer from decreased mobility? Do you need assistance with day-to-day activities or are you able to bathe, dress, shop and cook for yourself? If you’re in excellent health, an independent living retirement community may be right for you. On the other hand, if you need help with chores or find it difficult to get around, you may want to consider an assisted living retirement community.

Location – Whether you prefer to walk, drive or take public transportation, a retirement community that is close to shopping, dining and entertainment can make getting out and about easier. While some communities have onsite fitness centers, pools and cafeterias, maintaining a connection to the outside world is beneficial for many seniors.

 

Adaptability – If you plan to live in this home throughout your senior years, you’ll want to make sure the property you purchase is adaptable. Most seniors lose some mobility as they get older, which can make navigating stairs and standard bathrooms difficult. Unless the property allows you to add outdoor ramps and adaptive devices—such as bathroom grab bars—to the interior, you might want to pass.

Residents – Whether you’re looking for a retirement home or a neighborhood reserved for senior homeowners, get to know more about the people who reside there. What is the average age of the residents? If most are older than you are, you may find the community provides fewer of the services those in younger age groups desire. Ask about community-sponsored activities and events.

Rules – Like any neighborhood or apartment complex, retirement communities come with rules. Some of the most important to consider—especially if you have grandchildren—are those regulating visitors. While many communities welcome visitors under the resident age limit with open arms, others restrict the number of days your children and grandchildren may spend on your property. Additionally, not all retirement communities allow pets.

Your retirement years should be among the best of your life. If you’re concerned about the possibility of declining health as you age, long-term care insurance can relieve some of your worries. Talk to your insurance professional about your options today.

Older Drivers Can Save on Auto Insurance

Older Drivers Can Save on Auto Insurance

Savvy seniors know how to save money. They may curb extraneous spending, order the Early Bird Special at restaurants, or use their AARP membership card at movie theaters, hotels, airlines and retail establishments to secure substantial AARP discounts. But did you know there are ways for older drivers to obtain substantial savings on auto insurance as well?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), licensed drivers ages 65 and up numbered 33 million in 2009. While driving during your senior years can help you maintain your independence, the risk of injury or death due to an automobile accident increases as you age. In fact, in 2008, 5,500 seniors were killed in motor vehicle crashes. Another 183,000 were injured.

Learning to drive defensively can reduce your chance of becoming involved in an accident—and some insurance companies offer their senior customers a discount off their normal rates if they complete a driver safety course. The AARP Driver Safety course will teach you defensive driving techniques in addition to refreshing your understanding of the rules of the road. You can find a classroom course in your area at www.aarp.org/drive or sign up for online study.

Of course, you don’t have to stop there. From adjusting your coverage to buying a new car, there are other ways you can reduce your senior auto insurance costs. Consider the following:

  • Paying your insurance premiums annually can save you money – If you’re able to make your yearly auto insurance premium in one payment, you’re likely to receive a discounted price. Make payments bi-annually, quarterly or monthly and the cost will go up.
  • Combining policies usually results in savings – If you obtain any combination of homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, long-term care insurance and auto insurance from the same carrier, they’ll generally offer you a multi-policy discount.
  • Driving less can help you save as well – Some carriers offer discounts to low-mileage drivers. If you no longer have a daily commute and only use your vehicle for errands around town, check with your insurance professional.
  • Adjusting your coverage can also help – If you’ve paid off your car and it is worth less than ten times your annual insurance premium, experts suggest dropping collision and comprehensive coverage can yield substantial savings.
  • When you buy a car, choose one with the newest safety features – Air bags, automatic seatbelts, antilock brakes and daytime lights can all add up to premium savings at some insurance carriers.
  • You should also consider a low-profile vehicle – If you choose an automobile that is expensive to repair, notoriously easy to steal or has a poor record for safety, any insurance carrier is going to charge you a higher premium. Instead, check out vehicle risk ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at iihs.org/iihs/ratings.

If you currently have an auto insurance policy and are not receiving any discounts, talk to your agent. If your insurer does not offer a means to reduce your rates, you can always contact your insurance broker and shop around for new, money-saving coverage.

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