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Aging parents? 3 steps to pave a smoother financial path forward

Aging parents? 3 steps to pave a smoother financial path forward

Anna is amazing. At 94 years old, she is still incredibly energetic and remains larger than life in every way. Yes, she needs a bit of help getting out of bed in the morning, but from her perspective, that’s her only limitation. As she’s told me time after time, “My mind is still ticking away perfectly!” She firmly believes her cognition is faultless, and because she is fiercely independent, she’s kept her children completely removed from her finances.

A few years ago, Anna sold a piece of real estate and put all of the cash in her checking account. She still has plenty of cash remaining—enough to pay full-time, agency caregivers for another five to seven years. However, because her children are out of the loop, they have no idea how much savings she has or how soon her assets will run out. They worry that she’ll outlive her savings, even though Anna is set, literally, for life.

As a financial advisor, I see situations like these all the time. Anna’s situation is a simple one, but not all seniors—or their families—are as fortunate. It’s a fact that aging affects financial decision-making, even if that decline is not obvious to family members. That makes creating a long-term plan that includes some basic checks and balances, as well as a pre-determined timeline for transitioning financial responsibility from the parents to the adult child, one of the most important pieces of a smart financial plan.

If you have aging parents (or if you’re the aging parent yourself!), take these three steps as soon as possible to avoid costly mistakes in the years to come. Your future self will thank you!

  1. Start talking.
    In many families, money can be an emotional topic, and just as it can be difficult for many seniors to understand why they need to hand over the car keys when driving becomes unsafe, handing over control of their finances can also become quite the challenge. Ease the way with a family meeting. Have an open, honest discussion about how much money is available to pay for your parents’ care and who is the most suitable person to manage the assets when they are no longer capable of making prudent financial decisions. Decide together when and how to hand over the financial reins.  

    If you need help, consider hiring a mediator—a trusted financial advisor, family therapist, or mediation specialist. With the help of an impartial third party, everyone involved is more likely to remain open-minded and, hopefully, walk away with confidence in the plan and greater peace of mind. I also recommend sharing my blog post To protect your financial future, hand over the keys to your kingdom today with your parents to initiate the conversation. Hopefully, it will open the door to a more comfortable conversation.

     
  2. Create a system of checks and balances.
    As your parents age, they will inevitably need more and more assistance, and a system of checks and balances can help avoid a crisis. According to a 2016 report from the National Institute on Aging, trouble managing money is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related dementias. The deficit often becomes clear when the checkbook suddenly doesn’t balance because bills are paid twice, when every charity (not a select few) receives a check, or when a caregiver has too much influence.

    At our firm, we ask every client to sign an incapacity agreement when they turn 65. We ask, “What would we see you do that would be out of character so you would want us to intervene?” The answers range from making sudden changes to their financial plan, to gifting large amounts of money, to becoming secretive about their assets. The agreement allows us to call the person they name in the contract (perhaps you) when we see one or more of these triggers. By having this conversation long before any decline is anticipated, we’re able to ease the transition from financial independence to asking for help.

     
  3. Establish joint control of your parents’ accounts.
    We typically recommend establishing a revocable living trust, appointing the most responsible and available child as co-trustee, and opening a bank account in the name of the trust with multiple signers: the parents and the co-trustee. Another option is to name the adult child as an authorized signer (not a joint owner) on the parents’ account. Many of our clients’ families use our powerful eMoney Personal Financial Portal to oversee their parents’ financial transactions and balances and collaborate with us as financial planners.

Even without signature authority, Mom and Dad can give you visibility into their accounts using an “interested party statement” or giving you online access to their accounts so you can help manage the finances even from a distance. Both of these options are safer than opening a joint account, which can put your parents’ assets at risk. If your parents are not well enough to participate in financial decisions, that’s when it’s time to trigger the previously established power of attorney for their financial matters.

For any child, taking control of your parents’ assets can feel like you’re overstepping an invisible line in the sand. Suddenly your old roles are reversed, and you’re the one holding the purse strings. Yet making that transition can be an important stress reliever for everyone involved. If you don’t know where to begin, talk to us. We’re happy to help guide you through this delicate transition to create a smoother path toward a sound financial future—for the whole family.

 

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Aging parents? Offering help early can ease the way

Aging parents? Offering help early can ease the way

Getting older is a trip.

When I was just a little girl, there were two sisters—probably in their 60s—who would walk our neighborhood every evening. I remember watching them walk and chat and laugh together. It seemed like I would never be that old! Then, as my sister and I were chatting and laughing our way through the English countryside this summer, I realized: we’ve become those sisters!

Of course, walking with my sister is one of the enjoyable things about getting older. Not everything about aging is quite so pleasant (what an understatement!). And while physical decline is something every one of us dreads, one of the bigger threats to our health and happiness is mental decline. As a financial advisor, I see the effects of it every day on the lives of my clients. Watching my clients age is hard, not only because it reminds me that I’m no spring chicken myself, but because I know that, inevitably, there will come a time when they won’t be able to manage their finances themselves. The hardest part? If they don’t realize they need the help of a trusted family member or friend—or they aren’t willing to accept that help once it’s offered.

Money has never been an easy thing to talk about. At any age, it takes courage to open that checkbook, investment report, or credit card statement and face reality. For some, it is because of shame—that they should have earned more, saved more, or invested more wisely. Others have a deep-rooted fear of losing all they’ve accumulated—either because someone will come along and take advantage of them, or because they’ll make a monstrously poor decision that will suddenly wash away their wealth. It’s no wonder so many seniors have such a hard time with this important transition.

We’ve all seen it. Sweet Aunt Sally is suddenly defensive when anyone offers help, and angry whenever there’s a hint of suspicion that her capacity is diminishing. Or Grandpa Bill starts angrily accusing everyone of trying to control his every move—and his money—even when it’s clear he needs help to get safely through his day. When the people we love are so easily agitated, we’re often not sufficiently brave or skillful to bring up the elephant in the room.

I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know the complex psychology behind how seniors react and deal with the decline of their cognitive abilities, but I’ve certainly seen it manifest itself into troublesome financial decisions… over and over again. That’s precisely why, as adult children or caring friends, we need to find a way to broach the issue—at the right time and place.

I recently visited my client and good friend Cindy at her home in Sedona. Hours away from her adult children and family, at 84, she relies heavily on her live-in caregiver. From managing her physical care, to picking up her prescriptions, to balancing her checkbook and managing her daily cash flow, her caregiver seems to do it all. I had to raise a red flag. “She’s a great resource for you,” I said to Cindy. “I know that you trust her, but do you have any mechanisms in place to be sure she doesn’t take advantage of you?” Initially, Cindy was defensive. “It took me forever to find someone I could trust. I don’t even want to think that of her.”

I get it. But because Cindy was in a potentially vulnerable situation, I carefully continued. “I have a thought,” I said. “As your financial advisor, I know how you manage your money today. Will you give me written permission to contact your daughter if your finances ever start to look sketchy? Or if you start asking me to make financial transactions that are inconsistent with your plan? That way I’ll know you’re protected.” Cindy’s face immediately eased into a smile of relief. Having a solution seemed to ease her mind and put her on more solid footing.

Aging is a given—for all of us. Cognitive decline is inevitable, and research shows that our skills at financial decision-making are affected early in the aging process. At the same time, our emotions get more reactive and our capacity to handle new challenges declines. It’s a deadly combination. If you’re spending the holidays with your own aging parents, I urge you to be on the lookout for any signs of cognitive decline. Are they confused about basic things? Do they get agitated when they’re offered help or suggestions? If so, here are three next steps to consider when the ”happy and hectic” joys of the holidays are over:

1.     Help put an A-team in place. Everyone needs an A-team to assist with critical decisions, and your mom or dad may need one more than ever to manage the transition into older age. Read my blog When all feels lost, it’s time to find your A-team for a detailed list of the seven players I recommend you help find and recruit a strong team right away.

2.     Offer to start helping with the finances today. Change is coming. Suggest a Standing (not Springing) Durable Power of Attorney that gives you the legal authority to help manage your parent’s finances right away—without having to go through the legal process of having him or her deemed incapable. See if you can agree to a firm date, perhaps a specific birthday, when you can take over completely. Agreeing to this transition in advance can reduce or even eliminate the fear and anxiety about how and when to hand over the keys to the coffer.

3.     Schedule a family meeting. Communication is the key to family bliss—especially when it comes to money. Be sure all your siblings understand your parent’s wishes so no one is accused of manipulating the finances later on. Make a list and cover all the details to be sure the right people have the right information when they need it in the future. Even perfectly prepared legal documents can’t help anyone if they’re not in the right hands.

Over the holidays, take the time to relax and have fun together. But if it seems like Mom or Dad may need help today—or even within the next five years—make your New Year's resolution an important one and begin the conversation. By talking about the changes that are coming, you can help one or both parents prepare for an easier, more secure future.

Need help broaching the topic or putting a plan into action?  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to schedule a time to chat. As always, I’m here to help.

 

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Aging: 4 steps to walking a smoother path toward the inevitable

Aging: 4 steps to walking a smoother path toward the inevitable

At this moment, I’m on a long-awaited trip to Europe with my sister. We’re no youngsters, but we're certainly not elderly by any stretch. As we begin our six-day walking tour of the beautiful Cotswolds, I’m filled with gratitude that both my sister and I are physically fit and able to do this together. I know it won’t always be this way.

Aging is a fact that most of us don’t want to face. By accepting and planning for our (or our parents’) inevitable fragility, we can make life a whole lot easier down the road—especially when that road isn’t paved as smoothly as we would like!

Decide who will be in charge
Meredith is in her late 80s, and she has some significant signs of dementia. But now that she really needs help, she is too childlike and forgetful to know it. She refuses to trust anyone—her children, her sister, her doctors, or her financial advisor—and has decided to stay in her house alone until “I go out feet first.” The financial and emotional pressure on her family is huge.

One of the most important things you can do early on is decide who will be in charge when things start to shift. Deciding where, when, and how to live only gets more difficult, which is why it’s vital to make smart, deliberate choices before any serious decline makes doing so even more difficult—if not impossible. To build trust and ensure a smoother transition, decide who will be in charge early on, and sidestep any disagreements in the future by making it legal. Get a Healthcare Power of Attorney that gives someone else the power to make medical decisions based on your wishes, as well as a Durable Power of Attorney that gives someone else the legal authority to manage your finances when (not if!) you’re mentally or physically unable to do so.

Explore housing options.
When Mark was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago, he and Judy wanted to keep things simple by staying in their own home, but they both failed to accept how quickly his health would deteriorate. By the time they moved to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) last spring, the disruption caused Mark’s symptoms to accelerate.

Senior housing is a conundrum. While there’s often an emotional desire to stay at home, physical and mental limitations that come with age often make staying put a challenge. Even if cost isn’t an issue (though it often is), how long does it make sense to live alone—or at home with a partner who is disabled? When is the right time to move? And to where? There are many options available, including those that are pretty well known—independent living facilities, CCRCs, and assisted living communities—as well as some lesser known options such as co-housing and naturally-occurring retirement communities (NORCs). To learn more about the options that are out there, see my blog House hunting seniors: Finding the right option for optimal living.

Plan for the costs of aging.
Michael was a lifelong athlete, and any doctor would have predicted that he’d live a long, healthy life. Even so, to be sure his income was protected, he bought disability insurance when he was in his 50s, “just in case.” It was one of the best decisions he could have made. Michael suffered a spinal cord injury when he was in his late 60s, and the policy has paid for his care and comfort ever since. Without the policy, the impact on his finances—and his family—would have been devastating.

According to the California Partnership for Long-Term Care, nearly half of people aged 65 and older who go into a nursing home will spend between $94,900 for just one year of care, and just under $500,000 for 5 years of care. Nearly 12% will face even higher costs. There are various options to help cover these costs, including insurance policies (life, health, disability, and long-term care), health savings accounts (HSAs) that use pre-tax dollars to invest for long-term medical expenses, and retirement savings. Talk to a financial advisor to create a plan that suits your needs (even those you can’t anticipate). From monitoring cash flow, determining how and when available assets will be used, and ensuring the person in charge of your Durable Power of Attorney has all the information and access he or she needs, a trusted financial advisor can help put every piece of the puzzle in the right place at the right time.

Agree on when to stop driving.
The hardest thing I had to do when my husband Ed became disabled was take away his car keys. I knew he’d be angry, so I secretly notified the DMV that he needed testing. Of course, he knew it was me who busted him, but I had no choice; I knew he was putting himself and others in danger every time he got behind the wheel. Even after his license had been revoked, I had to park the car away from our home so he wouldn’t be tempted to “just take a short little drive.” He hated losing his independence. Who could blame him?

Decide now how driving ability will be determined (and not by the senior!). AARP offers a Smart Driver Course for drivers over 50, as well as an online seminar to help talk to seniors about driving ability—or lack thereof. And, of course, there’s the DMV, as well as a family doctor who may be the first to recommend that a senior turn in his or her keys. By agreeing to an objective third-party decision maker before the time comes, no one has to feel like the bad guy, and everyone will be safer on the road.

It’s time to face the facts: we’re all getting older, and with age come change. Take the time to make some of these key decisions now, and that path will be much smoother when the time comes. Perhaps even more importantly, get help with the choices that matter most. Talk to your doctor about any changes in your health. Talk to your financial advisor about how to plan for future expenses. Websites focused on elder care and groups like AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association can also offer valuable support and guidance. For more information on getting the right help at the right time, see my blog When all feels lost, it’s time to find your A-team.

Need some guidance as you build a better plan for long-term care? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  me to schedule a time to talk once I’m back from my trip. As always, I’m here to help.

 

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When all feels lost, it’s time to find your A-team

There’s no doubt about it: women live longer than men. While every one of us wants to live a long, rewarding life, the fact that we live longer also means that, sooner or later, most women are likely to become widows. It’s not something anyone wants to think about, but when it does happen, it’s vital to know what, when, and how to take care of your finances to be sure you protect your assets and get on to solid footing moving forward.

How do you even begin to go about such an overwhelming task when your life has just changed completely? As a rule, we women are incredibly strong and able to rise to the tasks ahead—no matter what they may be—but one key to success is not going it alone. Now is the time to put together your A-team.

Liz, in her mid-70s, took a fall and was in a short-term rehab facility when her husband died unexpectedly. She suddenly had to manage everything from funeral arrangements to estate planning issues—all while being stuck in a hospital bed herself. Luckily for Liz, she had a lot of help from her daughter, Emily. Not only was Emily there to help do the legwork Liz couldn’t manage herself—everything from grabbing documents from her husband’s safe deposit box to meeting with the funeral director—but Emily also advised her to get immediate help to tackle the legal and financial aspects of dealing with her husband’s death. As a longtime client of mine, Emily recommended she call me first. When Liz and I talked that day, the first thing we did was put together her A-team—a group of seven individuals who each play a critical role helping her begin her life without her husband.

Widowed or not, if you don’t already have an A-team in place, here are the seven players I recommend every woman find and recruit right away:

  1. Your person. The TV show Grey’s Anatomy coined the phrase, “You’re my person.” It stuck, and for good reason. Everyone needs that one person they can count on, no matter what. For Liz, her “person” was Emily. For you, it may be an adult child, colleague, neighbor, family member, or best friend. Your “person” is the one you can trust to be there when you need help and who makes you feel safe.
     
  2. Your executor, successor, or co-trustee. An executor or trustee is responsible for making sure all assets of the deceased are accounted for and transferred to the right party, and to ensure that all debts and taxes are paid. An executor is legally obligated to meet your husband’s wishes as indicated in the will or Trust, and to act in the best interest of all beneficiaries. In most cases, this will be you—the new widow. Acknowledge that you need help with this big job.
     
  3. Your attorney. I’ve had multiple clients ask, “Do I really need to pay for an attorney?” The answer: YES. While it may seem attractive to “save” legal fees by dealing with probate, estate, and trust issues yourself or by getting help from a friend, you need a professional who understands every aspect of what must be done. Ask people you trust for recommendations, and then choose the professional who feels right for you. Getting appropriate legal help will save you headaches—and money—later on.
     
  4. Your accountant. Tax strategies can play a significant role in preserving your assets following the death of your spouse. I can’t underestimate the value of a good CPA to help you protect your estate. If you don’t already have a trusted accountant, again, get recommendations from others—preferably women who have been through your situation themselves.
     
  5. Your banker. In the immediate future, you’ll need cash to maintain your lifestyle—especially if any of your assets are tied up in probate. Your banker can help you identify all available funds, give you access to available cash (note that some funds may not be accessible for some time), and help you take over your husband’s banking responsibilities.
     
  6. Your insurance agent. At the top of your to-do list will be contacting the companies with which your husband holds life insurance policies. A good insurance agent will help with much more than that. As a widow, your needs have changed. Your agent can help identify appropriate life and health insurance to be sure you—and those who depend on you—are protected.
     
  7. Your financial advisor. Just last month a new widow was referred to me by her estate planning attorney. Her first question to me: “If I have a CPA and an attorney, why do I need you?” I explained that the role of a financial advisor (myself or another) was to invest her assets appropriately, help her work through her financial to-do lists, and create an individual plan for her financial future. As a fiduciary, I would also quarterback the actions of everyone on her team on her behalf, making sure everyone is working together toward her success.Four weeks later, we’ve assessed her financial big picture, adjusted her personal portfolio (her husband’s assets have not yet been turned over to her), worked with an insurance agent to get her proper coverage now that her husband is gone, and continued working closely with her estate planning attorney. We still have a lot to do, but I know our work has already helped her gain a new level of financial confidence.

When you are a new widow, you are swirling in emotion. Yet there are so many things you must manage immediately. From obtaining death certificates to poring through legal documents, paying bills, and more, you have too much on your plate. The good news you’ve been waiting for is this: with your A-team in place, you’ll have all the help you need to increase your sense of independence and gain control over your life.

Need assistance putting your own A-team in place? Whether you’re widowed or simply want to gain better control of your entire estate, I’m happy to help you build the right team for you.  

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Finding common ground and a path to forgiveness

b2ap3_thumbnail_Young_Sok_Yun.jpgOn Sunday evening, the Jewish community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. If you’re not familiar with the holiday, there’s much more to it than a typical New Years Eve. There’s no ball dropping on Times Square, and while it is a celebration, the focus is on family and faith and renewal for the coming year. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sunset next Tuesday, and the days in between—The Days of Awe—are a time of reflection and forgiveness with the hope of starting fresh for the coming year.

As you can imagine, these holidays have me thinking a lot about forgiveness.

In my work as a financial advisor, I do quite a bit of mediation with couples (I’m trained in mediation as well as financial planning), and in that process I witness a lot of challenges as couples work together to overcome money issues that are causing conflict in their lives. In almost every instance—whether I’m working with a couple alone or along with their extended family—I see amazing shifts take place as individuals face their conflicts, seek common ground, and find new ways to communicate more effectively with each other.

Tamara and Chris have been clients of mine for years. After working with them to mediate some financial issues over a decade ago, Tamara’s favorite saying was, “We don’t fight about money anymore…we just call Lauren!” Unfortunately, they had some pretty big financial hits recently: Chris was forced to take an unexpected early retirement, and Tamara’s business fell on tough times. Without much warning, they had to completely rethink their financial future—which included making some major decisions about how to decrease their monthly expenses.

At first, they both fell into the old trap of the blame game. “Chris promised me we would stay in our home through retirement,” cried Tamara. “I can’t believe we’re in this situation at this point in our lives.” Then Chris chimed in, saying that if Tamara had taken better marketing advice, her business would not have failed. They were angry at each other for the situation they were in, but it was easy to see that their anger was rooted in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. And fear of being judged by each other. They weren’t exactly fighting about money, but they clearly weren’t in harmony either.

To help get them there, I asked them each to share their vision of the future—regardless of their financial situation. As they talked, we found that neither of them wanted to have to rebuild a career at this point in their lives, so they were both ready to retire. Next, we talked about what retirement looked like to each of them. Family and outdoor activities made the top of the list. And they both saw themselves walking together a lot—in nature, to the market, to dinner—all without getting in a car. In very little time, they had found some common ground, and the decisions that had felt so overwhelming were suddenly so much easier. By the time they left my office (with homework!), I could tell they had begun to paint a joint vision of what their new life would be like together. Harmony was on its way.

Tamara and Chris aren’t alone. So often in families, fear has a knack for causing conflict, even if it seems everyone is fighting over money. We all know stories about families torn apart after a loved one dies because of fights over belongings and money. And just like Tamara and Chris, it seems much of the upset—and the resulting need for forgiveness!—is often caused not by need, (Does Linda really need her grandmother’s candlesticks? Does Jerry really need his father’s car?) but by an emotional reaction to what’s happening, including sadness, fear, guilt, and more.

The legal battle over Robin Williams’ estate is a perfect example. Robin’s death was unexpected, and while he had done some pretty detailed estate planning, it wasn’t detailed enough to prevent a sad fight between his wife of three years and his adult children. Many blame the lawyers for the lack of clarity, but as with most disagreements, I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if he had just communicated better when it came to his wishes. Not in legal documents, but with his wife and adult children. They’re still in mediation today. When all is said and done, they may all need to ask for—and offer—forgiveness.

Whether disagreements are about money, relationships, rethinking retirement, or myriad other issues, finding common ground and communicating clearly can not only help dissolve issues, but can often help sidestep conflict in the first place. Jewish or not, the “Days of Awe” are a great time to reflect on the fences in your life that may need mending. Perhaps take that step and ask someone for forgiveness. Or better yet, actively seek some common ground and communicate with your loved ones to prepare for your own fresh start. I know that’s my goal for the week.

No matter what your faith, I wish you a Happy New Year 5776 filled with peace, health, happiness, and prosperity. L’shanah Tovah!


Has finding common ground and communicating with your family made a difference in your own life? Please email me. I’d love to hear your story!


 

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Things change!

b2ap3_thumbnail_things-change1.jpgSummer is quickly coming to a close. My Facebook feed is full of pictures of my friends’ kids who are starting high school and heading off to college, and adorable images of the younger ones with their big, toothless grins announcing their start of kindergarten. All of that back-to-school activity has me thinking about fresh starts. And change.

My client Kathy and I met the other day to review her finances and see if early retirement was an option for her. She’s more than ready emotionally, and she’d “done the numbers” and figured out she could make it work. She handed me a list of her fixed and day-to-day expenses, but what was missing was a personal “escrow account” to cover longer term and unexpected expenses that are harder to manage when a monthly income is no longer coming in the door: saving for a new car three to five years down the road, minor and major home repairs, increases in medical costs, and more. And while we were able to figure out a good plan that will allow her to retire comfortably in 2016, change is never simple. There were a lot more pieces to the puzzle than she’d realized.

Kathy is no exception. It’s not uncommon for a client to come to me with no particular money issue in mind, but once we start talking, I realize there has in fact been a change that requires some rethinking when it comes to finances. If you’re a client, you know I always kick-off financial review meetings with two questions: “What is your biggest financial concern right now?” and “What is your biggest non-financial concern right now?” What I find is that it’s often the non-financial concerns that raise the biggest flags for change:

Larry and Lisa, both in their mid-70s with no kids, came in for a mid-year review. Larry’s biggest “non-financial” issue was that his younger brother was having some major health issues and was just forced to foreclose on his house. Adding his brother as a second beneficiary on Larry’s life insurance and IRA would provide some much-needed support for him in the future—he just hadn’t thought about the possibility.

Kerry’s mother is in her early 70s, and her general health is pretty good. She works out at the gym regularly and walks every day. But she’s fallen and ended up in a rehab facility with broken bones twice in the last two years. As an only child, Kerry didn’t realize the impact her mother’s health could have on her finances. I suggested Kerry talk to her mother now to make decisions that may impact them both sooner than expected.

At 59, Martin is planning to propose to his long-time partner, Marie, who is 60. The plans were all laid, and he was very excited about the pending event. What he didn’t realize was that re-marrying before age 60 would significantly impact his partner’s future Social Security widow benefits; enjoying a long engagement and delaying the actual wedding would add an extra $1500 to their monthly income in retirement. Even if they decide not to wait, they’re aware of the some of the financial “marriage penalties.”

Other changes are less subtle:

Ken and Katherine love their home, but now that they’re in their late 70s, the house and yard work is more than they can manage. They could afford to hire help, but they’re concerned about living independently for the long term. Driving is becoming an issue and they feel isolated, but the low cost of owning their home without a mortgage and with the benefit of Proposition 13 makes the choice complicated.

Lena moved from Northern California to take care of her elderly mother, but she was just diagnosed with a terminal illness herself. The fact that Lena’s mother will almost certainly outlive her requires a major shift in her financial and estate plans.

Judy just changed jobs, and her new employer gave her a sizable sign-on bonus. Plus, she has to figure out what to do with the 401(k) at her old employer. It would be easy to just leave it where it is, but she wants to know what makes the most sense for her long-term plans.

Subtle or not, change is a constant—for us and for others in our lives. It’s not just the school kids who are moving forward. No matter how young or old you may be, it’s a great time of year to look at all the changes in your life and, with a little help, identify which changes affect your finances and make the necessary adjustments to be sure you stay on track toward your long-term financial goals.


Contact us today to schedule a time for your own “back-to-school” review. I’m here to help explore your own life changes and how they impact your financial plan.


 

 
 
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No more whispering: It’s time to talk about cancer

Lauren_Klein_blog.pngIn 1974, Betty Ford changed the future of cancer. Perhaps known best for making her struggles with alcoholism public a few years later, this forward-thinking woman, who spoke openly about her mastectomy for breast cancer at a time when the disease was still a whispered topic even within families, was groundbreaking. It brought the reality of breast cancer into the public eye and into the forefront of many people’s minds for the first time in history. This changed how cancer was treated socially, politically, and medically. By speaking out, Betty Ford empowered women to speak openly about the disease and make their own choices about their treatments and their bodies. She brought a global awareness to the disease that exploded the discussions in the medical community, opened up floodgates of research funding, and expanded treatment options.

“The Big C” is weighing heavily on my mind right now. On Mother’s Day, my daughter-in-law was diagnosed with colon cancer and is now undergoing treatment. And in February my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer which led to two lumpectomies and, on Monday, a mastectomy. Having dealt with it myself when I had my own battle with breast cancer two decades ago, I can see how times have changed—not in the treatment of cancer necessarily (it seems amazingly medieval to me that we’re still removing body parts and poisoning our bodies to try to eradicate this disease), but in its sheer prevalence. Cancer—breast and other forms—has reached epidemic levels. The American Cancer Society has estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer in the US in 2015 alone. Just under a quarter million of those cases are attributed to breast cancer. Most of us have either experienced cancer first hand, within our family, or among our closest circle of friends. A decade ago, I felt people at work looked at me differently because of my cancer. I felt tainted. And whether or not that was accurate or I was projecting how I felt myself, a woman dealing with breast cancer today is more likely to get the reaction of, “Oh, you too?”

In his Pulitzer Prize Winning book The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee calls cancer “the defining plague of our generation.” Of course, no matter how common it has become, the impact of a cancer diagnosis can feel devastating, both to the patient and those who love them. My client Cindy is dealing with a terrible diagnosis, and it’s unlikely she will live another 12 months, but she can’t get herself to bring up early retirement to her husband. “He can’t face it,” she said. “Whenever I talk about leaving work, he seems to panic with the reality of the future. I just can’t do it to him.” Another client, Louis, came to me after his cancer went into remission. Two years ago, soon after his surgery, he and his wife splurged on a $60,000 luxury vacation with their whole family. “We couldn’t afford it. I know that now,” he says. “But at the time, all that mattered was enjoying every moment.”

When I’m helping my clients through these issues, I’m struck by the financial impact cancer has on the lives of the patient and those around them. We all owe Betty Ford a huge thank you for changing how cancer is viewed, talked about, and accepted. But knowing that the lifetime risk of developing cancer is now slightly less than 1 in 2 for men and a little more than 1 in 3 for women*, there’s one more big change that needs to take place: how we view and manage cancer from a financial planning perspective. And it needs to start today.

Solid financial planning before a cancer diagnosis is critical because once you’ve been diagnosed, it may be impossible to obtain the insurance you need to help you through treatment or, in the worst case, help your family in case of your death. When cancer strikes, money is the last thing anyone wants to think about, but Cindy and Louis are great examples of how our emotions can derail our financial decision-making—even when it’s more important than ever to make wise choices about your money. Here are a few questions to get you started today:

Do you have sufficient life insurance coverage?
Once a cancer (or other diagnosis) comes your way, it may not be possible to get a policy.

Is the family caregiver in your family insured?
In families where only one parent works outside the home, many neglect to get a life insurance for the at-home caregiver.

Are you taking the maximum available disability insurance (DI) at work?
The majority of workers sign up for only the basic, employer-provided coverage. The cost for additional coverage is often minimal, and well worth the added security.

If you don’t receive disability insurance through your employer, do you have private disability insurance?
Insurance is vital to provide living wages in case of a disability.

Do you have long-term care (LTC) insurance? Don’t assume LTC insurance is only for the elderly.
Getting a policy in your 40s or 50s is affordable, and protects you at the time in life when many cancers are found.

Mitch Albom, the bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie, wrote, “Mortality means you don't have forever to work things out. You can live your life unexamined but then on the last day you're going to think: 'I've left things a little late.'” I urge you: don’t leave things a little late. Take care of the things today that can have a major impact on your own finances should you become ill (with cancer or anything else that knocks you to your knees) down the road. Having a plan in place can help make money the last thing you have to think about at the time, and give you and those you love the time and energy to focus on each other and, hopefully, getting well again.


Are there financial planning details you need to examine today? Whether you are a cancer survivor, are battling cancer today, or want to proactively plan for the future, let’s schedule a time to put a plan in place.


*Source: Cancer Facts & Figures 2015, The American Cancer Society

 
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All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Lauren S. Klein, President, Klein Financial Advisors, Inc. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Read More >