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Downsizing Boomers Find Help from Senior Move Management Companies

When faced with the task of pulling up roots and moving her family from a big midwestern city to a smaller town, Laura Schulman found it overwhelming. However, she did enjoy some of the tasks, including handling all the details of organizing and packing and setting up a new home. Nine years later, she decided to start a company that would help seniors downsize, before moving to smaller homes, apartments or assisted living facilities.

As reported in Columbus CEO’s article Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva,” Schulman and her team at A Moving Experience take the work and worry out of a move, so seniors can focus on the emotional challenges that come with this kind of move. When people are not at their physical best, downsizing can be extremely upsetting. It can get to the point, where many people wait until the very last minute and then panic sets in.

Her company is one of many senior move management companies that help seniors with this transition. The companies organize possessions, create a floor plan for new residences, schedule and oversee moving companies, handle any sales or donations of items that are no longer needed or wanted and even pack and unpack after the move.

What’s just as important: they provide the seniors with the emotional support needed during a very trying time. It’s not easy to be faced with the reality that they must leave their home after decades or even a lifetime. Equally upsetting: coming to terms with the limitations of aging.

Children and family members may not be as sensitive to their parent’s emotions about a move like this, or they may be equally uncomfortable. Having a non-family professional may serve as a buffer and a facilitator for everyone.

The increase in the number of these types of companies is due to the enormous number of Baby Boomers entering retirement. Most will be downsizing, as they leave one-family homes and move to smaller living spaces. With 10,000 turning 65 everyday, a projected 79 million Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. Clearly, aging is a big business.

Senior moving management charges range in pricing from $40 to $120 per person nationwide, with the average price for help costing around $3,000, plus the charge of the moving company.

The money is considered well-spent by many. One family called on a senior moving company, when their mother had to leave her long-time home in one state and relocate to an independent senior living community near family members in another state. The siblings reported that they needed help from someone who would be patient and understand the process their mother was going through. The senior mover worked to make the new home layout, as close to the mother’s original house as possible.

Nonprofit organizations are also getting involved in helping seniors move, with several agencies helping seniors, who can’t afford the services of a private company.

Reference: Columbus CEO (Jan. 21, 2019) Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva”

Social Security Theft Is on the Rise: Be Prepared and Protected

The advice in the blog post is still applicable today: everyone should go to the Social Security website and create an account. It’s a gateway to many online services from the Social Security Administration, and if you don’t set up your account, there is a greater chance that someone can set one up using your name. By creating your account, says Next Avenue in the article Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft,” you can try to preempt this form of Social Security theft.

One woman took this advice, since anyone who is older than 18 and has a Social Security number, and email and a mailing address, is allowed to open an account, even if they are decades away from claiming any benefits. However, within nine months of doing so, she received an email from the Social Security Administration saying they were deactivating her account. What happened?

She hadn’t done anything. No one else, as far as she knew, had access to the account. Therefore, she called the Social Security Administration and requested a direct deposit block on her account. This did two things: it prevented changes to direct deposit information through a financial institution or through the Social Security website. It also stops anyone who might be trying to change a mailing address.

Some further research resulted in information about what might have happened. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group website reports that with a name, birth date and Social Security number, a thief can try to open an account in your name and then change your direct deposit information to their checking account. It’s not that hard to gather that information online.

A 2018 report from the Javelin Strategy and Research firm found that nearly 30% of Americans were notified of a breach of their accounts in 2017. That’s up from 12% in 2016 and cost $16.8 billion dollars.

Scammers have shifted tactics. One consumer helpline reports that there have been fewer complaints about people impersonating IRS agents demanding money and an increase of complaints about people impersonating Social Security Administration representatives.

How can you protect yourself?

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a “my Social Security” account. Check it on a regular basis to monitor your address information or date of birth. If you see any information that has changed or is wrong, contact the Social Security Administration immediately.

If there’s any fraud or identity theft, you may also want to contact fraud hotlines at the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Aging.

If you have a problem logging into your account because the password has changed, call the Social Security and ask for “helpdesk,” when the system asks why you are calling.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 17, 2019) Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft”

How Do I Include My Pet in My Estate Plan?

A recent survey of pet owners showed that nearly half (44%) of pet owners have prepared for the future care of their animals, in the event their pets outlive them. With traditional financial planning instruments like living trusts, life insurance, and annuities, pet owners can have peace of mind knowing their pets’ needs will be met.

Forbes’s article, “3 Financial Planning Tips For Pets Owners,” says that typically, “pet estate plans” should cover more than simply who will care for the pet, when you are no longer around. Expenses such as food, doggie day care, veterinarian bills and medication should also be considered.

20% of all respondents in the survey said they have financially planned for their pets’ future care. About 38% said they added the pet’s future caregiver as a beneficiary to a life insurance policy and 35% added more coverage to their life policies. 13% also recently purchased annuities naming the pet’s caregiver as the beneficiary.

However, many pet owners forget about end-of-life planning. Consider an individual trust for your pet or donating funds to your local humane society or pet shelter.

One question many have before adding a new animal to the family, is whether they can afford it. The cost of an animal from a breeder can be high, so a more affordable option is to check out your local humane society or animal rescue group. Remember that the costs of food, vet bills and other supplies are just as important to think about, before making a pet a part of your family. Pets are too often returned to animal shelters, because pet parents were unable to afford to properly care for the pet.

Last, ask about pet insurance at your veterinarian. Many clinics offer plans and staff members will be able to talk to you about the right option based on the type of animal, breed, age and other criteria of your pet.

Simple steps like these will make certain your pets are cared for properly and affordably.

Reference: Forbes (January 27, 2019) “3 Financial Planning Tips For Pets Owners”

When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

Estate planning is important. Signing a power of attorney can be essential for those seeking to safeguard their financial resources and other assets.

The Tri-County Times explains in its article, “Power of attorney protects loved ones,” that a POA is granted to an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent.” It gives that individual the legal authority to make decisions for an incapacitated “principal.” The laws for creating a power of attorney vary based on the state.  However, there are some general similarities.

Many people think their families will be able to intercede, if an event occurs that leaves them incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves. That’s not always true. If a person isn’t named as an agent or granted legal access to financial, medical, and other information, family members may be left out. Further, the government may appoint someone to make certain decisions for an individual, if no POA is named.

Almost everyone can benefit from establishing a power of attorney.

A signed power of attorney will remove the legal obstacles that may arise in the event that a person is no longer physically or mentally capable of managing certain tasks.

A power of attorney is a broad term that covers a wide range of decision-making. The main types of POA are a general power of attorney, health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney and special power of attorney.

The responsibilities of some of these overlap, but there are some legal differences. For instance, a durable power of attorney relates to all the appointments involved in general, special and health care powers of attorney being made “durable”—meaning that the document will remain in effect or take effect if a person becomes mentally incompetent.

Certain powers of attorney may expire within a certain time period.

An agent appointed through POA may be able to handle many tasks, depending on what powers are granted in the document. They include banking transactions, filing tax returns, managing government-supplied benefits, deciding on medical treatments and executing advanced health care directives.

Although a power of attorney document can be completed on your own, sitting down with an experienced estate planning attorney is preferred to better understand the intricacies of this vital document and ensuring that it will be legally binding and properly prepared.

Reference: Tri-County (MI) Times (January 24, 2019) “Power of attorney protects loved ones”

Include a Letter with Your Estate Plan

You have your vital documents in order, and you keep them current. You have a will or trust. Your living will, also called health care power of attorney is complete, and you have spoken with the person you have named as your health care decision-maker about your end-of-life wishes. You have taken care of all your legal and financial issues, including final instructions and a list of who will receive particular items.

While your loved ones will appreciate that you have thoughtfully taken care of these essential issues and will not leave them with a mess to clean up one day, there is one more thing you should do. You need to sit down and create something your family members and close friends will treasure for the rest of their lives. You should write and include a letter with your estate plan.

Words are Important

People can carry sadness for a lifetime because a parent never said “I love you” to the child. The parent might be shocked that the child felt unloved. Some people think they do not have to tell someone they love them, because they show their affection in the daily tasks of providing a home and upbringing for the child.

In addition to the worldly goods that you give to your loved ones, leaving a “last letter” behind can help them deal with their grief at losing you. You can use the letter to accomplish things you might not have done as much as you wish you had. You can write one letter that speaks to several people or write multiple letters.

What to Put in the Letter

You can begin by telling the people in the letter that they are important to you. You should tell them that you love them and let them know in writing how proud you are of them. No matter how many times you have spoken these words to them before, they can hold a letter in their hands for years and read it over and over.

Sometimes people write letters of apology to those they have hurt at some point in their lives. Apologies are helpful in making peace with one’s life. If you cannot bring yourself to say the words during your lifetime or you anticipate that the person would respond in an unacceptable manner, you can do your part by putting the apology in a letter.

If you can forgive someone who did something wrong to you, it can be cathartic to write a letter of forgiveness. These letters take great care, as they can be interpreted as sanctimonious or judgmental.

What Not to Put in the Letter

While it might be tempting to take one last jab at someone you feel wronged you, the last letter is no time to be spiteful. If you cannot write something kind to a person, do not write anything.

What to Do with the Letter

All you need to do is tuck the letter in with your legal papers. One day, when your loved ones go through your will or trust, they will get a pleasant surprise and something to cherish.

You should talk with an elder law attorney near you about the ways that your state rules might vary from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP. “How to Write a Last Letter to Your Loved Ones.” (accessed January 8, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2018/letter-to-remember.html

Should You Play Banker for Your Adult Children?

Many seniors are lending money to their adult children. The kids get a loan that might have cost them thousands of dollars of fees with a traditional lender, and the parents get an income stream that gives a better return than a savings account would. At least – that is what happens when everything goes as planned. If you are thinking about making a significant loan for your child to buy a house or car, you need to evaluate this question – should you play banker for your adult children?

Reasons That Parents Make Loans to Their Adult Children

In addition to the obvious motive of wanting to help their children, many parents want to find ways to make their liquid assets work harder for them. Let’s say you liquidate a significant portion of your investments out of concern about the stock market. In the past, you could dump that money into a savings account that would earn interest and be safer than the stock market.

The problem now is that savings accounts have extremely low yields. The average savings account currently pays only 0.06 percent interest per year. Many of the big, national banks pay only 0.01 percent. Making a loan to your child with an interest rate of 2.5 or 3 percent, can help the parents keep up with inflation. A savings account with a balance of $100,000 and a 0.01 percent yield will generate only $10 a year in interest. Lending your child the same $100,000 at 2.5 percent will get you $2,500 a year in interest.

How to Take the Idea for a Test Drive

Understandably, many parents worry about making a large loan to an adult child. Not to worry – you can make a loan for the down-payment instead of the entire mortgage. You risk a smaller amount, and both you and your child can find out if this type of arrangement works for all of you.

Depending on the amount of the mortgage and the total down-payment, the down-payment loan can help your child qualify for the mortgage and not have to pay for Personal Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI can add $100 or more to your child’s monthly mortgage payment.

Downsides of Parent “Bankers”

It could be devastating to you financially if your child does not make the loan payments. This situation could cause you to have to work for many extra years or not be able to retire at all. You could find yourself in poverty when you retire. You should only lend money that you can afford to lose.

You need to consider how lending a substantial sum of money will affect the amount of money your other children inherit. You should make sure that you work with your estate planner to protect your estate’s right to the money. Finally, consider how the loan will affect your relationship with your child and your other children. The Thanksgiving meal can be awkward, when family members borrow money from each other.

Tax Issues of Lending Money to Your Children

You must create the proper documents, like a mortgage or promissory note, to keep the IRS from treating the loan as a gift and imposing a steep gift tax.  It is necessary to charge at least the rate of interest that the IRS requires. These rates change every month, so you will need to check and re-check. You will also have to register the mortgage with an approved company for your children to take the mortgage interest deduction.

Legacy Planning Law Group can help you prepare the documents you will need to memorialize the loan and help you strategize how to make the loan work with your estate plan. We can explain how Florida’s laws might be different from the general law of this article.

References:

CNN. “Savings accounts with the highest yields.” (accessed January 17, 2019) https://money.cnn.com/2013/10/01/pf/savings-account-yields/index.html

AARP. “Should You Give Your Kids a Mortgage?” (accessed January 16, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/money/credit-loans-debt/info-08-2013/giving-your-kids-a-mortgage.html

How Can a Trust Keep My Family From An Undesirable Lifestyle?

Some people are hesitant to use trusts in their estate planning. Some have the notion that if you leave money in trust, it will make “trust fund babies” of your children or grandchildren.

You may be afraid that they’ll become spoiled brats, who do nothing but spend money they haven’t earned or invest foolishly.

FEDWeek’s recent story, “Using a Trust as an Incentive for Your Heirs” explains that trust distributions can be limited to modest amounts or left to the discretion of the trustee, who’ll manage the trust assets.

The article suggests that if you do leave money in trust, you should avoid the common practice of providing for distributions at the ages 25 and 30.

That’s because at those ages, most people are better off finishing their education and establishing their careers. Giving them a bagful of money at that age, might decrease their drive to pursue a meaningful career.

One way to do this is what’s called an “incentive” trust. This type of trust offers rewards to trust beneficiaries who accomplish specific goals.

With an incentive trust, the beneficiaries might get a particular amount of money for getting higher education degrees, attaining certain levels of earned income or volunteering at a church or in the community. For instance, your trust could be drafted by your estate planning attorney to state that the trustee will distribute to each of your grandchildren a certain percentage (such as 25%) of earnings each year, up to a certain amount. This could be tied to a requirement that you make.

Another way to go about this trust, is to leave the distributions to the discretion of the trustee. The trust might detail the types of activities that will be rewarded, then permit the trustee to make appropriate distributions.

When you’re going to depend so much on the judgment of the trustee, for this type of arrangement to work, it’s critical to choose a highly-qualified trustee.

The trustee could be a relative, friend, or professional advisor. He or she must be able to empathize with your beneficiaries but still make prudent decisions about distributions. In addition, add a plan for trustee succession, in case your first choice becomes unable or cannot serve.

Reference: FEDWeek (January 17, 2019) “Using a Trust as an Incentive for Your Heirs”

Why Can’t My Husband Go to the Doctor to Help Me?

Health care privacy laws have created situations for many well-meaning people that become really annoying. If one spouse is ill and the other spouse is more than willing to take a ride to the doctor’s office to get a needed document, in many instances they cannot—even if the doctor or physician assistant knows them both.

It seems illogical that the person who is named as another person’s agent under an Advanced Care Directive can’t take on these tasks, says the Monterey Herald in the article “Senior Advocate: Can my health care agent help me now?” After all, if they can make decisions for you when you’re incapacitated, why can’t they do something as simple as get a copy of your medical records for a second opinion?

However, the Advance Health Care Directive isn’t the document that gives someone access to all of your medical information. The Advance Health Care Directive is usually the document that gives your named agent the power to make decisions about end-of-life or life-saving decisions. It’s the document that is used if a decision must be made about taking a person off of a respirator or a heart machine.

If you want to give someone the ability to run health-related errands for you or speak with your healthcare providers, it is possible to have an Advanced Health Care Directive prepared, so it becomes immediately effective, regardless of your capacity. This can be used to give a spouse the ability to have access to all your medical records and information.

If you are ill and want to have your spouse involved in your medical care, even if you are not incapacitated, the “effective immediately” option will let your spouse act on your behalf. You won’t have to wait for a physician to state that you are incapacitated, before an Advanced Directive can take effect.

Since an Advance Directive usually names an alternate agent, you can have the document prepared so your spouse is able to be effective anytime, but the alternate agent can be limited to when your spouse is not able to help, and you are unable to speak for yourself because you have become incapacitated.

Keep in mind that the Advance Directive, whether effective immediately or only upon incapacity, has nothing to do with your finances. That requires a different document, or documents, depending upon your estate plan and your unique situation.

An estate planning attorney will be able to craft Power of Attorney documents for finances, trusts or other assets. All these documents should be prepared, while you are still competent to understand how the documents work and what powers they give to your spouse or another named agent.

Reference: Monterey Herald (Dec. 22, 2018) “Senior Advocate: Can my health care agent help me now?”

Empty Nest? Time to Focus on the Nest Egg

After decades devoted to rearing children, it happens: parents realize that they’ve neglected their own retirement savings. Once the nest empties out, says USA Today, it’s time to refocus on building up savings accounts. How do you do it? The answers are in the article “5 ways empty nesters can boost their savings and turbocharge their 401(k)s.”

Here’s a five-step plan for making this happen.

Up the savings side. Once you’re not spending cash on your kids for clothes, college funds, cars and car insurance, that cash can move into retirement savings. The maximum for a 401(k) in 2019 is $19,000, and if you are over age 50, you can add $6,000 as a “catch-up” contribution. For annual IRA contributions, the limit is $5,000 with a catch-up of $1,000. Increase your paycheck deductions to the percentage, that will get you to the IRS limits. Put savings first.

If there’s a match, don’t miss it. Lucky enough to work for a company that matches all or part of your retirement savings? Do whatever you can to take full advantage of that free money. The most common company match is 50 cents per dollar on 6% of pay, according to Vanguard Group, which says that 70% of 401(k) plans had this match in place in 2017. Let’s say you earn $75,000 and save 6% of your pay. The company would give you $2,250, which means you’d be boosting your savings to $6,750.

Max out savings. The more money that is saved, the faster the nest egg grows. A married couple that socks away a combined $50,000 in pretax dollars every year in their 401(k)s, can find themselves with an additional $250,000 in five years. That’s not counting company matches or any investment growth.

Catch-up as fast as you can. Over 50? The IRS promotes savings by allowing catch-up contributions. An additional $6,000 is allowed in a 401(k). Parents who were paying for summer sleep away camp or riding lessons, can move those dollars into their own retirement accounts.

Control spending. The natural inclination when cash flow loosens up, is to spend more. Many people decide to live it up during these years, feeling like they deserve to enjoy themselves after dedicating so many years to their children. There’s a balance that needs to be found between enjoying and over-spending. Most families increase their retirement savings when the children are gone, but not by enough. Ramping up spending, instead of saving, means years of missed opportunities to build your retirement accounts.

The best advice is to take the long view. Savings instead of putting a convertible in the garage or taking lavish vacations, when a more modest approach is equally enjoyable, could change the nature of your retirement.

Reference: USA Today (Jan. 14, 2019) “5 ways empty nesters can boost their savings and turbocharge their 401(k)s”

Do You Have a Will?

Drafting a will is an essential component of estate planning.

Drafting a will with an experienced estate planning attorney helps avoid unnecessary work and perhaps some stress, when a family member passes away. A will permits the heirs to act with the decedent’s wishes in mind and can make certain that assets and possessions are passed to the correct individuals or organizations.

The Delaware County Daily Times’ recent article, “Senior Life: Things people should know about creating wills,” says that estate planning can be complicated. That’s the reason why many people use an experienced attorney to get the job done right. These attorneys specialize in estate planning and will discuss the following topics with their clients.

  • Assets: Create a list of known assets and determine which of those are covered by the will and which have to be passed on according to other estate laws, such as through joint tenancy or a beneficiary designation, like life insurance policies or retirement plan proceeds. A will also can dispose of other assets, such as photographs, mementos and jewelry.
  • Guardianship: Parents with minor children should include a clause regarding whom they want to become the guardians for their underage children or dependents.
  • Pets: Some people use their will to instruct the guardianship of pets and to leave assets for their care. However, remember that pets don’t have the legal capacity to own property, so don’t give money directly to pets in a will.
  • Funeral instructions: Finalizing probate won’t occur until after the funeral, so wishes may go unheeded.
  • Executor: This individual is a trusted person who will carry out the terms of the will. She should be willing to serve and be capable of executing the will.

Those who die without a valid will become intestate. This results in the estate being settled based upon the laws where that person lived. A court-appointed administrator will serve in the capacity to transfer property. This administrator will be bound by the laws of the state and may make decisions that go against the decedent’s wishes.

To avoid this, a will and other estate planning documents are critical. Talk to an estate planning attorney this week.

Reference: The Delaware County Daily Times (January 7, 2019) “Senior Life: Things people should know about creating wills”

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