Elder abuse can take a wide variety of forms, but I think the worst of the worst is caused by unscrupulous adult guardians appointed by a court to care for seniors who are no longer able to care for themselves. And though you may not want to believe such a thing could happen, you need to know that without the right planning in place, even the seniors in your own family could be at risk.

In fact, there are currently 1.5 million American adults under guardianship, with an estimated 85% of them over age 65. All told, these guardians control nearly $273 billion in assets. And a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found hundreds of cases where guardians were involved in the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of seniors placed under their supervision.

Exploitation disguised as protection
Although most of the reported abuse was committed by family members, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involve professional guardians.

These predatory guardians search for seniors with a history of health issues, and they’re often able to obtain court-sanctioned guardianship with alarming ease. From there, they can force the elderly out of their homes and into assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. They can sell off their homes and other assets, keeping the proceeds for themselves. They can prevent them from seeing or speaking with their family members, leaving them isolated and even more vulnerable to exploitation.

What’s more, though it’s possible for a guardianship to be terminated by the court if it can be proven that the need for guardianship no longer exists, a study by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that such attempts typically fail. And those family members who do try to fight against court-appointed guardians frequently end up paying hefty sums of money in attorney’s fees and court costs, with some even going bankrupt in the process.

An open door for potential abuse
Obviously, not all professional guardians exploit the seniors (known as wards) placed under their care. But with the combination of the exploding elderly population—many of whom will require guardians—and our overloaded court system, such abuse will almost certainly become more common. Indeed, as the swelling aging population strains court resources, strict oversight of professional guardians is likely to become increasingly more difficult, enabling shady guardians to more easily slip through the cracks.

Facing these facts, it’s critical for both seniors and their adult children to take proactive measures to prevent the possibility of such abuse. Fortunately, there are multiple estate planning tools that can dramatically reduce the chances of you, or your elderly loved ones, being placed under the care of a professional guardian against your/their wishes.

What’s more, because any adult could face court-ordered guardianship if they become incapacitated by illness or injury, it’s crucial that every person over age 18—not just seniors—have planning vehicles in place to prepare for their potential incapacity.

Should you become incapacitated and not have the proper planning vehicles in place, your family would have to petition the court in order to be granted guardianship. And it’s this lack of planning that leaves you vulnerable. In most cases, the court would appoint a family member as guardian, but this isn’t always the case.

If you have no living family members, or those you do have are unwilling or unable to serve or deemed unsuitable by the court, a professional guardian would be appointed. And in certain cases, particularly when your family doesn’t live close by, guardianship can be granted without your loved ones—or even you—being aware of it. 

A total loss of autonomy
Once you’ve been placed under court-ordered guardianship, you essentially lose all your civil rights. Indeed, whether it’s a family member or a professional, guardians have complete legal authority to control every facet of your life.

Given the extreme power guardianship affords, courts are supposed to exercise tight oversight over adult guardians, yet the reality is that only cursory supervision is provided. What’s more, courts often don’t even keep complete records of guardianship cases, and those that do typically keep those records sealed from public view.

With no real system in place to prevent abuse by professional guardians, it’s up to you to protect yourself and your elderly parents through proactive estate planning.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Whether it’s called “The Great Wealth Transfer,” “The Silver Tsunami,” or some other catchy-sounding name, it’s a fact that a tremendous amount of wealth will pass from aging Baby Boomers to younger generations in the next few decades. In fact, it’s said to be the largest transfer of intergenerational wealth in history.

Because no one knows exactly how long Boomers will live or how much money they’ll spend before they pass on, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much wealth will be transferred. But studies suggest it’s somewhere between $30 and $50 trillion. Yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T.”

A blessing or a curse?
And while most are talking about the benefits this asset transfer might have for younger generations and the economy, few are talking about its potential negative ramifications. Yet there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that many people, especially younger generations, are woefully unprepared to handle such an inheritance. 

Indeed, an Ohio State University study found that one third of people who received an inheritance had a negative savings within two years of getting the money. Another study by The Williams Group found that intergenerational wealth transfers often become a source of tension and dispute among family members, and 70% of such transfers fail by the time they reach the second generation.

Whether you will be inheriting or passing on this wealth, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the potentially calamitous effects such transfers can lead to. Without proper estate planning, the money and other assets that get passed on can easily become more of a curse than a blessing.

Get proactive
There are several proactive measures you can take to help stave off the risks posed by the big wealth transfer. Beyond having a comprehensive estate plan, openly discussing your values and legacy with your loved ones can be key to ensuring your planning strategies work exactly as you intended. Here’s what we suggest:

Create a plan: If you haven’t created your estate plan yet—and far too many folks haven’t—it’s essential that you put a plan in place as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how young you are or if you have a family yet, all adults over 18 should have some basic planning vehicles in place.

From there, be sure to regularly review your plan (and update it immediately after major life events like marriage, births, deaths, inheritances, and divorce) throughout your lifetime.

Discuss wealth with your family early and often: Don’t put off talking about wealth with your family until you’re in retirement or nearing death. Clearly communicate with your children and grandchildren what wealth means to you and how you’d like them to use the assets they inherit when you pass away. Make such discussions a regular event, so you can address different aspects of wealth and your family legacy as they grow and mature.

When discussing wealth with your family members, focus on the values you want to instill, rather than what and how much they can expect to inherit. Let them know what values are most important to you and try to mirror those values in your family life as much as possible. Whether it’s saving and investing, charitable giving, or community service, having your kids live your values while growing up is often the best way to ensure they carry them on once you’re gone.

Communicate your wealth’s purpose: Outside of clearly communicating your values, you should also discuss the specific purpose(s) you want your wealth to serve in your loved ones’ lives. You worked hard to build your family wealth, so you’ve more than earned the right to stipulate how it gets used and managed when you’re gone. Though you can create specific terms and conditions for your wealth’s future use in planning vehicles like a living trust, don’t make your loved ones wait until you’re dead to learn exactly how you want their inheritance used.

If you want your wealth to be used to fund your children’s college education, provide the down payment on their first home, or invested for their retirement, tell them so. By discussing such things while you’re still around, you can ensure your loved ones know exactly why you made the planning decisions you did. And doing so can greatly reduce future conflict and confusion about what your true wishes really are.

Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future
Regardless of how much or how little wealth you plan to pass on—or stand to inherit—it’s vital that you take steps to make sure that wealth is protected and put to the best use possible. A good plan should facilitate your ability to communicate your most treasured values, experiences, and stories with the ones you’re leaving behind so you can rest assured that the coming wealth transfer offers the maximum benefit for those you love most.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In a recent Facebook post “Processes to go through with your parents before they die,” Daniel Schmachtenberger, founder of the Critical Path Institute, outlined seven simple exercises to use with your parents that can offer significant healing and completion for their life and yours.

While Daniel shared these processes in the context of the impending death of a parent, the reality is that your parents are heading toward death, even if there is no official diagnosis. And starting these processes when mortality isn’t immediately on the table is even better.
 
1. Help them make a timeline of their life
Create a timeline of all the big events in their life, starting with birth and their earliest memories up to the present. This is a great way to get to know them even better while you still can. Recalling their life through these stories can help them harvest the gifts, relive the good times, and identify any areas that still feel unresolved.

There are apps for creating timelines, but it’s easily done with pen and paper. Create the timeline by writing “birth” on the far left of the page, and draw a horizontal line going towards “death” on the far right. Experiences are placed on the line chronologically in the order they occurred. Positive experiences are depicted as vertical lines going up from the horizontal line, and difficult experiences as lines going down. Write short descriptions to correspond with each experience.

One way to help prompt memories is to ask questions about different people, places, and things from their past: romantic relationships, jobs, and places they lived. Going through old photos, letters, and music can also trigger meaningful memories.

When documenting their life events, the positive experiences can simply be recalled and enjoyed. For the negative ones, you can ask them what they learned from the experience and write that lesson in the description. In this way, you can find beauty and meaning in all of it.

2. Relationship healing
To foster healing in your personal relationship with them, focus on three areas:

  • Peacemaking: Forgive them for any way they hurt you, and help them forgive themselves. Apologize for the ways you hurt them. You want to ensure that neither of you feels any residual pain (resentment, guilt, or remorse) in the relationship.
  • Appreciation and gratitude: Write them a letter detailing everything you learned from them and all the positive experiences you had together. Go deep within to discover all they did for you, really appreciate it, and use the letter to help them feel your appreciation. Pinpoint any of their virtues you hope to embody most in your life and share that commitment with them, so they know they’ll live on through you once they’re gone.
  • Reassurance: It’s common for parents to resist leaving you over concerns for your future well-being. Reassure them that you are alright, will be alright, and it’s okay for them to go. Using estate planning to help them get their affairs in order is a major part of this.

3. Family healing
If possible, help other family members go through the above healing process with your parents. Help your dying parent make peace with everyone in their life, even if some individuals can’t speak directly with them. Reassure them that you’ll help take care of those loved ones who are in the most need.

4. Wisdom gathering
Ask them for life advice on anything and everything you can think of. As the old African proverb says, “Every time an old person dies, a library burns,” so make sure to write down or record as much of their personal wisdom as possible.

5. Bucket list
To make the most of the time you have left, ask them if there’s anything they really want to experience before they go, and fulfill as many of these bucket-list items as you can.

6. Help them see how they touched the world
In addition to documenting the positive impact they’ve had on your life, help them inventory all of the meaningful ways they’ve touched the lives of others. You want them to clearly see all of the beauty and meaning their life has brought to the world.

7. Help them be at peace with passing
While the above steps can help bring them peace, if they experience any fear of death, do your best to help them move through that. When death comes, you want them to be ready to greet him as an old friend.

If they practice a particular religion, you can recite their favorite verses, hymns, and/or prayers. Or they might find comfort in hearing their most beloved poems or songs. Silent or guided meditation is often helpful as well. But sometimes, simply offering them your loving presence and holding their hand is enough.

Preserving your family’s intangible assets
The life stories, lessons, and values that come from these final conversations can be among the most precious of all your family’s assets. And to make sure these gifts aren’t lost forever, we’ve developed our own process for preserving and passing on these intangible assets.

Indeed, we consider such legacy planning so important, this service is included with every estate plan we create. Using a series of helpful questions and prompts like the exercises Daniel outlines, we’ll guide you to create a customized video in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences with those you’re leaving behind. 
 
Though estate planning is mainly viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, when done right, it also enables you to preserve and pass on your true legacy: your memories, values, and wisdom. With the right support, having these all-important conversations doesn’t have to be intimidating or awkward at all.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc

If you’ve watched TV lately, you’ve likely seen ads selling reverse mortgages. A reverse mortgage can be a great tool to help you realize your dreams.  However, it is a very specific type of tool for a very specific type of situation.  If used incorrectly, it can cause a borrower to lose their home.  You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of reverse mortgages.

How they work
A reverse mortgage is a loan which allows homeowners 62 and older to convert some of the equity they have in their primary residence into cash. The amount of equity required to obtain a reverse mortgage depends on your age. Younger borrowers need about 60% equity in their homes to qualify, while those over 80 may need just 45%.

Once approved, you can receive the money in one of three ways: as a lump sum, as monthly installments, or as a line of credit. Because you receive payments from the lender, your home’s equity decreases over time, while the loan balance gets larger, thus the term “reverse” mortgage.

With a reverse mortgage, you no longer have to make monthly mortgage payments, and you can stay in your home as long as you keep up with property taxes, pay insurance premiums, and keep the home in good repair. Lenders make money through origination fees, mortgage insurance, and interest on the loan balance, all of which can exceed $10,000 to $15,000.

Be aware, the reverse mortgage loan (plus interest and fees) becomes due and must be repaid in full when any of the following events occur:

  • Your death
  • You are out of the home for 12 consecutive months or more, such as in the case of needing nursing home care
  • You sell the home or transfer title
  • You default on the loan by failing to keep up with insurance premiums, property taxes, or by letting the home fall into disrepair

A still evolving industry
In 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cracked down on some of the misleading advertising practices by lenders. All reverse mortgage advertisers are now required to disclose that the loans must be repaid after death or upon move-out. Additionally, advertisers can no longer claim the loans are a “government benefit” or “risk free.” 

In 2014, HUD developed new policies to better protect surviving spouses who were often being “left out in the cold” literally under the old rules. Now, if a married couple with one spouse under age 62 wants to take out a reverse mortgage, they may list the underage spouse as a “non-borrowing spouse” with rights to retain the home if the older spouse dies.

Despite these recent changes, however, the number of ads for reverse mortgages hasn’t declined and too many borrowers (and non-borrowing spouses) still end up going through foreclosure.  The industry continues to need to offer better protections for the elderly against unscrupulous reverse mortgage lending practices.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc

It’s common for families of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to realize that at some point, their loved one shouldn’t be allowed to drive. But fewer people are aware they should exercise the same level of caution when it comes to restricting their loved one’s access to firearms.

This was one of the findings of a May 2018 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine covering firearm ownership among Alzheimer’s patients. The study noted that even though 89% of Americans support restricting access to firearms for those with mental illness, there’s been little attention focused on limiting firearm access among elderly dementia patients.

Indeed, there are currently no federal gun laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms by persons with dementia. And only two states—Hawaii and Texas—have laws restricting gun access for dementia patients.

A ticking time bomb
This lack of attention comes despite an increasing number of incidents involving elderly dementia patients shooting and killing family members and caregivers after confusing them for intruders. And with so many Baby Boomers now entering retirement age, this dangerous situation could get much worse.

In fact, the number of people with dementia is expected to double to around 14 million in the next 20 years, with the vast majority of those over age 65. Since nearly half of people over 65 either own a gun or live with someone who does, it’s clear that firearm safety should be a top priority for those with elderly family members—even if they don’t currently have any signs of dementia.

That said, just talking about restricting someone’s access to guns can be highly controversial and polarizing. Many people, especially veterans and those in law enforcement, consider guns—and their right to own them—an important part of their identity.

Given this, the study’s authors recommended that families should talk with their elderly loved ones early on about the fact that one day they might have to give up their guns. Physicians suggest bringing up the topic of firearms relatively soon after individual’s initial dementia diagnosis.

This discussion should be like those related to driving, acknowledging the emotions involved and allowing the person to maintain independence and decision control for as long as it’s safe. Even though this can be a very touchy subject, putting off this discussion can literally be life threatening.

All part of the plan
Since it relates to so many other end-of-life matters, this discussion should take place as part of the overall estate planning process. One way to handle the risk is to create a separate “gun trust,” an estate planning tool specially designed to deal with the ownership of firearms.

Such a trust allows the gun owner to name a trusted family member or friend to take ownership of their firearms once they’re reached a certain age or stage of dementia. In this way, the process may seem more like passing on a beloved family heirloom and less like giving up their guns.

Moreover, the transfer of certain types of firearms must adhere to strict state and federal regulations. Unless the new owner is in full compliance with these requirements, they could inadvertently violate the law simply by taking possession of the guns.

With a gun trust, the firearm is legally owned by the trust, so most of the transfer requirements are avoided, making it a lot easier for family members to manage access after the original owner’s death or incapacity.

Indeed, gun trusts can be a valuable planning strategy even for gun owners without dementia. Speak with us to see if a gun trust would be a suitable option for your family.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Retirement planning is one of life’s most important financial goals. Indeed, funding retirement is one of the primary reasons many people put money aside in the first place. Yet many of us put more effort into planning for our vacations than we do to prepare for a time when we may no longer earn an income.

Whether you’ve put off planning for retirement altogether or failed to create a truly comprehensive plan, you’re putting yourself at risk for a future of poverty, penny pinching, and dependence. The stakes could hardly be higher.

When preparing for your final years, it’s not enough to simply hope for the best. You should treat retirement planning as if your life depended on it—because it does. To this end, even well-thought-out plans can contain fatal flaws you might not be aware of until it’s too late.

Have you committed any of the following three deadly sins of retirement planning?

1. Not having an actual plan
Even if you’ve been diligent about saving for retirement, without a detailed, goal-oriented plan, you’ll have no clear idea whether your savings strategies are working adequately or not. And such plans aren’t just about calculating a retirement savings number, funding your 401(k), and then setting things on auto-pilot.

Once you know how much you’ll need for retirement, you must plan for exactly how you’ll accumulate that money and monitor your success. The plan should include clear-cut methods for increasing income, reducing spending, maximizing tax savings, and managing investments when and where needed.

What’s more, you should regularly review and update your asset allocation, investment performance, and savings goals to ensure you’re still on track to hit your target figure. With each new decade of your life (at least), you should adjust your savings strategies to match the specific needs of your new income level and age.

Failing to plan, as they say, is planning to fail.

2. Not maximizing the use of tax-saving retirement accounts
One way or another, the money you put aside for retirement is going to be taxed. However, by investing in tax-saving retirement accounts, you can significantly reduce the amount of taxes you’ll pay.

Depending on your employment and financial situation, there are numerous different plans available. From traditional IRAs and 401(k)s to Roth IRAs and SEP Plans, you should consider using one or more of these investment vehicles to ensure you achieve the most tax savings possible.

What’s more, many employers will match your contributions to these accounts, which is basically free money. If your employer offers matching funds, you should not only use these accounts, but contribute the maximum amount allowed—and begin doing so as early as possible.

Since figuring out which of these plans will offer the most tax savings can be tricky—and because tax laws are constantly changing—you should consult with a professional financial advisor to find the one(s) best suited for your particular situation. Paying taxes is unavoidable, but there’s no reason you should pay any more than you absolutely must.

3. Underestimating health-care costs
It’s an inescapable fact that our health naturally declines with age, so one of the riskiest things you can do is not plan for increased health-care expenses.

With many employers eliminating retiree health-care coverage, Medicare premiums rising, and the extremely volatile nature of health insurance law, planning for your future health-care expenses is critical. And it’s even more important seeing that we’re now living longer than ever before.

Plus, these considerations are assuming that you don’t fall victim to a catastrophic illness or accident. The natural aging process is expensive enough to manage, but a serious health-care emergency can wipe out even the most financially well off.

Start preparing for retirement now
The best way to maximize your retirement funding is to start planning (and saving) as soon as possible. In fact, your retirement savings can be exponentially increased simply by starting to plan at an early age.

Let us know if we can help. We’ll be glad to review what you have in place now, advise you about what you need, introduce you to advisors you can trust, and ensure you and your family are well-protected and planned for, no matter what.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

PARENT-CHILD-CUSTODY-91024Your children are your pride and joy. It is no surprise that at some point or another, every parent likely becomes concerned about who will care for a minor child or children if one or both parents die or are incapacitated. From a financial perspective, many parents turn to life insurance in an effort to take care of their family in the event of death. While it is true that life insurance is a particularly helpful financial tool to protect your loved ones, it is just as important to consider how to leave the proceeds to your minor children. Beyond this, you should also consider how to incorporate your retirement money (IRAs and 401(k)s) into your overall estate plan.

Once you decide to purchase life insurance you will name a beneficiary of the death benefits.  You also name a beneficiary on your retirement accounts.  But, if you fail to have a system in place and your children are minors at the time they inherit these assets, the court will appoint a conservator to “watch over” a minor person’s money. This process requires attorneys’ fees, court proceedings, supervision from the court, and will generally limit investment options — all costs and delays that will not help your children, but rather cost them a significant percentage of their inheritance. Another downside? Whatever’s left when the child turns 18 will be handed over, without any guidance or boundaries. This can impact college financial aid opportunities as well as open a ready opportunity for irresponsible spending that most parents would never intend.

How To Leave Assets?

There are several ways in which you can structure your life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and overall estate plan to benefit your minor children in the most streamlined way possible.

First, instead of naming minor children as beneficiaries, use a children’s trust to manage and use the money for the benefit of your children. This lets you designate someone you think will manage the money well, rather than leaving it to the whims of the court.

Second, select and name a guardian to handle the day-to-day care for your children. This person can be different than the person managing in the money, which can sometimes work well depending on the amounts involved and the different skill sets needed to manage money versus raise children.

Third, if you have a living trust, make sure you have properly funded the trust and aligned your retirement assets with the plan. If you do not yet have a trust, consider the benefits of one over will-based planning.  Both types of plans will allow you to designate how much and when your children will receive the money, but a trust-based plan will allow you to do so without court involvement.

Benefits of a Trust

Generally, parents list a minor child as the secondary or contingent beneficiary on life insurance and retirement accounts after first naming the surviving spouse as a primary beneficiary. This may work, as long as everyone dies in the “right” order and at the “right” time. But, it’s a gamble, and providing structure through a trust for these inheritances is a vastly superior option. Unlike guardianship or custodian accounts, where the proceeds must be handed over once the minor(s) turns a certain age, you can specify at which age your child receives the proceeds. This allows you to specifically designate how the money is to be used, so it will be available for important life events, while protecting your children from reckless spending. Ultimately you have more control with a trust, and your customized plan will provide the best protection for your family.

If you have any questions about how to leave assets to your minor children — whether it is a life insurance policy, a retirement account, or any other asset — contact us today so we can help you explore the options available to your family, determine what tax implications will result, and advise you on the best structure that will protect your family’s needs.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

 

Elderly 91024Caring for an aging parent is a common challenge for Baby Boomers, and now even Gen-X’ers and Millennials. And, stepping in to help manage your parents’ finances, without eroding their sense of independence and privacy can be a tricky endeavor.

Many aging parents are reluctant to ask their children for help with their finances. It means a loss of control, a trading of places (from them taking care of you to you taking care of them), and can feel quite frightening for your parents.

Nevertheless, you may be wondering what you can do when your parents start needing help.

A pile of unpaid bills, threatening calls from creditors or repeated instances of credit card fraud or financial scams are good indicators that your parent needs help managing his or her finances.

Financial caregiving is easiest when you already have a plan in place. You may be in a good position to make educated decisions about their finances, but without the proper information and legal authority, your options are limited.

If your parent needs help, the first step is to make sure you know what they have, where it is, and how you can access it, if necessary.

Next, you want to make sure you know what bills are due, when and that their bills are being paid on time.

Unless you have the legal authority to manage your parents’ finances, you will need their help in getting access to their account and setting up auto-bill pay for them.

When you are ready, the first place to start is with a heart to heart conversation about whether your parent is ready for help and what that help could look like.

Then, if your parent is ready, you can ask him or her (or them) to legally designate you as either the Trustee of their trust or financial power of attorney holder, depending on the issues. And, be sure you are also designed as medical power of attorney, so you can make important care-giving decisions for your parent(s) if he, she or they cannot.

This is also an opportune time for you to consider your own long-term financial planning. By helping your parents and getting your own affairs in order, you are making things as easy as possible for each generation in your family. What an incredible gift!

Dedicated to empowering your family, increasing your wealth and building your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024