New! 3GenFamily.com – Our New Website Is Now Live

By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

3GenFamily Blog has moved to a new location on the web.

Please come visit us at 3GenFamily.com

Long Distance Caregiving for a Parent While Raising Teens and Balancing Work and Home

The past 16 months has been an amazing and eventful time for me as a long distance caregiver for my 83 year old father, parent of two teen boys, spouse and juggler of work and home life. When I started this blog, I had no idea I would meet so many dedicated and fascinating people also working to get the best information into the hands of readers like you.

Because there is still a huge need for real answers to many of life’s toughest situations, I am expanding this blog to meet those needs. While I am grateful to WordPress.com for having a perfect place to start a blog, it is time to move to our own website.

I’ll be offering you even more honest content and real life ideas that work for caregivers, parents and anyone struggling to balance the conflicting priorities of work and home life.

Please come visit us at 3GenFamily.com

One housekeeping note: If you signed up to receive this blog via email or RSS from Feedburner, you will need to sign up again at 3GenFamily.com. I am sorry for the inconvenience. There isn’t a way for me to just move your settings over to the new website.

Don’t miss a single post. The latest post discusses 110 Tips for Getting Into the College of Your Choice.

Please come visit us at 3GenFamily.com

Articles on Reducing Conflict with Adult Siblings, Getting Into the College Your Child Dreams About, Surviving Long Distance Caregiving

I will be writing more of the types of article you have come to expect from 3GenFamily Blog. And, there will be new features based on requests and comments I have received from our readers. The topics will still relate to being sandwiched in between two generations — our aging parents who increasingly need our help and our children who are not yet ready to fly into the world.

Somewhere in there, each of us also needs to make a space for ourselves for meaningful work and for celebrating life’s small and large personal successes. Buried between the lines is the emotional turmoil of conflict with our adult siblings and the the lack of understanding of bosses and coworkers who haven’t reached these stages of life.

How do you explain an issue to someone who has no frame of reference?

Please come visit us at 3GenFamily.com

Best Regards,

CK Wilde

© 2008 CK Wilde. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to link to this post but you must have prior written permission to reproduce this post either whole or in part. Please use the comments to request permission.

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Is It Time for an Estate Planning Checkup for Your Parents or You?

3GenFamily Blog has moved to a new location on the web.

Please come visit us at 3GenFamily.com

By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

Is your family like most others? Have your parents (or you) done some estate planning (see below for resources) and then filed the documents away to gather dust and cobwebs until they are needed?

Why do I ask? Because if an illness or accident suddenly happened, you just might discover that those documents are out of date and don’t do the job they were supposed to do!

In spite of the changes that my Dad made in recent years to his documents, he didn’t update all of them. Now as his executrix, I am discovering that some of the documents don’t do what he and my mom originally wanted.

As you may know from my previous posts, my father was frugal beyond belief. He never understood why attorneys got paid so much and tried to avoid using them whenever he could. But, he didn’t totally ignore estate planning.

Urged on by my mother, he got the requisite documents done. And, life events (my mom’s death, remarriage, divorce) forced him to update his will, financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney several times.

But, he never got help with the total picture. So now, I’m looking at estate taxes that wouldn’t have to be paid if Dad had just gotten someone to review his entire estate periodically.

No, not Federal Estate tax. Congress changed the law to increase the amount that is exempt from tax. I’m dealing with NJ Estate tax.

You see, when Congress changed the the federal tax, it threw the states into a tizzy at the prospect of losing desperately needed tax revenue. Every state has dealt with it differently. NJ did something unique — kept the tax rules that were in effect in 2001.

So what should my Dad have done?

Sit down every few years and double check that all of these estate planning documents still met his needs. And, he really should have had an attorney look at them.

What documents am I talking about?

1. Your will – Everyone should have one even if you think you don’t have many assets. The laws of Intestacy (dying without a will) in your state will dictate how your property should be distributed. But, it may not be the way you would want it. Why chance it?

2. Name beneficiaries for all bank accounts, IRAs and securities — The accounts will go to the person you name rather than into your estate and may save grief later. My father had several accounts that did not have beneficiary designations. Bank employees seem to be totally clueless about this.

3. Buy life insurance if people depend on you for support — Keeping small policies in force for elderly parents could help pay the funeral and other expenses if they are paid up policies. Accident policies are a waste of money for most seniors because the majority of our elders die from medical problems, not accidents. My father had 3 accident policies that were worthless.

4. Make out a Living Will or medical power of attorney — I discussed the importance of this in my previous post about getting a Living Will.

5. Make a financial power of attorney — When my father was rushed to the hospital and bounced in and out of rehab for 3 months, I was able to step in to pay his bills and handle his affairs because the power of attorney was in place. It’s a good idea to talk with your parent about bills and taxes before a crisis happens. Know what’s due when and where the banking records are.

6. Plan for children with special needs — Along with the will, you may need other arrangements to care for a special needs child. Don’t assume that the executor will know what you intended. Few of us read minds very well. Siblings don’t always get along. Spell it out.

7. Let your executor know where everything is located — Whether you use a specially designed estate planning organizer or just a spiral bound notebook, mark down where all of the documents are. Organize and label them. Write down the names and addresses of your attorney, accountant, banks and other key contacts. Document everything that is pertinent to your finances and life.

Here are a few resources to help

Wills and Estate Planning Information at NOLO.com

Get Organized Now” on the Nolo Press website

Find an attorney who specializes in Elder Law

Estate Planning 101 from FindLaw.com

Don’t put off asking your parents about this. You aren’t prying. You are helping them achieve their final wishes.

Do be respectful if you are not designated to handle their affairs. Circumstances change. Your aging parents may need your help in the future if the other person can’t be there. You want to remain on good terms with your family.

Most important, toss away the urge to daydream happily about your future inheritance. If you are in charge of the estate, your elders come first. You may need to make decisions to spend that money for home health care, assisted living or a nursing home. Your focus must remain on doing your utmost to meet your parents’ needs.

After it’s all over, you’ll be very glad you did. (more about the tough decisions I faced in the next post)

Is Your Parent Afraid of Running Out of Money in Retirement (Part 2)

How much money does a 83 year old need to have in savings to avoid running out of money in retirement?

In a previous post (Is Your Parent Afraid of Running Out of Money in Retirement -Part 1), I described how my 83 year old father was living in abject terror of having his money run out before he died.  While doing research trying to understand what was bothering my Dad, I stumbled across an article about “Bag Lady” syndrome.

The fear of running out of money and being forced to live on the streets is not uncommon. But, it usually affects women who often depend on and defer to the men in their lives. They have a feeling of being powerless to prevent becoming a Bag Lady.  Men’s fears usually have to do with losing jobs, etc.

I tried to reassure Dad that he was comfortably set.  Running summaries of his savings accounts and graphing his frugal spending habits, with colorful charts and graphs showing almost horizontal lines extending ten years, did not diminish his fear.

In spite of all my logical arguments that his finances were in good shape, he continued to worry. My father understood, in the core of his being, that once you start spending principal it’s gone and so is the interest you could earn by investing that money.

Dad was managing to live within his modest budget except for certain hospital and medical bills. He had to use his savings to pay for them. The hospital is especially aggressive about collecting its money. If you don’t pay the bill within a certain period of time, the hospital sends it to a collection agency to hound you until you make arrangements to pay. A delinquency because of hip replacement surgery gets treated the same way as a car loan.

So, how much money does an 83 year old need to have in savings to avoid running out of money in retirement?

Like a zen riddle (What is the sound of one hand clapping?), I have turned this question over and over in my mind looking for an answer.  My extensive research on the Internet  turned up the same cryptic response again and again.

There is no single answer that fits all retirees. 

Because cost of living (New York vs. North Carolina) and spending habits (tuna vs. caviar) vary wildly, every major financial website offers a retirement savings calculator that allows each person to insert the dollar amounts for her unique situation. You can play with a variety of scenarios and come up with charts that provide peace of mind or many sleepless nights.

Even if the numbers are all positive, you don’t have an iron clad guarantee.

The cruel, ugly truth is that– even if all of the other calculations are accurate– no one can predict if you will have a prolonged medical crisis that will suck savings out of your accounts faster than . . . [insert your favorite phrase here].

(This is not intended to frighten you. It is time that someone said it. Now, we can look at the steps you can take to deal with it.)

Figure out your elderly parent’s regular monthly expenses and how to cover them without tapping into the principal. You may need the help of a fee based certified financial planner to decide how to invest the savings.

Here are some additional strategies that can help:

1 . Supplemental medical insurance – Medicare pays 80%. The supplemental coverage picks up some amount between 50-90% of the balance. What’s left is a very small co-pay that is so much easier to manage.

2. Prescription drugs – Ask the doctor to prescribe an older, low cost drug or a generic rather than the latest patent wonder drug. Use the mail order prescription service from your supplemental insurance if there’s one to get the lowest possible price.

3. Regular checkups – The doctor can identify problems early so that your parent does not need a trip to the emergency room. If you are the person named as medical power of attorney (see previous post), become familiar with your parent’s medication. Ask questions. Some doctors ignore a senior’s complaint as just “old age.” Don’t settle for that answer.

4. Exercise – Studies agree that daily exercise , just short walks of 10 to 20 minutes, contributes to better health and faster recovery after an illness. Even 80 year olds can benefit from basic strength training and balance exercises.

5. Sleep – Lack of sleep contributes to decreased immunity. Exercise often helps with sleep problems. If aging has changed your parent’s sleep cycles, encourage her to take a regular nap during the day. (40 and 50 year olds can benefit from power naps, too!)

4. Fruit, vegetables and water – Helping our elders have a regular supply of fresh and tasty produce and non-chlorinated water ready when they are hungry or thirsty is one of the lowest cost ways to boost health and vitality. (Check out Jack LaLanne’s website to see what good nutrition and exercise can do for a 90 year old if you don’t believe me.)

5. Supplements – I personally believe in vitamin and mineral supplements. Ask the doctor or pharmacist for advice. In a future post, I’ll discuss which common prescription drugs deplete certain nutrients from the body. The results can be disastrous but the solution costs just pennies in most instances.

6. Family, friends and fun – Ok, you knew this. Studies show that people live longer, healthier lives if they have regular social contact with family and friends. This is particularly important to remember if your parent is living alone in his own home. Oprah, CNN, even Larry King with his wide range of topics, are not substitutes for real, in person, human social interaction. Pets can help, too, if your parent can manage their care. Help your parent get out of the house on a regular basis. Even adult day care can be a spirit lifter for many seniors.

My father died recently. Yes, he made it to the finish line without running out of money.

The last three months of his life were grueling for both of us. His ultimate medical crisis arrived. 

More about those final months in the next posts.

Is Your Parent Afraid of Running Out of Money in Retirement? Part 1

My Dad was a victim of Bag-Lady syndrome.

It took me a long time to understand what was going on. I finally found the name for my father’s terrible fear of losing his money in an article in MSN Money of all places!

Bag-Lady syndrome is the fear, often found in women at all economic levels, that financial security could vanish overnight. The spectre of being penniless and homeless haunts some women’s dreams.

Olivia Mellan, a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in money psychology, comments, “One of the ways that it impacts women’s lives is it makes them afraid to take risks with their money. That’s why a lot of women have lots of money sitting in a checking or savings account doing nothing. They’re afraid they might need it if they end up on the street.”

That’s it! But, how did my father end up with Bag-Lady syndrome?

According to Mellan, men don’t usually have this type of fear. “They have fears that are more rational and related to their provider burden: being injured, dying young, being laid off, things like that. Whereas bag-lady syndrome is more global, a magical, nameless thing like free-floating anxiety.”

At age 83, my father had already been retired for 18 years. His health had deteriorated so much that we joked about his quarterly “vacations” at the local hospital. Even with Medicare and supplemental insurance coverage picking up most of the bill, those vacations were shrinking his retirement savings.

If he needed to earn more money today, who would hire someone who was hard of hearing, walked haltingly with a cane and was flummoxed by high tech equipment?

All of my attempts to chart his retirement assets and show him graphs about how long his retirement money would last, were useless. It didn’t matter how much money he had. His fear had to do with not knowing how he could make more money if he needed it.

As his health and fear worsened, Dad just refused to spend any money. No geriatric care manager ( see previous post Is In Home Care The Answer?.) No in home care. No meals in the retirement community dining room.

In hindsight, I could have helped my father deal with his fear by dragging it out into the daylight and brainstorming ways for Dad to take action. Helping him find a job? Well maybe not a job, but some way to actively make even just small amounts of money.

Taking action, it turns out, is the key to licking Bag-Lady syndrome. (more in next post)