Money in the Middle

Sandwich Generation Talking About Money Up, Down and Across Generations

Archive for September 2009

When Managing Money Gets Difficult

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Just forgetful?  Or is it more?   

Difficulty with basic money management tasks might be the first indication that memory problems are developing into Alzheimer’s, according to a study published this week in the journal Neurology. 

Skills like understanding a bank statement, balancing a checkbook, paying bills, preparing bills for mailing and counting coins and currency, were judged in a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Alzheimer’s Disease Center. 

A year later, the individual assessments showed that those who had progressed to Alzheimer’s had more trouble with money tasks, while those without Alzheimer’s did not see a decline in their money handling abilities.

 While it’s a small test, it can be a signal for doctors and caregivers that cognitive capabilities of a loved one are slipping. 

“Doctors should proactively monitor people with MCI (mild cognitive impairment) for declining financial skills and advise them and their caregivers about steps they can take to watch for signs of poor money management,” said said Daniel Marson, Ph.D., JD, professor of neurology and director of the UAB Alzheimer’s Disease Center. http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/problems-managing-money-may-surface-shortly-alzheimers-disease-sets-25400.html

 “Caregivers should consider overseeing a person’s checking transactions, contacting the person’s bank to find money issues such as bills being paid twice, or become cosigners on the checking account so that both signatures are required for checks written above a certain amount. Online banking and bill payment services are also good options,” he added.

I’ve found that automatic bill pay can be extremely helpful with elders who are beginning to have trouble with money issues.  They are still “in charge” but the bills get paid on time and there is less worry and confusion over lost bills or writing checks.

 There are also services available to help elders with bill paying, though make sure that you know it is a reputable organization and someone whom you and your loved one are comfortable with and trust.  Or, maybe this is the perfect way for a reluctant sibling to get involved and share in caregiving responsibilities.

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Written by Laura Rossman

September 30, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Hire an Expert to Help with Aging Issues

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Baby boomers like to figure it out themselves – read and research enough and you can figure out the right answer.  But, when dealing with issues around aging parents, their care and/or their money, it might be time to bring on an expert.  Why?

First, there is so much emotional baggage – for you and for them. It’s amazing what anger and resentment can come back from years ago.  It clouds thinking about the issue at hand today and how to resolve it. 

Second, the issues of aging are complex and the resources – while available – can be confusing and mind numbing.  For many of us this can be the first time at figuring out Medicare and Medicaid and VA benefits, if applicable – the differences and what’s covered.  Then there is the maze of local resources and whether you are eligible or not.  Feeling like a fish out of water, we don’t know quite what questions to ask and get mesmerized by the onslaught of acronyms. 

Third, sorting through the resources can take up valuable time.  Time you might not have, time that might be better spent solving the problem – or at least clearly understanding the options.

Fourth, you don’t know what you don’t know.  You might get it right –as far as you get, but then just don’t know the next question to ask or the resource to hunt down or the analysis that will tell you what you can afford. 

So, this just might be the right time to hire an expert.  Here are two: 

Care manager– when you are at wits end (or hopefully before) contact a geriatric care manager to help you figure out where you are and what you should do next.  These specialists can help you identify solutions and bridge family disagreements over care.  I used a care manager when my Dad was thousands of miles away.  I didn’t know the area, and she was a terrific resource in identifying options.  We end up with a local assisted living facility that worked great for him and I never would have found on my own because it was a small facility.  I also used her to check in occasionally between my visits which provided great peace of mind. This article in the NY Times provides more on care managers. 

Financial Planner or Advisor – If there are financial resources, bringing in a third party advisor to help sort out what’s there and how to optimize the use of the dollars available can be a smart move.  This is not a broker who buys and sells investments or insurance.  This is someone who can work with you on a very personal basis to look at the assets available, the goals, potential health care and long-term care costs.  You’ll pay an hourly fee for a plan.  Make sure this is someone you and your parent trust and always get references.  

 Whether or not you are involved is up to your parent, unless you have a power of attorney providing control over their financial affairs.  Consul with an elder law attorney may also be appropriate.

 Time is not on your side with many of these decisions.  So tapping into experts can help you move toward a solution and save you time and energy.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 28, 2009 at 8:26 pm

FDA Warning on Lifeline Emergency Alert Pendants

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Emergency alert pendants that hang from the neck could pose a deathly choking hazard, the FDA warned this week.  The FDA said it is aware of at least six reports between 1998 and 2009 of serious injury or death, including three deaths in the United States and one in Canada, from choking after the cord on the Philips Lifeline Personal Help Button became entangled on other objects worn around the neck .

There are more than 750,000 users of this advice known as the Philips Lifeline Personal Help Button, the FDA said. 

Philips Lifeline is currently sending letters to its 750,000 customers and has changed the labeling of this product to include a warning against the potential choking hazard.

The FDA recommends that users consult their health care providers to determine which style of emergency button, including those that are worn on the wrist, is most beneficial for them.

These widely used devices provide critical and immediate access to emergency care for those at risk of falls or who may be more likely to need outside assistance. FDA said that while the number of adverse events reported is small compared to the number of people who use this device, the severity of these events is of concern. It remains important that users, along with their health care providers, assess the options provided by each style of button, and choose the option that best fits their condition.

While the numbers aren’t big, this is just the type of service many of us in the middle count on for peace of mind for aging parents.  So if you have an aging  parent or loved one who uses this pendant, check out alternative styles that might be just as effective and provide peace of mind.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 24, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Boomers – What’s Your Plan B for Work?

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Baby boomers- do you have an answer to that question? Take note of these two interesting findings about the future of work:

 Fact 1:  93% of the growth in the U.S. labor force from 2006 to 2016 will be among workers ages 55 and older.

 Fact 2: Retirement is not always voluntary. Only about half (51%) of all current retirees say they retired because they wanted to. About a third (32%) say they had to retire for health or other reasons, and about one-in-ten (9%) say their employer forced them to retire. (Pew Research Center)

 We laugh – that nervous sort of laugh — about how long we’ll work – 70, 80, 90. Thanks to the fallout from the recession, early retirement is off the table.  We need to make up for lost retirement savings; we need to really start saving for retirement; we have kids in college; we have aging parents who need our financial help.  And the list goes on.

Then comes Fact 2 –simply many of us aren’t going to have that choice. Whether because we our downsized, our company shuts down or we acquire a health condition that requires us to stop working, Plan A is no longer in place.

 Do you have a Plan B for work?

 I recently read Carol Orsborn’s  The year I Saved My  (downsized) Soul:  A Boomer Woman’s Search for Meaning…and a Job

What a joy!  It’s not a 10-step book to finding a job. There are lots of those around.  It’s a witty and personal look at the trauma of being downsized when you didn’t see it coming, the financial shock and reality, the FEAR of losing health insurance and a climb back to finding meaning, yourself – and in her case a new job. 

 If you’re a boomer out of a job or fear being out of a job, you’ll recognize her moments of despair and find yourself laughing with her through moments of discovery.  And it has a happy ending – just what we need for these tough times!

Carol does offer up 10 Keys to saving your (downsized) soul and my two favorites are:

  • Not everything that happens is a message.  Sometime a rat is only a rat.
  • It’s the economy that’s broken, not you

This economic meltdown has taken its toll on all generations—not just our retirement accounts but our spirits. So Carol’s book is a good reminder for the currently employed that “it can happen at anytime.” And to the unemployed, a lifting look at one got knocked down and is back in the game – stronger and more vibrant.

 So back to Fact 1 and Fact 2. Most of us, especially those without company pensions, will have to work longer. So, if work is integral to your financial future, get a plan B for work now, before you need it –whether it’s a new career, a part-time job, or figuring out how to work for yourself.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 22, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Mom Needs Help: Now What?

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If you are dipping into your pocket to help care for aging parents, you know the financial pressure it can bring.  But what else can you do?

There are options.  This article from the New York Times- Taking Care of Parents Also Means Taking Care of Finances -does a great job of framing the issues and offering advice.

As I speak with baby boomers facing providing assistance to aging parents, the two biggest issues that come up are: How do I talk with Mom and Dad about money? and  Where do I turn for help?

Having the discussion about money is tough – but not having it is just as hard since it leaves you anxious and your parent worried.  There may be some simple short term solutions – maybe just confirmation of what you suspected.  But at least you’ll both be working from the same data.

Where do you turn for help? It depends on what you need.  If there are financial resources, a financial planner or investment adviser may be able to help.  Make sure you speak with someone who is familiar with elder issues, not just investment strategy.  And they have a fiduciary responsibility to you or your parent – that means they have a legal responsibility to act in your best interest.

While government and non-profits are facing funding constraints, you can still find resources through Area Agency on Aging offices (AAoA) and eldercare locator, if finding care is paramount.  Hiring a geriatric care manager can also help you figure out a plan and local resources.  While it may cost you $500 or more for the advice, it can save you hours of worry and aggravation — and in the end save you money by identifying resources you didn’t even know existed.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 21, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Baby Boomer Women Key to Health Care Reform?

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Baby boomer women are  known to be the chief health officer of their household.  In fact, their reach goes byond that to an extended household that includes adult children and aging parents.  As a voice in the middle of the generations –with our own health care cost worries – can we play a pivotal role in health care reform?

An online community for women 50+ thinks so.  A survey from Vibrant Nation says more than 80% of the  Vibrant Women on their site agreed on three key issues:

  • 97% believe coverage for pre-existing conditions should be guaranteed,
  • 87% believe employees should be able to change jobs and keep the same insurer, and
  • 84% believe laws should prohibit insurance companies from cancelling policies for anyone who develops a given illness.

In addition, a majority also support the following positions:

  • 54% support a tax increase on those in the highest tax bracket to pay for health coverage,
  • 53% support a “public option” – a national healthcare plan paid for with tax dollars, and
  • 50% support the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover anyone up to age 27.

Baby boomer women sandwiched between aging parents and adult children have a unique view of health care issues.  We watch out for and fear our adult children not being adequately covered.  We know that our young adult children in their 20s feel less vulnerable and are more willing to go without insurance. We worry about whether our grandchildren have coverage and can get the health care they need.

On the other side, we have clawed our way through understanding the ins and outs of Medicare and Part D to help our aging parents make sure the have the right coverage. We are scared to death of the potential costs of long-term care.  And many baby boomer women know firsthand the fear of being without health insurance or paying astronomical premiums for insurance when they are between jobs and not yet eligible for Medicare.

 “As we see from both the survey and the active online conversations on VibrantNation.com, these women understand the issues, support President Obama’s proposal, and are willing to influence their friends, family member and elected officials,” said Dr. Carol Orsborn of Vibrant Nation. “As a Vibrant Woman myself, I believe the White House will achieve a better solution, faster, if it engages Vibrant Women who really care about this issue.”

I agree that baby boomer women are at the fulcrum of understanding  first-hand the challenges and costs of the current health care system.  Sitting in the middle, it’s pretty clear to me that the system we have can’t continue.  And if it does, more and more of us will be priced out of purchasing adequate health care coverage.  A survey released earlier this week says employees will be paying more for insurance next year: in higher premiums and higher co-pays. Those who purchase individual policies are sure to see price increases as well.

Do you think baby boomer women can be key in achieving health care reform?

Written by Laura Rossman

September 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Picking the Right House as You Age

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If I were moving, what’s the most important feature I’d look for in a new house?  A first floor bedroom and bath.  Why?  Because that means I have the chance to stay in the house as I age and I won’t be forced to move before I’m ready because I can’t maneuver the stairs.

 That flexibility gives me more choices on where I live and how I live. and maybe more money in my pocket since I’m not selling in a panic or down-market.

 Guess I’m not alone.  The five features rated most important by baby boomers and seniors in a survey were:  in home washers and dryers, storage space, windows that easily open, main level master bedrooms and easy-to-use climate controls.

 What else do consumers 55+ want in their homes?

* One third said a close in suburb, another third want an outlying suburb.  One-quarter are heading to the country and just 9% into the city.

* Downsizing?  No thanks – about the same amount of space they have now.

* High speed internet – 83% say it’s a must demonstrating how integral the Internet has come to our lives at all ages.

* 94% say they want more energy efficient homes.

 The baby boomers and seniors weren’t so interested in universal design.  On the other hand builders who were surveyed by the National Association of Home builders and the MetLife Mature Market Institute were adding features they think consumers want and will pay for — lever-handle/door knobs, wider doors and hallways, a full bath at the entry level.

 It all sounds good but the reality is that the list of “wants” reflects some pretty unrealistic expectations about aging.  Especially regarding location.

 “The homes consumers say they want may present difficulties for the long term as they age in place. They prefer the suburbs and the country, but these areas generally lack public transportation. Universal design is not a strong preference, but they’ll need greater accessibility later on. Aside from recognizing that one-story homes will be best for their later years, customers may be somewhat unrealistic,” noted Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

 Many people taking care of aging parents are struggling with housing issues.  Where to move Mom or Dad, how to do it, how to afford it, will they be happy?  The questions abound.

 A bit of pre-planning and realism about aging can make all the difference in how we age and the finances we have available to live the way we want. A recent report from Boston college said that planners, as opposed to reactors, are happier with their choice and financially ahead of the game.  Two good reasons to have a housing plan.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm