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Social Security receives thousands of questions each day, here are some of the common questions. To so other common Social Security questions and answers, go to https://faq.ssa.gov/en-US/.
How do I apply for disability benefits? And, how long does it take to get a decision after I apply for disability benefits?
You can apply for disability benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityssi/apply.html. To get a decision on your disability application usually takes three-to-five months. The time frame can vary depending on
• The nature of your disability;
• How quickly we can get your medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source;
• Whether it’s necessary to send you for a medical examination; and
• Whether we review your application for quality purposes.
Learn your claim status at www.socialsecurity.gov/claimstatus.
I get Social Security because of a disability. How often will my case be reviewed to determine if I’m still eligible?
How often we review your medical condition depends on how severe it is and the likelihood it will improve. Your award notice tells you when you can expect your first review using the following terminology:
* Medical improvement expected — If your condition is expected to improve within a specific time, your first review will be six to 18 months after you started getting disability benefits.
* Medical improvement possible — If improvement in your medical condition is possible, your case will be reviewed about every three years.
* Medical improvement not expected—If your medical condition is unlikely to improve, your case will be reviewed about once every five to seven years.
For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
My doctor said he thinks I’m disabled. Who decides if I meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits?
We first will review your application to make sure you meet some basic requirements for Social Security disability benefits, such as whether you worked enough years to qualify. Then we will send your application to the disability determination services office in your state, often called the “DDS” or “state agency.” Your state agency completes the disability decision for us. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency ask your doctors for information about your condition. They consider all the facts in your case. They use the medical evidence from your doctors and hospitals, clinics, or institutions where you have been treated and all other information.
The state agency staff may need more medical information before they can decide if you are disabled. If more information is not available from your current medical sources, the state agency may ask you to go for a special examination. We prefer to ask your own doctor, but sometimes the exam may have to be done by someone else. Social Security will pay for the exam and for some of the related travel costs. Learn more about disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
By Kirk Larson
Social Security Washington State Public Affairs Specialist
The Forbes Magazine website is out with an alarming new article suggesting that early retirement – so often touted as the goal of many working men and women – may not be the healthiest choice, especially for men. This article that we just discovered on the Forbes website suggests that there might be an unnerving correlation, albeit a small one, between men retiring early and the premature death rate rising among men.
“Statistically Significant” Surge in Early Deaths
“For millions, the idea of getting out of the workforce before 65 is a dream,” says Forbes. “Few can accomplish it, but many aspire to it. But can early retirement lead to an early death?” That, suggests the article, is the conclusion from a recent study out of Cornell University and the University of Melbourne which found a “statistically significant” surge in the number of men dying at age 62. This stands in dramatic contrast to the current U.S. life expectancy which is about 79. As the Forbes article points out, minor changes in death rates can be expected, but this new research showed a jump of 2 percent in the early death rate among men, an increase which may sound small but one which statisticians say is more than mere coincidence.
The significant thing about age 62 is, as you may have guessed, that it’s the earliest age when most adults can claim Social Security benefits. Recent stats show that more than 40 percent of men (and an even higher percentage of women) start their Social Security benefits at 62, in spite of the fact that there are significant financial penalties for doing so. This suggests that financial necessity, not careful planning, is driving men to claiming early. If more men in their early 60s are losing well-paying jobs, necessitating an early start to government benefits, this may help explain why the premature death rate among men is on the rise.
Loss of Jobs, Loss of Pensions
“Why are more men dying early in their seventh decades?” asks Forbes. The author speculates that the large loss in high-paying manufacturing jobs over the past four decades is partly to blame. “Some 7 million jobs have been lost since 1979, when manufacturing employment peaked, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” That steep drop-off in manufacturing jobs, Forbes suggests, has triggered “a massive loss of guaranteed pensions and health care, so those workers forced into the much lower-paying hourly economy are getting poor medical care and saving less.” Lack of access to high quality, low cost health care could certainly be part of the set of circumstances causing men to die before their time. The Cornell/Melbourne study also showed a link between men who died early and unmarried men with low education levels – the very men whose job prospects in a competitive labor market worsen rapidly with age.
The Forbes analysis seems to corroborate the fact that many men who take Social Security at 62 do so because they are out of the workforce or unable to find a job due to illness or chronic unemployment. “They are not retiring early because they want to,” the article asserts, but because they have no choice.
Loss of Identity
Studies have repeatedly shown that men unable to find work typically face deep psychological pain. In researching the linkage between job loss and early death, we found this article on the Healthline website that specifically warned about the frequency of depression among those forced out of their employment. “For many people,” said Healthline, “losing a job not only means the loss of income and benefits, but also the loss of one’s identity. A recession can exacerbate unemployment as more and more people experience downward mobility and income volatility. Job loss for people in the United States — a country where many people’s work and self-worth are interchangeable — can be an extremely traumatic experience, often leading many to despair and depression.” The effects are especially traumatic for men. “Men who are without work sometimes view themselves as expendable,” Healthline reported, “and often describe the loss of a job using terms such as ‘catastrophic’ and ‘devastating.’”
The higher premature death rate, these articles infer, may be due in part to the psychological effects of forced retirement caused by job loss. But there are also behavioral issues involved. As Forbes reports, “Those forced out of decent-paying jobs may also be engaging in unhealthy behaviors and succumb to opioid addiction, alcoholism, traffic accidents and lifestyle-related diseases such as lung cancer, the study suggests.” Older, single men lacking the purpose that a good job can bring (and also lacking the education and training to change jobs relatively late in their work lives) appear to be facing a perfect storm of economic, emotional and behavioral circumstances that are causing their lives to be cut short at an alarming rate.
Is there a solution? Forbes has a few proposals. “Certainly,” the article says, “offering more education and retraining to men losing gainful employment will help.” The Forbes article also suggests that allowing people to buy into Medicare at an earlier age – 60 or even 55 – would help make good medical care more readily available at affordable rates. But there’s one recommendation that all of us can be part of, and that’s to provide the vulnerable men we know with a better, more supportive social environment. If there’s a brother, uncle, friend or neighbor in your circle of acquaintances that might be facing the unexpected early loss of a job, you can reach out with a friendly smile, an invitation to coffee or a note of encouragement, letting them know you care about their well-being. Don’t let isolation drive these unemployed men further into the darkness of depression. Make a plan to connect with an unemployed friend this week.
Speaking of plans, are you looking ahead to your own retirement future? Have you taken the possibility of job loss, housing change or medical emergency into account? Have you made certain that your family understands your wishes and will honor them? A solid, comprehensive retirement plan can help you face all of life’s uncertainties with a calm sense of confidence, knowing that all the key facets of your retirement – financial, housing, medical, legal and family – are fully incorporated into your plan. We call this an AgingOptions LifePlan, and there’s nothing else like it. But don’t take our word for it: instead, bring your questions and come join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find several dates, times and locations to choose from when you visit our Live Events page, where you can register for the seminar of your choice.
The storms of life can definitely knock you off course. But you can weather any storm and reach your retirement destination safely with the guidance of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
Anyone who has ever experienced a family conflict knows that the rifts they cause can run very deep – deep enough to sever the ties between brother and sister, parent and child, and parent and grandparent. Here at AgingOptions we have witnessed hundreds if not thousands of examples of families dividing over a wide range of issues, often involving how to care for an aging parent. In our professional practice, we have seen many families handle conflict poorly, resulting in the destruction of family harmony. Fortunately, though, we have also seen hundreds of examples of families handling conflict in ways that are appropriate and healthy, through professional mediation – resulting in healed relationships and restored family unity.
Seek a Neutral Party
The NextAvenue website is where we located this article just a few days ago, titled “How Mediation Can Resolve a Family Conflict.” Written by reporter Julyne Derrick, the article makes what we think is a simple but very important point: “When relationships are at stake,” Derrick writes, “a neutral party can make a difference.” This idea is reflected in the legal dictionary definition of mediation, which is the settlement of a dispute between two or more contending parties – in this case, family members – by setting up an independent person, referred to as a mediator, to aid them in settling their disagreement. The chief area in which we take issue with Derrick’s recommendation lies in how a family chooses a mediator: she seems to suggest that it’s okay to find a mediator online or ask around for referrals. We urge you to take a different, more deliberate approach, as we’ll discuss in a moment.
The NextAvenue article begins by briefly describing a sad but true story. “It’s the sort of thing that can ruin a family,” Derrick writes. “An elderly widowed father is no longer able to live at home alone. His daughter is willing to move him into her own home, but she wants help from time to time from her brother and his family who live nearby. Her brother believes the best place for dad is in a nursing home. Fights break out over the phone. A lifelong, tight-knit bond is broken between the siblings and their respective families.” In this case, the daughter (who is now 80 and recounting the story for NextAvenue) got her way, but the lingering resentment split the family in two, and a once-close pair of siblings severed ties with one another, never making amends. Both the dad and the brother died within a few years after the blow-up, and today the sister is left with a load of regret over a family bond that was never restored. “I wish I knew then about mediation,” the daughter said more than two decades after the relationship breakdown. “Maybe something could have been done.”
Key Principles of Mediation
In the article the author explains a few key principles concerning mediation. Participation in the process, Derrick writes, must be voluntary: coercing a family member into joining a mediation effort is probably a recipe for failure. Ideally, the mediation sessions, of which there will probably be more than one, must be face to face, in person around the same table if at all possible, not over the phone or by video conference. It’s also best if the family members are clear in advance on the purpose of mediation so expectations are in alignment. This is something a good professional mediator can establish up front as the conversations begin. “Sometimes,” says author Derrick, “the goal of mediation is to express hopes and needs. Sometimes it is to put a solid plan into place. Sometimes, it’s just to open up lines of communication. But it can go deeper than this. If done correctly, relationships can be deepened and salvaged through mediation.”
But as we said above, here’s where we take issue with the approach recommended by NextAvenue. As Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions says, “Mediation is all well and good. It’s always better to resolve conflicts amiably and to find common ground. The problem,” he cautions, “is that many so-called mediators are well-intentioned but ultimately unqualified to deal with some of the complex legal issues that can often divide families. Choosing the right mediator is absolutely vital, or you could end up making the problem worse.” We think the NextAvenue article raises what seem to us like major red flags when it describes some of the more common reasons why families seek mediation: estate and trust issues, living arrangements for an aging loved one, medical care for a parent, naming a power of attorney, and how to care for and ultimately dispose of a parent’s home when Mom or Dad can no longer live there. These all involve potentially complex legal and financial issues, demanding the services of a mediator who knows the territory well, not the well-meaning advice of a sympathetic amateur.
Choose the Right Guide
As Rajiv says, “If you’re planning on climbing Mount Rainier, you need a guide who has done it many times before – not somebody you just found online.” So what’s the solution? Based on nearly two decades of experience with potentially divisive family matters, we recommend a type of mediation we call a family conference, in which we bring all the affected parties together in one of our offices under the guidance of a thoroughly-trained, experienced attorney. We can’t count the number of times when we’ve seen families come to the table fractured and confused only to leave with a sense of unity and clarity. Ideally the family conference is something Mom and Dad convene well in advance of a health care crisis, giving everyone in the family an opportunity to gain a clear understanding of each one’s roles and responsibilities as the parents age. If this brand of professional mediation sounds interesting to you, please contact us and let us walk you through the process. You’ll be very glad you did, and so will those you love.
Fitting the Pieces Together
This kind of intentional planning is at the heart of what we refer to as LifePlanning, an approach to retirement planning that is far different from the typical piecemeal tactics that others employ. In a LifePlan, all the key elements of retirement planning actually work in harmony: financial, legal, medical, housing and family, like interlocking pieces of a puzzle. You’ll find that a LifePlan can be the key to establishing the kind of secure and positive retirement you’ve always hoped for.
Why not take the next step and find out more about LifePlanning? There’s a highly informative, no-cost way to do just that: join Rajiv Nagaich at a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. We hold these very popular events at locations throughout the Puget Sound region, and you can register for seminar of your choice by visiting our Live Events tab and signing up online. Please feel free to call us this week if we can assist you with registration or if we can answer questions. Rajiv will look forward to meeting you!
If you’ve heard our AgingOptions radio program, read our blog or attended a LifePlanning Seminar, this statement should sound familiar: one of the things seniors fear most is being forced late in life into institutional care against their wishes. We would add a corollary to that statement to say that, given a choice, older people would much rather die at home, in familiar surroundings with family nearby, than in an acute care hospital in the company of strangers.
Outcomes Differ Between Medicare, Medicare Advantage
A few weeks ago we discovered this article on the Forbes magazine website with a blunt title: “Where Do Older Americans Die?” We think this brief article is important reading for anyone engaged in retirement planning, since thinking ahead to the end of your life is something you need to do in advance, not in the midst of a health crisis. The good news in the Forbes analysis is that the number of seniors spending their last days in the hospital is declining significantly while the number who die at home is on the rise. But there’s an interesting twist to the statistics. It appears that seniors insured by traditional Medicare are actually more likely to face a hospital death than those covered by Medicare Advantage plans. We’ll consider two possible reasons why in a moment.
“Increasingly, older Americans are likely to die at home, and not in a hospital,” the Forbes article reports. “However, stubbornly large numbers of Medicare beneficiaries still land in intensive care units or find themselves shuttled from home to hospital and back again in their last months of life.” This is the conclusion from a new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which reviewed 15 years’ worth of data, examining the outcomes for thousands of seniors who died with medical insurance through traditional Medicare. Researchers then compared these outcomes against an equally large number of people covered by the newer Medicare Advantage plans. “Both the overall percentages and the trends,” Forbes says, “tell important stories to consider as we think of how we want to live in our last months.”
Passing Away at Home
First, as the article reports, let’s consider the good news. In 2000, the first year of the study data, about one-third of Medicare enrollees passed away in an acute care hospital. Fifteen years later that percentage had dropped to about 20 percent. At the same time, Forbes says, the percentage of those dying at home (including assisted living) increased from about 30 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2015. For Medicare Advantage policy-holders, the likelihood of spending your last days in your own home was even higher – roughly fifty percent. On the surface this seems encouraging, as it appears to reflect a desire on the part of health care professionals to honor the wishes of older patients who are close to the end of life.
But there’s more to the story, as the article explains. “Even though seniors were less likely to die in a hospital,” says Forbes, “it doesn’t mean they were not being admitted to hospitals and spending time in intensive care units as they neared end of life.” Among traditional Medicare patients, the JAMA study said that more than half of study subjects spent time in the hospital during the last 30 days of their lives. Two-thirds were hospitalized in the last 90 days. Both these percentages were higher (by about ten percentage points) for Medicare patients than for Medicare Advantage policy holders. The MA patients were also significantly less likely to spend all or part of their final month in a nursing home, the experience of roughly one-third of seniors, compared with 43 percent for those on regular Medicare. (Those on Medicare are also more likely to experience “potentially burdensome care” in which they are moved in and out of multiple care sites or face multiple hospitalizations in their final few months.)
What Accounts for the Difference?
So why is there this discrepancy? Why do so many more seniors on Medicare end their days in the hospital, in a nursing home, or in ICU than those covered by Medicare Advantage plans? The Forbes article hints at two possible answers. “Critics of MA plans,” says the report, “would probably say that their enrollees were not hospitalized because the plans were reluctant to spend money on patients who were close to death or, worse, those patients died because they did not get the medical care they needed.” This is the negative spin on the data. But considering the fact that most seniors prefer to avoid hospitalization at the end of their lives, there’s another explanation. “There is growing evidence that intense treatment at the end of life…harms patients and their families, and often is contrary to the wishes of many older adults. In that case,” says Forbes, “the financial incentives in managed care that discourage use of hospital or nursing home stays at the end of life may be well aligned with the needs and wishes of patients.” If this theory is true, MA plans may actually turn out to be unexpectedly more responsive than Medicare to the end-of-life desires of patients and their families.
How We Want to Live
As we said earlier, these types of discussions about dying – as difficult as they can be – are an important part of planning for your future. Does your family know your end-of-life wishes? Have you placed your health care in the hands of a geriatrician who is trained to respond to the needs of senior patients? These kinds of family and health issues are just part of a process we call LifePlanning, a comprehensive approach to retirement planning in which health and family matters are woven together with financial, legal and housing plans to create a seamless LifePlan, a blueprint that will help you create the kind of retirement you’ve always wanted. Knowing how you want to die may be important, but it’s far more important to know how you want to live. A LifePlan is the best tool we know of to help you experience true retirement freedom and security.
There’s a simple and highly informative way to find out more about this breakthrough in retirement planning. Please accept our invitation to join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar. All the upcoming seminar locations, dates and times are listed here on our Live Events page. Once you’ve made your selection, reserve your place by registering online, or by calling us during the week. It will be our pleasure to meet you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon!
People relocate all the time to be closer to family. It’s certainly not unusual to think about aging parents moving to another community – or another state – to be closer to their adult children and their grandchildren. Traditionally, the image in our minds used to be that of a couple in their 70s moving to be near “the kids” in their 40s. But based on an article we read in 2017 on the authoritative Kaiser Health News website, that image may be about twenty years off – and backwards. Data now suggest that, for a growing number of families, the “children” doing the moving are seniors themselves, many in their 60s or early 70s, and instead of moving to be closer to their kids, they’re moving to be closer to a parent or parents well into their late 80s and early 90s.
“Boomerang Seniors” Defined
They’re called “Boomerang Seniors,” and they’re part of what Kaiser calls “a growing group of seniors with a living parent.” You can click here to read about this surprising trend, one with unexpected implications for many retirees who might not have anticipated spending their own retirement years as full time or part time caregivers. “Expectations are altered,” says Kaiser’s Sharon Jayson, the article’s author, “amid the new reality of longer life expectancy and growing numbers of aged Americans.”
To corroborate her observation about increased longevity, Jayson offers this quote from the science website Nature. “It seems that death is being delayed because people are reaching old age in better health,” says the quote. “Research by demographers, epidemiologists and other biomedical researchers suggests that further progress is likely to be made in advancing the frontier of survival — and healthy survival — to even greater ages.” Translation: you and I are statistically much more likely than ever to live longer – and so are our parents. If we become their caregivers, this can have a dramatic impact on planning for our own retirement future.
Not the Same Sandwich
As Jayson points out in the article, “Caregiving for an older family member is not what it was when first studied and coined as the ‘sandwich generation.’” That remains the commonly-used label for people “sandwiched” between caring for aging parents and raising young children. “Now it’s the children who are on the verge of retirement or who have retired and are still having responsibility of older parents.” For some families this might entail aging adults and their very old parent living in very close proximity: in different areas of the same continuing care retirement facility, for example, or living in the same apartment building, or sharing portions of the same single-family home. No matter what the particulars are, some retirees with responsibility for a very old parent are finding their own plans for “retirement freedom” significantly curtailed: there may be a financial drain on the retirees, and there certainly are time constraints, potentially restricting the chance to travel or volunteer. That can be tough to do when you can’t be away from Mom or Dad for more than a few hours.
Kathrin Boerner, a gerontologist from the University of Massachusetts, states in the Kaiser article that this picture of very old parents being cared for – even part-time – by aging youngsters is a “recurring theme.” The very old, she says, are the fastest-growing segment of the population in many developing countries, with a projected increase of more than 50 percent between 2010 and 2030 in the number of people over age 80. “Two thirds of these very old have advanced-aged children, who typically serve as their primary caregiver” says Boerner. “Even if their children are not direct caregivers, they still must monitor their parents’ welfare.” Since other studies have shown that one-quarter of today’s 65 year olds can expect to live into their 9os, this challenge is only going to increase.
“With the demographics we’re looking at, I refer to it as ‘aging together,’” writes gerontologist Boerner. “For a lot of people, (retirement) is the time — if you’re in good enough health — when you hope for a time of greater freedom. You’re past all the other caregiving tasks and, for most people, they can dedicate (their energies) to their own needs.” But, Boerner adds, “For those with very old parents, it just doesn’t happen.”
The best solution to help meet the potential pressures and challenges of retirement head-on is a well thought-out retirement plan. Aging, as we always say, is a family affair, and that means your family needs to know – and support – all of your wishes as you grow older. Beyond finances, this includes housing, deciding how and where you want to live. It includes your legal documents, which means much more than your last will and testament. Your estate plan will be meaningless if it doesn’t take your medical needs into account, because few things will derail your plans like a medical crisis for which you have not prepared. Is there a type of retirement plan that includes all of these facets? Fortunately there is.
Planning for Your Ideal Future
At AgingOptions we proudly offer a unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning called a LifePlan. Once you have prepared your LifePlan, often including a series of family conferences to make certain everyone close to you is on the same page, you’ll be prepared for a fruitful and secure retirement. You’ll be able to protect your assets while ensuring that you won’t become a burden to those you love. It’s easy to find out more – and there’s no obligation whatsoever: simply plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. Invest just a few hours, and bring your questions – and your adult children if they’ll attend with you. It will open your eyes to the power of this unique, powerful planning strategy.
For a list of upcoming seminars, including online registration, click here, or call us during the week and we’ll be happy to assist you. Additionally, if you feel it’s time for a family conference to review your estate plans with your loved ones, we can definitely guide you. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.
Retirement doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. Some people plan to retire and never work again. Some people plan for second careers in occupations that wouldn’t have adequately supported their families, but they do the work for pure enjoyment. Some people, whether by design or desire, choose to work part-time or seasonally to supplement their retirement income. For all of these people, Social Security’s work rules come into play.
Retirees (or survivors) who choose to receive Social Security benefits before they reach full retirement age (FRA) and continue to work have an earnings limit that some people call the work rules. In 2017, the annual earnings limit was $16,920 for those under FRA the entire calendar year. In 2018, it is $17,040. If you earn over the limit, we deduct $1 from your Social Security monthly benefit payment for every $2 you earn above the annual limit.
In the calendar year you reach FRA, which you can check out at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/ageincrease.html, you have a higher earnings limit. Additionally, we will only count earnings for the months prior to FRA. In 2017, the limit was $44,880. In 2018, it is $45,360. In the year of FRA attainment, Social Security deducts $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above the limit.
There is a special rule that usually only applies in your first year of receiving retirement benefits. If you earn more than the annual earnings limit, you may still receive a full Social Security payment for each month you earn less than a monthly limit. In 2018, the monthly limit is $1,420 for those who are below FRA the entire calendar year. The 2018 monthly limit increases to $3,780 in the year of FRA attainment.
Once you reach FRA, you no longer have an earnings limit, and we may recalculate your benefit to credit you for any months we withheld your benefits due to excess earnings. This is because your monthly benefit amount is calculated based on a reduction for each month you receive it before your FRA. So, if you originally filed for benefits 12 months before your FRA, but earned over the limit and had two months of Social Security benefits withheld, we will adjust your ongoing monthly benefit amount to reflect that you received 10 months of benefits before your FRA, and not 12.
Most people understand that if they work while receiving benefits before FRA, their benefit may be reduced due to the work rules. What most people do not consider in their retirement planning is that we recalculate your Social Security monthly benefit at FRA to credit you for Social Security benefit payments withheld due to earnings over the limit. Explaining the earnings limit is another way that Social Security helps secure your today and tomorrow.
Understanding both the earnings limit and the possible recalculation of your ongoing Social Security benefits will provide an additional perspective on retirement for you to consider.
By Kirk Larson
Social Security Washington State Public Affairs Specialist
It seems to happen with depressing regularity: another big-name celebrity is caught up in a bitter squabble with adult children, business managers, and high-priced lawyers over the disposition of their money. The most recent example to hit the headlines is Marvel comics icon Stan Lee, who is reported to be suffering from physical and mental decline at age 95. His adult daughter, his supposed business manager, and his attorney are all embroiled in a legal fight over money and influence, complete with restraining orders and allegations of abuse.
Legal Tug of War
Several recent articles, including this one that appeared a few weeks ago on the Fox News website and this one that we discovered from Hollywood Reporter, have attempted to untangle the barrage of claims and counter-claims about the sad state of Stan Lee. Here at AgingOptions we offer this story as a cautionary tale, reminding you that you don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to find yourself and your family in a mean-spirited legal tug of war. Families are tearing themselves apart over issues of money every day, often because mom or dad failed to plan their affairs adequately. We’ll have more on that in a moment.
First, let’s consider a bit of background. Stan Lee, according to the Hollywood Reporter story, came to Marvel Comics in New York in the 1960’s. The article calls Lee a “comic book legend whose creative tenure at the helm of Marvel Comics…spawned Spider-Man, Black Panther and the X-Men.” That creativity has now matured into a net worth estimated at $50 to $70 million dollars, including at least $1 million income annually from Marvel Comics movies and spin-offs. Ever since Lee’s wife of 70 years, Joan, died in 2017, Lee has declined mentally and physically while the battle for control of Lee’s fortune has exploded both in private and in public.
Lee’s only child is a 67-year-old daughter, J.C., who reportedly has a history of gross financial mismanagement and manipulation of her parents. A few months ago, Stan Lee, through his attorney, accused his daughter and an associate, Keya Morgan, of exerting improper influence in order to seize control over Lee’s assets, and filed a restraining order against the pair. However, to illustrate Lee’s troubled state of mind, two days later he changed his mind and rescinded the court order. Since then, Keya Morgan has inserted himself into Lee’s life as his business manager, confidant, adviser and mouthpiece, and has exerted a greater level of control over the declining multi-millionaire. Lee has reportedly made no public statements except for recorded ones controlled and released by Morgan. The Hollywood Reporter article calls this “an increasingly toxic and combative situation involving broken alliances, abrupt expulsions and allegations of elder abuse.”
Without going into unnecessary detail, the Fox News story reports that the ugly episode just keeps getting stranger. Recently, Lee filed another protection order against Keya Morgan accusing him of abuse. But then Lee appeared once again to abruptly recant, referring to Morgan as his only authorized representative. “Anybody else who claims to be my rep is just making that story up,” Fox News quotes Lee. “I just want to put it on the record. If you want me, call me, if you can’t get me, call Morgan. The two of us are working together and conquering the world side-by-side.”
“Celebrities Aren’t Focused”
In researching the Stan Lee saga, we also came across this related article on the website of the Norwalk Reflector. The article cites well-known celebrities who have fallen into sad, contentious situations over their money, just like Stan Lee. These are typically famous and wealthy individuals facing declining health and mental capacities, including the late Mickey Rooney, entertainment mogul Sumner Redstone, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The problem is that these wealthy people never stop to plan ahead until it’s too late. “Many celebrities aren’t focused [on the future],” the article quotes entertainment lawyer Kenneth Abdo. “If people don’t take matters into their own hands when they are able to do so, [their estate] could fall into the wrong hands.”
Apart from pity for the sad state of a once powerful man, what’s the take-away from the Stan Lee story? Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions puts it succinctly. “Money alone is not the answer,” he states. “Unless you go through a complete and comprehensive planning process, having wealth is nothing more than a false promise.” But, says Rajiv, it doesn’t have to be that way. “You can definitely change that outcome and protect yourself and your family by understanding how to put the pieces together. That way,” he adds, “your money will do what you want it do and accomplish what you want. It will yield the intended results instead of being a source of friction and conflict.”
Like Pieces of a Puzzle
The key to proper planning is to consider the “big picture” of retirement, making certain all the pieces work together: financial plans, legal protection, medical coverage, housing choices, and family dynamics. We call this type of planning LifePlanning, and it’s an AgingOptions exclusive. If your desire is to protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the trap of being forced against your will into institutional care, a LifePlan is the best way we know to accomplish those goals. And remember, as said above, you need to take matters into your own hands while you’re mentally and physically able to do so. Don’t put it off! There’s no time like the present.
Let us offer you a simple invitation as a way to take the next step: come join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar soon and discover more about this retirement planning breakthrough. Do what thousands of people just like you have done and invest a few hours in one of these information-packed sessions with Rajiv. For dates, times, and locations, visit our Live Events page and sign up online for the seminar of your choice. If you need assistance, feel free to contact our office by phone during the week. Let the sad examples of Stan Lee, music legend Casey Kasem, television pioneer Sumner Redstone and a host of other famous people serve as a warning: aging well is not about how much money you have – it’s about how well you plan. Age on!
Some people think that “retirement planning” means “planning for all the things I want to do after I retire.” But it’s not that simple. That’s why we wanted to bring back to your attention an article we first read in the Seattle Times early last year. The very first lines really caught our attention. “There’s the retirement that looks like the commercials: biking, travel, enjoying the family,” it read. “And then there’s the one where you can’t get up the stairs anymore.”
Plan for Tomorrow – and the Day After
Yes, it’s true, retirement comes in multiple stages, and if we fail to consider both the early, more active years of retirement and the later years where we will begin facing health challenges, we’re doing ourselves and our loved ones a grave disservice. That’s the point from this 2017 Seattle Times article written by personal finance columnist Liz Weston. Her point is simple. As you begin to plan ahead for your life in retirement, you not only need to prepare for those relatively carefree years when you’re able to do all the things you’ve dreamed of doing, but you also need to take an honest look into the more-distant future and think about the likely eventuality of physical decline. “Most of us happily plan for the first (phase), when our health is good and energy high,” Weston writes. “The second can be hard to contemplate, when health falters and medical crises can change lives in an instant.”
This idea lines up perfectly with our philosophy here at AgingOptions. There’s an old saying that reminds us, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is certainly true when it comes to planning for retirement, for if you enter that phase of life without a plan you aren’t the only one who will suffer from your lack of preparation. Your loved ones will, too.
After the Bucket List
So what kinds of things should you consider after you’ve enjoyed the “bucket list” years of retirement? One of the biggest decisions you’ll want to think through, the article says, is where you will live. The housing decision is definitely one that needs to be thought through and planned for carefully, well in advance of any emergency move that might be precipitated by a sudden health crisis. Financial planners quoted in the Weston article agree that moving prematurely – say, to a continuous care retirement facility – is probably a bad idea, because you may find you can’t enjoy the kind of entertaining and decorating you’ve always been used to. But too many seniors make the opposite mistake, staying in their own home far too long without proper planning or preparation.
One retirement planner said he “has heard horror stories of elders who stayed too long in unsafe conditions (in their own homes) until health crises propelled them into the hospital — and left their families scrambling to deal with the costs, their care and what to do with the family home.” This kind of crisis-reaction dramatically increases the odds that you’ll end up living in a nursing home or other facility that you might have been able to avoid if you had started planning much sooner. We’ve seen this many times in our practice at AgingOptions.
Start with the Easier Decisions
The key, according to Liz Weston, is to “start thinking and talking about how you want to cope when your health begins to fail.” This can be a tough conversation, it’s true, but dealing with the consequences of denial will be far tougher. One planner suggests you start by talking through the decisions that might be somewhat easier to talk about, such as the question of which of your loved ones will be the one to make medical and financial decisions should you someday become incapacitated. “Then the discussion moves to the harder topics — imagining life when they can’t navigate stairs or drive or handle daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, dressing or bathing themselves.”
Maybe you could stay in your current home longer if you made modifications necessary to age in place. This is where you’ll want to get expert consultation, something we can help you with if you’ll contact our AgingOptions office. We can suggest trusted remodelers who will provide you with an in-home evaluation. Because this kind of remodeling is typically an excellent reason for a reverse mortgage, we can also refer you to an unbiased professional such as Ted Butler who will help you decide whether this powerful financial tool is right for you. You’ll also need to consider the fact that a loved one who is caring for you in your own home will incur significant expenses, so planning now to help with those costs is extremely important.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Move
Should you decide to move, experts strongly suggest you do so while you’re young and healthy enough to handle the stress and enjoy your new environment. Once again, in our experience, many people wait years too long to relocate, and as a result they find the experience exhausting and stressful. It’s harder to make friends and settle into a new place as we age.
We definitely suggest you read the article by Liz Weston and perhaps use it as a conversation starter with your own adult kids. They may have wondered what your thoughts are about aging but were reluctant to broach what can be a difficult, touchy subject. Here at AgingOptions we have conducted hundreds of family conferences where, with careful planning in a neutral atmosphere, all these emotionally-charged issues are laid out for productive and open discussion. Contact us if this is something you think would benefit your family.
And when it comes to the broader topic of retirement planning, we have found that virtually everyone in a retiree’s family benefits when he or she has a comprehensive plan in place. We’ve developed an approach we call LifePlanning, one which not only helps you decide where you want to live but also how to protect your finances, how to communicate with your family, how to ensure your medical needs are fully covered, and much more. We invite you to learn more about the power of a LifePlan as a tool to protect your retirement security by investing a few hours and attending a free LifePlanning Seminar. These popular events take place at locations through the Puget Sound region. You can click here for details and online registration or contact us by phone during the week so we can assist you.
When it comes to retirement, a good plan builds confidence – and there’s no better retirement plan we know of than a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
Generosity is a wonderful thing. If you’re at a stage in your life where you feel you have plenty of resources, and you’re motivated by a desire to give some of your money or possessions to those you love, that’s an admirable impulse – but beware. Your generous spirit can end up causing more trouble and creating more ill will than you thought possible. As this recent article from AARP asked, “How do you share your resources in a way that is simple, smart and financially prudent? And how do you keep the peace within your family if not everyone agrees on your choices?” AARP went to several experts on charitable giving to find the answers.
A Sibling Minefield
Here at AgingOptions we have witnessed time and time again how families can fall apart when siblings quarrel about mom or dad’s money. Whether it’s a gift of cash, or expenses for college, or the family vacation home, family generosity can turn into a minefield as old sibling rivalries flare up and miscommunication turns into full-blown conflict. We like the AARP article because it will stimulate your thinking and hopefully cause you to plan ahead so that many of the ugly pitfalls it describes will never materialize.
There’s one point that we feel deserves more emphasis than the AARP article provides, and that’s the importance of communication. Our general belief is that, particularly when it comes to money, it’s usually better to let your kids know your thinking up front than to try and explain your decisions after the fact (or even posthumously), especially when feelings are hurt and tempers flare. You may have excellent reasons why you’re planning to give one of your kids a larger gift than the others, or why you intend to do more for one set of grandkids than for the rest. Dealing with these types of decisions ahead of time, while often challenging, can help your kids understand your decisions and reduce sibling tensions down the road.
Three Types of Family Giving
The AARP article, called “How to Give Your Money Away,” lists seven distinct areas that involve giving money to family and suggests ways to avoid problems. Let’s take a look at three of the most common.
“Your grandchild needs a college education.” AARP says, use a 529 plan, the college saving program where money accumulates tax free and can be withdrawn tax free for qualifying educational expenses. But here’s a suggestion: instead of creating your own account, put your gift into an account held by your own son or daughter. “Financial aid formulas categorize distributions from a grandparent’s 529 plan — but not from a parent’s plan — as student income,” says AARP. “That could reduce any potential financial aid award.” Your best choice is either to deposit the money directly into a parent-owned plan or to give the money directly to the parent and stipulate that it be deposited in a 529 fund.
“Your children have different levels of need.” Does every adult child deserve an equal inheritance? No. Sometimes, AARP says, there are good reasons why you might choose to leave different amounts to different kids. However, “whatever your reasons for dividing your estate unequally, it’s your decision.” It’s also your decision how you choose to handle the situation and whether to let your kids know in advance. If you do choose to divide your estate unequally, AARP warns, “you can’t prevent dissatisfaction among your children. You can, however, try to minimize the damage after you’re gone.” By communicating your reasons clearly, either face to face or by letter to be read when you’ve passed away, you at least can mitigate some potential resentment. (Another idea from the experts consulted by AARP in order to “reduce the chances of an ugly battle over the will’s terms and validity” is to insert a no-contest clause in the will – a stipulation that anyone challenging the will receives nothing.)
“You want the next generation to enjoy the family vacation home.” We hear about this issue frequently. “First off,” says AARP, “don’t assume your kids want that memory-filled house by the lake. Ask. If none want it, that’s that. Sell when the time is right for you.” But if keeping the beach cabin or ski chalet in the family is your intent, AARP suggests you consult an attorney and set up an LLC – a limited liability company – with shares going to the kids. The LLC documents spell out use and maintenance expectations and stipulate how or if one child has the right to sell his or her shares, and for how much, and to whom. “One tip,” AARP advises: “Define the universe of eligible owners as lineal descendants and not spouses. That prevents a divorce from creating an ownership battle.”
A Family Conference
As we said, these are just three of the seven “money minefields” described in the AARP article. Do you want to share money held in an IRA? Do you want to know how to set up a charitable foundation? What if that extra car, boat or RV is gathering dust – can you give it away to one of your children without ticking off the others? Finally, how do you pass along wealth via stocks or mutual funds? The AARP article does a pretty good job of walking you through these scenarios so, as the article says, you can “bestow your money smartly – and maintain peace in the family.” Our recommendation at AgingOptions is to arrange for us to host a family conference where all the interested parties are invited to meet in a neutral location for a time of honest and forthright communication, planned and guided by our professional legal team. Contact us and we’ll explain further how a family conference can benefit you.
So what’s the bottom line? Our take-away from the AARP article is that if you’re in a position to give generously to your family, it’s time to take the process seriously and to plan accordingly. Here at AgingOptions we have similar advice to offer when it comes to retirement planning, namely that it’s time to stop sitting around hoping your retirement future will somehow take care of itself. Instead, you need to get serious and come learn the facts about a breakthrough in retirement planning called LifePlanning. Can a retirement plan show you how to make sure your medical, financial, legal, housing and family “threads” are all woven together into a seamless fabric? Yes, if it’s a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
For a simple and cost-free next step, come join Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these throughout the region – so for dates, times and locations, visit our Live Events page where you can select the seminar of your choice. Then register online, or call us for assistance. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon!
Your ailing parent is rushed to the hospital. Among other critical symptoms, he or she is having trouble breathing, so the emergency room physicians sedate your loved one and insert a breathing tube. Mechanical breathing keeps respiration going while doctors deal with the other medical challenges. All appears to be well.
Last Opportunity to Speak?
Or is it? We just read this troubling article that appeared last week in the pages of the New York Times. The title: “Breathing Tubes Fail to Save Many Older Patients.” The gist of the article is simple: the common practice of inserting breathing tubes into patients, called “intubation,” may be much more dangerous to frail seniors than previously thought. Equally troubling, because the practice makes speech impossible, doctors may be unknowingly robbing families of their last opportunity to communicate with someone they love. As the subtitle of the New York Times article warns, “One-third of patients over age 65 die in the hospital after they are put on ventilators. Doctors are beginning to wonder if the procedure should be used so often.”
The Times article talks about a new study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, authored by Boston physician Dr. Kei Ouchi. “I used to be very satisfied putting patients on a ventilator,” Ouchi told the New York Times, convinced that the procedure saved lives. “Like all emergency doctors,” writes the Times, “he’d been trained to perform the procedure – sedating the patient, putting a plastic tube down his throat and then attaching him to a ventilator that would breathe for him. But, he said, ‘I was never trained to talk to patients or their families about what this means.’” Ouchi began to realize that the outcomes for elderly patients going through intubation were nowhere near as positive as for younger patients, and often families facing a medical crisis were completely unaware of the risks and alternatives.
Alarming Discharge Statistics
Dr. Ouchi’s study gathered data from more than 260 hospitals nationwide and looked at outcomes from more than 35,000 intubations (also called mechanical ventilation) of patients over 65. According to the data, despite going through intubation, about one-third of the patients died in the hospital. But for the survivors, there was another issue. “Of potentially greater importance to elderly patients – who so often declare they’d rather die than spend their lives in nursing homes – are the discharge statistics,” reports the New York Times. “Only a quarter of intubated patients go home from the hospital. Most survivors, 63 percent, go elsewhere, presumably to nursing facilities,” either as long-term residents or for short-stay rehab.
The study further demonstrated a major difference in the outcome of intubation based on the patient’s age, largely due to the medically invasive nature of mechanical ventilation. “All intubated patients proceed to intensive care,” says the New York Times article, “most remaining sedated because intubation is uncomfortable. If they were conscious, patients might try to pull out the tubes or the I.V.’s delivering nutrition and medications. They cannot speak.” The Times quotes Dr. Ouchi: Intubation “is not a walk in the park,” he says. “This is a significant event for older adults. It can really change your life, if you survive.” And those survival rates are strongly linked to age.
“After intubation,” the New York Times reports, “31 percent of patients ages 65 to 74 survive the hospitalization and return home. But for 80- to 84-year-olds, that figure drops to 19 percent; for those over age 90, it slides to 14 percent.” Other studies have shown that while frail seniors generally see their health decline following any stay in intensive care, those who experienced intubation suffered twice the mortality rate.
A Promising Alternative
Is there any good news in the New York Times report? One encouraging trend is the increasing use of what doctors call “noninvasive ventilation,” which primarily means a device called a “bipap” – bi-level positive airway pressure. “A tightfitting mask over the nose and mouth helps patients with certain conditions breathe nearly as well as intubation does,” says the Times, “but they remain conscious and can have the mask removed briefly for a sip of water or a short conversation.” Most patients using bipap survive their hospitalization, and because they can be treated on ordinary hospital floors, they avoid the trauma of ICU.
But the time to have the conversations about preferred levels of care is before the health crisis arises. In the words of the Times article, “The harried emergency room environment…hardly encourages thoughtful discussions about patients’ prognoses and wishes. Those can become fraught conversations anyway.” Our recommendation at AgingOptions is to discuss your medical wishes, especially those involving end of life, with your family well in advance and to document your desires properly. We also strongly advise our aging clients to seek the medical advice of a geriatrician as your primary health provider. As a physician properly trained in the unique health care needs of seniors, a geriatrician can best advise you not only on how to stay healthy but also on how to make decisions that will preserve your health should hospitalization prove necessary. Contact our office and we will refer to you a geriatrician who practices near you.
The Power of Planning
Planning for the future where your health (mental and physical) is concerned can certainly be a challenge. But our answer at AgingOptions is not to focus strictly on one aspect of retirement planning, such as health care or finances, but instead to consider the totality of your life in retirement: health care, financial security, housing needs, legal protection, and certainly family communication. Without planning for all these critical elements, your so-called retirement plan will prove incomplete: but with these aspects all working together, you’ll have the safe and secure foundation on which to build the retirement future you’ve always dreamed of.
This process is called LifePlanning, and we encourage you to accept our invitation and join Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions at one of our highly popular, information-packed LifePlanning Seminars, offered absolutely free at locations throughout the region. Visit our Live Events page for details of all currently-scheduled seminars – then register online or call our officer during the week. Odds are you’ll have many happy and healthy years ahead of you once you retire. Enjoy them – and be prepared when a health crisis does strike – with a sense of freedom and safety, thanks to the power of your LifePlan. Age on!