How Will You Age Better Than Your Parents?

*This initially appeared in the Quarterly Journal of the Life Planning Network Summer 2016

I am posing a challenge—and steps—for safeguarding your future.

After acting in the role of adult caregiver to my parents for more than five years, I have continually added, and updated my own lifestyle plans based on what I learned. As we as a community of professionals look toward how we might advance positive change in the future, I challenge us all to consider first how we are applying what we have learned to ourselves—and, then, how we plan to help others prepare for the rest of their lives.

Every week, many of us talk with families who are struggling with the care of a loved one. Most of the issues revolve around incomplete plans, loved ones unsure of what to do, and usually involve turmoil. How can we help educate our communities about the steps to take toward positive aging?

I watched as my parents made an effort to age better than their parents. They did everything the estate, financial, and insurance advisor recommended and blended in conventional thinking. My parents chose to buy into a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). They believed that none of their children would ever need to be involved in their care. Many of us know this thinking is still pervasive, and that buying into a Life Care or CCRC and buying a Long-Term Care Insurance policy doesn’t cover the practical lifestyle issues that create turmoil as health issues escalate. There most likely comes a point in your life when someone needs to speak on your behalf; that is something most adults have neither considered nor prepared for.

Everyone should be prepared to allow someone to manage
their finances and medical needs.

Because both of my parents developed cognitive issues that escalated during a healthcare crisis, I needed to be able to step in as their financial and healthcare advocate. When I tried to use the durable power of attorney naming me, and it was refused by firms such as Fidelity, USAA, and even Wells Fargo, I was lucky that my dad had set up digital access to his accounts so I could help manage his financial affairs online. However, it took me nearly a year of forensics to understand their cash flow, corral the finances, manage basic household details, and contact service providers that could service prepaid agreements and appliances covered by warranties.

When it was time to make life and death choices for my dad, I found the guidance in his medical directives minimal. What did dad want me to do when he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor while living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis?

Not only do we need to have estate plans in place, we need to provide the detailed information that is needed to fulfill the powers you grant.

Good estate planning is for the living.

Most American’s believe that estate planning is for the distribution of assets, and the 44+ million Americans who are now acting as caregivers in some capacity already know that most of us will need some help in our final years. The reality, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Humans Services, is that 70 percent of us who reach age 65 will need three or more years of long-term care services before we die. We might only need help cooking, or driving; but we might need more—someone to make daily living choices on our behalf. And that reality should mean that more Americans are having an ongoing dialogue about how they will manage their daily activities in future years.

My two children, now 19 and 13 years old, watched as I helped my parents. I often discussed with them the many challenges my parents’ care created. Because my parents bought into a Continuing Care Retirement Community, we knew they would always have a bed, but they wouldn’t necessarily always have someone advocating for their interests and needs. That was the primary role I played, on top of financial and medical advocacy. I wanted them to be able to enjoy their final years. Because I had lived most of my adult life near my parents, I had a good handle on their personal choices and end-of-life wishes. So many adult children that arrive after a crisis begins don’t have such knowledge. If we want a different outcome, we must plan differently.

Kay with parents, Vald and Kitty, in 2013. Vald died that year; Kitty died in 2015.

Consider some common roadblocks that confronted me as I stepped in as my parents’ financial and medical advocate:

  • Retirement plans and money distributed among a host of different providers. My parents, like others of their generation, were not going to put all of their financial eggs in one basket. It took more than a year to find all of their bank accounts. They had relationships with over 13 financial services firms; their financial advisor knew about only one.
  • Financial institutions often have their own requirements for a durable power of attorney. Some institutions did not recognize the legitimacy of my parents’ powers of attorney. Thank goodness for the internet—and that my dad set me up to act on his behalf digitally. This is a complex issue and my advice is to find a lawyer dedicated to the practice of estate and elder law that you like. You may need help in the coming years.
  • The belief that doctors will take care of all of health care needs and choices. I still chuckle when I recall how every year my mom would tell me she “passed” her physical. Once I stepped in to be her advocate, I had to be able to quickly represent her medical issues and serve as an encyclopedia of her past medical history. The system I created to document it was always in my briefcase.
  • Documentation of home repairs and improvements. I needed it to maintain my parents’ home before it was sold, and then to minimize the tax consequence of the sale to help pay for possible future care needs. It was financially worth the hours of searching for records in the home office, mom’s secretary, and attic files.
  • The digital footprint beyond major financial accounts. We had no idea how extensive my father’s digital footprint was. And without documentation, we were unable to close email accounts and had to cancel credit cards to shut down other services. Thankfully, he wasn’t engaged in any social media.

While we will have new technologies and medical breakthroughs that may improve how we age, I’ve taken steps for the future of my aging that I can control. I’ve made sure, for instance, that in my household there will be no single point of failure. While my husband and I divide-and-conquer a host of tasks, and even some bill payment duties, we now have a shared playbook that my kids and my brother, who is named the durable power of attorney, know how to access and use. Because the practical details and information I needed to help my parents were overwhelming, I created a system to help me maintain my sanity.

When friends and colleagues started to ask me for copies, I wrote up a business plan and received an “Older-Adult Focused Innovation” award from AARP Foundation that launched my best-selling book MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. The workbook just received a “Caregiver Friendly” award from Today’s Caregiver that will be presented at the October 2016 conference.

While I set up all these tools thinking I would be helping caregivers, I’ve been rewarded to learn that most of my clients are between 40 and 60 years old and use the system to coordinate their shared households or set up plan B with a friend. Our world has changed, and how we manage our documents, accounts, details needs to change as well.

I am answering the challenge to improve the future of aging by creating and maintaining a roadmap of my accounts, documents and details. It includes a list of my 80 online accounts, a copy of Five Wishes—an advance directive created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity—along with a summary of my end-of-life wishes in more detail to help guide the person named as my medical advocate in my healthcare directives. I am also volunteering dozens of hours each month to teach classes, develop a village within my own community, write articles and make media appearance to advocate how sharing this information will help all of us age better. Will you join me?

Elder financial abuse costs $2.9 billion a year

WEAADEvery year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. This post is to honor June 15, 2016, which is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

While likely under-reported, elder financial abuse costs older Americans $2.9 billion per year (National Council on Aging).  When my parents started to slow down and I noticed they were a little more forgetful, my siblings and I went on high-alert.

Thankfully, when mom signed a contract with two different firms to repair a small hole in their gutter, one for $5,200 and one $1,200 for the same repairs, she called my sister sensing she needed help and we were able to step in and cancel the contracts. It was a major warning signal that someone could take advantage of our parents.

For the 34.2 million Americans providing unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older (Caregiving in the US – AARP 2015 Report) in addition to helping with their care needs, if someone is not helping with the finances, it’s important to be vigilant because of the growing threat of elder abuse. If you want to get get your own records organized, download Save It or Shred It for a list of the documents you should keep.

Some elder abuse is subtle. I watched as my parents started to send checks to a wide-variety of new charities they had not previously supported. Then I started to see new magazine subscriptions to publications they would never read. These were smaller, more incremental solicitations that played on my parent’s beliefs and forgetfulness. Within a year, both parents were diagnosed with different forms of dementia.

Many adult children struggle to help mom and dad, but there are a few ways families can work together to ensure their parent’s don’t fall victim to a scam.If you are starting to see new spending habits, three things you can do:

  • Offer to help in small ways to support your parent. The fear that a child will take away car keys or put them in a “home” are very real, so make sure they know you will just be stepping in to work side-by-side until they can manage again on their own. For more on this check out this story on the concept of being a “care partner”.
  • Meet with an estate or elder care attorney if you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) or Healthcare Directives in place. You will need these to be an effective advocate for your parents(s) and doing this now will be invaluable should a parent’s health decline.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services (APS) if you have evidence of fraud. While there is little they may be able to do, they should be able to direct you if there is evidence of financial abuse. Before you pursue this option, I hope you will check with an elder care attorney.

The two ways my parents became super subscribers and diligent donors was from phone solicitations and incoming mail. Many of us have heard about the phone scams, but you can’t discount the mail as a potential threat to your parents. Many charities and publications thoughtfully word their solicitations using language that allows the reader to believe they have already pledged money as well as been subscribers. It’s incredibly effective.

For a checklist you can share, here is a list of scams produced by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Is some of the unclaimed $58 billion yours?

Is some of the unclaimed $58 billion yours?

Find out if some of the unclaimed money is rightfully yours!

Dealing with Dementia

bag of moneyMost American’s are unaware that $58 billion is sitting in state and federal treasuries — it’s money that got lost in the shuffle of a move, crisis and even death. As a caregiver, you should know about the website. You can do one search and see if any of your loved ones money ended up in a state treasury. Every year, I do a quick search to see if anything slipped through the cracks. A few years ago, we found a record for my dad and claimed $2,500. Turns out, something was left behind in Kansas when we moved away in 1969.

Given the amount of accounts you accumulate today, it’s easy to understand how easy it might be to forget about a stock certificate, utility deposit, or even a small retirement account. I even found some of my money that was for an overpayment to the county water utility…

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Named to Top Alzheimer’s Blogs of 2016

Named to Top Alzheimer’s Blogs of 2016

Had my parent’s had a road map to their personal information, I would have been able to spend more time with them and not dealing with chaos I faced in trying to step in to help them. Most of us don’t have this in place, but I hope you will consider that doing this will immediately benefit you, and your loved ones should they need to step in and help. A simple tool to get started can be found in most bookstores called “MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life”.

Dealing with Dementia

topblogsMy first blog post was on February 1, 2012. I had been a watchful daughter and knew something was wrong, but even after two family meetings (all of my siblings flew in and we shared our concerns together over dinner), my parents were not interested in making any changes to their lives. At one point I had given up, but my siblings convinced me to keep trying. I started to try different tactics, which in the beginning was just finding more ways to engage with my parents on a daily basis. My first blog post is about my dad who got lost driving to my home, a drive he had taken hundreds of times previously. Looking back, my blog really doesn’t start at the beginning, but it does start at the point when most families and friends realize they need to help.

Healthline, a consumer health information website with 65…

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When Should I Share Digital Assets?

When Should I Share Digital Assets?

Writing down your usernames and passcodes not only will benefit you immediately (think of all the time you waste resetting passcodes), but will benefit your loved ones should they ever need to step in and help you.

Dealing with Dementia

digitalkeyWhen I hear people raise concern over sharing their passcodes with a spouse or loved one, I immediately feel a pang in my gut. I don’t understand and too often loved ones have to deal with the consequences.

There was a period early on as I was stepping in to help, when financial institutions refused to accept the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). USAA and Fidelity were two of the first refusals I faced. We didn’t have an ongoing relationship with the attorney who drafted the DPOA and I didn’t think we could update it because my parent’s had both been diagnosed with different types of dementia. Both firms said they wouldn’t accept a DPOA that was more than two (Fidelity) or five (USAA) years old. Ummmm. What part of “durable” did they not understand?

Later, when we looped a geriatrician in to help with mom and dad’s care, he…

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Three Ways to Protect Your Digital Assets

The never-ending discussion in the media around our user names and passcodes are usually about how many of our accounts are compromised. On May, 5, 2016, Reuters reported on the hundreds of millions of hacked user names and passwords for email accounts and other websites are being traded in Russia’s criminal underworld.

The only advice that is offered is to change your passcodes frequently, and to not use the same ones on multiple sites. Many of us recognize how difficult it is to manage a few passcodes for the dozens of accounts we use regularly. Perhaps we should be coming up with a better solution than constantly reporting on the ongoing breaches.

Beyond the issue of how to manage our own accounts, is the larger discussion on how to protect and share our digital assets with loved ones as part of our lifestyle. Many of us have joint bank accounts, but don’t realize the individual bill-pay portals can be a huge roadblock when a crisis strikes and you need to step in. I want to make sure my family has a roadmap to step in and fill my duties should I be (hopefully temporarily) unable to perform them.

Beyond bill-payment, I manage most of the household maintenance, so the air filter shipments, details on the warranty for the dryer, and even the name of a plumber that will come after hours are all recorded so this information can be easily accessed.  I also have a list of more than 80 user names, passcodes, and PINs, as well as answers to my security questions documented. Not only do I benefit (c’mon, how many of you will admit to not being able to answer your own security questions?) but this will also benefit my loved ones who might need to access these accounts.

You should have the following items in your tool kit to make sure your loved ones would be able to step in and help you while you are living–and that they have the proper documents to be able to assist you. They include:

  1. Durable power of attorney (DPOA). Every adult over 18 should name someone who could act on their behalf and take care of financial matters. Yours should incorporate language to address the changing issues surrounding your digital assets and footprint. If you haven’t updated your DPOA in five years, it might be time for a tune-up.
  2. Online inventory. Create a list of your user names, passcodes, PINS, and security questions (and keep it up to date) that could be accessed by the individual you have named in your power of attorney. If you use them, set up the legacy contact in Facebook, and the inactive account manager for Google accounts.
  3. Personal data profile. Leave a roadmap of your personal, financial, health and home records. Today, 70 percent of us turning 65 will need three or more years of long-term care. Not only will your loved ones need a copy of your durable power of attorney and healthcare directives, but they will need information to help you live the life you desire.

If you need a simple tool to help get you started, check out the best-selling MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. If you want a digital version, check out the MemoryBanc Register Flash Drive Edition.

Untangling a Loved Ones Affairs

How easily could you step in to help a loved one if they needed your help?

Dealing with Dementia

tangledThe Wall Street Journal reported on the The Difficult, Delicate, Untangling of Our Parents Financial Lives. It chronicles the arduous journey the author and his wife faced when they needed to help their parents.

Many of us already know this story, and I’m both happy and sad to see this issue getting more attention. I believe it all comes down to what we are going to do differently.

What I don’t see being addressed by the media or by the American Bar Association or any of the Estate Law or Elder Care groups is an education on the value of having a Durable Power of Attorney and Healthcare Directives in place.  These documents are meant for the living and really offer us a Plan B should we face even a temporary incapacity and want our loved ones to be able to truly help. So I am going to keep…

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