$58 Billion Reasons Why to Organize Your Information & Online Passcodes

bag of moneyMost American’s are unaware that more than $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. Family members and loved ones don’t know about it and it ends up in dormant accounts help by State and Federal Treasurers.

I used the MissingMoney.com website when I was caring for my parents. 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 over-payment to the county water utility that I never received.

HOW TO SEARCH FOR MISSING MONEY

To do a quick search to see if you are entitled to missing funds, visit MissingMoney. Enter your name and state and you will get back a list of possible matches. You should make the claim directly to the state treasury. Every state website has a simple portal you can use to initiate the process.

1) Go to the state web site where you believe you may have missing money

2) Search the state web site for “missing” or “unclaimed money”

3) Make a direct claim following the web site instructions.

You should never have to pay anyone money to claim money that is rightfully yours.

Happy hunting! Enriched.

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MissingMoney does not include all states and not all the information — in particular some very old records. To learn more about this topic, check out Mary Pitman who wrote The Little Book of Missing Money.

When banks prioritize their interests over customer service, we all lose.

wells_fargo_realityI have yet to be convinced that the default process being used by banks put into place to protect our accounts is reasonable. Today reminded me of how frustrating it is to deal with Wells Fargo in particular.

My client wanted me to step in as POA to help on her accounts, so we went to the bank and set it up so I could easily act on her behalf. She was with me and we used the Wells Fargo form to set it up and the whole process took an hour–it should have taken 10 minutes. The first banker had no idea how to even do it, so we waited for the “senior banker”.  The “senior banker” had to call the “back office” to be walked through the process.

My client has estate plans and a trust in place, but her son is not in the area. I was stepping in to help while she was transitioning from her home into a life care community.  We are on the other side of the transition and now that Wells Fargo has the Trust and all the beneficiaries is in alignment with her plans, I wanted to step down as POA.

I visited the bank to resign thinking it would be relatively easy. The first appointment took over an hour as I first had to wait for the “senior banker”, and then we sat on the phone as he called the “back office” to get tutored on what to do. I was told I had to bring in a letter formally resigning. They didn’t have a form, or any further instructions.

When I returned with my “resignation letter” I was working with a different banker.  While thankfully, I was attended to right away, we then had to wait on hold in the queue for the “back office” for 25 minutes. This time the “back office” tells us there are specific things that had to be included in the resignation. My typed up letter put her name in the header, not in the sentence, so that letter didn’t work. After 45 minutes, I am really annoyed since the “letter requirements” were not provided to me on my first visit.

This banker understands my frustration and grabs a piece of paper and asks me to hand write the resignation.

Ummmm, you mean I could have done that on the first visit?

Yes, I could have. He is now talking with a contact at “document review” to finish the process to complete what Wells Fargo needs to complete the resignation.

Prompts to the banker who helped me on this last visit. He is the kind of banker you want, but the Wells Fargo systems are a hindrance to building a positive relationship with CUSTOMERS.

I am frustrated. Wells Fargo is doing this for THEM, not for my CLIENT, or for ME. We are both customers. For the millions of caregivers who are going to have to go through this laborious process, be forewarned and do it before you need it. It only gets harder.

I miss the smaller bank I used to work with. I came first. I’ve also seen this with my clients and colleagues. The big name banks prioritize their interests and procedure before customer service.   

** I left my smaller bank because their online banking was very difficult to use and unreliable. Open to recommendations for banks in the NoVA!

The Sneaky Mind of a Scammer

phonescamWhile there is a lot of coverage for the inbound phone scams, I almost got sucked into one that I had called.

When my mom passed away, I dialed the contact number to reach her personal insurance agent. While the number is ringing, I decide to also check my email but am surprised when I’m prompted to press “1” if I am over 50. I wait for the next option which turns out to be a request for discounted insurance. I’m starting to think I dialed the wrong number and hang up. I dial the number again and pay close attention. I am not greeted with “Welcome to New York Life” but hear a general greeting, then am again asked to press “1” if I’m over 50.

Apparently, someone bought the direct number for my mom’s insurance agent. I didn’t stay on long enough to find out who it was, but thought what they did was both brilliant and sneaky.

It was a simple reminder about how easy it is to get fooled. I’m thinking I’m calling my mother’s insurance agent, and had I not paid close attention, I could have provided a host of information about her that could lead to an unscrupulous person being able to steal her identity.

In general, most of us are overwhelmed by the calls coming to us. There are several ways to help protect yourselves.

It’s discouraging to find out that they agency managing the National Do Not Call Registry admits it has failed consumers. The scammers don’t play by the rules, and now technology helps them spoof the caller ID leaving me to ignore any call I don’t recognize.

Some options to help block the INCOMING calls include:

  1. Sign up for a automated service for your landline to block calls. Nomorobo is free service I can get from my local carrier, Verizon. The Nomorobo website can help you find out if you can get their free service in your area. I implemented it at home and it has made a big difference. When we moved in nearly two decades ago, we opted for the unlisted number–that USED to work at keeping callers at bay.
  2. If you can’t get a service like Nomorobo, you can purchase a call blocking device like Sentry 2 that lets you blacklist numbers. It does require that you tag calls to the “blacklist” to block, and you can also add numbers and only get calls from those on your “whitelist”. It can fill the need but does require assistance to be effective.
  3. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. When you answer, they know they have a valid number. Asking to be removed, or selecting the dial option they offer typically won’t yield a positive results.
  4. Sign up for “Anonymous Call Rejection” with your local carrier. It will reject calls from anyone that has blocked their caller ID information. It is usually something you can enable using *77 but varies by provider.

THE NEXT SCAM COMING

There is a new model of scams coming in as voicemail. Your phone will not ring, but a message will be left in your message center. Because there is some consideration to mandate technology to block the spoofed calls, the “no ring voicemail” is the next tool in the fraudster toolkit.

It’s discouraging that we have to be so protective of our personal information. Unfortunately, the consequences of not being our own best advocate can be financially and emotionally devastating. Scammers stink.

Umbrella Insurance & Caregiving

pexels-photo-100671.jpegAny family helping or caring for someone with mild cognitive impairment or dementia should consider the addition of an “Umbrella” policy.

In a Kiplinger article titled Why You Need an Umbrella Policy, they share that “adding extra liability coverage to your auto- and homeowners-insurance policies can protect your finances from expensive lawsuits.”  Umbrella policies are designed “to help protect you from major claims and lawsuits and as a result it helps protect your assets and your future. It does this in two ways: Provides additional liability coverage above the limits of your homeowners, auto, and boat insurance policies.”

In the early stages of my parent’s dementia, when they didn’t quite recognize they were having trouble, I helped my dad add an Umbrella policy to their coverage.  They had auto- and homeowners insurance, but I was concerned that the might be responsible for something that would jeopardize their retirement savings. I figured they would need every penny of their money to pay for their care.

One issue we faced early was that my dad was driving without a valid license. Their doctor had submitted the paperwork to have both of my parents licenses revoked. For some reason, they only thought my dad had his license revoked, even though they both received a letter. They practiced what they would tell the police if they were pulled over.   I was pretty sure the auto-insurance wouldn’t cover them since their licenses were revoked, so I prayed that nothing would happen. If it did, I hoped the umbrella insurance would help protect their assets to pay for the years of care they would be needing.

Later, at a happy hour at my parent’s retirement community, my dad fell over onto a woman and sent her to the ER. Thankfully, she knew my dad and she nor her family pursued a lawsuit. However, I could only imagine how quickly all of their assets could disappear in legal fees and an award.

If you are are caregiver, two things to do to protect your loved one and their assets:

  1. Contact your insurance agent and have an open discussion about your concerns to find the type of policy that could best protect you and your loved ones.
  2. Contact your estate lawyer. A Trust might be a solution to help protect your assets …. but I’m NOT a lawyer …. so please find a local elder care attorney who can help you navigate the coming years.

Dementia is a cruel beast and it steals so much from the individuals it preys upon, and the loved ones caring for them. I hope the suggestion on how to deal with practical issues to protect your loved ones will help you and your family.

If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, you can visit the my other blog DealingWithDementia.org. 

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.

KaywParents2013
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.

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.