Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Five Phases of Retirement Planning

Retirement in America has changed radically over the last few decades; years ago you expected to work most of your life for a single, large  employer, then you would count on a pension from that employer. “Retirement planning” was figuring out how to use your new-found free time. Today, however,  it’s more likely that you will be living in retirement on money that you saved yourself while calculating rates of return and deciphering tax rules.

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This self-funded retirement constitutes a shift of responsibility. To help those who are beginning to plan for retirement, or those who just want to learn ahead of time, here are the five phases of retirement planning, including key aspects that should to be carried out during each phase.

Phase 1: Accumulation

This period begins when you enter the workforce and begin to set aside funds for later in life, and ends when you actually retire. If your employer offers 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plans, sign up and contribute the maximum amount allowed. The “new normal” requires retirement savings rates for most Americans to exceed 10 per cent. If you’re self-employed, look over your plan to see if you’re shortchanging yourself on Social Security to reap tax reductions, and if you are, consider re-working your plan.

Phase 2: Pre-Retirement

This occurs during the final years of Phase 1: Accumulation and should begin either when you reach 50 years of age or when you are 15 years away from retirement, whichever happens first. Now is the time to get your plan in place; make sure your finances are lined up correctly for the day your retire so nothing is left to chance. If the company you work for has a benefits specialist, schedule an appointment to become informed about the different ways you can convert your employer retirement savings into a stream of income or an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). Consider using “scenario planning” and start learning about Social Security and your options for receiving retirement benefits. Familiarize yourself with the basics of Medicare, including Medicaid.

Phase 3: Early-Retirement

This phase lasts from the day you retire until you turn 70. (For those who do not plan to retire until well into their 70s, some tasks in this phase may occur later.) An important purpose of this phase is to create a clear communication channel with your family: information can be shared, questions can be discussed, and decisions can be made in a calm and supportive way. It’s also the time to evaluate how well your finances are working now that you have started to use your retirement savings. Fine-tune your income and expense projections, remembering to take into consideration how you will meet minimum distribution requirements from  your tax-deferred accounts.

Phase 4: Mid-Retirement

This begins at age 70 and lasts as long as your high-functioning and able-bodied. Despite your good health, begin looking at what steps you would want your family to take if your condition declines significantly. In most cases, your ability to make all your own decisions, care for yourself, engage with the world, and manage your affairs does not disappear in a split second. It takes courage to dive into a  conversation about giving up and transferring control.

Phase 5: Late-Retirement

This phase begins when your health has taken a turn for the worse and it is not likely for it being fully restored and you require significant help to function from day to day. The hope for this phase, is that by this point all the planning you have done in prior years will make this transition as manageable and life-affirming as possible.

For assistance in retirement planning, it would be helpful to hire a qualified elder law attorney. Contact Adam Tobin to meet with a knowledgeable Massachusetts elder attorney, and receive advice and tips to make your retirement planning a smooth process.

Recognizing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness Week

“Does mom want to live in a nursing home?”

“Does dad considers living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia to be quality of life?”

“Do my parents have legal documentation in place that ensures someone can act on their financial behalf if they are unable to?”

discuss-alzheimers-and-dementia-weekThese three questions are just a few of things that adult children should talk to their parents about during Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness Week,  which lasts from February 24th until the 21st. Knowing the answers to these and other questions is very important; families could be left struggling financially, battling over long-term care, and not truly honoring your parents’ wishes if they don’t have this conversation beforehand.

Talking about Alzheimer’s and Dementia can be stressful and upsetting, which often times leaves families to avoid talking about it until it’s too late. However, from a legal standpoint, if you don’t know your parents’ wishes or the documentation they have in place, you could be left in great disarray in the addition to having to see a parent go through this debilitating disease.

There are five conversations to have with your parents as soon as the opportunity presents itself:

Long-Term Care Preferences — Would your parent like to live in a nursing home or would they prefer in-home care? If they would prefer to live in a nursing home, talk about the amenities and activities they would like to be able to enjoy. Discussing these questions in advance can make the transition into an assisted living facility or a home health care program easier on everyone when the time comes.

Current Legal Documentation — It is crucial for you to find out what legal documentation your senior parents have in place before incapacity occurs. Make sure your parents have a power of attorney, health care directive, and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) forms so someone can easily step in to make medical or financial decisions on their behalf. Otherwise, your family will be forced to petition a court for control over your parent’s affairs if they pass the point of legal capacity.

Medical Preferences and Wishes — It’s very important to find out what type and how much medical care your parents wants after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Ask questions like Do you have specific wishes about life support or other end of life treatments? Who do you want to make decisions on your behalf? The answers will help your parents feel secure knowing their wishes will be carried out during an otherwise emotionally-charged time.

Current State of Financial Affairs —  To ensure their finances stay properly managed after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, this week is a good opportunity to ask your parents the tough questions about their financial affairs. This includes finding out the location of any safety deposit boxes, bank accounts, brokerage or investment accounts, and any outstanding debts or other assets you are unaware of. Otherwise, essential assets needed to cover long-term care or other expenses could be overlooked when memory loss ultimately occurs.

Important Contacts and Information — While their memory is sharp, work with your senior parents to make a list of important contacts and information that will be useful to the your family should memory loss occur. This should include documenting key doctors, professional advisers such as accountants, attorneys, financial advisers, as well as important passwords for online documents.

Having these conversations certainly aren’t easy, but it can help your family through the transition of living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, by simply planning ahead. If you have any trouble dealing with the legal aspects of this process, consult a qualified elder law attorney for helpful advice.

5 Important Facts to Know about before Serving as a Trustee

It is very common for clients to name adult children or other reliable family members as successor Trustees to serve upon the incapacity or death of the client. Being a Trustee is both a privilege and an honor, but also carries an enormous responsibility; it can be a really difficult and time-consuming job to take over.

Trustees’ duties are numerous and varied, dependent upon the type of trust, the terms of the trust, and the trust assets. Here are five common duties for all Trustees.

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1.) A Trustee owes a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries.

“Fiduciary” means that the Trustee owes the highest duty of loyalty, fair dealing, and good faith to the beneficiaries of the Trust. Generally speaking, this means the Trustee must always act in the best interests of the beneficiaries, not his own. A breach of a Trustee’s fiduciary duty includes using Trust assets to invest in a business owned by the Trustee, purchasing real estate from the Trust for personal use, or personally profiting from service as Trustee by taking a commission on the sale of real estate. A Trustee who misappropriates Trust monies has clearly breached his fiduciary duty.

2.) A Trustee has a duty to carry out the terms of the Trust.

Clients may sometimes be under the impression that a Trustee is in the position of making ALL decisions regarding distributions from the Trust; while some Trusts may grant the Trustee discretion to make certain types of distributions, the Trustee may not act contrary to the terms of the Trust. For instance, if the Trust instructs the Trustee to sell all real estate properties and distribute the proceeds equally amongst the beneficiaries (after paying expenses), the Trustee does not have the authority to do otherwise. Beneficiaries of a Trust have the right to know the terms; therefore, the Trustee may not refuse to divulge information concerning their interests.

3.) A Trustee has a duty to account to the beneficiaries.

Trustee’s must keep accurate records of all Trust financial activity, and they must share that information with the beneficiaries on a regular basis. Reports of financial activity that a Trustee provides to the Trust beneficiaries are called Trust accounts. Trustee accounts should include an inventory of the assets held by the Trust, the value of said assets, and the expenses and distributions paid out of the trust. The beneficiaries have the right to inspect the Trustee’s account and to object to any item they deem inappropriate.

4.) A Trustee has a duty to safeguard the Trust assets.

The Trustee is responsible for safeguarding the assets held by the Trust. Take, for example, if the Trustee fails to adequately insure the house and it burns down. The Trustee is responsible and will have to make up for the loss with money from their personal account. Similarly, the Trustee has a duty to invest Trust assets in a reasonable and cautious manner; if they fail to do so and the Trust loses value, the Trustee can be held responsible. In some circumstances, Trustees must secure a surety bond from a bonding agent to ensure that the beneficiaries will be protected if the Trustee fails to adequately protect the Trust assets.

5.) A Trustee has a duty to properly administer the Trust assets.

Trust assets must be kept in the name of the Trust, not in the Trustee’s personal name. The Trustee is not allowed to co-mingle the Trust assets with their own funds. Usually, the Trust will have its own taxpayer identification number assigned by the IRS; the Trustee must file all required income tax returns and pay the tax properly owned by the Trust. The Trustee must provide all beneficiaries with the tax documentation they will need to file their own income tax returns.
The above facts are requirements of every Trustee, there are many more specific tasks involved in serving as Trustee. If you become Trustee for a family member of friend, consult with a Massachusetts elder attorney for help in fulfilling your duties so you can successfully carry out your Trustee responsibilities.

Elder Abuse in Massachusetts and How to Cope

It is a sad fact, but sometimes, no matter how hard we try to search for the perfect nursing home or in-home caregiver to take care of our senior family or friends, elder abuse can happen.

Keep your eyes open for signs of elder abuse

Elder abuse is when a caregiver mistreats an elderly person (defined as 60 years of age or older) by engaging in acts that are physically, sexually, financially, or emotionally abusive. It also applies when caretakers neglect to take proper care of an elder person, or even if a senior fails to take care of him or herself.

There are several signs that can suggest elder abuse is happening to your loved one. General signs include frequent arguments or tension between the caregiver and your loved one, and obvious changes in your loved one’s personality or behavior.

There are specific ways to help stop elder abuse in Massachusetts:

  • If you know of a senior citizen who is in immediate danger, always report it by calling 911.
  • If you know of an elder abuse situation that is not an emergency, call your local Aging Services Access Point, an organization designed to protect seniors as well as offer medical care services. To find an office close to you, log on to www.seniorconnection.org/aaa_asap.html.
  • Call the Massachusetts Elder Abuse Hot Line any time at 800-922-2275. During your call you will need to provide information about the abuse, the name and address of the person being abused, and any medical treatment the senior is receiving.
  • Call the long-term care ombudsman, which is a person who acts as a trusted intermediary between an organization and some internal or external constituency while representing not only but mostly the broad scope of constituent interests, if the abuse is taking place at a nursing home. To find the nearest one, visit www.mass.gov/Eelders/docs/Itc_ombudsman_contact.pdf.

It is always best to consult with an elder law attorney when placing your loved one in the hands of another caregiver. They help you determine the best placement for the senior, and in the event anything goes wrong, they will be better suited to remedy the situation.