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AVOIDING ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE

Actor Mickey Rooney testified in Washington on Wednesday that he has been a victim of elder abuse, putting him among some 2.1 million aging Americans who each year suffer some form of financial, physical, psychological or other abuse, according to the American Psychological Association.“Mickey Rooney’s experience highlights a rising problem in a graying nation,” said Ted Sarenski, a CPA financial planner in Syracuse, N.Y. who chairs the Elder Planning Task Force of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. “And it shows that elder abuse is not limited by location, status or wealth.”

CPA financial planners have extensive experience helping the elderly plan and protect their estates and are available nationwide to offer advice on avoiding financial abuse.

Here are just a few tips that the elderly and their families should consider.

The elderly should:

• Subscribe to national and state DO NOT CALL lists.
• Keep social security cards in a safe place.
• Avoid giving personal information over the phone.
• Delete unsolicited emails that request personal information or money.
• Not open doors to strangers.
• Remove mail promptly from the mailbox.
• Review bills and bank statements promptly for accuracy.
• Shred all confidential and financial information prior to discarding.
• Make a copy of all items in their wallets and keep it in a safe place.

Families of the elderly should:

  1. Beware of a new trusted friend. Mom and Dad have a neighbor, caregiver, sibling or other outsider who is suddenly their best friend running errands, going to the bank or generally being around when they were not in your parents’ past at all. This can be a warning sign that someone is taking advantage.
  2. Watch for unusual account activity. Review your parents’ bank and investment statements for excess activity at the ATM, excessive trading in the brokerage account, many cash withdrawals or other suspicious activity. As they age, the elderly usually want simplification so new accounts or a lot of activity in existing accounts is a signal of potential trouble. Also watch out for someone becoming a joint account holder for your parents’ “convenience.”
  3. Look through mail and email. Correspondence with people you don’t know or solicitations from questionable charities should be investigated. The elderly often are concerned about taking care of people who are less fortunate and are vulnerable to requests from charities that are not legitimate.
  4. Keep aware of the will. Victims of elderly abuse often want to change their will to take care of someone who has been kind to them in their later years.
  5. Visit. One of the most important prevention techniques is to visit with your parents often. This advice holds for avoiding financial, physical and verbal abuse. Abuse can come from a caregiver, nursing home personnel—even a sibling. Regular and unscheduled visits can be a powerful tool for fighting abuse.

Both should:

Use Google. If they’re online, the elderly should set alerts to track the names of all of their advisors. Families of the elderly should do the same. While not foolproof, Google alerts can help bring to light troubling news articles, forum posts or other material that might otherwise go undiscovered. On the flip side, they can highlight accolades for advisors that help instill confidence.

Be careful with a POA. The elderly should give power of attorney only to someone they trust without question. There are alternatives. One is a springing power of attorney, which only applies upon a certain event. Another is a revocable trust to hold assets with a corporate entity as a trustee. Corporate trustees often have detailed knowledge about issues affecting the elderly and are bonded.
Author: Jonathan B. Cox with AICPA Media Relations at 919-402-4499 or jcox@aicpa.org.

Top Ten Tips for Using the Social Security Website

By Mickie Douglas, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Remember when reviewing your finances required using neatly sharpened #2 pencils and calculators with paper tapes?   While we may still use those shiny, yellow pencils for phone messages, it’s an online world today and you can easily take care of your retirement planning with the Social Security Administration at our website (www.socialsecurity.gov).  You can save yourself some time and travel by learning about what you can do online.  Here are some tips for using our website:

Tip 1: Check Out Our Top Services. Our newly redesigned homepage features a service channeling guide, which appears in the left hand column of the home page.  The guide links users directly to our most popular pages on the web site – the services that you’ll most likely want to use.

Tip 2: Take Our Retirement Tutorial. When to start receiving Social Security benefits may well be the most important decision you’ll make about your retirement.  Social Security has designed a tutorial to guide you through the issues related to when to begin benefits.  Since “when to start” is a personal decision, we’ve provided the topics you should consider before you retire.  You can start deciding “when to start” by answering the question at the bottom of the page at: www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/applying1.htm.

Tip 3: Find An Answer.  On our homepage in the lower right hand corner, you’ll find our “Have A Question?” section where you can type in your Social Security questions.  The web site provides an answer and shows additional answers to similar questions that others found helpful.

Tip 4: Check Out Our Forms and Publications. The answers to everything you always wanted to know about Social Security are available through our various publications under the “Get a publication” link on the left side of the homepage under Top Services.  If you and your husband are trying to figure out how much your benefits will be if you have both worked under Social Security; reading “What Every Woman Should Know” will help you understand how much you can receive.   Sometimes doing business with Social Security requires completing a form and you can find the forms you need at our website.

Tip 5: Check Out How Work Affects Retirement Benefits. Continuing to work may be part of your overall retirement strategy and you need to know how your work activity affects your Social Security benefit.  It could increase the amount of your monthly benefit and you may be able to work and receive your benefits.  Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/COLA/RTeffect.html to use our calculator to see what effect your work will have on your benefit checks.

Tip 6: Give Yourself an Estimate. The Retirement Estimator www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator) allows people to get an immediate, personalized retirement estimate based on real time access to their earnings record.  You can get an estimate of retirement benefits at age 62, full retirement age and age 70.  The most useful feature of The Estimator allows people to create “what if” scenarios to see how much their benefit would be using different “stop work” ages and “future earnings” projections.

Tip 7: View Our CD on Retirement Planning. You can view a demo of our retirement planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2 on the right side of the page.  Here you will find all the information that you need to plan your retirement with Social Security.  The CD shows you how to find your full retirement age, how reduced benefits work, the value of delaying your retirement, and how to use our Retirement Estimator.

Tip 8: View Our CD on How to File Online. Retire online because it’s so easy.  You can also view the retirement application found below the Retirement Planning CD discussed in Tip 7.  The demo shows the questions we ask when you file for retirement benefits.  It walks you through the process from beginning to end, so that you’ll soon be telling others, “You should retire online. It’s so easy”.

Tip 9: File Online. Join the 3,148 Utahans who filed for retirement benefits online at www.soicalsocialsecurity.gov/pgm/getservices-apply.html this year.  Almost half of all Utah Social Security retirement filers chose the easy online approach.  They spent about 15 minutes online in the comfort of their home or office.

Tip 10: Remember Social Security’s Post-Retirement Services. There are several simple services that can save you a trip or a phone call to a local Social Security office.  Lose your Medicare card?  Need to change your direct deposit or address?  Need to request a Proof of Income letter to show another agency or your banker?  Lose your end-of-year 1099 (Social Security Benefit Statement)?  You can use all of these services online and savor the additional time you add to your well deserved retirement.

It’s an online world today, so park your pencil and explore Social Security’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov.

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Planning your Nest Egg
Lon Jefferies

Q. How can I be more comfortable with my financial situation and confident I won’t outlive my nest egg?

The first step to financial piece of mind is developing a comprehensive financial plan. Having a constantly updated financial plan enables you to continually know where you are in relation to your goals, and consistently highlight actions that should be taken so you can enjoy the retirement you’ve imagined. Additionally, a well-crafted financial plan should contain strategies for accruing and preserving wealth. According to a study conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, investors with a financial plan have twice as much cash and investable assets as investors without a plan.1

What qualifies as a financial plan? First, any document provided by a stockbroker, insurance agent, or annuity salesman is likely not a financial plan, but a sales presentation. A financial plan should be objective in nature and investment decisions should be based on the plan; the plan should not be a tool to steer you toward predetermined and limited investments. A comprehensive plan should define your current financial position, outline your goals, and chart a detailed strategy for achieving those goals. With an emphasis on minimizing taxes, your plan should include:

  • A variety of retirement projections
  • An analysis of your insurance coverage
  • An examination of your estate planning documents
  • A clearly defined investment strategy, and
  • A plan for funding education accounts for heirs

Retirement projections are useful for estimating the standard of living you are on pace to enjoy, and can even illustrate how your lifestyle would be affected by variables such as inflation, life expectancy, and the rate of return achieved. This tool is great for quantifying the actions you must take to reach your goals, such as how much you must save each year, how long you must work, etc.

The investment strategy portion of your plan should identify an asset allocation appropriate for your risk tolerance. Your asset allocation is the mix of stocks (most aggressive), bonds (less aggressive) and cash (most conservative) in your portfolio. A predetermined asset allocation should reduce your probability of losing more than you can afford during market declines, and help you sleep better at night. Additionally, having a comprehensive long-term plan will minimize emotion and emphasize logic when making financial decisions.

Beware! It is not enough to have a financial plan collecting dust on your bookshelf; your plan should be a living document. Circumstances in your life are frequently changing—new family members, market movements, changes in employer benefits, fluctuating health status, etc. Your plan should be updated at least annually to reflect these changes.

1  SEC, Office of Investor Education and Assistance, February 24, 1998

Lon Jefferies is a fee-only financial planner with Net Worth Advisory Group (www.networthadvice.com). He never collects commissions so he can provide objective advice. He is a candidate for CFP™ certification and a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Contact him at (801) 566-0740 for a no obligation consultation to review your financial situation. Have a question you’d like Lon to answer in an upcoming issue? Email him at lon@networthadvice.com.

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