Financial skills, even basic arithmetic, begin declining at age 53*. An estimated one out of five seniors is exploited or defrauded. How do we stay in charge of our money?
Simplify. Delegate. Monitor.
Use automatic deposits and automatic withdrawals for ordinary expenses.
Reduce the number of bank accounts. This has an added advantage in retirement: if Social Security is deposited into a bank account, twice the amount of the Social Security benefit is protected from garnishment by creditors regardless of where the money came from.
Use a limited Durable Power of Attorney to let someone else pay bills for clothes, co-pays, prescriptions and personal helpers without giving them power over all your assets. Many people who are only “convenience” signers, conveniently think that the checking account is a joint account – that the money is theirs. An agent named in a Durable Power of Attorney must sign before a notary acknowledging that he is a fiduciary, someone who must put your interests first.
Use a separate general Durable Power of Attorney, effective when your doctor writes that we are no longer capable of managing your financial affairs. This should allow someone to do Medicaid planning and access our investments to provide for your care. It could be a Durable Power of Attorney which springs into being as part of a Revocable Living Trust.
Consider a Revocable Living Trust which provides for a geriatric care manager to advise on the care you need and how and where you can receive it (Some Medicare Advantage policies include a geriatric care manager). The trust instrument could also state who will direct your investments. When only one spouse is left or the children are far away, a Revocable Living Trust may prove especially useful.
Social Security, VA Benefits, Pensions and Retirement Benefits cannot be garnished by creditors. That doesn’t keep the debt collectors from calling – and threatening legal action they are powerless to bring. You can refuse to answer the phone – or hang up, not open emails, change your bank account and ask an elder lawyer to send a “cease and desist” letter. By law, the debt collector must then contact the lawyer. In addition to elder lawyers, www.helpsishere.org helps seniors resolving debt issues. Today, debt consolidation “services” seem only to pretend to.
Use a prepaid debit card with built-in restrictions on where it can be used. This can be helpful if someone is picking up groceries for us, for example. Purchases at HEB and Central Market are likely to be groceries. Purchases at WalMart and Costco might not be. www.truelinkfinancial.com.
We can preserve our credit rating by preventing someone from opening a new account in our name or increasing the credit limit on a current account by putting on a credit freeze at one or all three of the credit rating agencies. This can be removed if we do in fact need to purchase something not within our usual budget. www.experian.com/freeze 1-888-397-3742; www.transunion.com/fraud-victim-resource/protected-consumer 1-800-680-7289; www.equifax.com 1-800-525-6285.
Both our Durable Power of Attorney and our Revocable Living Trust should require that anyone you name provide accountings and receipts to another family member, friend or accountant.
Knowing that someone is watching can keep the hand out of the cookie jar.
*Tara Siegel Bernard, “As Cognition Slips, Financial Skills Are Often the First to Go” The New York Times April 25, 2015
Terry Garrett is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.
She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.