An annuity can be a useful tool for long-term care planning, but annuities are also complex financial products that are hard to understand. If purchasing an annuity, you need to consider your options carefully. 

An annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which the consumer pays the company a certain amount of money and the company sends the consumer a monthly check for the rest of his or her life, or for a certain term. Annuities come in many flavors. They can be deferred (begin paying out at a later date) or immediate (begin paying out right away). They can pay a fixed amount each month or pay out a variable amount based on how the money is invested. While a fixed immediate annuity can be a good Medicaid planning option for a married couple, other annuity products can be quite complex and confusing and are not right for everyone. 

If you have decided an annuity is the right choice for your long-term care or retirement plan, you need to shop around to find the right product. The following are some purchasing tips:

  • Check the terms. Be sure to read the annuity contract carefully. Annuities often have surrender charges that penalize you for withdrawing your money too early. You need to understand for how long you won’t be able to access your money and when payouts begin. There may also be other fees associated with the annuity as well as optional riders. Understanding the fees will allow you to shop around to find the best product. 
  • Choose your salesperson. Insurance companies often pay generous commissions to the brokers who sell their particular annuities, payments that many of the brokers don't disclose. They also generally don't disclose whether they are paid more or less by one insurance company than another or whether the annuity being sold is the best option for the consumer. Ask your broker questions to determine how they are paid. You may want to seek a second opinion to make sure your salesperson isn't steering you into a product that isn't right for you. 
  • Select a sound insurance company. Annuity payments are often supposed to last a lifetime, so you want an insurance company that will stick around. Make certain that the insurer is rated in the top two categories by one of the services that rates insurance companies, such as A.M. Best, Moody’s, Standard & Poor's, or Weiss.  

 

 

A new report finds that almost no retirees are making financially optimal decisions about when to take Social Security and are losing out on more than $100,000 per household in the process. The average Social Security recipient would receive 9 percent more income in retirement if they made the financially optimal decision.

When claiming Social Security, you have three options: You may begin taking benefits between age 62 and your full retirement age, you can wait until your full retirement age, or you can delay benefits and take them anytime up until you reach age 70. If you take Social Security between age 62 and your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced to account for the longer period you will be paid. If you delay taking retirement, depending on when you were born, your eventual benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay, in addition to any cost-of-living increases. 

The new report, conducted by United Income, an online investment management and financial planning firm, found that only 4 percent of retirees make the financially optimal decision about when to claim Social Security. Nearly all of the retirees not optimizing their benefits are claiming benefits too early. The study found that 57 percent of retirees would build more wealth if they waited to claim until age 70. However, currently more than 70 percent of retirees claim benefits before their full retirement age. Claiming before full retirement is the financially best option for only 6.5 percent of retirees, according to United Income. 

The consequences of claiming Social Security too early can be big. The report found that collecting benefits at the wrong time causes retirees to collectively lose $3.4 trillion in potential income (an average of $111,000 per household). The report also estimates that elderly poverty could be cut in half if retirees claimed benefits at the financially optimal time. 

One reason most people do not optimize Social Security is because waiting to collect benefits means their overall wealth may fall during their 60s and 70s. They also may not be aware that collecting benefits before full retirement age means that their benefits will be permanently reduced. According to the report’s authors, policy changes are necessary to get retirees to wait to claim benefits. The report recommends that early claiming be made the exception and reserved for those who have a demonstrable need to collect early. Another recommendation is to change the label on early retirement and call it the “minimum benefit age.”  

To read the full report, click here.

For a CBS News article on the report, click here.

 

Reports of elder financial abuse continue to increase, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to scams or to financial abuse by family members in need of money.

It is hard to ascertain the exact numbers of people affected by elder abuse because studies show that elder abuse is underreported. However, one study found that financial loss from financial elder abuse could be close to $3 billion a year. 

While it is impossible to guarantee that an elderly loved one is not the victim of financial abuse, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances. One option is to have more than one family member involved in caring for the loved one. You can also encourage the elder to get involved in community activities to ensure that he or she has a wide range of support. Using direct deposit as much as possible is also helpful. And of course you should always screen caregivers carefully and verify references.

Financial abuse can be very difficult to detect. The following are some signs that a loved one may be the victim of this kind of abuse:

  • The disappearance of valuable objects
  • Withdrawals of large amounts of money, checks made out to cash, or low bank balances
  • A new “best friend” and isolation from other friends and family
  • Large credit card transactions
  • Signatures on checks that look different
  • A name added to a bank account or newly formed joint accounts
  • Indications of fear of caregivers

If you suspect someone of being financially abused, there are several actions you can take:

  • Report the possible crime by calling your local Adult Protective Services and state attorney general's office. File a police report.
  • Explore options at your local probate court if your state has such courts. The court can intervene if someone in the family is misusing a power of attorney or their role as guardian or conservator.
  • Contact advocacy organizations. The National Center on Elder Abuse offers guidance on how to investigate and seek justice for elder abuse. State laws vary, but some have elder abuse statutes and may be able to get restitution for breach of fiduciary duties.
  • Try to get a temporary restraining order from a court while building your case.

Another valuable resource is Aging in Place's guide to recognizing elder abuse.

Using a Medicaid Trust Without Losing Control

Over the years, I have found that one of the biggest obstacles preventing clients from pulling the trigger on a Medicaid Trust is the perception that all control is lost over the assets being transferred to the trust. While it is true that legal title to the assets must be transferred to the trustee, a well drafted trust can provide several mechanisms allowing the creator of the trust to maintain a certain degree of control.

The following are some techniques I use in Medicaid Trusts to calm your fears of losing control. Read more

If properly drafted and executed, certain New York estate planning documents, such as a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) or a trust should be recognized outside of New York. For instance, if you sign a Will while present in New York and follow the proper formalities of a Will execution (e.g. at least two witnesses, etc.), that Will should be recognized even if you die while a resident of another state. Similarly, if you die while a resident of New York, having a valid Will prepared while you were a resident of another state, New York will recognize your Will. Read more

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The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney/client relationship.

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