I work with clients to create plans for spending, saving, investment, taxes, insurance, estate, and all the other items that, if managed, can lead to financial security and peace of mind. Often, after all the planning, I get the question: What else can I do to help my financial situation? While a good plan can help mitigate the ups and downs of the markets and the economy, it still can lead many to feel like they have little control over their situation. This question often stems from a sense of not feeling totally in control of your financial situation because of volatile markets, the economy—and recently, a global pandemic.
One area I have started to introduce to my clients as a financial strategy is to consider doing an evaluation and plan for their physical and mental health. The estimated average healthcare costs for a couple in retirement is $285,000. This figure can include Medicare supplement premiums, deductibles, drugs, co-pays, dental, vision, counseling, and other care services. Over the past 30+ years as I have been working with clients, I have seen firsthand how these costs are becoming an increasing burden to retirees as inflation in the healthcare industry is very much outpacing increases in incomes.
For many, chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and auto-immune diseases are a big burden physically, mentally, and financially. My story was typical of a lot of people I see. Busy family life, high pressure jobs, and the stresses of life slowly add up. Late in my 40’s, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and started taking medication. I thought I was in pretty good shape and didn’t give it much thought as my mom had high blood pressure all her adult life, and I thought it was hereditary. As I got into my 50’s, my cholesterol and triglycerides started steadily increasing to unhealthy levels. Like many, I ignored the slow decay of my physical and mental health. Denial was strong. I would get flashes of trying to stem the aging “tide” but would eventually fall back to poor exercise and eating habits. There were always more important things to do than focusing on my health. Between feeling the aches and pains of nearing 60 years old and waking up to the knowledge of the effect my health would have on my retirement finances, I became acutely aware that I needed to seriously focus on my health. My motivation of wanting to feel better physically and mentally was boosted by the fact that I wanted to use my retirement savings for better things than healthcare costs.
In late 2018, I got to work. First, I did an inventory of my state of health. To do this, I consulted with professionals, gathered tools and health data, and did a deep dive into educating myself about nutrition and mental wellness. I also examined my consumption of food and alcohol, my utilization of exercise, and my stress levels and other facets of improving my emotional health. Second, I set aside feelings of ego, guilt, and pride to create a realistic road map to improving my health. One of the main things I learned right away is that there is no quick fix. To reverse years of poor habits and choices, it takes a long period of time. It definitely is a marathon and not a sprint, as to do it the right way involves lifestyle changes and not diets or boot camps.
I’m eating less with mostly plant-based meals, exercising consistently, and addressing the stresses I face on many fronts. It has been fabulous! My energy levels are much higher, and I have a much more positive attitude about life in general. For many years, I felt anxious about the state of my physical and mental health and that I couldn’t get the motivation to execute a good personal healthcare plan with consistency. I’m glad the added boost of seeing improved health as a financial strategy has motivated me to create and execute the beginnings of a sound personal health plan.
We all live with the genetic lottery, and predicting our future health is difficult, but it would be ridiculous for me not to do everything in my power to live healthily and potentially not spend my hard-earned money on healthcare. I encourage everyone to create and execute a health and wellness plan to feel great physically and mentally. It also is a good financial strategy.
Our team at Merriman has been diligently following COVID-19 pandemic updates across the world and in our own communities.
We have also been hearing lots of questions from clients, prospects, friends, and family.
Can I still retire or stay retired? Am I still able to relocate as I had planned? Should I sell all of my stocks now? Should I go to cash? Should I use all the cash I have to buy in? Should I file for Social Security earlier than planned? How will I pay for a hospital stay if I need one?
If you are worried about some of these things too, I have good news.
We have partnered with America’s Retirement Forum (a nationwide non-profit dedicated to providing financial education to adults) to organize a webinar that can help.
Why trust me?
I am the Director of Advisory Services at Merriman Wealth Management and an instructor through America’s Retirement Forum. I have been helping people transition into and navigate retirement for over 20 years, and Merriman has been in the business of educating investors since our founding by Paul Merriman in 1983.
The short and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy
Why this recession may be different from what you have lived through before
5 specific steps designed to protect and maximize your retirement income in the middle of a pandemic (yes, you can implement them yourself)
6 strategies and issues to discuss with your advisor
In this time of worry, false information, and uncertainty, make the choice to spend some of your time learning about what you can do to retire well. And the best part is that you don’t have to put your health at risk or leave the house. All you need is 30 minutes and an internet connection to watch this free webinar.
Don’t delay: Some of the strategies discussed in the webinar are time-sensitive. I would hate for you to miss an opportunity or to take action without having all the facts. We want to help you avoid mistakes and take the proper steps toward securing your financial future.
Stay home, be well, and use this unprecedented time to get informed. Feel free to reach out with any questions.
The idea of losing ourselves to dementia is a distressing prospect that people often don’t like to consider, let alone plan for. When we think about retirement we like to imagine the fun things: grand vacations, new hobbies, travelling to visit family, and spoiling the grandkids – not the exponentially rising cost of medical care and long-term care facilities. It’s an unpleasant reality that many financial advisors don’t like to address with clients, because they don’t want to be the bearer of bad news and they don’t have any easy answers.
I might not address these difficult considerations if Alzheimer’s didn’t run in my family. I lost my father earlier this year. He no longer knew who I was before he passed away, just as his father forgot him when he was my age. As a financial planner, I think about my own finances and eventual retirement more than the average person, and along with my retirement planning, I must ask myself uncomfortable questions and plan for a future I hope not to have. I help my clients tackle these concerns too, because one in three seniors currently die with some form of dementia and there are steps we can take to ease the burden on ourselves and our families.
Developing a comprehensive plan with a financial planner is one key step that is better taken sooner rather than later. Waiting until dementia has taken hold, like my father did, can lead to uncertainty and lingering doubts during an already stressful time. A comprehensive plan will include estate planning, investment recommendations, insurance coverage, and a cash flow analysis that incorporates factors such as the rising cost of medical care. These are all important factors for anyone who plans to live into old age, whether dementia is a specific concern for you or not.
Nearly as important as looking at the numbers is building a relationship with a financial planner you meet with regularly. The more I am able to get to know my clients and their unique situations, the better I am able to identify concerns and help make sure their wishes are carried out if they can’t advocate for themselves. Having dementia also puts people at greater risk for elder abuse, which regular meetings with a trusted financial planner can help uncover or prevent.
At Merriman, we regularly work directly with our client’s other professional advisors, such as accountants, estate planners, and insurance agents. Having a team of professionals that can work together on your behalf is valuable for everyone, but it’s vital for people who can no longer recall the specifics of their financial situation. We also help clients identify family members and other trusted individuals that we can contact in the event that they no longer seem able to make important financial decisions. Many people chose to proactively include their loved ones in financial planning meetings, so their loved ones develop a trusting relationship with their financial planner, and have the peace of mind of knowing who to call if they need help.
We at Merriman want our clients to know that families struggling with dementia have our support. If you have questions about how best to prepare yourself or your family, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Divorce can be incredibly overwhelming from many aspects and impacts our emotional, physical and financial well-being. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done when going through a divorce and many decisions that must be made. It can be challenging to know where to start, and there are numerous ways to get divorced these days. Some involve an amicable approach, using a mediator or an entire team to collaborate, while others are highly contentious, with lawyers acting as the go-betweens and sometimes involving courts. The process is often a time-consuming, emotional roller coaster. We’re here to try and help you simplify this process and let you know you’re not alone.
If you’ve ever heard the saying, “It takes a village,” it’s very true when it comes to divorce. Have a team in place to help you navigate a divorce is essential, regardless of the type of divorce you may find yourself in. Since divorce is a legal process it requires professional advice. You want a lawyer that you feel comfortable and confident in that will help advocate for your best interests. While your lawyer knows and understands the law, there are financial consequences of divorce that can be quite complex, depending on your situation. A Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can help you understand the short and long-term financial impacts of any proposed divorce settlements. They help provide information surrounding various financial issues from health care coverage, dividing pension plans, tax consequences, the family home, any businesses and much more. They can help your legal team make financial sense of any proposals and act as expert witnesses in trials and arbitrations. Having a financial professional in place can help provide you with peace of mind when it comes to your financial future. Lastly, divorce is emotionally taxing and can be scary. There are divorce coaches that provide advice outside the legal arena as well as counselling services throughout and after the divorce. They are there to be your champions throughout the entire process, and show you there is life and love during and after divorce. While hiring three different people might sound expensive, it’s generally considered more cost effective in the long run. By hiring an entire team, each professional can focus their time with you on their area of expertise, making their work more cost effective.
Putting a team in place won’t happen overnight as you’ll want to take some time hiring the right people. In the meantime, there are documents you’ll want to start compiling as your legal and financial team will need a lot of information to help you determine the best path forward. We’ve created a checklist you can download here of the documents you’ll need to gather (regardless of where you are in the process). It’s a lengthy list and the items required can seem overwhelming. Start with the easy stuff, and once you have a CFP® or CPA, they’ll often meet with you, to help ensure you get everything necessary. Having a team and tools to help you get started and organized are what you’ll need, to help get through such a significant life event.
Have you ever been interrupted during something important by a phone call from an unknown number within your area code? The first one you let go, but in the back of your mind you come up with all the important messages that call could be trying to deliver. Is someone hurt and trying to call you? Has there been some emergency? While those thoughts stir in the background, the same number calls you again. This time you pick up, sure it is terrible or important news only to hear “Congratulations! You have won a free cruise to the Caribbean”. This kind of attempted exploitation is easy to stamp out, and all you have to do is hang up the phone. Unfortunately, attempts to steal your personal information and money can take on many, less obvious forms.
The term “financial exploitation” means the illegal act of taking economic advantage of someone for one’s personal gain. Examples of this include forging checks, bank account theft, and abusing a power of attorney authorization. Financial exploitation is on the rise today as the baby boomer generation reaches their 60s and 70s, and begins to rely more on caregivers and family members to help them manage their health and financial matters. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, senior citizens lost an estimated $2.9 billion from financial exploitation in 2018. Unfortunately, only 1 out of every 44 cases gets reported to local and federal law enforcement. It’s important to note that senior citizens are not the only adults at risk of financial exploitation. Any adult relying on others down the road to make financial decisions for them, can fall victim to this type of crime. This can happen when family members, “friends” and caretakers begin demanding personal loans after learning about the vulnerable state of health of the adult. If the vulnerable adult is dependent on the individual for health care services or other necessities, they may feel pressured to lend them the money.
Federal and state authorities along with financial institutions, have recognized this growing crime against vulnerable adults & senior citizens, and have passed laws and created new best practices for preventing this type of fraud. As a fiduciary, Merriman takes great pride in putting our client’s best interests first. If we suspect you may be the victim of financial exploitation, we will take the appropriate steps to protect you and your assets. That may mean reporting the incident to state authorities such as Adult Protective Services or working with your account’s custodian to prevent funds from being withdrawn.
Since this is an important decision, and one we do not take lightly, Merriman has recently created its own form that allows us to contact a designated individual(s) when we suspect our clients may be victims of financial exploitation and their health status is the primary reason. This allows us to be in touch with someone familiar to your specific situation who can give us additional information to dispute or validate our concerns.
We encourage you to be mindful of this growing risk, shield yourself from personal relationships that center around you giving them money, as well as designate a trusted contact for your advisor or custodian to reach if they suspect you may be the victim of financial exploitation. Please note that this individual will not be authorized to make financial decisions for you.
At Merriman, we believe it is important to help you do more than just grow your wealth. It is for this reason we share this concern as a way to help protect the wealth that you have worked countless years to accumulate, and to keep it away from those looking to exploit your hard work and discipline. We encourage you to ask your advisor about completing a Trusted Contact Form during your next review to ensure they know who to contact if they believe you may be the victim of attempted financial exploitation.
If you believe you would be a good Trusted Contact person for a close friend or family member, please feel free to use this article to start the conversation with them about placing you in that role. That way you can help to look out for them in the same way your Trusted Contact will look out for you.
Holidays and long weekends are a popular time for email scammers to strike. Recipients of scam messages are more likely to believe urgent pleas for money or assistance from an acquaintance on vacation who says they are unreachable by phone. Meanwhile, victims are less likely to check their email on their day off to discover strange replies that might tip them off that their account has been hacked and used to send scams to their contacts.
That might help explain why this morning after Independence Day weekend, I have already heard from several people who received an email from a known contact who claims to be travelling and in urgent need of a birthday gift for a relative (warning bells!)
In this scam, the contact asks the recipient as a favor to purchase a several hundred dollars in gift cards and email them to the relative with the promise of repayment as soon as they return from their trip. Of course, many people can identify this as a scam and know that they should not purchase the gift cards (which are commonly requested by scammers in lieu of wire transfers), but a more serious concern is that the sender’s email account has very likely been compromised and used to send this scam to dozens of their personal and business contacts without their knowledge.
Is there anything you can do?
If you ever receive one of these messages from a friend or colleague, you may wish to notify them via telephone (not by email – you’ll see why in a bit) that their email password may have been stolen and their email account compromised. They should immediately change their password, and if they have reused the same password on other online systems, they should change it there as well, preferably using a unique password on every system.
Why not just reply to the email?
In many cases the attackers perpetuating these scams will also create email filter rules to automatically delete or redirect inbound emails to an external mailbox that they control. This prevents the real account owner from being alerted to the compromise and allows the attacker to monitor the email remotely for signs that they’ve been discovered. So after changing the email password, users should also check their email filtering rules for any suspicious rules that were created without their knowledge. Filter rules are a feature that most users don’t access frequently, so these links may help finding the setting for several common email providers:
Everyone can follow a few basic precautions that will help avoid a compromised online account:
1. Use a password manager to generate and securely store random, unique passwords for each and every site so that one stolen password does not jeopardize multiple accounts.
2. Enable two-step verification (also known as two-factor authentication) on all accounts that offer it, but especially for email and banking accounts. This makes it much more difficult for an attacker to log in with a stolen password. Instructions depend on your provider, but most email and banking services offer this option now:
Microsoft (outlook.com, live.com, hotmail.com, msn.com, etc.)
3. Never type a password into a website that was accessed via an email link. Attackers steal passwords by forging email from a well-known website with a link to a fake login form. The login page may look exactly like the real site, but the password is sent to the attacker instead. The forgery might even log into the legitimate site afterword to avoid raising suspicion.