Helping Families Navigate the Financial Challenges of Age Transitions

Month: December 2019

In France, Postal workers deliver more than Christmas Cards.

French postal workers will be delivering more than Christmas packages and greeting cards this holiday season. A service that began in France in 2017 called Veiller Sur Mes Parents (“Watch Over My Parents”) employs the country’s postal service workers to check on their older customers and report their well-being to family members.

A month of these weekly visits plus an emergency-call button costs about $40.00. The fee is collected by the French postal service. Every day except Sunday, postal workers inform the program’s subscribers, through an app, if their elderly relatives are “well”: if they require assistance with groceries, home repairs, outings, or “other needs.” Since V.S.M.P. was introduced, about six thousand elderly women and fifteen hundred elderly men have been enrolled across the country.

The program is just one of several that have been implemented in order to bring better financial stability to the country’s postal service, where volume is down by nearly 50% from ten years ago, and revenues from postage cannot support the quasi-public postal service. In some places, French postal workers now pick up prescriptions, return library books, and deliver flowers. Last year, only 28% of La Poste’s revenue came from sending mail.

Could this work in the U.S.? About 28 percent of older adults in the United States, or 13.8 million people, live alone, according to a report by the Administration for Community Living’s Administration on Aging of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like the French postal service, the United States Postal Service is also hemorrhaging financially, reporting nearly $2.3 Billion of losses in the third quarter of 2019 among the backdrop of falling volume. In her third-quarter report, Postmaster General Megan Brennan stated that the Postal Service’s “largely fixed and mandated costs continue to rise at a faster rate than the revenues that can be generated within a constrained business model, which is ill-suited to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Postal Service.”

Why couldn’t postal workers become a front-line force for checking in on isolated and elderly customers along their daily routes? What a tremendous use of under-utilized resources and an added revenue source for the USPS! France seems to have taken a very capitalistic lead on a very social issue; one that will address both the concern families have for their aging loved ones living alone as well as the financial losses experienced by their postal service.


Poll, Z. and Poll, Z. (2019). In France, Elder Care Comes with the Mail. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].

National Institute on Aging. (2019). Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019]. (2019). U.S. Postal Service Reports Third Quarter Fiscal 2019 Results – Newsroom – [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].

Casey Kasem children settle their wrongful death case against his wife

Kerri, Julie and Mike Kasem have asked a judge to dismiss their wrongful death lawsuit against their stepmother, Jean Kasem, 64, as part of a settlement after a four-year legal feud.

While these cases make the headlines due to the celebrity status of the parties and the amount of money involved, dramas like this for much smaller amounts happen all too frequently. Death and money can bring out the worst of family dysfunction.

How can families prevent this kind of outcome? There is no simple answer, and if the dynamics among the family are already toxic, then it’s even more important that families have a solid, written plan in place before incapacity strikes. It may not have prevented the accusations of wrongful death between the parties, but it could have created a structure of care and wealth distribution that could have neutralized or minimized any incentive for the parties to commit a wrongful death offense.

Unfortunately, no estate plan can prevent an immoral or illegal act; nor can it instill character in the lives of others.

Source: Casey Kasem’s children settle their wrongful death case against his wife | Daily Mail Online

Should families be concerned with inherited wealth?

A recent article written by Joe Pinkster for the online magazine, The Atlantic, discusses the issue of inheritance, and specifically whether there exists a magic number that represents an inheritance that is too large[1]. This question has become relevant for many reasons, one being that some wealthy parents are concerned that after a certain point, money passed down will be damaging to the next generation, removing the incentive to be productive contributors to society.

This is not a new question. King Solomon in the Old Testament, clearly pondered the same question during a particularly dark time in his life:

I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.  So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.


The question is, should this be a concern of most families given the fact that most people won’t receive vast fortunes from their parents? In fact, research by the Federal Reserve indicates that 85% of inheritances between 1995 and 2016 were less than $250,000 and most were less than $50,000.[2]

From my personal life and professional experience, I have formed this observation: sudden money will bring out a recipient’s best or worst financial behaviors to the degree that they have been prepared for it, regardless of the amount. This is not to say that mistakes with inherited money are necessarily a bad thing. Speaking for myself, the lessons that I have learned through failure are some of my more life-changing ones, and I wouldn’t trade the failures for successes without the lessons.

For those inheriting less than say, $50,000 – the impact of learning through failure isn’t as financially devastating as burning through $5 Million. Older parents who are concerned about their adult child’s ability to manage up to perhaps a $150,000 inheritance may want to consider these less elaborate (and less costly) options than leaving their assets in trusts or other complex arrangements:

  • Leave it to them unfettered and simply let them do their best with it and hopefully learn a valuable lesson in the process. Losing $50,000 for buying an RV rather than saving it for retirement may be a painful lesson, but one they can likely recover from.
  • Consider leaving the money to a grandchild’s education account such as a 529 Plan, instead of outright to the adult child-parent.
  • If the inheritance is paid through an insurance policy, discuss the policy’s settlement options (how the death benefits are paid to a beneficiary) with your insurance agent. One option may be the payment of a monthly amount spread out over a number of years which cannot be altered by the beneficiary.

One exception to these simpler options is if the adult child has a physical or mental disability and receives government assistance such as Medicaid. In such case, working with a Medicaid attorney to create what is known as a Special Needs Trust, may be necessary to preserve these benefits, but this has little to do with the behavioral issues that concerned Solomon or many families today.

What about the small percentage of significantly larger inheritances? Should families be concerned about how the sudden impact of substantial financial windfalls will affect those who inherit? My response is a resounding YES not only to preserve the wealth left to these beneficiaries (The Sudden Money Institute, a think tank and financial consultancy specializing in planning for life transitions such as inheritances, claims that 90% of inherited wealth disappears by the third generation), but also because inheriting sudden wealth can be difficult emotionally as well.[3] 

For over two centuries, wealthy Americans have used trusts and other elaborate means to preserve family wealth or family-owned business enterprises, control heirs’ behavior from the grave, or provide financial tutelage until heirs demonstrate the ability to responsibly handle their wealth. Trustees – those who control the purse-strings for these wealthy heirs – are required by law to act in the best interest of these heirs. A good trustee will assume the roles of surrogate and mentor with the beneficiaries under his care and like a good parent, will sometimes allow the beneficiary to fail small in order to learn valuable lessons for when the beneficiary may have responsibility for a much larger fortune later on.

However, no estate plan can instill character regardless of the sophistication of the plan. A healthy work ethic, compassion, integrity, loyalty, fidelity… these are ultimately behavioral choices we all must make, no matter how wealthy we may become.  Perhaps this was Solomon’s true lament.

[1] Pinsker, J. (2019). How Much Inheritance Is Too Much? [online] The Atlantic. Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

[2]   Source: Survey of Consumer Finances, Federal Reserve Board. Last update June 1, 2018.

[3] “Financial Psychology and Lifechanging Events: Financial Windfall,” National Endowment for Financial Education.

Former rugby star accuses brother of mismanaging family trust

In yet another case of family member trustees gone wrong, Former St George Illawarra Dragons star Mark Gasnier has accused his brother of taking funds from a family trust as part of a long-running dispute.

Mark Gasnier and his brother Dean, are co-trustees of a family trust apparently established by their parents. According to the complaint, Dean, without the knowledge of Mark, made a number of withdrawals from the family trust and even went as far as faking the signatures of his parents John Gasnier and Janene Gasnier on financial documents including tax returns. The case is headed to the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Appointing an institutional corporate trustee might have prevented the dispute since corporate trustees typically include layers of checks and balances designed to prevent unauthorized withdrawals from occurring. If families still want someone within or close to the family involved, then appointing them as co-trustee with limited authority is a possible solution.

Perhaps this sibling rivalry should have been left on the Rugby pitch!

Source: Mark Gasnier accuses brother of mismanaging family trust

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