Helping Families Navigate the Financial Challenges of Age Transitions

Category: Financial Planning

I told ChatGPT that I have six months to live…Then this happened.

In 2016, I wrote an article on Linkedin, about the evolution of financial planning as I have experienced it over the past thirty-five years. The title of that article was “Numbers don’t lie, they’re just usually wrong” and in it, I mentioned that no financial planning algorithm had advanced enough to demonstrate empathy, and that if it ever does, I’ll know it’s time to retire.

Last week I was giving a talk on financial planning and in preparation for introducing my 2016 article, I decided to ask ChatGPT a question. Now for the uninformed, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI. It is designed to understand and respond to natural language input from users. In other words, it can communicate with people in the same way as a human would. So, to prove my point that algorithms and artificial intelligence, or AI as it is more affectionately known, will never replace real human financial planners I asked it for help with this question.

I watched the blinking light waiting for its response, which for most of my questions, was immediate. This time, it blinked for nearly thirty seconds before the response came.

The words, “I..am..sorry..” hit me by surprise. I parsed each word. What did it mean by “I”? Is it self-identifying ? Was ChatGPT self-aware? Next word, “am” and when this being verb is connected with its subject “I” becomes “I am” then that opens the meta-door even further. “I am”? Like, when God told Moses, “I am that I am”. The phrase “I am” says I exist and I am transcendent, non-invented, reality. Next word, “sorry”. An emotion…possessing sorrow. Before I could wrap my head around what to make of this response, I was also grappling with my own emotional response to the response.

I knew the response was machine generated, learned mimicry of how human interaction would likely occur under this kind of painful dialogue between one human being and another. I knew that no human being was actually aware of my fictitious condition that I just revealed to it. Yet, I found myself experiencing two conflicting emotions: a slight sense of guilt, like I would feel had I lied to an actual human being; but also that emotion you feel when someone does feel sorrow because you are hurting. In other words, how you feel when someone shows empathy.

My words from my blog post from seven years prior came back to me. “Whenever algorithms can express empathy, then I’ll know it’s time to retire.” So, was it time to hang it up, or is there a deeper question to consider? Is it more important to feel empathy than to prove the validity of the empath? No one rejects the claim from pet owners that they feel empathy from their furry friends. Who hasn’t poured out their life sorrows to a pet and not felt genuine empathy from them. Who cares if science tells us they are not emotionally complex enough to synthesize a human being’s emotions and generate an empathic response? Why tell pet owners they only think their pets show empathy, but it’s not true empathy? Was hearing the words “I am sorry” that could have come from a human soul, enough for me to feel empathy?

Maybe artificial empathy is real empathy if it feels like it.

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IRA Funds Protected from the Claims of Guardian

A Florida Appeals court has ruled that a special appointed guardian does not have a claim for guardianship expenses against a deceased’s IRA accounts. ( Araguel v. Bryan, (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., No. 1D20-2789, August 17, 2022).

According to the court transcript, In October of 2019, Jane Kaigler Araguel became unable to care for herself. As a result, both of her children, Patrick J. Araguel, III, and Leslie Ladon Bryan, petitioned the trial court to become her emergency temporary guardian and the guardian of her person and property. Instead of appointing either of the children, the trial court appointed a professional emergency temporary guardian. In June of 2020, Ms. Araguel died.

After Mrs. A died, the trial court approved the Guardian’s motion to use her assets — including her IRAs — to pay for the guardian’s expenses, his attorney’s fees, and other costs associated with the guardianship.


IRA Creditor Protection

IRA’s are considered contract property, meaning that the owner of the IRA contracts with an IRA Custodian, to hold and invest the IRA funds, and to pay the funds directly to the contract’s named beneficiary(ies) upon the death of the IRA owner. As such, IRA assets do not pass through the owner’s Last Will and Testament, unless the owner’s estate is listed as the IRA beneficiary.

Protection of IRAs from the claims of creditors depends on the state of residence of the IRA owner. Most states have adopted some kind of creditor protection for IRA assets similar to the protection available for qualified retirement plans (ie. 401k, Profit Sharing, Pension Plans, etc.) that are governed by a Federal Law under the acronym ERISA. Simply stated, these assets are excluded from creditor claims such as bankruptcy and litigant claims, except for fraudulent transfers or a divorcing spouse. For a more detailed discussion about IRA creditor protection, click here.


Back to the Case

Mrs. A’s son appealed the trial court’s ruling, arguing that the IRA contracts were not subject to possession and management by the guardian upon Mrs. A’s death and that the death proceeds should have been immediately delivered over to the IRA beneficiaries. Furthermore, he argued that the IRA’s were protected from creditor claims under Florida law, and should therefore not be available to the Guardian for expenses incurred by the Guardian.

After a discussion of the specific meaning of words contained in the various Florida statutes, the court applied a “plain meaning of the terms ‘claim’ and ‘creditor,’ to rule in favor of the Plaintiff, Mrs. A’s son, and reversed the lower court’s decision. To read the full court transcript, click here.

Key Takeaways

  • A properly executed Durable Power of Attorney granted to one or both of Mrs. A’s sons could have avoided a court-appointed guardianship and allowed either or both of them to manage her assets upon her incapacity.
  • A revocable living trust that owned Mrs. A’s assets could have been used along with a Durable Power of Attorney to ensure continuity of the management of her financial affairs upon her incapacity.
  • IRA’s often represent a significant percentage of an individual’s estate, yet what happens to them upon the owner’s death is controlled by a single piece of paper on file with the IRA Custodian, not the owner’s Last Will and Testament. Beneficiary forms should be regularly reviewed.
  • Seek the advice of a qualified estate attorney when drafting any of these legal arrangements.

Most Have No Plan for Long Term Care

HGC, an Aging-In-Place research and product development company based in Connecticut partnered with non-profit Arctos Foundation to survey Americans’ preparedness for long term care.

Key findings:

  • 70% of respondents have no advance directive in place, and just one in ten have long-term care insurance.
  • Most respondents have not spoken with a family member or loved one about wishes for Long Term Care.
  • Those with a spouse or partner are more likely to expect a need for long-term care services and supports, but are no more likely to have long-term care insurance in place.

Source: Independent Research | HCG Secure

To help families understand and discuss the issues surrounding planning for long term care, we have two excellent flipbooks on the topic of Essential Estate Planning, and Understanding Long Term Care.

How Covid-19 Will Change Aging and Retirement – WSJ

As the pandemic wreaks havoc on our mental and physical health, it is also quietly reshaping how Americans will face retirement and old age in the years to come.The virus is bringing sweeping change, mainly by “accelerating developments already under way,” says physician and entrepreneur Bill Thomas. For example, “isolation of older people has long been a problem, but Covid is focusing attention on the issue and adding urgency” to address it.

In this Wall Street Journal Article, writer Anne Tergesen reports on some of the effects that the COVID virus could have on aging and society. Among her findings:

  1. More will age at home.
  2. Older people will benefit from a technology boom.
  3. Lifespans will decline. (Though perhaps only for the short term)
  4. We will have a better handle on what we want to do with our time.
  5. We will plan for death.
  6. We will embrace healthier lifestyles.
  7. We need to save more to retire.
  8. The 401(k) will morph into a multipurpose account.
  9. We will work longer.
  10. Our views on aging will change.

Source: How Covid-19 Will Change Aging and Retirement – WSJ

The Financial Impact of Dementia

In the video below, Robert Powell, editor of The Street’s Retirement Daily, and Angie O’Leary, head of wealth management with RBC Wealth Management, talked about the need to plan ahead for the possibility of dementia and the type of plans to put in place.

According to O’Leary, the plan should include having key legal documents – a power of attorney, healthcare directive, and will – in place as well as having assets properly titled and beneficiary designations current. Consider too, she said, the benefits of a trust and professional executor services, as well as supplemental insurance, including long-term care options.

O’Leary also noted the need to understand early warning signs and, after a diagnosis, acting swiftly to protect the family from financial missteps, abuse and liability.

 

Having a plan is essential, and key legal documents—a power of attorney, healthcare directive, and will—should be in place.

Source: The Financial Impact of Dementia – TheStreet

If you are struggling through the financial transitions of aging, Wealth and Honor is here to provide you with resources to help you and your family through it.

Free Booklet on Understanding Annuities

Annuities were once simpler financial instruments than they are today. Issued by insurance companies, annuities offered savers a guaranteed interest that compounded tax free until the funds were needed at a later date. Now, they are highly complex financial instruments with a variety of features, interest options, charges, and penalties.

Many financial caregivers will discover that their parents own one or several annuity contracts and it will be incumbent on them to understand these complex financial contracts in order to best serve their parents in a fiduciary capacity. The flip-booklet below, Understanding Annuities, is one of several publications free to Wealth and Honor subscribers. It is written to help financial caregivers understand how annuities are structured, how they work, how they grow, and how they are taxed. Hopefully it will also foster a more constructive conversation with other professionals who are part of your team.

  • Immediate annuities
  • Deferred annuities
  • Index annuities
  • Variable annuities
  • How annuities are taxed and more.

Financial Planning Does Not End at Retirement

With the new year, I’ve entered my 36th year in the financial services industry. Just writing this fact feels strange. I’ve never characterized myself as a veteran of the industry, feeling instead that I’ve just hit my stride. The years however tell me differently and it’s easy to understand how senior professionals can feel marginalized. I chose a doctor several years my junior so that as I aged, he’d still be in practice. Understandably now, clients want to know who my back up is “just in case.”

The financial planning industry has done an admiral job of preparing people for two pivotal moments: Retirement – that magic age when one stops earning a paycheck, travels the world, plays golf every day, and enjoys a life of leisure; and Death – the final moment beyond which our assets and legacy are left to our heirs. It has done a poor job of equipping advisors to address the financial planning issues of the period in between. Sure, advisors sell long term care insurance to forty and fifty-somethings for this period, and others sell annuities to seniors skittish about the financial markets, but these are product solutions aimed at the senior market, not financial planning discussions. In a similar way, a walker solves an issue with balance and prevents falls, but a walker is not a comprehensive plan for health and wellness throughout life.

While there are several common financial planning issues for every age demographic, there are also many unique financial planning needs of the senior market.

Common Financial Planning Issues

  • Ensuring adequate cash flow throughout life.
  • Evaluating and addressing risks to financial independence.
  • Determining the financial impact of major life events.
  • Minimizing income tax.
  • Allocating investment resources to accomplish current and future goals.
  • Defining a plan for the distribution of accumulated assets at death.

Financial Issues Unique to Seniors

  • Plan for downsizing or home modification
  • Relocation plan if distant from family
  • Plan for continued social engagement
  • Family business succession
  • Identity and fraud protection
  • Annual Medicare elections
  • Developing a dependency plan to include
    • Living arrangements
    • Persons in charge of financial decisions
    • Persons in charge of healthcare decisions
    • Transportation needs

It’s tempting to ask how a plan for continued social engagement is a financial planning issue. With social isolation a major contributor to poor health among seniors[1], and healthcare costs absorbing a significant portion of a senior’s resources, a plan for social engagement as we age should be an integral part of the financial planning conversation with seniors.

Annual Medicare elections are another example of an often-confusing labyrinth of decisions that can have significant financial impact for years.

Identity theft and elder financial fraud are estimated to cost seniors between $3 and $30 Billion a year[2], and nearly everyone I know over age 70 has been targeted. A plan that includes identity theft protection as well as vulnerabilities to undue influence inside of familial relationships needs to be included.

Plans for living arrangements, whether aging in place, or facility care, should be discussed long before the actual need arises. Just as saving for retirement doesn’t begin at age 65, neither should plans for where someone lives out the remainder of their life be delayed until the 11th hour.

Family meetings to discuss an aging client’s dependency plan should be also be held long before a dependency event occurs. It helps assure family members that a plan is in place, informs them as to who-does-what-when, and when done early enough and under the direction of the aging client, preserves his or her seat of honor at the head of the table.

Family Business Succession has been a central component of financial and estate planning for years and is the least neglected area of financial planning for seniors among those who own a multi-generational family enterprise. Still, nearly 60% of the small business owners surveyed by Wilmington Trust, do not have a succession plan in place[3].

In conclusion, financial planning does not end at retirement. As one client reminded me years ago, “retirement is just another word for thirty years of unemployment.” It doesn’t look the same for all seniors but when practiced with integrity, it can be extremely beneficial to the entire family, and rewarding for the financial planner who chooses to serve this market.


[1] National Institute on Aging. (2020). Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. [online] Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

[2] Consumer Reports. (2020). Financial Elder Abuse Costs $3 Billion a Year. Or Is It $36 Billion?. [online] Available at: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/consumer-protection/financial-elder-abuse-costs–3-billion—–or-is-it–30-billion- [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

[3] Usatoday.com. (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/usaandmain/2018/08/11/most-small-business-owners-lack-succession-plan/37281977/ [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

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