Legal & Financial Issues
For those who have someone with chronic illness and/or disability in their
family, the current economic climate can seem overwhelming. As November
is National Caregiver’s Month, The Well Spouse Association would like
caregivers to remember three things they can do to cope during these
difficult times. These three things are keeping track of their finances,
accepting help when it’s offered, and taking care of themselves.
So says Richard Anderson, a former spousal caregiver himself, and
President of The Well Spouse Association, a national, nonprofit, volunteer
based organization focused on providing emotional support to husbands,
wives and partners caring for spouses with chronic illnesses and/or long
“Keeping track of finances is a must. Caregivers should know where their
money is going. This can be done by using PC software programs, free
Internet sites like www.mint.com or by just keeping a notebook to write down
where the money is spent. Such information can help caregivers budget
their funds, record such items as medical expenses (important at tax time!),
and plan for future purchases.”
Accepting help when it’s offered is another point Mr. Anderson would like to
make. “Take friends and neighbors up when they offer assistance. Think of
a few things that could be done by someone else, like raking the leaves, or
cooking dinner. If you aren’t comfortable with receiving help, designate a
family member or close friend to be your contact. The contact can be the
go- between, which will allow you to focus on the caregiving. And here
again, a free internet program like www.lotsahelpinghands.com can help.”
“Lastly, many studies have shown that depression has a negative impact on
one’s health. This is something we see affecting caregivers every day.
Making themselves a priority is something caregivers have a tough time
doing. However, if a caregiver doesn’t take care of him/herself, they can
burn out very quickly, making a difficult situation even worse. Be sure you
visit your doctors, and take care of your own physical and mental health.
Relieve stress by talking to a friend, taking a short nap or going for a brisk
walk. Take time for yourself and join a support group, to meet others who
are in your shoes. Sharing a situation with others who truly understand can
be the biggest relief of all.”
“Doing these three things will help caregivers handle their challenging
situations. You are not alone is the WSA motto.” says Mr. Anderson. “We
want all caregivers to know that.”
For additional information on spousal caregiving, call the Well Spouse
Association at 1-800-838-0879, or visit the website at www.wellspouse.org.
By Sandra Bekele
When my ill spouse was gravely ill a few years ago, I heard dire and conflicting advice
from a flock of physicians, nurses and social workers. The one nugget that stands out,
however, came late one night from an ICU nurse: "Hope for the best, and expect the
This seemed to ring true, even then in all that confusion. It has served me well. With
this little mantra, I have navigated bravely through unthinkable horrors and, perhaps more
daunting, through long spells of intensely tedious effort and challenge.
Aside from the talisman-like ease of the phrase itself, there is also a certain balance of
meaning to it. Always hoping for the best, never disappointed by less; where is the
disappointment if, after all, I've only expected the worst. This is not as negative as it
sounds. Expecting is one thing, and hoping is another; consider them as the Yin and Yang
elements of any particular life drama.
The oscillating reverberations, perfectly balanced in such a well-turned phrase, form a
positive inertia. It can be a sort of gyroscope, getting you past peaks of agitation and
valleys of despair, never getting spun out or bogged down.
Like terminal illness itself, expecting the worst is in some sense very liberating. Gone
is the yoke of striving in vain, yet hope is always there to illuminate the days. Realistic
expectations, given a limiting set of circumstances, are not the same as hopelessness.
Hope envelopes all experience. One can hope for a great sunset, or a good test result.
Even when given a bad test result, one can hope for a good lunch, or even just to hold
that lunch down.
Hope is letting oneself be reminded of the bits of good in all things. When a grafted
rose dies, its roots still hold great wonder. Tucked into a forgiving corner of the garden, it
can be let sprawl, throwing vast swathes of lovely wild blooms each spring. One has few
opportunities to see such blooms, as we groom our gardens - and our lives - carefully so
as to avoid the inevitable thorns. Yet when life leads with thorns of adversity, there are
the delicate, fleeting, inconspicuous yet beautiful blooms which will always accompany
those thorns. If one is caught in the middle of it, then why ignore the beauty? Denying
life's positives does nothing to ease its pains.
So that phrase, "Hope for the best, and expect the worst" is ultimately life-affirming.
It slows us to respond more positively to extraordinary, difficult situations. In this sense,
expecting the worst is our liberator, and hoping for the best is our salvation.
First published in MAINSTAY, #82, Summer 2006. © Well Spouse Association
How families can work out tough financial planning issues
Your spouse has died following a long, loving relationship, and after several
years of living alone you've decided to move in with that engaging person
who makes you feel alive again.
The companionship is warm and all is well, except for the children.
"The kids may have a conniption over the surviving parent's decision to
date," says Sheryl Garrett, a certified financial planner and co-author of
Money Without Matrimony: The Unmarried Couple's Guide To Financial Security. "The adult children don't like it — especially when mom is the surviving
parent, because they're worried about the inheritance."
First, a word to the kids: Grow up!
Parents have a lifetime of experience and they haven't forgotten you — or
the grandchildren. So relax.
In many cases, retired adults have acquired large houses filled with a lifetime
of things, and the logistics of moving in together are overwhelming so the
lovebirds often maintain separate households. If nothing else, this makes it
easier to sort things out after one partner dies.
At this stage in life, estate planning is critical, and a living trust warrants
A will states what you want done with your assets after death. Your influence
ends after the will has been approved by the probate court. Garrett says
that a trust holds assets or property for the benefit of others and makes
your influence extend beyond the grave.
A trust set up while the person is alive is called a "living trust." A trust created
by a will and going into effect after death is called a "testamentary trust." A
trust can be irrevocable so the terms can't be changed — or living and
revocable so adjustments can be made if circumstances change.
A trust can provide for your children and the future of your grandchildren. It
also can include a provision to take care of your unmarried partner if you die
or are incapacitated.
Garrett says trusts also keep personal matters confidential. All proceedings in
probate court are a matter of public record, and anyone, including a nosy
neighbor, can trot down to the courthouse and read every detail of your
But the most important aspect of a trust may be the peace of mind it gives
your children: They know exactly where things stand and that the
inheritance won't be squandered.
"Sometimes, adult children get pretty selfish," says Garrett, who wrote Money
Without Matrimony with Debra A. Neiman. "A living trust will let the kids
know they'll be taken care of and put their fears to rest."
A trust isn't something you can write on the back of an envelope at home.
Make a detailed outline of your wishes and consult an attorney.
Garrett says establishing a trust isn't cheap — about $1,500 and up. Like a
will, a trust may be updated as circumstances change, and that's an
She says that some younger couples fall into the "invincibility syndrome" and
see no need to plan for the future because they're healthy and can't imagine
becoming sick, let alone dying.
Older couples have heard time whistling in their ears and know better. A
health care directive is also part of estate planning and is vital late in life.
Garrett calls a durable power of attorney for health care a key document for
anyone, especially an unmarried couple in their later years.
"It's not about death or dying," Garrett says. "It's about taking care of
you while you're living but unable to care for or make decisions for yourself."
It's a legally binding document that states that an individual or specific
individuals will make health care decisions for you if you can't make them for
Without such a written statement, your partner can't make decisions for you
if you become incapacitated or are seriously injured in an accident — and it
makes no difference if you have been together for years. That responsibility
falls to your family, even if you're estranged and haven't spoken to them quite
Getting this right requires thought and frank discussion with family members
and others involved.
Seniors, especially those who remain single, need to think about long-term care
insurance because they won't have a spouse to care for them and may not
have a trusted partner.
"Many older people don't want to depend on their children," Garrett says. "And
they shouldn't count on Medicaid."
By Scott Reeves
FORBES NEW YORK -© 2008 Forbes.com
Support Yourself in Retirement?
By Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor
The 21st century offers new opportunities and compelling reasons for
workers to achieve the American dream of financial independence in
retirement. Fortunately, making that dream a reality got easier when
President George W. Bush signed the Pension Protection Act of 2006 into
law. This has enhanced the ability of millions of Americans to build wealth
through retirement savings programs.
Americans today generally are saving less, spending more and living longer
than previous generations. A longer life span means the need for increased
savings. And the sooner workers start saving, the better. In financial
planning, time is your best friend.
A $125-a-month investment at a modest 5 percent annual return adds
up to $50,000 in 20 years, more than $100,000 in 30 years and nearly
$200,000 in 40 years. The sooner you start putting money aside for your
future, the longer that money can work for you.
If you see a dime on the sidewalk, you most likely will reach down and pick
it up. Yet, many workers are leaving thousands of dollars on the table by
not signing up for tax-deferred savings programs offered by their
employers, especially when those employers provide matching funds. The
problem is that some workers are unsure how to invest.
The Pension Protection Act helps solve this problem by making it easier for
401(k)-type plans to enroll workers automatically. Workers can always “opt out,”
but they won't “lose out” by not making a decision. Rules proposed by the
Department of Labor boost retirement savings for these workers by creating
appropriate default investments for long-term retirement savings.
Here are a few strategies to help you start taking charge of your retirement future:
• Participate in your employer’s retirement plan at work, and be sure to take
advantage of matching contributions.
• Increase the amount you contribute to your 401(k) or other retirement plan each
• If you’re 50 or older, make additional contributions of up to $5,000 to catch up
for years in which you did not put money into the plan.
• Be realistic about expenses in retirement to ensure that you do not outlive your
savings. Be sure to account for healthcare costs such as prescription drugs.
Secretary of Labor Elaine L.Chao also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. For more information, go to www.dol.gov/EBSA.