Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Financial Solutions for Retirement Problems

The best laid retirement plans can sometimes be derailed by a variety of financial challenges. Sometimes you simply may not have planned well.  You may have over-estimated your future income and underestimated your future expenses.  However, even if you have planned carefully and spent years trying to put something aside for retirement, a recession, high medical bills or a family emergency can result in a major setback.

The good news is that no matter what the reason for your financial problems, there are actions you can take to salvage your retirement. The most important thing you can do is face the issue head on and take action as soon as you realize you have a problem.  Below are a few common challenges which could hurt your retirement, along with possible financial solutions.

Not Enough Money in Your Retirement Savings Accounts

According to an article titled "Money Missteps" in the April 2017 AARP Bulletin, as recently as 2013 almost 30 percent of U.S. households headed by someone over the age of 55 did not have a retirement savings account or a future pension.  No money saved at all for retirement.

The sooner you recognize and deal with your financial shortfall, the better off you will be.  As frequently mentioned in other posts in this blog, you have a number of choices:  Continue working until age 70 before you start to collect your Social Security benefits, supplement your Social Security with a part-time job, downsize your home, move to a less expensive area, or get a reverse mortgage (assuming you have equity in a home.)  Most importantly, you want to avoid building up debt in order to finance your retirement.  Eventually, that will only make your situation worse.

You Have Retirement Savings But It is Dropping in Value

As we all discovered during the Recession of 2009, sometimes our retirement savings accounts can lose money faster than we ever expected.

Depending on your situation, you may want to talk to a financial planner to discuss your overall retirement plan and investment portfolio.  They could recommend moving your savings into a different mutual fund or into a safer, less volatile investment.  In addition, they may suggest you reinvest all the income from your retirement savings and add more money until you are able to re-build the value.   This could delay your retirement plans, but will probably be worth it in the long run.

You Have No Equity in Your Home

Some people hope they will be able to take out a reverse mortgage against their home equity to finance their retirement.  However, what can you do if your home has lost value and you now owe more than it is worth?

If you can afford the house payments and the house is in good repair, you may want to continue making payments until inflation and your payments rebuild your home equity.  It could take a few years, but might be worth it in the long-run.  If it is not an option for you to keep making the payments, you may be able to refinance your home through the Federal Home Affordable Refinance Program at  If you do not qualify, you could try to get your bank to agree to a short sale.  That is less damaging to your credit than waiting for foreclosure.

You are Buried in Debt

Unfortunately, some people experience a job loss, a serious medical problem, a natural disaster or other financial catastrophe in the years just before they hoped to retire ... or right after they have begun their retirement.  If they are too sick or too deeply in debt to recover, they may believe they have no hope to ever retire and/or may have to spend the rest of their life drowning in debt.

Medical bills are the most common reason for bankruptcy in the United States, especially for people who are near retirement age or who have already retired.  If you have suffered a severe financial setback which leaves you deeply in debt, bankruptcy may be the best option for you.  In fact, it may be the only way you can stay out of extreme poverty as you age, and the future financial stress could potentially worsen your health situation.  Talk to a lawyer and see if bankruptcy or debt reorganization is an option for you.  Many well-known figures have had to resort to bankruptcy in order to save their retirement.  Ordinary people should consider this option, as well, especially if you have so much debt that you know you will never be able to pay it off.

You Are Still Supporting Your Children or Grandchildren

An estimated 3 million people over the age of 60 are supporting their grandkids.  An estimated 60 percent of people over the age of 50 are financially supporting an adult child or other relative.  An unknown number of parents and grandparents extend some kind of financial aid to a family member on an irregular basis.  These numbers show that the vast majority of people who are retired or near retirement age are helping to support someone else.  If the burden of supporting other family members is derailing your retirement, you may need outside help in dealing with these problems.

If you are a grandparent supporting your grandchildren, in some states you may qualify to become the foster parent of your grandchildren, which would make you eligible to receive financial aid from the state.  In addition, you may be able to apply for housing vouchers, SNAP (food stamps), and other types of aid.  You are performing a lifesaving service for these children and should not be embarrassed to ask for financial help.

If helping your adult children or other relatives is putting your own well-being and retirement at risk, you may need to solicit assistance in setting boundaries with these people.  You can ask other relatives or your financial advisors to help you explain to these dependents why you are no longer able to give them money.  If you do decide to loan them money, put your agreement in writing and charge interest of at least 2 percent.  If they default, at least you will be able to deduct it as a "non-business bad debt" on your taxes.  However, your best bet is to avoid giving them money in the first place.

If your adult child or other relative is also in a bad financial situation, you may see if you can help them apply for various forms of financial aid ... housing vouchers, food stamps, disability, unemployment, welfare, SSI, etc.  If necessary, take them to your local social services department or homeless shelter to see if there are programs in your community which can help people who are homeless or nearly homeless get back on their feet.  Your goal is to make these relatives less dependent on you and more dependent on themselves or government aid.  After all, you will not be around to support them forever.  At some point, they need to have a plan to support themselves, even if that means they need to rely on disability and food stamps.

If you are looking for additional information about retirement planning, common medical problems, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of this page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

If you want an overview of retirement planning tips, watch for my book Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be available from Griffin Publishing in the fall of 2017.

You are reading from the blog:

Photo credit: 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sonata Senior Living in Florida

Are you looking for a senior living solution in Florida which would allow you to transition from Independent Living, to Assisted Living or Memory Care, as needed?  Whether you are looking for a residence for yourself, your spouse or your parent, the nine Sonata Senior Living communities in Florida could be a good choice.  They provide a range of living arrangements, 24-hour care and high quality amenities, including a variety of fun and interesting activities.

Where are the Sonata Communities Located?

Below is a list of the various communities and the services they offer.  They are all located in Florida:

Sonata Viera in Melbourne - Assisted Living
Sonata West in Winter Garden - Independent Living & Assisted Living 
Serenades in Winter Garden - Assisted Living & Memory Care
Serenades in Longwood - Assisted Living & Memory Care
Serenades in The Villages - Assisted Living & Memory Care
Sonata South in Boca Raton - Assisted Living & Memory Care
Sonata South in Boynton Beach - Assisted Living & Memory Care
Sonata South in Coconut Creek - Assisted Living & Memory Care
Sonata South in Delray Beach - Assisted Living & Memory Care

As you can see, their communities offer memory care facilities on the same campus or nearby.  These facilities are arranged in home-like villages or neighborhoods designed to help people with dementia feel more comfortable.  Most residents begin their Sonata lifestyle in an independent or assisted living apartment.

Resort Style Florida Retirement

Sonata West is their newest community and will have both independent living and assisted
living facilities.   The management also emphasizes what a great value it is.  Compared to many other senior living facilities, it does appear to be an affordable option.

Unlike many Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Sonata does not require the residents to "buy in."  The monthly rental fee includes a private apartment with full-size appliances (including your own washer and dryer), cable TV and internet, regular housekeeping and linen services, flexible dining options (including continental breakfasts and a variety of options for lunch and dinner), weekend brunches, scheduled transportation and other amenities.  If you no longer drive, you can use their "At Your Service" chauffeur service to go shopping, to doctor visits or the theater.  They even have an activities director to help plan parties, entertainment, outings and special events for the residents.  This is not a boring, old-fashioned senior apartment complex or nursing home.

The Sonata Harmony Assisted Living residences are also rentals and include all of the services listed above, as well as a personalized care plan and a 24/7 staff, including trained nurses, whose goal is to encourage physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.  People who need a little extra help are sure to feel pampered in a Sonata Harmony community.

The Sonata Serenades Memory Care facilities are focused on helping residents feel as normal as possible.  They are designed in neighborhoods or villages with extra safety features and dementia certified caregivers and staff.  Their design elements were chosen to be soothing and safe, while giving residents some freedom to roam around the community, including the outdoor spaces.  They have open floor plans, color-coding (to help residents find their way around), and reduced glare lighting.  They also have special programs to keep the residents active, well, and able to enjoy the best quality of life possible.

All the facilities encourage socialization through the use of elements such as front porches, courtyards and multipurpose areas.

Estimated Cost of Florida Senior Living Facilities

In addition to being able to rent rather than buy into a Sonata Senior Living Community, there are other factors which may help you afford to live in one of these facilities.  The facility directors will be happy to discuss options with you.  The amount of your rent will be calculated on a base price plus the cost of your specific level of care.  Therefore, the exact monthly rental will vary from resident to resident.

While Sonata does not list their base rent on their website, another website,, does give an estimate of what it costs to live in an independent living apartment in the state of Florida.  According to their estimates, prices range from $1,174 to $4,700, with the average cost of independent living being around $2,545 a month.  The average cost of assisted living in Florida is estimated at $2,877 a month.  The average cost of memory care is $3,817.  As stated above, your individual fees could be higher, depending on the amount of personal care you need and the quality of the facilities.  However, these averages will help you determine if you personally believe you are paying a fair price to live a Sonata community, especially considering all they have to offer.

Solutions to Help You Pay for Your Care

The primary way to cover your costs, of course, is your normal retirement income.  Social Security, pensions, and interest or dividends from your retirement savings should cover a portion of the cost, if not all of it.  With most of your expenses included in your monthly rental, you will not need a great deal of additional income above your rent.  Your only additional expenses would be the cost of your Medicare premium, medications, co-pays, deductibles, other insurance, auto expenses (if you still drive), incontinence products, haircuts and similar personal expenses, plus whatever you might want for gifts, travel, shopping and similar luxuries.  In addition, residents should be prepared for their monthly rent to rise an average of 4 to 6 percent each year.

If you are selling a home when you move in, the equity in your home could be invested or used to purchase an annuity, and that income can be added to your Social Security benefits and other sources of income to also help cover your monthly rent.

If you have a long-term care insurance policy, it may be used to help pay the extra cost of your memory care and assisted living services in the Serenades communities.

If you, or your spouse, is a veteran, you may qualify for a special long-term care benefit of $1,000 to $2,000 a month to help cover your costs, but only if you need assistance with dressing, undressing, bathing, toileting, transitioning, or eating.

If you have tapped all other sources of income and still need a little financial assistance from other family members, the money they contribute can sometimes be used as a deductible medical expense on their federal income taxes.  They would need to consult with the CPA who handles their taxes in order to confirm they can qualify for this deduction.  However, if it works out that they can take the deduction, it could make it a little easier for your adult children or other family members to help you out financially.

How to Get More Information

If you believe that you or a family member would benefit by living in one of the Sonata Senior Living Communities, you can get more information at:

If you are interested in more information about where to retire in the United States or abroad, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, common medical problems, travel and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in the fall of 2017.

You are reading from the blog:

Photo credit: Photo of new Sonata West facility from the Sonata Facebook page

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Family Responsibility Laws and Long-Term Care

Did you know that over half the states in the U.S. have family responsibility laws which could make you financially obligated for the nursing home bills of your parents?  Filial responsibility laws could also make your children legally responsible if you need to move into a skilled nursing or memory care facility.  Just as shocking to some people, if one of your children cares for you in their home, your other children could be forced to pay your caregiver child part of the cost of your care.

Which States Have Filial Responsibility Laws?

Family responsibility laws cover over half the people in the United States.  Below is a list of states which currently have filial responsibility laws on the books, although the laws may vary slightly from state to state and are unevenly enforced:

Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

How to Protect Your Family from Filial Responsibility Laws

Fortunately, there are actions you can take to protect yourself and your family from becoming financially liable for nursing home bills incurred by you or your parents.  The most important thing you can do is to have a plan.  Below is a range of possible options.  You only need to choose one.

1.   Put aside money for your future care.  People who have sufficient savings, cash value in their life insurance, or home equity are usually in good shape to pay for their own long-term care, although they may have to borrow against their insurance or home. As a result, they will not pass on the burden for their care to their children.  For example, if your elderly parents have enough money, insurance, or home equity to pay for their care, you will not be responsible for covering the cost, unless they use up all their assets.  At the same time, if you have also accumulated enough savings, you will protect your children from being liable for your care.

2.  Buy long-term care insurance.  Another option is to buy long-term care insurance which will pay for skilled nursing care, memory care, or an in-home caregiver.  The younger you are when you purchase this insurance, the less expensive it is.  You must be able to pass a physical to get it, so it may be too late for some applicants.

3.  Move into a CCRC.  A CCRC is a Continuing Care Retirement Community.  Typically, a senior citizen sells their home to "buy in" to the CCRC.  In addition, they pay a monthly fee which covers their food, housing and normal care.  If they need extra care as they age, they either pay for the extra care when they need it, or the cost is taken from their original "buy in" fee.  The facility guarantees they will be taken care of for the remainder of their life.  If there is money left over from the "buy in" fee at the end of their life, a portion of it will be returned to the family.  In most cases, you must be able to live semi-independently and not need skilled nursing or memory care when you move into the CCRC.  However, you do not need to be in perfect health.  For example, in most cases you can be undergoing treatment for cancer or other illnesses, as long as you are able to walk on your own and live in your own apartment at the time you move into the facility.  This takes a little advanced planning.

4.  Confirm that you are qualified for Medicaid.  If you do not have equity in a home and very few assets, you may qualify to receive Medicaid, a government program which will cover your long-term care.  However, if using Medicaid is your plan, you should make sure you are eligible and that either you or someone in your family is prepared to complete the application as soon as you are admitted to a skilled nursing or memory care facility.  Medicaid is a common way of handling these expenses.  In fact, Medicaid (called MediCal in California) is the most common payer of nursing home expenses in the state of California, as well as many other states.  If the family does not complete the necessary forms in a timely way, however, the family can still be liable for any expenses incurred until they make sure the paperwork has been properly dealt with. Whoever completes the forms will need access to all your financial information, including tax returns and bank accounts, so they can prove that you are eligible.  There is a catch with using Medicaid ... if the patient has recently gifted too many assets to their heirs, they may not qualify until those assets are first used to cover the nursing home costs.

5.  Choose a family member who can care for you in their home.  This is something you need to decide in advance and everyone in the family should be in agreement about who will care for you, which relatives will relieve your caregiver periodically so they can get a break, and how your expenses will be covered while you stay in your family member's home.  It would be helpful to have a family meeting and write out the plan in advance.  It would also be helpful to have a back-up plan, such as Medicaid, in the event your care becomes too much for a family member to handle.  For example, my sister cares for our mother who has dementia.  Our mother has wandered off a few times and fallen on several occasions.  If it becomes impossible for my sister to keep our mother safe, we have all accepted that she may eventually have to move into a memory care facility.

However you decide to handle the long-term care expenses of your parent or yourself, it is important to have a plan so you do not trigger family responsibility laws and leave some other family member saddled with unexpected expenses.

If you would like an overview of retirement planning, watch for my book Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement which will be released in the fall of 2017 by Griffin Publishing.

For more information on financial planning, where to live after retirement, Social Security, Medicare, common medical problems and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

You are reading from the blog:

Photo credit:


"Filial Responsibility: Can the Legal Duty to Support Our Parents be Effectively Enforced?" by Shannon Frank Edelstone, American Bar Association's Family Law Quarterly, 36 Fam. L.Q. 501 (2002)

"Family-Responsibility Laws Could Cost Your Clients" by Jamie Hopkins, Barron's, April 24, 2017