Friday, October 1, 2021

Handling Money and Bills in Retirement - How to Find Help

Within a decade, the oldest Baby Boomers will be turning 85, and approximately half of them can expect to be living alone.  In fact, many of them are already living alone because, over the years, they became divorced, widowed, or they never married or found a life partner.  While some Boomers have adult children or other family members who can help with their finances in a crisis, many people have no one in their family they can comfortably trust to handle their money for them, and do it responsibly, during an emergency.  Some people may only need temporary assistance, such as while they are recovering from a major illness, accident, or surgery.  Others may need the help permanently, especially if they begin to develop cognitive problems. 

Even before the Boomers hit their 80s, many of them may have occasions when they need someone to pay their bills or handle their finances for them. Perhaps they are taking an extended trip and want to make sure their bills are paid while they are gone.  They may also need help if they are getting surgery or going through chemotherapy and expect a lengthy rehabilitation process.  In fact, there are times when almost anyone may need a little help, and for people living alone without close relatives they can trust, this can present a dilemma.  Who can handle their finances when they cannot?

Protect Yourself from Elder Financial Abuse

Your first concern when allowing someone else to help you financially should be to protect yourself from the risk of elder financial abuse.  You do not want to put yourself in a situation which allows someone else to tap into your savings accounts, retirement accounts, or other sources of income and "help themselves" to some of your assets.  If you have been diagnosed with cognitive decline, this is an especially big risk.  It is very important that any relatives you trust with your money are reliable and responsible and, when possible, that you have a lawyer, accountant, or other professional who can periodically check to make sure no money is being taken from your accounts unnecessarily.  Your lawyer can also advise you on how to set up your accounts in a way which provides maximum financial protection, before you begin to rely on someone else to handle your finances. 

I also strongly urge everyone to read "The Family Guide to Preventing Elder Abuse."  (Ad) It is available in both paperback and Kindle versions and could help save you and your family a lot of heartache.  There are many types of elder abuse ... physical, mental, and financial.  While you want to protect yourself from all three types of abuse, right now we are focusing on the potential for financial abuse, which is more common than many people realize.

Auto Pay Your Bills During Temporary Absences

One way to handle the issue of getting your bills paid when you are just going to be temporarily out-of-town or recovering from an illness, is to set up all your bills on auto pay.  If your Social Security checks, pensions, and other sources of income are also set up to be automatically deposited in the same checking account, this system requires very little supervision on your part, other than occasionally verifying that everything is being paid, and the amount being deposited is adequate to cover all your expenses.  Your income goes into the account, and your bills are paid out of the account.  

Personally, I set up all my bills on auto pay a few years ago, when we needed to move out of our home for six months after extensive water damage.  Our mail service was also disrupted, so it was much easier for me to have our bills paid automatically by our bank.   Among our bills which are automatically paid are our insurance premiums, car payment, utilities, and credit card balances.  My bills are now all emailed to me, so I know how much they are, and the bank also emails me when they pay the bills.  I write these amounts in a ledger, so I can keep track of my monthly expenses and make sure that everything has been paid, so I do not overlook something.  Other than that, there is very little for me to do to handle our bills.  If you think you may need help paying your bills temporarily, and you want to be able to handle things yourself from virtually anyplace in the world, this is a good solution, and is actually much safer than mailing checks.

Get Help from a Family Member to Set Up Auto Pay

If you are nervous about setting up auto payments for your bills, see if you have a trusted friend or family member who can help you get everything set up.  Once the system is working correctly, you should be able to just check your accounts a couple of times a month to reassure yourself that everything is being paid.  When you get someone to help you, it is probably wise NOT to give them your passwords and account log-in information, or you should change your passwords once they have everything set up for you.  In this way, you are removing the temptation for them to dip into your accounts when they think you might not notice.  While you may generally trust this person, it is better to be safe than sorry!

Hire a Bill Payer and a Watchdog

If you believe you really will not be able to pay your bills in the future, even using autopay through your bank, another solution is to hire a bill payer to do the work, and a watchdog to make sure it is being done correctly.  For example, you could hire a bill paying service and then also hire an accountant or lawyer who is willing to make major financial decisions for you, and supervise the bill payer.  In choosing a bill payer service, make sure it is bonded or insured.  You can find a service through the American Association of Daily Money Managers at aadmm.com. You also may want to check out SilverBills, a company which will review your bills and authorize payments for a fee of about $100 a month.  Just remember that you, a lawyer, an accountant, or a relative should also supervise the bill paying service to make sure they are doing things correctly. 

Put Your Assets in a Living Trust with an Institutional Trustee

If you have a lot of assets and no relatives you trust to handle them for you, your best choice may be to set up a living (or revocable) trust and put your assets into it while you are in full control of your mental faculties.  There are trust companies and other financial institutions such as Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard which can handle your investments for you and pay your bills.  This is an ideal arrangement for someone who is vulnerable, isolated and wealthy.  However, this can cost $4,500 a year or more, in addition to your normal investment costs and fees.  Consequently, this will not work for everyone, and should only be used by those who truly need this level of assistance.

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1 comment:

  1. I didn't know there was such a thing as a bill payer. This is all very good advice.

    ReplyDelete

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