Before retirement, many seniors carefully watch their finances and consult trusted advisors for guidance in timing retirement.
However, careful planning doesn’t end with retirement. Seniors should ensure they are just as prepared for post-retirement as they were before leaving the work force.
What follows below is a checklist for seniors and their families to ensure seniors’ needs and objectives are met both upon retirement and beyond.
Make a list of all financial accounts, the locations of where the accounts are held, and any contact information for financial advisors. Consider consolidating some accounts. Check with the financial institutions to verify the correct names and permissions on each account. Review any pension and social security benefits. Review whether the senior’s existing income continues to meet the senior’s needs.
Compile a list of investments like CDs, IRAs, annuities, stocks, real estate properties or other investments. Locate account numbers and documents related to these assets and know the value of the investments. Check to ensure these assets are titled correctly consistent with any legal documents.
Keep a list of all insurance policies and know the benefits and conditions for payment under these policies. For some seniors, long-term care insurance should be considered as a planning tool. Ensure that beneficiary information is updated for some policies. Ensure a trusted person will receive notices of premium payments so that the policies do not lapse for non-payment if a senior is unable to receive or read these notices.
At a minimum, seniors should have an up-to-date durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney. For a durable power of attorney, one or more trusted people are appointed to conduct financial transactions for a senior. Without a durable power of attorney, if a senior is unable to manage his or her own affairs, a court-appointed guardianship could be the only alternative. Seniors should also work with an attorney to consider whether a will or a trust will meet their existing and long-term needs.
Ideally, seniors should review these legal documents annually to ensure their estate planning objectives remain up-to-date. However, any familial life changes - like a birth, death, moving to a new state, or divorce - or a significant change in assets should prompt a review to ensure a senior’s needs are still adequately covered by existing documents.
In today’s digital world, seniors are spending more time online socially and to conduct business. Compile a list of important online accounts and access to smartphones or computers along with log-on and password information. Consider setting up online automatic payments for certain things like mortgages or utilities. Keep this list in a secure location to prevent this important information from falling into the wrong hands.
Ensure that all important documents - especially original legal documents - are stored in a safe place. Some options include a fire-proof safe at home or a safe deposit box. It is imperative that a trusted person has access to these documents in case the senior is unable to access them.
Ensure that a health care power of attorney with advance directives is in place and up-to-date. Maintain a list of health providers and current medications. Mobile seniors should keep a copy of these documents stored on a thumb drive in their vehicle or under the “emergency” tab of some smartphones in case of a health emergency while traveling.
While this checklist is a starting point for both the young and the old, it is important to organize these matters before an emergency occurs. With these plans in place, seniors and their families can avoid stressful family or financial conflicts.
Kara Gansmann is an attorney in the Wilmington office of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, where her practice encompasses elder law and estate planning. Kara advises individuals and families with estate planning needs and asset protection tactics. In this role, she strategizes with clients to preserve assets for long-term care and to leave legacy gifts to family members. Kara works with elderly clients in need of Medicaid crisis planning and Medicaid applications. As part of her practice, Kara drafts wills, trusts and powers of attorney. In the courtroom, Kara represents clients in the administration of estates, guardianship/incompetency proceedings, and guardianship administration. Kara also litigates estate and trust matters, including will caveats, the modification or termination of trusts, and litigation arising from estate documents or fiduciary roles. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and serves as co-chair of the CLE Committee for that section. Kara also serves as a liaison between the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and the North Carolina Bar Association Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section.