May 26, 2017

Retirement and Insurance: Do We Need It?

When I retire do I need insurance is a question that I am asked with some regularity.  Well, that should be simple. You have retired. Your need for anything other than Medicare, auto, home or other health insurance is over, right?

Not so fast. 

There are at least five different insurance products that may be important to your retirement financial planning. Let's take a look at each one:

Medicare Supplemental Insurance

Medicare is a tremendous health insurance program for those 65 and older.  It is a blessing after years of dealing with the complicated mess that is the American health insurance system. Even so, you must be aware that Medicare does not cover some important expenses. The Original version usually covers only 80% of your expenses. While that seems quite generous, an expensive hospital stay or operation could means you are responsible for thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars in costs. Medicare does not pay for most drugs. It doesn't cover long term care. 

To help with these issues you need to add supplemental insurance to the monthly package of Part A and Part B. A supplemental policy can cover the 20% that Medicare does not. It can provide extra services that are not part of Medicare. Another type of coverage, Part D, helps with prescription drug expenses. 

Medicare Explained is a post from a few years ago that will give a quick overview. 

Life Insurance

This category of insurance seems simple to answer. If you are retired, any children are raised and gone, and you have investments, a pension, IRA, Social Security, or other form of income, what possible need would you have for insurance if you die unexpectedly? 

For many of us, the answer is none. However, there are situations when owning a life insurance policy after retirement is prudent. Caring for a disabled child, protecting your family while you are still working, as part of an estate, or funding a charitable legacy after your death are a few of the reasons why maintaining life insurance after retirement may be wise. 

CNBC has an overview of these possibilities at this web address: When it makes sense for retirees to have life insurance 

Long term Care Insurance

This is the type of insurance that generates the most email questions to this blog. It is also the hardest to give a satisfactory answer to. An insurance product that provides a fixed, monthly sum to help cover the rapidly rising cost of long term care seems as if it should be part of of our financial planning. Standard Medicare and supplemental insurance policies provide only limited help. With expenses as high as $10,000 a month, it would be easy to have a healthy nest egg wiped out rather quickly. 

Unfortunately, the companies that provide this type of coverage have discovered the problem: costs are so high and surging so quickly that these policies quickly become serious cash drains. Several companies that once sold LTC policies no longer offer them. Customers who have paid premiums for years suddenly are left with no coverage and all that premium money gone. Or, if the insurance company doesn't pull the plug, it may raise the premiums to the point of unaffordability. A customer who stops paying is without coverage and loses all the money spent up to that point. 

The final decision is a very personal one, based on your financial resources and other options or concerns. For a good review of the pros and cons of LTC insurance read this article: LTC insurance: is it worth it?

Pre-need (funeral) Insurance

To protect family members from the costs associated with your passing, a specialized type of insurance is available that pays for funeral and burial expenses, the cost of a plot, and a service. Social Security does provide a small amount of money upon your death, but not even enough to cover a simple cremation.

Often sold by an individual funeral home, these policies come with their own supporters and detractors. Like any insurance product, the delivery of what you have paid for depends on the viability of the company that sold it to you. With the average funeral costing between $7,000 and $10,000 (and easily double that for a top of the line casket plus the cost of the actual burial plot), is this type of insurance worth the cost? 

For a clear-eyed overview of this type of insurance click here: Do I need Pre-Need Insurance?

Travel Insurance

This is a type of insurance most of us probably don't consider. Maybe trip cancellation coverage makes sense when booking an expensive cruise or European jaunt. After all, we can't predict an illness or change in circumstances that make taking that trip a real hardship. Not surprisingly, though, even these straightforward policies have a fair number of exclusions and small print.

But, once you leave for the trip of a lifetime, you are focused on the memories and fun ahead, not the problems. But, what if you become ill overseas, find yourself needing a medical evacuation, face 2 weeks without your is not a risk-free adventure.

Someone will be happy to sell you an insurance policy that covers most of those travel-based disasters. But, should you?  Read Do I need senior travel insurance?  to help you decide before that cruise down the Danube River if such a policy is worth it to you.

Insurance is not the most pleasant subject to consider at any age. After all, it's purpose is to help you make your life right again after a major catastrophe. After retirement, it can take on greater importance. Without income to help you rebuild your financial house, having the proper insurance can become the difference between the continuation of a satisfying retirement and financial devastation. 

May 22, 2017

5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs: Part One

There are an estimated 70 million Americans who claim the title of "grandparent." For those of us lucky enough to have our lives blessed with grandkids, skills that are needed may seem rather obvious. After all, we raised at least one child to have a grandchild (basic biology). So, what skills might we have missed in the Grandparents Handbook?

It is not so much that certain skills are missing, but how they are used. The way we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. I have picked five that have the ability to make this experience a joy instead of a trial. Of course, there are probably another dozen (or more) skills that could be added to the list, but I had to draw the line somewhere!

This is part one of the "skills" post. To keep things from getting too long-winded, here are the first two skills. I believe these to be the most important. In a week I'll round out the project with the final three skills.  

1) You aren't the parent. This is first because it is the most important. Too many times I get emails from grandparents complaining about something they don't like about how a grandchild is being raised. It could be as insignificant as pickiness in food choices, or a preference for a light left on while he or she falls asleep. Maybe the "flaw" is judged to be more important, like the inability to share toys, or a tendency to prefer video games over reading.

Certainly, there should be rules within a grandparent's home. This is one way a child learns to compromise and that the world is more a more complex place. Behavior that damages property or risks injury must be prevented. 

But, it is very important that grandparents don't weaken the parents' authority. If you question some aspect of how the child is being raised, the issue should be discussed with the parent, but not in front of the child. Be prepared for your suggestion to be rejected. If that occurs, you have done your job: mentioned something you think is important or worth nothing.

At that point, your responsibility is complete. Accept what the parent decides and drop it. Forcing the issue any further runs the risk of alienating you from your adult child and the grandkids. 

2. Boundaries work both ways. Being available to help your grown children with their kids is one of the best parts of your new role. It might be babysitting while mom and dad have a night out or attend a meeting of some sort. There may be a time now and then where you can pitch in with some the constant shuttling of kids from one commitment to another.

Boundaries are important to keep one side of the equation from feeling taken advantage of. If there is  single parent situation you may have more requests for help. Even so, unless you are comfortable with taking on a bigger part of the load, it may be too easy for the parent to take advantage of your generosity. Too many requests for help or too many days spent babysitting may be too many. You have a life to lead that doesn't always involve a grandchild. Saying no becomes vital to your health and happiness.

Likewise, your daughter or son may not be overjoyed that you drop over, unannounced, time and time again, to offer help or advice. Even worse, if you have a key to their house and simply let yourself in, you are crossing a boundary that can cause real tensions and discord.

Agree or disagree with these first two points? I'd love your thoughts. 

May 19, 2017

A Late Night Knock

"The knocking on the heavy, gray, wooden door was insistent even though it was well after hours, long after anyone should expect an answer at this address. Except for one rather forlorn street light a block away and a dim bulb by the outside entrance, this corner of the city was growing dark and deserted. Deserted, with the exception of whoever was knocking.

In a small room, with blaring music and soundproof glass, the resolute pounding would never be heard. The outside world didn’t exit. Here was equipment, small, scratched, vinyl records in organized stacks, a dangling microphone, walls covered with faded photos and posters of musicians, some important, some not. Every few minutes a switch was thrown and a voice spoke a few words heard by hundreds or maybe thousands of invisible ears. Only the non-stop blinking buttons on the battered, black, desk phone and the glow of various lights and switches assured the voice that what he was saying was not going unnoticed.

Eventually, the person in that isolated room was required to leave the private space and wander down a short hall to look at a few meters and dials. The people who owned all the equipment and the government bureaucrats who held the power of continued operation required such a trip. The transmitting equipment was temperamental and needed to be checked every hour. A few scans of the various measurements, a hastily scribbled signature on an official looking form, and it was time to stride quickly back to the private space before silence replaced the blare of the latest pop hit.

But,  just at that moment, during those few seconds of the journey back down the corridor when the front entrance was only a few yards away and within hearing, the knocking began anew. The person stopped, judged how much longer the song on the turntable had to play, and headed toward the sound. Not thinking about any potential danger, the fact that he was totally alone in the building, or who might be asking for attention, he unlocked and swung open the door.

Before him stood a twelve year or thirteen year old girl, all alone, wearing shorts, a blouse, and an expectant expression. She glanced quickly at the person who answered the door, and asked ‘Is Bobby Sherman here? Can I see him?” Wanting to laugh, but realizing the young girl was serious, the person gave her the response she probably expected. “I’m sorry but he’s busy on the air. Can I give him a message for you?” Muttering her first name and a song request for a piece of music that was played every 60 minutes anyway, she was assured “Bobby” would be told of her desire. She smiled, walked away satisfied, and the front door again locked out reality.

It was at that moment I began to truly understand the power of radio, the power of the voice behind the microphone and the ability of the medium to communicate and motivate. For you see, the person who answered the door was  Bob Sherman, my on-air name at a top 40 station in Syracuse New York in 1969.

The Bobby Sherman the young listener wanted to meet was not me. He was the man who had released several hit records and was the star of his own television show, “Here Comes The Bride.” The fact that the same person was not likely to be the night DJ at a radio station in upstate New York never entered the youngster’s mind. Through the incredible power of radio to stimulate her imagination, it was completely logical and possible that her fantasy was inside that building.

As I closed the door and went back to the studio just in time to start the latest two minute hit single by the Grassroots, or Tommy Roe, it really hit me: I have the power to create a world for my listeners completely separate from reality. Any thought of ever changing career paths or finding a more stable industry was gone." 

Regular readers know I was a radio DJ for part of my career.  Staring at age 15 on weekends, I "played the hits" until my late 20's in several different towns. While no longer a job choice that inspires much reaction, being a disc jockey on rock and roll radio stations in the 1960's and 70's was a fairly big deal. 

Your picture was on the weekly list of top 40 hits. You were asked to introduce Aerosmith or Rod Stewart or Jethro Tull in front of thousands at a concert. Supermarkets wanted you to cut the ribbon that marked the opening of a new store. People wanted your picture or autograph. Everyone wanted to know if you knew Casey Kasem of American Top 40 fame.

At some point you change and realize playing records isn't a long term career choice. Being hounded by 15 year old girls is no longer fun. Aging DJ's are not in high demand. But, for a time..........

The Late Night Knock is a glimpse into a world that no longer exists, but was tremendously exciting and fulfilling for a young man just finding his stride in life. Some 45 years later my satisfying retirement is in large part based on that night and what it taught me about the power of imagination and words. The men and women who I met and worked alongside (Hi, Ron Wray!) will be part of me forever.

Tell me a story about something in your life that was a spark to something different or better (or worse!). What happened that opened a door to your future? We all have a story.

May 16, 2017

Is That All There Is?

The end of a day: Is that it?

If the title reminds you of a song by Peggy Lee, you are definitely a boomer retiree. In a rather bleak view of life, the lyrics suggest that if this is as good as it is going to get then let's dance and party before the final disappointment of death. During a time of upheavals in the late 1960s, this was a top 15 hit for Ms. Lee. 

Why such a bleak title and introduction to this post? Take comfort, dear reader, the song's mood is not reflective of mine. I am not in the throes of despair. I do receive emails on a rather regular basis, however, that express at least some of this feeling about retirement.  There are three primary concerns: What did I do? I loved my job, I will run out of money, or my spouse is driving me crazy.

I certainly understand these concerns. I flirted with similar ones after leaving the workforce 16 years ago. I didn't think I was ready financially, emotionally, or socially...pretty much a clean sweep of feeling unprepared. Eventually, everything sorted itself out. For the almost seven years of writing this blog, I hope I have conveyed the message that retirement has the potential of making this stage of life productive and satisfying. 

Even so, I would guess we have asked ourselves, "is this all there is," every now and then. It is part of the human condition to wonder what we are accomplishing and what comes next. What sets us apart of other species is this need to question, to speculate, to hope.

At its core, retirement is the only time in our lives when a lot of the answers to those eternal questions are under our control. No, we can't change the facts of mortality. We have only limited control over health issues that may have been baked into our genes from day one. But, that leaves tremendous wiggle room, doesn't it?

I am constantly inspired by stories of folks with severe limitations achieving remarkable things. I think of those who compete in marathons in their wheelchairs, or on artificial legs. I think of people who are unable to move any part of their body below the neck, who have mastered painting, using a computer, or writing a book by grasping a brush or stick in their mouths to accomplish these tasks. 

Photo by A.G. Bell
A perfect example is the the story of Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, she mastered communication, learned to speak, and became an author, activist, and lecturer. Anne Sullivan, her teacher and constant companion, showed an awe-inspiring level of patience and determination to young Helen. When I am tempted to complain because I have some morning stiffness in my fingers or a sore back, Helen Keller pops to mind; I am embarrassed by my petty complaints.

While we still on this side of the dirt, the reality is there is never a time when it is appropriate to ask, "is that all there is?" Because the answer is an emphatic, "No!" If you settle for what doesn't make you happy or fulfilled, then it is on you. 

Maybe you can't change your physical condition or location. It is not all that uncommon for retired folks to live on a tight  sometimes barely adequate budget. I certainly get enough emails from unhappy spouses (of both sexes) who feel trapped in an unsatisfying relationship. I am not minimizing the real pain and frustration that can accompany those situations. 

But, I do suggest that you have the ability to rise above each of those scenarios. Strictly physical problems do not have to affect your ability to think, create, write, or enjoy the sound of the birds in your backyard. A pet could care less that you can't walk or run. He will love you anyway.

A tight budget forces you to be creative. Can't afford a computer or Internet connection? Your local library has both. Going out to eat is so infrequent you forget how to order off a menu? Become a great cook at home. Set the table, light the candles, pour the wine, and make an ordinary dinner something special.

If you have tried everything to make things work well with your spouse, and divorce isn't an option for many reasons, reassert your individuality. Do what makes you happy. Carve out times of the day when you please yourself.