Grandparenting may improve your health

Source: Grandparenting may improve your health, clarionledger.com

When I was a little kid, my grandmother Etta came to live with us for a while. “Granny” had been living on her own for nearly 15 years since my grandfather had died but moved in with us as she prepared to remarry. I still remember her telling us stories and jokes, dispensing her priceless wisdom and helping us navigate the difficulties of childhood. She had only one request: don’t disturb her during her daily soap operas. Granny has been gone now for more than 30 years, but her legacy lives on. My brother and I still treasure those times.

Grandparents are special. They’re experienced enough to make good parenting decisions and be firm when it’s needed, but many have learned to understand that life should be fun. If you’re fortunate to have an elderly babysitter for your kids, it could be good for all concerned because babysitting your grandkids (or even other people’s grandkids) could help you live longer.

In the 20-year Berlin Aging Study, researchers followed the lives of 516 seniors age 70 to 100, periodically checking in on their health. They came up with a finding that might (or might not) be surprising: those who provided some form of care to young children were significantly less prone to die than those who didn’t. (The study excluded grandparents who were the children’s primary caregivers, focusing instead on those who had some temporary level of interaction with kids.)

 Dr. Ronan Factora of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine noted in a recent Cleveland Clinic post that it appears the key factor is stress. “There is a link between providing this care and reducing stress, and we know the relationship between stress and higher risk of dying,” he noted. “If providing care to grandchildren and others in need is one way that can actually reduce stress, then these activities should be of benefit to folks who are grandparents and provide this care to their grandkids.”

Of course, any parent knows that being around active youngsters can entail its own version of stress, which can make even the most competent parent feel inadequate. It could be that grandparents are better able to deal with it; perhaps it’s because they’ve learned to “chill out.” But whatever the reason, the message is clear: There are clear health benefits to being a grandparent.

 Many studies have hinted at the health benefits that can be found in good relationships between the oldest and youngest. For example, a 2014 Australian study found that caring for young grandchildren one day per week was linked to lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A Boston College study published in 2013 found that a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship can reduce the risk of depression for both of them.

But there is a caveat: Too much of a good thing could actually be harmful. Factora notes that the caretaking experience needs to be managed so it doesn’t add more stress. “You want to make sure that you find that right balance between getting the positive benefits of doing enough of an activity to help those in need and avoiding doing too much and getting to the point where the activity makes one overly stressed,” he said.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here. Just a generation or two ago, most homes included grandparents who pitched in to help raise the children and were a resource for information, and served as repositories of family history and a sense of connectedness. In losing those relationships, it could be that we have also lost something that was more valuable than we ever imagined; the threads of family bind us together in ways we’re only just now discovering.

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Wary widow thwarts grandparent scam

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US News Money

via ‘Grandparent’ scammer fails to hook Miss. victim, clarionledger.com

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A wary Mississippi widow has thwarted efforts by a crook whom she believes got information from an obituary, then attempted to use it to rip her off with the “grandparent” scam.

This story proves that scammers are not above taking advantage of people going through some of life’s greatest trials, but also how quick thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism can help you avoid becoming a victim.

You may recall that I recently wrote about this pernicious scam, in which the scammer calls an elderly person pretending to be a grandchild or other relative who’s in trouble and needs money fast. But they met their match when they called this 81-year-old Flowood widow one morning a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t want to share her name but wanted to tell her story to help others who may be at risk. “If I could save just one person from being taken in, it would be worth the trouble,” she told me.

Our potential victim, who lost her husband of 63 years in March, believes the crook used information gleaned from an online obituary for her husband. When she got a call recently purportedly from her grandson Brad in Omaha, Nebraska, she immediately sensed that something wasn’t right.

“It’s bad when they start using the obituaries,” she told me. “I can see where people in a bereaved state could be taken in by this scam.”

Her internal alarm bells began to ring immediately as she got the call, allegedly from Brad (but in a different voice than usual) who said simply, “This is Brad. The reason I’m talking like this, my nose is broken.” But that set off an immediate red flag, since Brad would never just start talking to her without addressing her as “Mom-maw.” But she went with it anyway, to see where the story would lead.

“Brad” went on to tell the potential victim that he had been in a “bad, bad wreck,” describing a situation in which a friend named “Sam” had asked for transportation to the doctor’s office. On the way, they had been in a car accident. “Sam,” the story went, was taken away in an ambulance, and “Brad” was charged with reckless driving. “Sam’s lawyer says if I can get the bail money he can get me out of jail,” he continued. “So, I thought maybe you could send me some money.”

But the wary widow wasn’t having any of it, and told the caller that all her money was tied up. “Why haven’t you called your dad?” she asked, then the caller hung up abruptly. She knew that, if Brad had really been in an accident, his first call would be to his dad, who lives nearby. “Brad would have called his dad before he even got out of the wrecked car,” she noted.

This is a textbook version of the grandparent scam, in which the caller lays out a potentially believable story, then asks for money — throwing in a few details along the way to make the story sound legit. Since obituaries contain a lot of details about the deceased person’s family, locations and interests, they can be a potential treasure trove of information for would-be scammers.

And, if our suspicious senior had not been skeptical about the call she got that day, she might have been taken in. But it’s the details that gave the scammer away: subtle differences in the words he used, departures from normal behavior and facts that just don’t add up. Unfortunately, many people each year fall victim to scammers using these tactics, sending millions via Western Union or GreenDot, never to be seen again. These crooks know their devious craft and do their homework.

This lady’s story illustrates the fact there is danger from these scams, and how having presence of mind can help you detect when a story is not all it’s being claimed to be. If you get a call like this one, exercising a bit of skepticism can keep you from making a costly mistake if you fall for it.

“Grandparent scam” on the rise again

Aged woman talk on phone

via ‘Grandparent Scam’ on the rise again, clarionledger.com

PDF: Grandparent Scam on rise again

During the past few years, scammers have gotten better at figuring out ways around potential victims’ natural skepticism. Using a variety of lies and trickery, they steal millions each year from unwary marks.

In this column, I’ve written numerous times about a particularly odious form of thievery known as the grandparent scam. Unfortunately, seniors in the Magnolia State are increasingly getting calls like this — often in the dead of night.

Purveyors of this lie will call seniors pretending to be a grandchild in trouble, another family member or friend. Tactics vary, but a typical ruse is to pretend to be in jail, to claim they’ve had all their money stolen while traveling or say they’re been hospitalized in a foreign country. But it eventually gets around to a request for cash to be wired. Often, they’ll put someone else on the line to lend credibility to the call, pretending to be a police officer, lawyer or doctor. If you respond, your money will vanish without a trace. Attorney General Jim Hood issued a warning this week about this activity.

“Wiring money is identical to mailing cash,” Hood noted in a news release. “There are no protections for the sender and no way to reverse the transaction, trace the money, or recover payment from the telephone con artists. These scammers will try to convince their victims to send any amount — from several hundred to several thousand dollars — and they may even call back hours or days later asking for more money if they were successful the first time.”

Hood said his office has seen a recent uptick in reports about the scam, with Harrison and Hinds counties seeing the most activity. This variant of the scam requests the victim wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram, or in some cases, to provide bank account and bank routing numbers.

Nationally, the grandparent scam is a growing concern for law enforcement. In 2015, the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging reported more than 10,500 complaint calls came in about people impersonating family members or friends in attempts to convince victims to send money. Many took the bait, resulting in millions being wired to scammers.

Hood offered this advice if your phone rings:

Don’t wire money unless you have properly assessed the situation or in some way verified with others close to your loved one that they are really in trouble.

Be suspicious if your loved one requests or demands that you keep the phone call a secret by claiming to be embarrassed and/or scared.

Avoid panic. If you receive communication from a “loved one” (scammer) who claims to be traveling and is in some sort of distress or financial bind asking you to urgently wire them money, be calm and think. Does the story sound plausible?

Call before doing anything. Immediately after receiving the call or message, try calling your “loved one” back, but at the telephone number through which you normally reach that person to see if he or she reached out or attempted to reach out to you using an odd or long-distance number. It’s also a good idea to check with others to check out the story. For example, if the person claims to be your grandchild, call their parents or siblings and ask them to verify the details of the story.

“Our goal is to help educate and make our senior citizens and loved ones aware of these kinds of unfortunate and disheartening scams,” Hood said. “I strongly urge you to never give out any personal identifying information or account numbers to anyone unless you are certain the individual is who they claim to be and will use the information for the reason they have requested it.”

If you’ve been victimized or been approached with a scam like this, immediately report it to local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230 or 800-281-4418. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP.

The attorney general’s office also has a publication called the Consumer’s Guide to Avoiding the Grandparent Scam. You can download it at http://bit.ly/2tBkOnP or call the Consumer Protection Division for a copy.

Correction to previous storyIn my column last week about the group Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS) and their attempt to place an initiative on the ballot in Colorado, I misstated the number of signatures the group is seeking to collect. Many news outlets have reported the number as 300,000, but Dr. Tim Farnum, president of the group, emailed me to state that number was in error and the number is actually just shy of 100,000. We strive to verify everything, but occasionally we get it wrong. Our apologies for the error.

Danger from detergent pods not limited to kids

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ABC News

via Danger from detergent pods not limited to kids, clarionledger.com

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Technology can be a wonderful thing, and innovations that make everyday tasks easier can be profitable for companies selling them. But sometimes, new products can introduce new risks. Recent research has highlighted the dangers to adults with dementia about detergent “pods,” which package detergent so it’s easier to use.

But first, a little history: A few years ago, consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble introduced the Tide Pod, a concentrated little shrink-wrapped packet of laundry detergent that removes the need to deal with messy powders and liquid detergents. Users simply had to throw the little pod in with their clothes. The plastic wrap dissolved slowly in the water, releasing the detergent at just the right rate. The technology was soon also being used in dishwashing detergent, and promised a host of other uses. Soon, pods were sold with liquid detergents, as well as powders.

But it didn’t take long for a problem to become apparent. Since the pods were brightly colored and just the right size for toddlers to mistake for a tasty treat and pop into their mouths, calls to poison-control centers began to skyrocket. In addition, since the chemicals they contained were concentrated, they were more likely to cause poisonings than other types of detergents. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that more than 500 kids that year had to visit emergency rooms after consuming or chewing on the pods. In some cases, kids were playing with them, causing the packaging to rupture and squirt detergent into their eyes. In others, ruptured packages led to kids accidentally inhaling the contents.

In response to the crisis, the industry began changing the products to make them less colorful and putting them in opaque containers. But that didn’t stop the problem from mushrooming in the next couple of years. By 2014, the CPSC estimated, at least 17,000 kids had been hurt. The Journal of Pediatrics studied the problem, and in 2014 issued its own warning, calling the pods a “serious poisoning risk to young children.”

In the years since, the number of products using “pod” technology has increased, with pods accounting for about 17 percent of the market. At the same time, pods accounted for nearly three-quarters of all calls to poison control centers from 2013 to 2015, according to Consumer Reports.

But now, a new danger has become apparent from the pods. Consumer Reports issued a report last week showing that, of the eight deaths directly related to laundry pods since 2012, two were children. The remaining six were senior citizens with dementia.

The report notes that people with dementia may often make the same assumption as a child when seeing the detergent pod: that it’s something to eat. Consumer Reports quoted an Alzheimer’s expert about how this process might work. “A hungry person with dementia foraging in a kitchen may misidentify a box of powdered detergent as cereal and still know to pour it in a bowl and mix it with milk from the refrigerator.”

The advice from the experts is simple: if you have an adult with dementia in the house, avoid having pods where they can reach them, and if possible avoid them altogether. “As a result of this new data from the CPSC highlighting the potential risks of laundry detergent pods to adults with dementia, we are amending our advice and recommending that family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired not keep pods in the home,” says Consumer Reports’ chief scientific officer, James Dickerson. “We also continue to believe that manufacturers should modify the appearance of laundry packets, so they do not look like candy.”

For more information about the risk detergent pods pose to seniors with dementia, and what you can do about it, you can read the full report at Consumer Reports.

Protecting seniors against financial exploitation

via Protect seniors against financial abuse, clarionledger.com

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Financial exploitation of seniors is heartbreaking and tragic, and it happens every day. Occasionally, you’ll read about it in the news or see it mentioned on social media, but these reports usually are about large-scale crimes. Most incidents happen outside the glare of the public spotlight.

Financial exploitation robs seniors of the financial resources on which they depend to live. Increasingly, older Americans are targeted with scams, too-good-to-be-true sales pitches, outrageous fines and fees, theft of their bank accounts and credit cards by people they trusted and even victimization by their own caregivers. A retirement nest egg, accumulated over decades, can be gone in minutes and with it the hope of a happy retirement.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi attorney general’s office announced the sentencing of a 54-year-old Laurel woman after she pleaded guilty to three counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person. Lisa Byrd Mozingo, who was employed as a caregiver to an elderly person, was accused of transferring the victim’s money into her own account and using the victim’s power of attorney to buy cars, silver coins and other items. In all, the damage totaled more than $100,000. Under the plea deal, Mozingo will serve 10 years in prison (with an additional 10 years suspended, plus five years’ supervision) and will have to pay back the money and perform community service.

According to a 2011 MetLife study, an estimated $2.9 billion is lost annually to scams explicitly targeting seniors. It’s one of the most common forms of abuse committed against seniors, notes the American Bankers Association Foundation. And most experts agree that elder financial abuse is under-reported; some experts believe that only one case in 44 is ever reported to authorities.

The problem is twofold: First, seniors hold a lot of the money in the U.S. economy, making it a tempting target for those who would seek to get their hands on it. Secondly, as many seniors age, they become less able to make good financial decisions, and in some cases suffer from dementia or other cognitive issues.

“Older Americans currently hold more than two-thirds of all U.S. deposits, making them highly susceptible to scams, exploitation and abuse,” said Corey Carlisle, bankers foundation executive director. “It’s critical that seniors and their loved ones recognize the signs of financial abuse before it’s too late and get help immediately if they think they’ve been victimized.”

The financial industry is stepping up with tools to help combat elder financial abuse. Last year, the North American Securities Administrators Association started requiring financial advisers to report suspected financial abuses to states’ securities regulators and adult protective services departments. At the federal level, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will in February begin requiring its broker-dealer members to add a trusted backup contact person for all accounts and to allow members to put temporary holds on fund disbursements when financial exploitation is suspected. And the Investor Protection Trust is training physicians and attorneys to be on the lookout for warning signs of financial vulnerability.

These are all steps in the right direction, but they can’t solve the problem on their own. As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense. If you’re a senior, or are responsible for helping a loved one make financial decisions, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of financial exploitation. The bankers foundation suggests these actions:

First, plan ahead. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney or financial adviser about the best options for you in managing your money and assets.

Choose someone you trust to act as your agent. You may need to look beyond your family members; tragically, a substantial percentage of financial exploitation is committed by relatives of the victim.

Never give personal information, including your Social Security, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.

Stay alert to common fraud schemes. There are many scams targeting seniors, and they know how to get past your defenses. In the past, I’ve written about the “grandparent scam,” in which a scammer purporting to be a grandchild calls you and says they urgently need your help. And seniors are targeted every day with travel scams, pitches for products and investments and scary warnings that the IRS or Social Security or law enforcement is coming after you if you don’t pay up.

Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and consult with a financial adviser or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.

Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances and make sure to lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.

Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.

You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you believe you are a victim of elder financial abuse, contact your local Adult Protective Services, tell someone at your bank or call your local police for help.

Feds, Fla. authorities shut down robocall ring that targeted seniors

via Feds, Fla. authorities shut down robocall ring that targeted seniors, clarionledger.com

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With millions of Americans deeply in debt, many are looking for a lifeline to help them deal with it. Statistics released around the end of 2016 showed that Americans’ personal debt had exploded by $460 billion, the biggest increase in nearly a decade and bringing total indebtedness dangerously close to the record-setting 2008 levels of $12.7 trillion.

Such debt makes some Americans vulnerable to promises of relief from their crushing load, and millions are getting robocalls and marketing pitches from both established companies and fly-by-night scam artists. Many of these schemes target seniors, many on fixed incomes who are already carrying heavy debt loads. But this week, the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida attorney general shuttered one tangled operation that pitched “worthless” credit card rate reduction programs to millions.

Orlando-based “Card Member Services,” doing business as Payless Solutions, allegedly set up robocalls that promised that consumers could pay off their debt faster and cheaper in exchange for up-front fees ranging from $300 to nearly $5,000. But, according to authorities, it was all too good to be true.

A federal district court judge last week signed eight orders against the operation, the agencies announced last week, stemming from a joint complaint against the operation, which ran from 2011 until the 2015 complaint.

The operation is accused of claiming that consumers could save at least $2,500 in a short period of time if they paid the fees, but many consumers reported they got no action in return for their money. Some consumers received a “package of financial education information,” and in some cases, found that the defendants had used their personal information to apply for new credit cards without their knowledge or consent. In addition, many of the numbers called were on the national Do-Not-Call Registry, and violated other telemarketing statutes.

Under the action announced last week, charges have been settled against 18 defendants, in some cases imposing financial penalties. Monetary judgments of $4.8 million were requested, but were suspended because the defendants said they couldn’t pay. The FTC’s news release noted the defendants were ordered to stop their illegal activities, but didn’t say whether any of them are going to jail or if any of the scam’s victims are going to be compensated.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be able to reduce your interest rate, or enroll you in a special program that requires up-front fees, it’s probably a scam. Giving your personal information to someone who calls you with such promises can result in identity theft, so be skeptical if anyone calls. If it’s a robocall, let it go to voicemail. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. That also gives you the option to check it out before returning any calls.

Women less prepared for retirement than men

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From Women less prepared for retirement than men, clarionledger.com

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If you were to ask a person in their middle 20s about their plans for retirement, most would probably shrug their shoulders and tell you they’d given it little thought. Even many people in their 40s (while most would have thought about it) wouldn’t really have a good idea about how they planned to finance their dreams once they leave the workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of us just aren’t very good at planning for the future.

But we should be. As lifespans increase and people stay in the workforce longer, people will need to have some way to finance their lifestyle in retirement. Most retirement planning experts agree that good planning can help you overcome rising prices, economic uncertainties, and taxes. Women are at special risk for several reasons, not the least of which is because, statistically, they can expect to live longer than the men in their lives.

study this month by Transamerica’s Center for Retirement Studies  points out a number of trends and highlights the need for women to get more involved and proactive about their retirement plans.

“Today’s women are better educated and enjoy career opportunities that our grandmothers’ generation could only dream about,” noted TCRS President Catherine Collinson. “Nevertheless, women continue to encounter challenges including lower pay, time out of the workforce for parenting or caregiving, and longer life expectancies that all contribute to unique challenges in adequately saving for retirement.”

Among the most alarming findings from the study: only about 10 percent of women are “very confident” in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, about half of the rate for men asked the same question. A poorly planned retirement can lead to an inability to deal with the unexpected circumstances — health conditions, sudden unemployment or unforeseen expenses — that could send you into a financial tailspin.

 While about seven in 10 working women say they are participating in some type of retirement savings plan (such as a 401(k) or an employee-sponsored IRA, they probably started saving later than their male counterparts. On average, women who are investing in an employee plan started doing so at 28, compared to 26 for their male coworkers. Two years might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time, thanks to interest and compounding. Many financial experts with whom I’ve consulted over the years advise young people to start saving for retirement as soon as they enter the workforce.
Another issue: too little savings. On average, women in the survey reported a median household retirement savings of about $34,000, with two-thirds saying they don’t know what they’ll do if they’re forced into retirement sooner than expected. When asked what amount of savings would be adequate, the average respondent said she’d like to have at least $500,000 in the bank. And while many women say they’ll count on Social Security for a portion of their income in retirement, most worry that it won’t be available to them by the time they retire.

“The facts are startling and clear. Women must begin taking greater control and gain an understanding of their true retirement outlook,” Collinson said. “By confronting challenges head-on, women can acquire essential knowledge about how to achieve financial security and create plans that can help mitigate risks and steer them on a course for financial security and a more positive outlook for their retirement ambitions.”

Here are a few of the suggestions contained in the Transamerica report; more suggestions and a report summary may be found at http://bit.ly/2nX3ILo:

  • Start saving on a regular, consistent basis. Even a few dollars can add up over years, thanks to interest and compounding.
  • Participate in any retirement plan offered through your employer. Many offer matching contributions and other benefits, which can significantly increase your investment.
  • Get educated about retirement investing, including learning about how to make your retirement savings last longer, and learn about the best (and worst) times to start drawing Social Security.
  • Get help. Seek the assistance of a qualified financial planner to take a look at your goals and devise a strategy to make it happen. Agingcare.com has some great advice on how to find a good financial adviser at http://bit.ly/2nGYqrb.

Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will

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dyingandgrief.com

Source: Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will, clarionledger.com

PDF: adults-lack-will

While it may not be pleasant to think about, having a will and other end-of-life documents is one of the most important gifts you can leave to your heirs. Nearly every family has nightmare stories about how someone died without making their final wishes known, leaving confusion and conflict in their wake, or having to struggle with painful decisions about when to end medical care.

While some families can get through this process amicably, others have been torn apart in the ensuing struggle for what’s left of the estate as things drag on through lengthy probate and costly settlement proceedings.

Many people don’t want to deal with the unpleasant prospect of their own deaths and remain blissfully unaware of the ramifications of dying intestate (without a will). But financial experts caution that even the youngest parents should be planning for what would happen if they were off the scene or unable to make their own decisions.

Caring.com released a study this week indicating nearly six in 10 adults (58 percent) don’t have any planning documents such as a will or living trust. And slightly more than a third of parents with kids younger than18 have these documents, which means there are a lot of young parents who might not be prepared for unexpected tragedies.

The Princeton Research study, which asked 1,003 adults about their end-of-life planning, indicates that — perhaps unsurprisingly — older people are more likely to have a will or living trust. More than 80 percent of those 72 and older have filed these documents; but for adults at the other end of the age scale (ages 18-36), just one in five has composed a will or trust.

Among the reasons given for not having done end-of-life planning: “I just haven’t gotten around to it” was the answer given by nearly half of the respondents, and nearly a third said they didn’t have much in the way of assets anyway, so they didn’t think it was important. Others likely balk at this planning because they think they can’t afford it.

“I think many Americans avoid setting up a will because they simply don’t want to think about their death,” says Texas-based financial coach Craig Dacy. “However, setting up a will not only takes care of your loved ones financially, it can save them a lot of emotional stress after you’re gone.”

A will does a lot more than just tell your kids how to divide your possessions; it can also help you designate causes you want to support; make sure your pets are taken care of; dictate what happens to your social media accounts when you die; state your wishes for your funeral and burial, and much more.

In recent years, a lot more attention has been given to medical/health care powers of attorney, and the Caring.com study bore that out. These documents will make your wishes known in the event of a health crisis in which you can’t make your own decisions. In general, more than half of U.S. adults have granted someone legal authorization to make decisions on their medical care if they are unable to do so.

Caring.com Vice President Katie Roper points out it’s not just about telling your family when to end life support; health care privacy regulations are much stricter now than in the past.

“It’s not just a concern for older people — everyone who is 18 or older should have a health care power of attorney,” Roper said. “If your college-age son or daughter, God forbid, were seriously injured in a car accident, you as the parent could not even find out they were in the hospital, let alone discuss their condition with physicians, without this document in place.”

Some legal experts have even suggested that young people write these documents before they graduate high school or college, and update them frequently. While it may not be the most pleasant thing to think about for a young person just starting out (and many young adults don’t have much in the way of money or possessions, anyway), it’s just good planning that gets them started thinking about their long-term future, and ultimately, their legacy.

Senior Surprise: Student loans dragging down retirement

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via Senior Surprise: student loans dragging down retirement

Most people like to think of their senior years as when they’ll finally be able to take a break after decades of hard work, maybe do some of the things they’d always dreamed about, unfettered by the daily demands of the workplace. Many seniors have worked hard and sacrificed to build a nest egg so they can achieve these dreams.

But increasingly, older Americans are finding themselves worrying about something they might not have factored into the carefully laid plans they made decades ago: student loans. In a report released recently by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency announced some startling numbers regarding the number of seniors (defined as those 60 or older) who are trying to pay off student loans. In the decade from 2005 to 2015, the number of seniors carrying student loans more than quadrupled (from 700,000 to 2.8 million), with a combined debt load of $60 billion. On average, this works out to about $23,500 per senior carrying student loan debt. And it’s having a profound impact on their ability to handle their finances.

What’s going on here? The most obvious answer would be that it’s the result of people going back to college in middle age, or paying off their own old college loans. While both of those things are true, most of that debt is actually from parents shouldering the debt for their children and grandchildren. In some cases, those kids and grandkids have defaulted, placing the burden on the shoulders of the previous generation (who had co-signed). In other cases, parents or grandparents have offered or agreed to take on the responsibility of paying for their descendants’ college educations.

Most seniors live on fixed incomes and finance their lifestyles through a combination of Social Security, pension plans, annuities, cash they stashed away for the future and, in some cases, employment. But the added pressure of student loans is, in some cases, making seniors work longer, stress about handling the debt and facing an uncertain financial future.

“It is alarming that older Americans are the fastest-growing segment of student loan borrowers,” said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Many of these older Americans are helping to finance their children’s or grandchildren’s education while living on a fixed income. We are concerned that student loans are contributing to financial insecurity for many older Americans and that student loan servicing problems can add to their distress.”

 Let’s face it: Most of us would do just about anything for our kids. We want to see them succeed, and many parents wouldn’t hesitate to co-sign or authorize a loan if it were the only option for getting a child or grandchild through college. But seniors with limited means may find this added burden comes at a time when their income has decreased, and when they may face challenging issues related to their declining health. What’s making the situation worse for some is they may also be carrying debt of their own, forcing them in some cases to curtail necessary expenses, such as medications.
In its report, the the bureau focused on the increasing problems caused by companies responsible for servicing those debts. The agency charged that some companies aren’t doing a good job of informing borrowers of their obligations, making critical mistakes in handling the accounts, and in some cases, even engaging in illegal practices.
It’s a big problem, and one that’s growing. Investopedia’s Mark Cussen reported this week that the student-loan default rates are more than 50 percent for borrowers age 75 and above. And, like many, he warns it’s imperiling a generation’s financial stability. “Student loan debt is turning into a runaway financial train in America,” Cussen noted. “… it is also seriously damaging the ability of many taxpayers to save for retirement.”
If you’re holding a student loan but are unable to make the payments, Investopedia’s Ashley Eneriz has some good advice at  http://bit.ly/2jvIRk9.

Financial abuse often unreported

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Financial abuse is taking advantage of financial resources of individuals who are unable to handle their own financial affairs, or who may be isolated, unsupported or otherwise unable to protect themselves. Often, victims are elderly and may be a resident of a nursing home, personal care facility or other type of institution. Financial abuse of patients in a personal care home or nursing home is a crime of opportunity, in which someone who has been placed in a position of trust takes advantage of a person at the most vulnerable time in his or her life.

Financial abuse statistics show this crime probably is underreported and often undetected. But occasionally, there is news of an arrest. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced recently that two Ridgeland residents had been arrested and charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

According to a news release from Hood’s office, investigators with the attorney general’s Vulnerable Adult Unit and Hinds County Sheriff’s Department last week arrested Renee Hope Netherland, aka Renee Lester, 42, and Henry Thomas McAlister III, 47, both of Ridgeland. A Hinds County grand jury indicted Netherland and McAlister on one count each of exploitation of vulnerable adult.

According to the indictment, Netherland and McAlister are accused of “obtaining a debit card belonging to a patient in a Jackson care facility and using the card to make withdrawals and purchases totaling $250 or more without the consent of the victim, then converting the money to their own use.”

If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. “As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” the release noted.

The case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Bob Anderson of the attorney general’s Public Integrity Division.

Hood noted that technology helps enable financial crimes such as credit card fraud, requiring greater vigilance to deter, detect and address. “I encourage all Mississippians to educate themselves on the signs of credit card fraud so they will recognize it and know what to do if they encounter it,” he said.

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, there aresome red flags that might indicate financial abuse of a vulnerable person. Here are a few:

  • Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the person cannot explain.
  • New “best friends.”
  • Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the person didn’t understand at the time he or she signed them.
  • Missing belongings or property.
  • Unusual activity in the person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals.

Hood added that all consumers should be on guard to protect their financial information. “Always remember to be protective of account information and to regularly monitor credit card or bank statements for unusual activity,” he advised. “Consumers should also make sure to shred account documents before throwing them away.”

In addition, if you think that you or a loved one has become a victim of credit card fraud, call the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-281-4418, or visit http://www.agjimhood.com for more information and resources.