Wednesday, September 12, 2012
A New Commun-ty
Today there was a special section in the New York Times on Retirement. The hard truths and facts regarding those facing or in retirement - either by choice or due to the economy. There are many articles about everything from the failures of 401K's to provide sufficient income to how those simply (and in every sense of the word) live solely on Social Security.
As I have discussed in my blog entry I Am No One, there is one group that especially are relevant - the SINK's - the single income no kids folks just like me. I learned the hard way, the very hard way, what it means to be that person when a medical/legal crisis occurs. Because of my injuries, the inability to effectively and even knowingly dictate my care or needs, in addition not having thought let alone planning for such an event, this came home to roost. I found my legal and medical rights signed away by perhaps the most ineffective Social Worker employed at Harborview Hosptial, who felt compelled to have me sign this document just off a respirator while in ICU overcoming a major head injury; sadly they were "given" to an individual neither prepared nor even understanding what that meant. It was a disaster that could have had serious repercussions on many levels. Not only disturbing it ranks as abusive which prompted me to write the letter to Mrs. Obama and my State Senators. I expect to hear well nothing. A reflection of the care and well the priorities in this country when it comes to people like me, the no ones.
I reprint below two articles one on finding a new "community" in which to co-habitat and the other on Social Security. I am particularly interested in the housing needs of those alone and in need of emotional support as one ages. Alone but not lonely, however, after what happened to me and what could have happened had I not began to actually recover sooner vs later, I realize that I need to re-think what it means to "age in place." I loathe that phrase builders and remodelers have been using to re-design homes for older people in the assumption that as you age, you are some sort of decrepit in need of bizarre and absurd renovations that are exclusively appropriate to being over 65. I can speak from experience at 35 or 55 a walk in shower with a bench is great. Having wider doors makes for easier move ins and outs, having lower counter tops makes its easier when you are not "average" in height. Honestly what is the difference between a walker and a stroller. Same needs different purpose but one is hopeful the other, well you do the math. It is patronizing, demeaning and debilitating to think all of us will end up talking to a chair. Well in defense Clint is 82 but he was at least standing there talking to it. Not all of us will be sitting in one.
I am very interested in exploring the option of living in a commune, like a kibbutz, or a compound a la Big Love without the religious connotations on either part. I look to many long term care facilities such as Harmony Hill here or Bailey Boushay and think what the possibilities are for those where illness is not the primary factor but wellness and sharing are. We have to start to think about what housing means and new ways of living if we are to remain sustainable individuals in this collective. From the idea of multi-generational housing to new communes, there are many new ways to live together and live well in every sense of the word.
Childless and Aging? Time to Designate a Caregiver
By PHYLLIS KORKKI
Published: September 11, 2012
SUSAN SOMMERS and her sister always kept a close eye on their mother, who was 94 and had dementia when she died this summer. Both sisters made sure they lived near their mother in Manhattan, and together they handled her bills, bought her food, took her to doctors’ visits and oversaw her caretakers.
But Ms. Sommers, a fashion consultant in her mid-60s, cannot hope for that kind of care when she gets older, because she is divorced and has no children. While taking care of her mother, she sometimes thought, “Who’s going to do this for me?” Her sister, Louise Sommers, who is three years younger and also childless, may be able to help her (and vice versa), but maybe not.
This concern is arising more frequently as more people in the United States remain childless. In 2010, according to census data, nearly 19 percent of women age 40 to 44 had not given birth, compared with around 10 percent in 1980.
Some children are better than others at caring for aging parents, but at least the expectations are clear. Children are often the ones to check up on their parents, to hire caregivers or to help with the transition to new housing. With childless people, the lines of responsibility can be murkier.
That is why it is important, lawyers say, for people without children to set up a health care proxy that will enable someone to handle medical decisions (the same person should also be authorized to view medical records) and a power of attorney for someone to handle finances. At a cost of perhaps several hundred dollars, these help ensure that people you trust will carry out your wishes if you become incapacitated.
Do you want to stay at home for as long as possible and receive in-home care? Do you prefer a particular type of assisted living facility? Documents can detail these preferences, and financial planning can help ensure that they are followed.
Not having these documents “puts more stress on the people who are trying to help you,” said Sharon Kovacs Gruer, an estate planning and elder law lawyer in Great Neck, N.Y. It also slows the release of your assets, because the courts take time to appoint a guardian. Without such plans in place, she said, it is possible that a guardian you don’t know will make decisions you would never have approved.
Childless people may also want to consider long-term care insurance, Ms. Kovacs Gruer said. Ms. Sommers bought it more than a decade ago, so she can afford the kind of care she wants if her health begins to fail.
In addition, if childless people don’t want their assets to go to relatives whom they dislike or barely know, they can set up a will or a trust (costs vary but can run $1,500 or more). With a trust funded during your lifetime, most relatives are not required to be notified or given a forum to protest.
Unmarried gay couples, many of whom are childless, should understand that without legal documents, the partner of an ailing person may not be given a say in health care decisions. And the partner of a deceased person may not be allowed to stay in the couple’s house or to gain access to retirement funds or many of the benefits that a traditional married couple would have, said David M. Goldman, an estate planning lawyer in Jacksonville, Fla.
Don’t forget about pets, who can be almost like children to their owners, said Hyman Darling, an elder law lawyer in Springfield, Mass. A pet trust ensures that they will be cared for. Although Ms. Sommers will almost certainly outlive her dachshund, Romeo, she has arranged for her sister to take care of him, just in case.
More than one person can be in charge of your health care and finances, if you wish. But whom should you choose to serve as your agents?
Couples often choose their partners, and single people may designate siblings, but selecting people close to you in age carries a risk that they will die before you. If your first choice is around your age, you should appoint a backup who is younger, Ms. Kovacs Gruer said.
Nieces, nephews, friends, neighbors, clergy and fellow church members are all possible choices. Your agents should be people whom you trust and can keep updated if your wishes change. You may choose to reward someone after your death for serving as a trustee, but the person’s main motivation should be concern for your welfare, Ms. Kovacs Gruer said.
What if there is no one? Older people sometimes outlive their spouses, friends and families. It is an argument, though not the main one, for cultivating friends of all generations, she said.
Beware of people swooping in to perform these services for the wrong reasons. Mr. Darling said he tried to make sure his clients were not being coerced or unduly influenced by people with suspicious motives.
If no one can be found to serve as a trustee, a company with a trustee department, like a bank, can make the arrangements for a fee, Mr. Darling said.
It is a sad commentary that some older people, especially those without children, do not know anyone who can fill these roles, said Byron Cordes, president of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and a geriatric care manager in San Antonio. “As seniors age, they start losing friends,” he said. “Social circles start to shrink.”
Friends and neighbors should be alert to the needs of childless people, Mr. Cordes said, and make sure they are healthy and safe. If you see a problem, like newspapers piling up, “step in and be bold,” he said. “In American society, we tend to be very hands-off.” Echoing Mr. Darling, though, he emphasized that seniors should beware of people with ulterior financial motives.
“What if no one finds me?” That terrifying question came to Marianne Kilkenny as she lay at the bottom of the stairs in her Asheville, N.C., home after a fall a few years ago. She ended up being fine, but the accident galvanized her to seek new living arrangements.
Now, instead of living alone, Ms. Kilkenny, 62, shares a large house with two women in their 60s and a married couple. She called it a “Golden Girls” arrangement, after the television show, and said she promoted the idea even while she was still living alone.
As the founder of the group Women for Living in Community, she encourages the creation of networks that enable older people — mainly women, but also men, as her own example shows — to share housing.
This type of living situation may not be to everyone’s liking. But it can give older people — those with and without children — companionship and someone to count on when the going gets tough, Ms. Kilkenny said, adding, “I want to age around people I care about and who care about me.”
By PAUL SULLIVAN
Published: September 11, 2012
LIVING on an inflexible budget, one that teeters on the brink of poverty, is not what most people equate with retirement. But that is pretty much what anyone who lives solely on Social Security can expect.
NO SAVINGS Sue Ann Flatley, 72, who lives outside Tampa, relies almost solely on Social Security with no savings and no house to sell if need be.
According to the Social Security Administration, 23 percent of married couples and 46 percent of single people receive 90 percent or more of their income from Social Security. Furthermore, 53 percent of married couples and 74 percent of unmarried people receive half of their income or more from the program.
Such statistics represent a group of people forever trying to make ends meet at a time when their health may be declining, their friends dying and their ability to do things not what it used to be. According to a report by AARP, the lobby for people older than 50, three out of five families headed by a retiree over 65 had no retirement savings.
“It gets hard for a lot of people to imagine getting along on just the Social Security check, but obviously millions of people are doing it,” said David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP. “They’re really living month to month and relying on that check. Some people have a paid-off home, but they’re still dealing with upkeep, insurance, taxes, plus utilities and health care.”
With an average monthly payment of $1,200 per individual (the actual amount is determined from one’s earnings record), nobody is getting rich on Social Security; that’s $14,400 a year, not much above the federal individual poverty line of $10,890, and payments aren’t adjusted by regional differences in the cost of living.
Modest as that average income is, someone would need about $300,000 to buy an equivalent annuity with a built-in cost-of-living increase, Mr. Certner said. Few retirees have savings like that.
Sue Ann Flatley, who lives outside Tampa, is an example of what it is like to live almost entirely on Social Security with no savings and no house to sell if need be. Ms. Flatley, 72, stayed home when her children were young, but then worked for 30 years before retiring as a certified nursing assistant at age 65.
Divorced with three children in their 40s, Ms. Flatley receives $890 a month in Social Security. Her rent, in subsidized housing, is $128 a month. She has two bills, one from a clothing store credit card, the other from medical expenses from a hip replacement, that she is working to pay down at $50 to $100 a month. Then there are her regular expenses, like phone, cable, electricity and trash collection bills.
“I have to be really careful with my check,” she said. “Usually every other month I can go to the grocery store and spend $130 to $150. I buy a lot of freezer things. I’ve been a diabetic for five years, and I can’t eat a lot of things.”
She says that it is the unexpected expenses that are difficult to manage. In August, she had to pay $72 to get new license plates for her car and $28 to change the address on her driver’s license. “I would have been all right if I didn’t have to buy the tags on my car,” she said.
Ms. Flatley is part of one of the most vulnerable groups: older single women. According to an AARP report, women are more likely to live in poverty in retirement than men across all ethnic and racial groups.
Another typical situation is the one Greta Morrison, a former insurance claims administrator, found herself in a few years back. She had a paid-off house 12 miles from downtown Indianapolis. But she never had more than $4,000 in the bank, and her $1,100 a month Social Security and $200 pension from the Travelers Insurance Company did not cover her expenses.
“I was cash-poor and dirt rich,” she said. “I was having to use my home equity loan to pay for home expenses, my taxes, my nursing home insurance.”
Mrs. Morrison, 81, sold the house this year and rented an apartment in St. Petersburg, Fla., to be closer to one of her daughters. Her son, 52, is unemployed and lives with her.
“Money is a definite concern every time I break a twenty,” Mrs. Morrison said. “I can’t be cavalier about money. I don’t eat out, but I had a lot of years of eating out. I don’t subscribe to a lot of magazines. I don’t buy clothes, but I don’t go anywhere I need them.”
Yet selling the home was a great relief, she said, even though such a step is undoubtedly traumatic for others in her situation. When all the bills were settled, she put $130,000 in the bank. After years of struggling, she rented a condo on Snell Isle, a nice neighborhood in St. Petersburg, that consumes most of her Social Security check.
“I make it now because I sold my home,” she said. “My apartment costs more than I can afford, but at 81, I figured why not?”
She is, in effect, making a classic retirement bet — that she will die before the money from her house runs out.
Retired married couples have to make that calculation for two people, but they have a financial advantage on those who are single or widowed, Mr. Certner said. It is not just two Social Security checks, but the economies of scale that come from sharing all the expenses.
Karl Steven Forister, who lives with his wife, Phyllis, in Renton, Wash., just south of Seattle, said that between their two Social Security checks, which total $3,000 a month, and extra money they earn doing background checks from their computer at home, they get by.
There was a time, though, when Mr. Forister seemed to be someone who would have an easy retirement. He worked at the company that became U.S. West Communications as a human resource representative, eventually rising to a position where he traveled the country to recruit people.
Then in 1990, the company offered early retirement and he took it, at age 50, as a lump-sum payment. First he had a heart attack and then, in 1994, his wife of 33 years divorced him after meeting someone else, he said. She got half of everything they owned together, including his pension payout.
At that time, his luck with investing wasn’t much better. “You remember the dot-com bust?” he asked. “I survived it, but it was costly.”
Today, the Foristers live in a house subsidized by the Senior Housing Assistance Group, a nonprofit group in the Puget Sound area. They can walk to a senior center run by the city of Renton, and there he works on art projects and they both exercise at no charge. They walk to a Safeway to buy food, and once a month they drive to a Sam’s Club to stock up on larger purchases.
Their big expenses, he said, are rent, co-payments for health care and food. He said that two years ago when their car broke down, Mrs. Forister’s mother, who was then 91, moved into a retirement home and gave them her 1993 Maxima, which still runs well.
“I’m probably too goofy to know any better, but life is pretty good,” he said. “I don’t have to mow the lawn. I don’t have to repair anything. I think we’re very fortunate.”
Others see Social Security as a way to keep going, perhaps in a simpler way. James Leonard Park, an eccentric former Methodist minister who retired in 1968 at age 27 with $5,000 in the bank, has taken this approach to another level. Until he started collecting Social Security at 65, he lived a bohemian life in Minneapolis on about $2,000 a year. Most of that came from teaching adult education classes on voluntary simplicity, though he said he has written 15 books.
“That was enough to keep body and soul together,” said Mr. Park, 71. “I’ve never had a very expensive social life.” (He posts his expenses online.)
Social Security for him is only $138 a month because he paid so little into the system. But through Supplemental Security Income, which he said he qualified for because of his low income, he receives an extra $496.67. He said the $7,600 he gets a year is like a big raise.
“I’m very thankful to all the taxpayers of the United States who provide this Social Security benefit to me,” he said. “I think of it as an annual income for life.”
Still, in Mr. Park’s case he had the advantage of a father who worked as a doctor leaving him a small inheritance. He used it and money that came from a city program to buy a 1,000-square-foot condominium that is paid off. He said it is worth $140,000.
Those truly getting by on just Social Security, like Ms. Flatley, are not so lucky. They are renters who live month to month and hand-to-mouth.
“I’m doing well with my expenses, but it’s a struggle,” she said. “When there’s a birthday you want to buy a gift or a gift card, but you can’t do that.”