Nola Kulig
Kulig Financial Advisors
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How to Manage Finances When Your Parents Can’t

July 3rd, 2015

In place of our monthly post, we are providing an article from Lucy Lazarony, who among other professional pursuits, writes for NextAvenue.org, a PBS-sponsored website for those age 50 and over. The topic of the article is financial care giving for your parents, something many of us must manage. As many of you know, my care giving for my mother has increased, which is how Lucy and I came to connect when she wrote this article.

Please go to http://www.nextavenue.org/how-to-manage-your-parents-finances-when-they-cant/ or to http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2015/06/29/how-to-manage-your-parents-finances-when-they-cant/ who also ran the article.

I hope this is helpful to those of you in similar life situations. Next month we will return to a quarterly market review—there will be a lot to review with events in Greece and European Union, but more on that later.

Have a terrific Fourth of July!

Seven Financial Lessons from the Greatest Generation

October 17th, 2014

This month’s post is a bit more philosophical than usual. Often I provide market reviews, the latest on Washington’s background chatter on things financial, Federal Reserve policy, etc. In other works, hard information you can put to use.

But equally important to information is the mindset we bring to money. Some people can have all the money in the world, and it is never enough. Others have slender resources, yet are forward thinking and vigilant in their use; they always find a way to make things happen.

My thoughts turn in this direction this time of year for many reasons. One is that it is harvest time, the natural season of abundance. As I turn over parts of my garden and ponder the many potential uses of zucchini, celery, tomatoes, horseradish, kale, etc., etc. I count my blessings.

Another reason is my mother is now living with us. I wrote about her a year ago in a discussion on elder care. Her memory has continued to decline, although she retains her strong logic. Medication administration and other issues, including financial ones, were just proving too difficult to manage, especially with 3,000 miles between us. Eventually she agreed to come be with me and my family.

Helping her pack and move here was a retrospective on my parents’ lives and times. And many financial lessons were there as well.

Financial Lessons from the Greatest Generation

Lesson No. 1: Live Within One’s Means

The generation that had lived through the Great Depression and the shortages of World War II had no problem with this concept. Budgeting was a given and even a modest amount of prosperity was appreciated. What would seem modest by today’s lifestyle standards was viewed as abundance by those who survived hard times and eventually prospered during the war effort.

People owned one home, not multiples. Recreation and travel were simpler. Meals were cooked at home. Many still had gardens begun during victory garden days. Homes were smaller. And no one felt deprived. Perspective and expectations have much to do with how we feel about our circumstances.

Lesson No. 2: Use Debt Wisely

To say my parents were debt averse would be an understatement. My grandparents, dairy farmers at the edge of the Dust Bowl in Texas, had survived the Depression and held onto the family farm purely because they owned their farm outright (and had a very deep well).

My mother never forgot that lesson and eschewed debt her entire life. My parents paid cash for everything but their home, purchased with a loan under the GI bill. That was it. Debt management could not have been simpler.

This extended into financing college for me and my sister. My mother insisted that were simply not to graduate with student loans burdening our post-graduate lives. We afforded a very good private college by living at home. Was this what a teenager would want? No, but even we could see the excellent education we were getting. And graduating with no loans to pay was truly a gift. (P.S., Any graduate school was on our dime, not mom and dad’s. Believe me, that made you consider the decision very carefully.)

In today’s world, this may be an extreme way to manage debt, and one would have to give up those wonderful credit card offers of discounts, miles, or cash back. But unless one basically uses credit as he/she would use cash, using the post-Depression approach to debt would serve you well. And there are many ways to obtain an education.

Lesson 3: Little Things Add Up

My father worked for the federal government and made a modest salary, although benefits were good. My mother remained a homemaker, since as is often the case, jobs with flexibility for a family barely paid enough to cover childcare and other costs connected with working. So her role became stretching the household dollar, and she was very good at it.

At some point they realized that due to dad’s government service, he would not be eligible for Social Security. So he picked up additional part-time work to qualify. This was a small but meaningful addition to retirement resources over many years. P.S. Due to mom’s good budgeting skills, we always had what we needed.

Lesson 4: Home Ownership that is Affordable Yields Benefits for a Lifetime

It is a bit sad to see my childhood home sold, but it is time. At this point, it needs some work and upgrades, and unfortunately, the old neighborhood has seen better days. But mom has more than gotten her money’s worth living in the same home for nearly 60 years. It was paid off years ago, just as my parents entered retirement. And it certainly was less expensive than renting over the long haul and was a comfortable place for many years.

Lesson 5: Paying off the Mortgage is a Great Thing

Back to debt management: despite their modest resources, mom and dad were able to pay off the mortgage and live debt-free in the house for about 30 years. Their retirement was actually when they achieved the most savings in their lives and they could invest a bit. There was a small inheritance from the sale of my grandparents’ farm. Financially, life was better when they were totally debt-free.

Lesson 6: Good Health is worth its Weight in Gold

My parents were very moderate in their health routines, for the most part, although my father had a smoking habit which he fortunately kicked when he was 50. They were both active and slim, partly from working hard all their lives. Mom also had an organic garden which fed us all for years, pesticide-free, a tradition I have carried into my home life. There was no Whole Foods back then, so going organic actually saved money.

Looking back, though, I am not sure we were thankful enough for the good health we had. No one had to go on disability, and no one had any serious illnesses with the associated bills. While we certainly must have had a good gene pool to thank, I like to think that eating simply and maintaining healthy habits made a contribution.

Lesson 6: Plan Ahead for Care in Your Elder Years

This is the one area where I felt my folks could have planned better. When my father was ill for many years in his eighties, there was no real care plan in place; I still suspect they could have maximized some Veteran’s benefits that went untapped, for example. But my mother dealt with this the way she had dealt with so many things over the years and took care of him herself. And the real reason these other care options weren’t used more extensively is simply that she could not bear to part with him. This was true love in action, but very hard on her. She survived his illness, though, and also came through with her financial resources intact.

Lesson 7: Financial Security Comes from Many Actions over Many Years

The steps were: work, budget, save. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

With the exception of mom’s small inheritance, there was no windfall, no lottery winnings, and no big investment home run. It was the accumulation of many disciplined steps over many years.

Result: Worry-Free in Mom’s Old Age (at least financially)

The result of all this is that even though dad’s annual salary was never more than about $25,000 a year and ended with his retirement in 1979, they were able to own a home, put two children through college debt-free and so far, avoid much in the way of nursing home bills. Mom continues to ask how her money is doing and whether she is OK now that I handle things for her. And it is great to say, absolutely, everything is very much all right.

With that, I will sign off until the next market review after the end of the third quarter. May all of you experience abundance in your lives, no matter what your resources.

Caring for Aging Parents (written May 2013)

July 31st, 2013

This month’s post will take a break from market commentary and recaps of the ever changing discussions in Washington, D.C. that might affect your pocket book.

Instead, I’d like to discuss a personal financial planning issue that touches many of us: caring for an aging parent, financially and otherwise. I’ll share some personal experience on this, as well as some articles with  links to resources in case they may help you or your family.

Caring for Aging Parents: Articles and Resources

This is a topic that it is easy to objective about until it involves your own family. One’s personal family history becomes intertwined with big decisions regarding care and finances as parents progress into true old age. As a friend of mine puts it, care giving is the price we pay for the pleasure of having them with us so long.

There are many excellent articles on how to proceed on this journey, and a journey it is indeed. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about how to work with siblings athttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323820304578412811508678152.html?KEYWORDS=When+it%27s+time+to+huddle.

Last year, the Journal featured two other articles with links to additional resources:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204846304578090902368296318.html
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703503804575083992265508012.html

These listings are hardly all-inclusive in scope, and each community, family and disease process is different. For example, in helping my mother deal with my father’s long ordeal with Alzheimer’s, we found the local Council on Aging enormously helpful, as they found her a low-cost respite care program. This was vital, as I neither my sister nor I lived nearby to help.

In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alz.org/) linked her to a support group. As stoic as my mother has always been, even she eventually went to share experiences and find out how others were dealing with their loved ones.

But Now it is Mom’s Turn

As in many families, my mother was younger than my father (in her case, by nine years). So she cared for him until his death at age 89. She shouldered this burden herself, which was frightening as his disease progressed. He was still physically vigorous, and as many Alzheimer’s people do, he became combative as the disease progressed. The statistics say that approximately 30% of caregivers predecease their spouses who have Alzheimer’s, due to the stress of care giving and their own advancing age. I was afraid my mother could become a statistic, as she refused to put Dad in institutional care. Of course, this alarmed me considerably, but after much discussion, I made peace with the fact that this was her spouse, her decision, and that my job was to find her as much support as I could. When Dad did pass, mom and I discussed that in these life situations, how does one define “success?” In this case, I think she should be proud that she cared for him herself until other ailments hospitalized him for the last few weeks of his life.

My sister and I were relieved that she survived the ordeal, although it was followed by intense mourning for my father. And she amazed us by remaining extremely capable and independent well into her 80s. She continued to run her house, mow the lawn, invest in the stock market, read voraciously, garden, etc. She has been amazingly independent. I continued the daily calls which had begun during my father’s illness, and I savored the talks we had. A dear friend of mine has checked in on her at least weekly for some time now.

As she edges closer to age 90, she has slowed noticeably in the last year. I have been waiting and watching, offering repeatedly to help her move closer. She always refused the offer, although in the last year, she was beginning to consider it. She began to repeat herself, have some memory lapses. She works harder to do things like balance the checkbook. I have done her taxes for a while, and this year the signal came that we are in a different phase. For the first time, some 1099s were missing, and she seemed confused about it. I filed for an extension and went out to see how she was doing. I had asked the fund company to send out the information a second time, which they were reluctant to do, but complied with given the situation. When I got to mom’s house, I eventually found that 1099, along with a bill, tucked under a place mat and forgotten.

I’ve learned not to be confrontational about such things. People know they are declining, so there is no need to press. Instead, I have learned to offer to help. Would she like it if I took this burden off her shoulders? Before arriving, I had found out that I could ask my mother to permit me to be her agent for her financial affairs. This would allow me to consolidate her finances all in one place. Mom was relieved to let it go at this point. We filled out the forms, searched for any stock certificates that might be in the safe deposit and got the arrangements made. And I finished the taxes.

I don’t think this transition would have been this smooth if our family hadn’t always been open about things financial. When I was a young adult and on my own, my parents and I made arrangements like being co-signers on safe deposit boxes, making out power of attorneys for each other, etc. I was unmarried at that point, so I needed the back up. In their case, they were retired and felt it was prudent just in case. My sister was married and much further away geographically, so she was not included in this process, but for practical reasons rather than anything personal.

My mother had also always enjoyed reading economics and finance along with many other things throughout her lifetime. So as I entered a career in finance, we had many conversations about what was happening in the economy and the world (that is one of the benefits of an interest in “the dismal science”—it truly is a window on the world). When she acquired a small inheritance from her parents (her share of the dairy farm they had run through the Depression), she invested. Some ideas were hers, some we shared. She did very well, especially for someone largely self-taught. But then she had always been bright. She had graduated from high school by age 16, was pre-med until money ran out in the Depression, and then worked as a drafter on plans for bomber planes in World War II. She even had plans at one point to take flying lessons. Then she married my father, all the men came home from the war, and the fifties happened. She took on her role at home faithfully, but did not get the opportunity to return to school. She was always the practical one who could stretch a dollar a bit further, and figure out a way to get my sister and me through private college, debt-free. She played that lynch-pin role in the family.

But now we must play that role for her. So far, our family plan has been for my sister, now widowed and retired,  to move back to our home town. She will be there to help, but mom is still independent in her own home at this point. I have taken over the finances. The agency arrangement takes care of her stocks and mutual funds. Mom felt OK taking care of her banking, but on a prior trip we had arranged on-line banking, so that I can tell if bills are getting paid. She just lets her CDs roll over at the local banks, as she has enough to live on without shopping around for the best rate. This is perhaps not optimal, but it lets her feel she has enough control of finances. The power of attorney is still there just in case. So far, my sister is offering mostly transportation and company as her care giving. But as mom’s aging progresses, I can tell we will return to the local resources I have researched in the past. We may need to call a geriatric care specialist and establish a way for my mother’s doctor to communicate with my sister (necessary with privacy laws).

The goal is for mom to remain as independent as she can as long as she can. And aside from the practical issues, the main goal will be to gather as a family as often as possible.

Investment advisor representative of an investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Kulig Financial Advisors may offer investment advisory services in the state of Massachusetts and other jurisdictions where exempted.