Retirement Insights

News and information for current and future retirees.

Steps to Protect Your Money From Cognitive Decline

You’ll need someone by your side if your memory fades, so make sure you choose wisely.

Many seniors make sure they have a durable medical power of attorney to carry out their wishes when they can no longer direct health care providers. But only 39 percent have given any sort of power of attorney to protect their money. While we’ve all heard horror stories about fraud or huge financial mistakes made because of cognitive decline, we don’t think it will happen to us. But you never know, and it’s always best to be prepared. 

Step 1: Choose a trusted advocate.

This is often your spouse, but you should have a backup as well, since your spouse is likely about the same age as you. Your advocate should be someone who can do things like manage your day-to-day expenses, oversee your investments, store your financial records and protect you from scams. Look for someone who is trustworthy, well organized and good with money. The coauthor of the Roadmap, Steve Vernon, told me it’s fine to have more than one advocate. If you have two children, for example, you could have one pay the bills and another manage your investments. If you don’t have children, consider a younger relative or a good friend you know you can trust.

Step 2: Organize your financial information.

Start by creating a financial inventory that includes any assets you own and any debt you owe. List your income, including Social Security or a pension. Then make a list of the bills you pay regularly, such as utilities, loan payments and subscriptions. It’s important to have a list of all your passwords that you keep in a safe place. Then try to simplify — do you really need all of those accounts? Do your advocate a favor and declutter your finances. 

Step 3: Start a conversation with your prospective advocate.

You could begin by saying something like: “I really respect your work ethic and how well you’ve done with your own finances. That’s why I’d like to ask if you’d be willing to help me manage my money if it ever becomes too tough for me to do on my own.”

Tell your advocate that you’re fine, that you’re just preparing for a future possibility where someone may need to step in. It could take some time for your advocate to process what it might mean to assume this role for you — or if they even want to. So if they seem a bit taken aback or resistant, let them know that it’s fine to think about it and that you can pick up the conversation later.

Step 4: Explain your future money needs and expectations.

Walk your advocate through the financial inventory you created in Step 2. Let your advocate know what’s important to you, such as continuing to contribute to a charity you believe in. Put everything in writing so your advocate will be able to refer to it in the future.

Step 5: Make it official.

Your financial institutions won’t just give access to your advocate and allow her to manage your assets without the legal authority to do so. Much as with the durable medical power of attorney, you’ll have to complete some paperwork to legally appoint your advocate. This is known as a financial power of attorney. It’s important to understand that this power of attorney will terminate when you pass away. That’s where the executor of your estate takes over. You can decide whether or not that should be the same person.

Step 6: Gradually shift money management.

 Knowing when the time is right for your advocate to step in is a whole different matter.  Some signs to watch for can be obvious, such as being diagnosed with dementia. But there can also be more subtle signs, such as forgetting to pay bills on time or having trouble doing business over the phone or on your computer.

Handing over control of your financial affairs is a difficult step. Ask your advocate and others to watch out for some of the warning signs of dementia. You may even want to write a letter to your advocate — include a copy for yourself — noting the specific circumstances that will signal it’s time to turn over financial management.


The Secure 2.0 Act Brings Changes To Your Options

 These changes–more than a dozen of them–could have a profound effect on your retirement plans.

Late last year, Congress passed – and President Biden signed into law–an enormous $1.7 trillion spending package. Included in the package was the Secure 2.0 Act, which brought big changes to financial planning and retirement programs. You’ll want to pay attention because these changes–more than a dozen of them–could have a profound effect on your retirement plans. Roughly half of American households aren’t saving enough to maintain their standards of living after retirement, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found. If that’s you, now is a good time to up your game for retirement planning. Here are some of the key provisions of Secure 2.0, most of them aimed at making it easier to save money.

Changes in workplace plans – Starting in 2025, employers that provide newly created 401(k) or 403 (b) plans will be required to enroll employees in the plans automatically, with some exceptions. The bill also includes incentives for small businesses to set up retirement savings plans for their workers, encourages individuals to set aside long-term savings and makes it easier for annuities to be an income option for retirement. Small companies that don’t offer retirement plans can get a tax credit to start one. Employers can enroll non-highly compensated employees in a $2,500 “rainy day” savings plan linked to a 401(k) plan . The Secure 2.0 Act also allows employers to make matching contributions to a 401(k) plan, 403(b) plan, or SIMPLE IRA for qualified student loan payments.

Changes for individuals – The new law makes it easier for workers who have fallen behind in retirement savings to catch up by making larger contributions later in life. In 2023, people 50 and older will be able to contribute an extra $7,500 a year to these accounts.In 2025, under Secure 2.0, it will be raised to $10,000 for savers aged 60 to 63.

Changes for seniors – The age for taking Required Minimum Distributions from retirement accounts rises from the current age 72 to age 73 in 2023 and then to age 75 in 2033. That means you can hang onto your money longer before being required to spend it down and pay taxes on non-Roth IRA accounts. Congress also has reduced the 50% penalty for missing an RMD deadline. It’s now 25% of the amount that should have been withdrawn and drops to 10% if corrected in a timely manner.

Easing of early withdrawal penalties – The new law expands exemptions to the penalty (usually 10%) for taking early withdrawals from your retirement accounts. Penalties are now waived for some private-sector firefighters and public safety officers. People who are terminally ill can make limited penalty-free withdrawals and anyone with a personal or family emergency will be allowed to withdraw up to $1,000 a year penalty free, starting in 2024. There are also some exemptions for victims of domestic abuse and for paying long-term-care premiums and people who suffered losses in federally declared disasters can make penalty-free withdrawals dating from Jan. 26, 2021.

Help finding lost retirement accounts – The new law calls for creation of a searchable database to help find retirement accounts you may have lost track of. (This can happen, for example, when people change jobs and forget about a retirement savings account they had with their former employer.) The database should be up and running within two years.

Changes to Roth 401 (k) rules – Starting in 2024, the pre-death distribution requirement will be eliminated. Employers now are permitted to offer Roth matching contributions into a worker’s 401(k) account. Employees can choose to take the Roth match, paying taxes upfront, and later take out the contributions, potentially the earnings, tax free.


In Retirement, We Have More Time Than Ever

The first year in retirement is often the most difficult. But it also can be the most crucial.

Stephen Kreider Yoder, 65, a longtime Wall Street Journal editor, joined his wife, Karen Kreider Yoder, 66, in retirement in September. In this monthly column, they are chronicling some of the issues they are dealing with in their first year, offering their different perspectives on what can be a confusing transition.


For the first time in many years, time isn’t money.

That was never more clear one afternoon earlier this year when we were gazing down at the Mediterranean Sea while sipping coffee in a cafe in the town plaza in Bejaia, Algeria. We had no fixed plans for the day or the next week—just as planned.

We suddenly have time in abundance, now that we’re both retired, and we’re learning how to spend this currency that for decades has been so scarce. We can now linger where we want to be and dally over what we want to do.

Algeria was an ideal place to test this new reality. We had visited in 2019, but could afford only two weeks, what with full-time jobs—far too short for a country roughly 3.5 times the size of Texas. “We need more time there,” I said as we flew home.

This year, we could take nearly twice as long to immerse ourselves in what the country offered: a green coastal region that gives way to the golden Sahara; a mosaic of Arab, Berber, French and other cultures; Roman Empire ruins; good food and wine; some of the most hospitable people we’ve met.

We’ve been fantasizing about this time in life since we got married. For decades, time was a rare commodity, and we had to spend a lot of money to acquire it. We paid an absurd price for a house in San Francisco, partly to limit our commutes. We often hired others to do tasks I enjoyed, like fixing our cars or restoring the trim on our Victorian.

“We need more time” was our constant lament, at no time more than during travel. We would shoehorn several countries into two-week tours. We liked to travel abroad on a low budget—it got us closer to the reality of wherever we were—but that took time, and we often didn’t have the luxury.

We have it now. Earlier this year, we rode the Amtrak California Zephyr to Iowa, rather than flying, to see my parents. It was about 48 hours each way, but what was the hurry? We got beds, three meals a day and a rolling display of Western America. We extended our stay with Mom and Dad to a full week.

Back home, I fired up the metal lathe to fine-tune a bearing-cup press I had made earlier—a bike tool that worked fine but which I had great fun fussing with for hours to refine it. I’ll soon solicit bids for scaffolding, so I can start restoring trim.

It’s beginning to occur to us: By saving money assiduously during our 44 years of marriage, we weren’t putting away only funds. We were also accumulating time to spend in retirement.

Money, at long last, is time.


I’ve never been more aware of the finite nature of time. We’re rich with it now, but there’s no guarantee how long those riches will last. At best, thanks to the longevity that runs in our families, we may have 30 good years of life left. That feels like a long time—and no time at all.

So I’ve been thinking: Maybe we should be budgeting our time like we budget money.

Should I, for instance, spend some of my newfound wealth of time on things I’ve loved to do all my life but had to cut back on while I was working? During the busy years of my career, I continued to make quilts, but had to leave many undone. I baked my own granola and whipped up many meals for friends, but found myself ordering out or picking up prepared foods from the grocery store to save time.

Yet now that I have the luxury of time, the opportunities to fill it have also grown. And that means I still find myself weighing how to spend it—and when to keep spending money instead. I still love to create things, for instance, but would I rather sew an original outfit from scratch or shop for a less-original affair and bank the time? We have time to do housecleaning now; does that mean we should stop paying someone else to do it once a month?

These aren’t easy questions. As a result, we’re talking about looking at all the large time expenditures on our list—travel, house work, volunteering, organizing photos—and laying them out on an annual budget. That will help us use our time more wisely.

As we talked about in our last column, we also need to do a better job savoring—as opposed to just running through—the time we have. That hit home on our trip to the Algerian Sahara this year. We had blocked off a week to explore the desert, far longer than we would have during preretirement travel. We could finally take a leisurely pace, we told ourselves.

Yet we couldn’t shake the old urge to make each hour pay off. My question when we arrived the first night: “When should we be ready for breakfast in the morning?”

Our Tuareg guide, Habib, laughed. “You get up when you want,” he said. “In the desert, slowly, slowly.”

That became our mantra for the next days as we camped each night in a different swath of the wilderness. We sat around a low table for our morning coffee and baguette with fig jam. “Slowly, slowly,” Habib would say, and we would repeat it after him.

“Slowly, slowly,” he cautioned as we set off scrambling over rocks toward ancient pictographs. After lunch under a cool tree, we would chat and read and nap. “Slowly, slowly,” we would chant, and again in the evening as Habib stoked a small fire to heat tea, pouring it back and forth between two pots until it foamed into a thick, sweet brew. We brought that mantra home from Algeria. We’ve got time now, and if we budget it carefully, we can afford to spend it slowly, slowly.


On The Road This Summer? How To Avoid Scams

The 2023 travel season is expected to set records as the world moves on from the global COVID emergency.

This travel revival, unfortunately, also provides openings for scamsters. According to Patrick Falzon, general manager of Robokiller, “Consumers should follow these best practices to avoid phone scams during travel season, and beyond:”

  • Do not engage with incoming calls from unknown numbers, especially if they call at odd hours. Avoid following prompts like pressing “1”, answering “yes,” or clicking links.
  • Look out for any robotexts that contain misspelled words or grammatical errors. Those errors can be a sign that the robotext is a scam.
  • Never provide personal information like banking details or other sensitive information to unknown callers. If the caller requires immediate action, consumers should hang up and call the company in question directly or visit their website instead. Legitimate companies won’t request sensitive information via robocall or robotext.
  • Be wary of giveaways like a free vacation or discounted travel package, especially ones that ask you to pay a fee to claim your prize. It’s important to read any sweepstakes’ fine print and terms & conditions. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Bottom line: Legitimate travel companies will not call, text or email you unless you contact them first. Ignore unsolicited offers.


Some large employers suspended matching contributions to retirement plans last year, but this was only temporary for many of them. Studying 260 such companies, consulting firm Towers Watson reports that 75% have already restored employer matches, with 74% matching at the same level they did before the arrival of the pandemic.*

Source: MarketWatch, December , 2020

Did you know?

Looking for the longest beach in America? Try over 70 miles long!

The longest beach in the U.S. is Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina stretching 70.4 miles in length. Cape Hatteras National Seashore protects parts of three barrier islands: Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island. Beach and sound access ramps, campgrounds, nature trails, and lighthouses can be found and explored on all three islands.*

Source:, July 18, 2022

On the Bright Side

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