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How To Get Spouse Serious About Planning?

Question: I have been reading your column for several months now and have heard you on the radio. I am 67 and my husband is 74, but he refuses to even think about planning for the potential that he or I may require long-term care. He always says that he has never been sick a day in his life.

I am especially concerned because he worked during the marriage while I stayed home. In addition to his Social Security, he receives a small pension and has about $75,000 in his name and a $60,000 IRA. I receive only a small Social Security check and have nothing in my name. Our house is paid for, and we are getting by on our income right now, but he refuses to even consider a power of attorney. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?

Answer: You should be concerned. All too often, women like you face retirement years either alone or with much less financial security than the husband. In fact, studies show that women of retirement age face their later years with less income and greater rates of poverty than men. In many situations like yours, a small Social Security check is the only source of income available to women. One study tells us that only 37 percent of women who draw Social Security benefits today do so based solely on their own earnings history, and 74% of elderly widows receive benefits based on the earnings of their deceased spouse.

Women today face significant financial challenges in their later years not only because they have less income and retirement benefits, but also because they are expected to live longer. For example, a 65-year old woman today can expect to live to age 85, while a 65-year old man has a life expectancy to age 81.

Since you obviously can not afford long-term care insurance and given the clear facts, we can not understand why your husband of these many years should not be very anxious to engage in the minimal planning it will take to protect you.

First and foremost, he should contact a qualified attorney who will prepare for him – and you – a durable financial power of attorney appointing you as his agent to make business decisions should he become incapacitated. This document should contain broad authorization for you to not only make unlimited gifts to yourself, but also to deal with all issues regarding his IRA, including the right to change the beneficiary and accelerate withdrawals if necessary. This power of attorney should be prepared to fit your specific needs and should not be purchased at a store or from the Internet.

Second, you and your husband should each sign durable health care powers of attorney so that, should one of you become incapacitated, the other will have the authority to make appropriate health care decisions. And third, you each need simple wills. We mention wills last because, should one of you become incapacitated and need long-term care, if you don’t have durable powers of attorney, the probability of having assets to pass by will is relatively small.

Taking the NextStep: Should your husband need long-term care, without a durable power of attorney containing the provisions we have mentioned above, his bank account and IRA may well go up in smoke, leaving you nothing to live on during the balance of your life expectancy. It is a sad state of affairs when a spouse will not take the steps necessary to protect his mate. We hope this information will help you help your husband make the right decision.

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