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Investments in Summer '02 Markets & How to Avoid Ted Williams Burial Fiasco
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My wife and I thought we were set for retirement until the stock market dive reduced our worth by more than 40 percent and with it, our income. Even the deferred variable annuities we purchased last year with promises of stability and growth lost more than 30 percent. Although we purchased long-term care insurance to offset the risk of going into a nursing home, we will probably have to drop it because of our reduced income. Our broker has told us to ride it out, but we continue to see losses of precious principal every day and, at 75, I don’t have the earning ability or time to make it up. How are seniors like us who have diligently planned for the future to be expected to deal with these setbacks?

Answer: Before we purchase a home -- or even a used car, we have the opportunity to reduce our risk of getting a lemon by having an independent expert inspect it. But when you purchase financial products (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, variable annuities, etc.), you can’t have an independent auditor review the books of each company. Instead, you have no choice but to trust the accounting practices of public companies and the representations of your financial advisors. But high-ranking corporate officials have picked your pockets to pad theirs, and have taken the Fifth Amendment while you are frantically trying to get your financial lives back on track. Seniors like you, who are closer to the potential of paying long-term care expenses, will be hit the hardest.

What can you do? You must decide how much financial pain you can tolerate: You can stay in the market for the long haul and take your chances of recouping -- or losing more of – your principal. Or you can take your losses now, purchase certificates of deposit to preserve what’s left of your principal, and adjust your standard of living accordingly. As you correctly pointed out, you and other most other retirees don’t have the earning capacity or the time to make up the losses. Those seniors who were laughed at a few years ago for keeping their money in CD’s and not sharing in the “American Dream” look like financial wizards today for not getting caught in the “American Nightmare.”

Question: The Ted Williams’ scenario has disturbed my husband and me. While no one would be interested in our DNA, what if our children don’t agree with our decision to be cremated? We have put our desires in our will, but how can we prevent a fight over our remains?

Answer: Letting your children or other family members know your wishes far in advance of your death should help, but that is not to say, as with the Williams matter, that your children will heed your instructions. At the same time, your will may not be the best place to express your post-death preferences because it may not be available or read until well after your death.

We suggest that you put your directions in documents that are attached to both your health care power of attorney and durable power of attorney. We also suggest that you consider paying in advance for your cremation and services.

And if you still have concerns about your children not following your wishes, we suggest including provisions in your wills that will cause a forfeiture of all economic benefits to a child who interferes with your chosen last rites.

Taking the NextStep: On July 25th at 7 PM ECT, and each Thursday evening at 7 PM, NextSteps will begin a one-hour Internet Radio Program – NextSteps Senior Moment – at Co-hosted by Jan Warner and radio veteran Gene McKay, this call-in program will feature prominent guests and deal with important issues facing seniors.

Need more advice or help with this topic? Click here to get information about taking the "Next Step".

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