Surprisingly, one of the first signs of mild cognitive decline can be suffering a financial loss due to making a mistake, such as not correctly completing an investment transaction, or becoming a victim of fraud or exploitation. In many of these situations, retirees are still highly functioning and don’t have severe symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
While the first course of action is to take steps to delay, mitigate, or prevent cognitive decline, in spite of your best efforts, you still might experience some form of it in your later years. Once you accept that possibility, it simply makes sense to develop strategies to protect yourself from financial losses before you experience any symptoms of cognitive decline.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at six steps you can take to protect your finances, assets, and retirement income. Doing so can help prevent not just a financial loss but the heartache caused by it for both you and your family.
Step 1. Simplify and put your income and expenses on autopilot. As much as possible, arrange to have your various sources of retirement income deposited automatically into your checking account. In addition, simplify your investments by combining accounts where it makes sense.
Similarly, eliminate any unnecessary regular expenses and reduce the number of credit cards you have. Also consider placing the payment of your regular expenses on autopayment from either your checking account or a credit card. If you do this, be sure to monitor these accounts closely so that you don’t overdraw your checking account or exceed the limits on your credit cards.
Step 2. Lockdown investment accounts. Some financial institutions allow you to put a lockdown on your investment and savings accounts. The lockdown feature offers additional security on your accounts by requiring you to pass more stringent security procedures in order to make any changes in your investments or withdrawals. This feature helps prevent fraud and exploitation. Before you set this up, however, you’ll want to specify how you want your accounts invested and elect a regular form of automatic payment into your checking account to help you pay for your living expenses.
Step 3. Purchase a low-cost income annuity to provide a regular retirement paycheck. You may not have considered this type of product for your retirement, as they’re often criticized for their lack of liquidity and flexibility. They usually don’t allow any withdrawals other than the regular monthly check and give investors little or no control over the investments or their ability to adjust the amount of payment. However, these features can turn into advantages in your later years when you’re less capable of managing your money, thereby providing protection against losing all your savings due to making mistakes or becoming a victim of fraud or exploitation.
Step 4. Select a financial advocate to help manage your money. One of the best forms of financial protection is to designate a trusted person to help you manage your money should you need help in the future. Often a spouse, adult child, relative, or close friend can serve this purpose. However, if you don’t have someone in your life whom you trust to help, you can also hire professional daily money managers. This type of financial advocate can help you with such tasks as paying regular and periodic expenses, monitoring your retirement income and investments, paying your taxes, and making insurance claims.
Step 5. Make an inventory of your finances. Helping you manage your finances can be a substantial job for a financial advocate. You’ll really help your advocate by making a detailed inventory of all your living expenses, sources of retirement income and savings, and insurance documents.
Step 6. Develop an early warning system. Unfortunately, you’re not like a car with warning lights that come on when something is going wrong. However, there are often signs that it might be time for your financial advocate to step in and start helping you with your finances. You’ll want to develop an early warning system that consists of both red emergency signals, like a doctor’s diagnosis of dementia or a serious illness, and yellow caution lights, like forgetting to pay some bills or having trouble dealing with financial tasks that you previously handled well.
If you’d like to implement these steps but need more information, there’s a free, online, robust source that provides details on all these steps. It’s the “Thinking Ahead Roadmap: A Guide to Keeping Your Money Safe as You Age.” It was funded by AARP and the Society of Actuaries, and developed by a team consisting of a social science researcher, an elder law attorney, and an actuary who specializes in retirement (full disclosure, yours truly).
Smart planning now can help you prevent disruptive heartaches in the future, when you’re vulnerable and less able to recover from significant losses. Take the right steps to protect yourself and your money.