Preparing for retirement can feel overwhelming without guidance from professionals skilled in retirement planning. Part of ensuring financial empowerment for seniors is making sure that they have the education and tools necessary to safeguard their financial futures.
Successful planning for future needs requires more than having a last will and testament on file with an estate planning attorney. Seniors must consider potential long-term care needs and how to protect themselves from scammers intent on stealing their life savings.
“People think a will is the most important planning document, but a will doesn’t help to protect a family’s savings if they have long-term care needs,” said Tim Sechler, owner of Sechler Law Firm in Cranberry Township. His firm specializes in wills, trusts and elder law. “The Power of Attorney is the most important document for long-term care planning.”
Unfortunately, too many seniors find out the hard way that long-term care is expensive. If they fail to account for it in their financial planning, it can come back to financially ruin them later.
“The system that we have is broken,” said Sechler. “People don’t understand their care options, and we currently have a government assistance system that forces you to go broke before it kicks in. It’s a confusing system, and there’s no tour guide out there for seniors. Our goal is to help seniors navigate what we’ve come to call the long-term care maze.”
Sechler recommends having a thorough Power of Attorney document drafted by an elder law attorney as part of the financial planning process. The Power of Attorney can make financial decisions on a senior’s behalf, which is a critical part of deploying asset protection strategies.
In addition to a strong Power of Attorney document, Sechler recommends establishing a trust to protect your assets. Seniors can place their financial assets—including any real estate—into a trust. As long as the trust exists for five years before long-term care is needed, those assets can’t be held against them when considering financial eligibility for programs like Medicaid.
At his firm, clients with current care needs meet with an on-staff social worker, Megan Pollum, to review their options. Pollum previously worked for a nursing home for a decade before joining the firm. “Megan’s job is to understand the client’s care needs and use that to craft a personalized care plan,” said Sechler.
One of the many services Sechler’s firm offers is a complimentary review of existing Power of Attorney documents for seniors who attend one of his free estate planning and elder law workshops. The workshops are held frequently at either his offices or the Cranberry Township Library. One of the most popular workshops he offers focuses on Medicaid eligibility for current long-term care needs.
“We are an education-based law firm,” he said. “People can get the education they need without an hourly bill associated with it.”
All upcoming workshops can be found on Sechler’s website at www.sechlerlawfirm.com. Classes are free, but participants must register since space is limited. Seniors can also tune in to 101.5 WORD FM at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings to listen to Sechler’s weekly Life and Legacy Radio Show. Each week he talks about different aspects of financial empowerment for seniors.
Beyond long-term care planning and ensuring seniors have a Power of Attorney document that protects their assets, there are other steps they can take to empower themselves financially.
Stephanie Embry, Mars Bank’s chief retail banking officer, said seniors must become financially savvy to protect themselves against a barrage of scammers looking to steal their life savings. Mars Bank staff at all branch locations are trained to spot the warning signs of financial scams to help protect their customers.
“One of the things we do well is get to know our customers,” she said. “If someone comes in and wants to make a large withdrawal that is out of the ordinary, we’ll ask them some simple questions to see if there is a potential problem or issue that could be related to a scam or fraud.”
For instance, if an older customer comes in and asks to take out $10,000—and that’s not something they usually do—customer service may ask how the money is being used. If the customer says they need it to buy gift cards to send out, that’s a red flag for a popular scam targeting seniors.
“We’ll walk them through it and alert them to the potential scam,” Embry said. “When appropriate, we may call in the local police to follow up.”
Seniors who think they’ve been scammed or that their bank accounts may be at risk should reach out to their local bank branch immediately, advised Embry. “If you think you’re the victim of a scam, call the bank immediately. We should be the first phone call so we can start engaging in the process of protecting your finances.”
In addition to helping spot potential scams in progress, Mars Bank also offers its senior customers a program called Safe Banking for Seniors. Part of a program through the American Bankers Association Foundation, it’s designed to help older adults and their caregivers prevent elder exploitation. Learn more about it on the Mars Bank website at
https://www.mars.bank or stop by any branch office to speak with a customer service representative.