A Real-Life Neverland for the Elderly

Loma Linda, CA: Where Older People Stay Young

We’ve all read stories about places where people never grow up. They stay young, strong, healthy, and always alive. Just last month, NBC raked in millions of viewers with its new take on the venerable Peter Pan.

Neverland is as good an example as any of the enduring fantasy of living like a young person for a very long time.

But what if it were real?

“The Today Show” recently featured a little town called Loma Linda, CA on its TODAY Health website. They say the place might have found the elusive “secrets of longevity.”

Less than an hour outside of Los Angeles, Loma Linda is home to a thriving population of elderly people who seem almost unaware that they are of old age. Many of them maintain social lives and daily routines that would make a twenty-something’s head spin.

Take 90-year-old Thelma Johnson, for instance. When she’s not cruising around the world with her friends, she and her husband hit the jogging trail or the gym every single day.

She isn’t alone. Indeed, that kind of schedule is par for the course in Loma Linda.

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do,” Johnson said in the “Today” interview. What a way to approach old age!

Of course, Loma Linda isn’t the only bustling blip on the map for older people. National Geographic recently released its list of the five places in the world where people live the longest. Japan, Italy, Greece, and Costa Rica what is the 5th? each have one of these so-called “Blue Zones,” all of them home to incredible vitality in an ever-aging population. But Loma Linda remains the only “Blue Zone” in the U.S.

That said, there are smaller elderly communities scattered all throughout America where people are finding that old age isn’t the limitation it once was.

Loma Linda is a perfect illustration of how rapidly we’re all evolving in our understanding of what it means to “grow old” in the 21st Century.

As Peter Pan might say someday, even in older age, life is still an awfully big adventure.

Wreaths Across America Looking to Honor More Veterans

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Hundreds of volunteers gathered at Arlington to place more than five thousand donated Christmas wreaths on headstones in the cemetery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year, Wreaths Across America (WAA) places a wreath on the grave of veterans throughout all fifty states. The organization, based in Maine, spends the whole year raising funds and rallying volunteers, culminating in a weeklong commemoration each December.

The effort first began 22 years ago, originally focused solely within Arlington National Cemetery. Now it stretches nationwide. But this year, the folks at WAA are hoping to do what they’ve never done before: place a wreath on every single veteran gravestone in Arlington.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. According to The Washington Times, the whole project would add up to nearly a quarter-million wreaths, coinciding with the 150th Anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery.

Unfortunately, their chances of success are uncertain. Currently, according to the Times, they’re projecting to fall just short of their goal unless last-minute donations spike.

Efforts are underway all around the country to push WAA over their finish lines, both in Arlington and at memorial sites around the nation, including right here in Massachusetts.

Whether the group ultimately covers every grave or even just manages to get close, the sincerity and gratitude in their efforts is incredibly touching.

It’s wonderful to see veterans honored during a time of year when their families may be hurting the most — and when many of these veterans made enormous sacrifices in spending time away from their families during the holidays.

Those interested in supporting Wreaths Across America this year can learn more or make a donation at //www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Preparing to Die: Why the Will Is Just the Beginning

“Prepare to die” sounds like something a super-villain says to a caped hero in a Hollywood blockbuster. Certainly, it’s not a phrase any of us want to hear today.

But all of us will pass away someday, and when we do, we’ll leave people we love behind. They’ll have a lot to take care of when that happens. Attending to an estate is a difficult thing to ask of a family when they’re grieving, but it’s something that must be done.

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“Preparing for death” in the legal sense, then, isn’t nearly as sinister as it sounds. In fact — contrary to the inflection with which The Joker might say it to Batman, for example — it really is an act of compassion and care for those who’ll inherit a substantial burden after we leave.

The New York Times recently ran an article about the surprising number of tasks that must be dealt with in today’s estate plans. It’s so much more than just a will these days. Trusts, health care directives, burial instructions, powers of attorney, lists of online account passwords… the list goes on and on.

As a Winchester estate planning attorney, I think one of the ways I can be most helpful to my clients is staying up to date on all the changes and trends in end-of-life preparations.

The law in this area changes all the time, and as technology and society evolve, our estate documents must also change to reflect those developments. Otherwise, we risk ineffective or unintended results.

“Preparing to die” is an understandably uncomfortable thing. I’m here to take care of those things for my clients so they can focus on living their lives instead. If you need help or advice with your will or any other estate documents, please feel free to call my office today. We can talk about what you might need to bring your future plans up to date.

Williams Took Care Of His Kids

5043690881It seems nobody can resist reading the juicy details of the life and death of a beloved celebrity and I am no different.

But some of the stories are simply salacious, while others are instructive. This one I found on Yahoo Finance fits into the latter category.

According to the story, the actor and comedian Robin Williams apparently didn’t leave a note prior to taking his own life last week, but details that have come out showed his estate was left in good shape, even if he might have been having financial problems, which some stories say was the case while others deny it.

What we do know from documents unearthed is that Williams in 2009 set up a trust for his three children who ranged in age from 22 to 35.

According to the story, the trust documents say that when each child turned 21 he or she would get one-third of the cash set aside for them. When they turned 30, they each would get their full share. The payout was not dependent on Williams’ death. That means he felt it was better for them to have the money while he was still alive. As it turned out, that was only partly true. But the idea is that by making lifetime distributions he could guide them and watch them build their lives responsibly.

The story did not say how much was in the trusts but said he had a significant amount of money outside of the trust and that his wife, Susan Schneider, would certainly get a healthy amount.

His net worth was once estimated at $130 million, the story said, but in 2013 he said he was nearly bankrupt. He reportedly paid his first two wives $30 million combined. Another report said he was worth about $50 million at the time of his death. He had put his $35 million ranch in Napa up for sale because he couldn’t afford it any more, the story said.

In 2013, he took a part on a TV sitcom because he needed the money. The show, “The Crazy Ones,” was cancelled after one season.

Tips On Getting A Good Night’s Sleep

Woman and her husband sleeping comfortablyIf you have trouble sleeping, you might want to think about what—and when—you eat. One rule of thumb is to avoid eating anything 30 minutes before bedtime. Another is to make sure your after-dinner snacks are on the lighter side. For example, don’t reach for that slice of leftover pizza right before you go to bed. I recently came across an article in AARP Magazine describing the types of snacks that can actually help you sleep better, as long as you don’t eat them right before going to bed.

Almonds
Almonds contain magnesium, a muscle-relaxing mineral that plays a key role in regulating sleep.

Bananas
These contain tryptophan, an amino acid that has been linked to sleep quality. They also offer abundant amounts of magnesium and potassium.

Cereal and milk
Milk contains tryptophan, which the brain uses to make serotonin and melatonin, hormones that control sleep and wake cycles. Meanwhile, the carbohydrates in cereal make tryptophan more available to the brain.

Cherries
Cherries, particularly the tart varieties, are one of the few foods containing melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates your internal clock.

Green Tea
Green tea contains the amino acid theanine, which helps reduce stress and promote relaxation. However, make sure any green tea you drink at night is decaffeinated.

Hummus
The main ingredient in hummus is chickpeas, which are rich in tryptophan, folate, and vitamin B-6. Folate helps to regulate sleep patterns and vitamin B-6 helps to regulate your body clock.

Peanut Butter
Peanut butter contains plenty of tryptophan. As with some of the other foods I’ve mentioned, the body uses tryptophan to build hormones essential for sleep.

Pineapple
Pineapple is another fruit that can boost the level of melatonin in the body, thereby promoting sleep.

Pumpkin Seeds
Like peanut butter, pumpkin seeds are packed with substantial amounts of tryptophan.

Walnuts
A natural source of melatonin, walnuts also help your body respond better to stress.

To learn more about how these foods and others can help you sleep better at night, click here. I’ve also provided a second article which discusses a variety of foods that can interfere with your getting a good night’s sleep. Click here to read.

 

 

Lessons In Estate Planning From Casey Kasem

If you have spent time online or watching the news recently, you have probably heard about Casey Kasem’s disturbing final weeks. The legendary host of American Top 40 and longtime voice of Shaggy from Scooby Doo passed away last weekend at the age of 82.

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89 - ...

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89. Photo by Alan Light. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are so many lessons to be learned from Casey’s last weeks that it is hard to know where to begin. I have provided two links to articles about recent developments. The Forbes article discusses in detail the battle between Casey’s second wife, Jean, and his daughter Kerri over control of Casey’s care. The second article, from Find Law, discusses some of the estate planning tools and strategies involved in the case. In this post, I would like to focus on the latter article.

Health Care Proxy/Advance Healthcare Directive/Living Will. This document allows a person to give authority to another adult to make healthcare decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacity, and specify the types of treatment desired in an end of life situation. Casey signed such a directive in 2007, placing his daughter Kerri and her husband in charge of making healthcare decisions for him.

Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney is different from an Advance Healthcare Directive, but it too authorizes another adult to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. Some Power of Attorney documents may include authority to make health care decisions, which can lead to conflict between the documents. In 2011, Casey designated his wife Jean as Power of Attorney, and this superseded Casey’s 2007 Advance Healthcare Directive.  This illustrates the problem of naming separate parties, at separate times, to make decisions on one’s behalf.

Guardianship and Conservatorship. Casey’s daughter was able to successfully argue for and obtain Conservatorship a month before Casey’s death. This gave her control over Casey’s financial and medical decisions. (It is important to note that in Massachusetts, Conservatorship names a person to make financial decisions on another’s behalf, while Guardianship can authorize a person to make medical decisions.) In this way, she was able to enforce Casey’s Advance Healthcare Directive, which stipulated that he did not wish to be kept alive if doing so “would result in a mere biological existence.”

While it is advisable to be more specific in making one’s Advance Healthcare Directive, Casey’s condition was so dire that his doctor concluded that continuing artificial nutrition and hydration would “at best prolong the dying process for him and certainly add suffering to an already terribly uncomfortable dying process.”

It’s a sad story, one that will no doubt get even uglier as the parties battle over Casey’s estate and allegations of elder abuse. But hopefully, it will serve as a reminder about the importance of open communication between family members and the need for comprehensive, consistent end-of-life planning.

Three Budget Proposals That Could Hurt Your Retirement Plan

A recent article in Forbes discusses three proposals in President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2015 that could disrupt retirement plans nationwide. It’s a fairly long article, which I invite you to read in full by clicking here, but here are the “highlights.”

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retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Mandatory minimum distributions on Roth IRAs.
Unlike traditional IRAs and other retirement planning vehicles, Roth IRAs are not subject to rules requiring minimum distributions at age 70 and a half. This change will reduce the amount of assets benefitting from tax-free growth, with the owner of the Roth IRA ultimately having less money available during the course of his or her retirement.

A cap on wealth inside an IRA.
This change would place a cap on the amount of contributions or accruals allowed in an IRA once the owner has achieved what the government terms a “secure retirement.” The cap is rather substantial, $3.2 million, but other retirement plans such as a 401(k) and 403(b) would count against the IRA cap. High net worth individuals should be aware of how this potential change will impact the way they use IRAs in their retirement plans.

A reduction in Social Security benefits.
The government has been exploring ways to protect the future viability of the Social Security system for years. According to the Forbes article, the current focus is on finding ways to eliminate aggressive Social Security claiming strategies, which allow wealthy beneficiaries to maximize delayed retirement credits by manipulating the timing of collecting Social Security benefits. The loss or reduction of certain claiming strategies could impact not only wealthy beneficiaries, but also middle and lower income families who were planning to use similar strategies in planning for retirement.

While it is impossible to predict which, if any, of these changes will be adopted, the prospect of changes to the law is one reason to have your plan reviewed over time.

Meditation May Help Seniors Cope With Loneliness

I recently came across an article describing how meditation may provide seniors with both psychological and physical benefits. A study conducted at UCLA found that meditation might reduce feelings of loneliness and the expression of certain genes that cause inflammation.

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The study involved 40 people between the ages of 55 and 85, who were assigned to either a control group or a group that practiced what is called mindfulness meditation. This involves training the mind to focus on events taking placing at the present moment instead of past or future events. Participants in the mindfulness meditation group attended weekly two-hour meetings and meditated daily for 30 minutes. After eight weeks, the participants who had been meditating reported feeling significantly less lonely.

The study found that the mindfulness meditation group benefitted physically as well, showing ‘lower levels of an inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and beneficial alterations in a genetic transcription factor (NK-kB), which has been found to be important in heart disease.’

According to Steven W. Cole, the study’s lead scientist, “Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression. If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly.”

The Tip Of A Lifetime

I recently came across an uplifting story that I want to share with you. It’s about a young woman named Melissa Manier, who was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to help pay her way through college. One day, she was waiting on an elderly gentleman who frequented the restaurant, a man by the name of Benjamin Olewine III. The two had never spoken to one another, but on this particular day, they did.

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

During their conversation, Benjamin learned that Melissa was working her way through nursing school and struggling to pay her student debt. According to Benjamin, he admired Melissa’s determination to succeed and her demeanor. So much so, that he offered to pay off her existing loans, and cover the cost of the rest of her education.

As you would expect, Melissa was skeptical. After all, she had no idea who this man was, other than another friendly regular customer.

It turns out that Benjamin Olewine III is a millionaire and one of Harrisburg’s most generous philanthropists. He had donated money to causes all over town, and he was serious about paying for Melissa’s education and helping her realize her dreams of becoming a nurse.

Fast-forward a few years, hundreds of hours of study, and $20,000 in tuition payments from Benjamin—Melissa is now a registered nurse. Fittingly, she works at PinnacleHealth in Harrisburg, where the spine, bone and joint institute is named after a major donor. That donor’s name is Benjamin Olewine III.