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Caring & caregiving

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:15PM



Being a caregiver is a role that will fall to more and more baby boomers, as we benefit from our parents' living longer and better lives. So as you celebrate the good days, and if you're fortunate enough, as I am, to celebrate Father's Day, here are a few things to remember.

Caregiving is more than money

A new survey by the U.S. Treasury Department finds that one in four Americans define themselves as caregivers -- with nearly 8 in 10 providing two or more hours a week of help to a parent, friend or loved one.

In addition to the burden of actually giving care, many of those family members are also handling their family member's finances. That task includes everything from getting to the bank to make deposits, to paying bills or managing investments.

So the Treasury Department figures this is a good time to remind people of the benefits of direct deposit -- for Social Security checks and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

It seems a point almost too obvious to make. Yet, last year, more than 480,000 Social Security checks were reported lost or stolen and had to be reissued. And $64 million in Treasury-issued checks were fraudulently endorsed.

The best way to limit seniors' exposure to financial fraud is to sign up for direct deposit of benefit checks by calling (800) 333-1795 or online at www.GoDirect.org.

If the senior doesn't have a bank account, the Treasury also provides direct deposit of seniors' Social Security and other benefits onto a prepaid debit card. It works just like a debit MasterCard, allowing the senior to make purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM, up to the amount of federal benefits that have been deposited on the card.

It offers the MasterCard zero liability guarantee for unauthorized purchases if the card is lost or stolen. To learn more, go to www.usdirectexpress.com or call (877) 212-9991.

These simple but effective tools will safeguard seniors' benefits from fraud and inattention -- and make caregiving a lot less stressful for all concerned.

Caregiving is multigenerational

While it seems obvious that one day you'll be called upon to care for an elderly relative, let's reverse the situation. What happens when you are a parent with a handicapped child -- one who will have special needs -- and financial needs -- for as long as he or she lives?

The best gift you can give that family is Mary Anne Ehlert's new book, The Gift I Was Given. Ehlert is a nationally respected financial planner who has developed a program to assist families with disabled children. Her book is partly the story of how she and her family dealt with the challenges of her sister Marcia, who was born with cerebral palsy. It is also the story of the anguish her parents faced as they grew older and realized the difficulty of planning for their daughter's care after they were gone.

I won't spoil the story -- except to say that Marcia is the gift, as I learned when I interviewed Mary Anne several years ago. Ehlert continues to more than repay that gift by creating financial plans -- and teaching her system to other planners. She has created strategies specifically designed for the millions of parents dealing with children who will likely live long lives with conditions ranging from autism to physical handicaps.

This book contains checklists moving you from assessments, to benefits, to transitions. It guides you through topics such as setting up trusts that will not preclude the family member from benefits offered by the government, to dealing with insurance, income taxes, and investments designed to protect the family member now and in the future.

Ehlert's financial planning Web site is www.ProtectedTomorrows .com, where you can learn more about her programs and order the book for $11.66. It is a wonderful gift for a caregiver.

Fatherly advice

Finally, if you're still looking for a Father's Day gift, I have the perfect book for sharing this holiday. Investment guru Jim Rogers (whose books include Investment Biker, Adventure Capitalist and A Bull in China) has written a small volume of pithy advice. The title is almost longer than the book: A Gift to My Children: A Father's Lessons for Life and Investing (Random House, $16).

Blending advice to his two young children with investment maxims, this book is a wonderful trip through the lessons Rogers wants to pass on to his family -- and to your family.

He explains why he and his wife are raising their daughters in Singapore -- and ensuring that they learn Mandarin. His tales of traveling around the world by motorcycle and car illustrate his investment advice. And his instructions range from "Beware of all politicians, everywhere!" to "Remember who you are, and stay with it."

This book is so unusual, and so blended with personal morality and investment wisdom, that each generation can safely give it to the other as a demonstration of respect and love. That's the best Father's Day gift you can give. And that's The Savage Truth.



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