Friday, December 9, 2011

Medicare, Social Security, part-time work, guardianships. You name it.

As 2011 winds to a close, I'm feeling a need to update my readers at You may have noticed that my posts have been a bit further apart as I continue to try to balance demands on my time from my freelance work as a business news writer, from family, my transition to retirement and travel with Ken.
In January, I started taking Social Security benefits. In October, I marked my 65th birthday...half way to 70! That meant signing up for Medicare. When people ask me what I'm doing since leaving the full-time job at the newspaper, I say I'm semi-retired. The reality is that I'm doing about as much writing as I did on the job. The difference is that I don't have a bunch of meetings to go to all day long. I write more about what I'm really interested in and less of the boring stuff. Nevertheless, the pace is hectic.
My freelance work is a top priority because the part-time income is allowing me to postpone taking money out of my rollover IRA. The IRA earnings only are taxable when I reach 70, so I'm trying to let the nest egg grow untapped until I really need it. Meanwhile, the weekly deadlines keep coming around.
Since I retired earlier than my full retirement age as determined by Social Security, I have to keep my freelance earnings at about $14,000 a year. This is a bit of self-imposed financial hardship. I'm definitely on a budget. If I go over that limit, Social Security will hold back benefits until I reach full retirement age.
Studying to be a guardian
My family has also been eating up my time. Right now, I'm taking an online guardianship training class offered by the Idaho Supreme Court to prepare me to become my mother's guardian. This preparation is in response to a court petition by my bi-polar sister who is asking the court to make her my mother's guardian. This move blind-sided everyone including my mother's long-time attorney and my mother...who had been telling my sister for months that she didn't want a guardian.
All this happened after my mother fell at home and broke a hip. After hip-replacement surgery my mother spent nearly three months in convalescent care. When it came time to make a move from there, my mother decided to slide over to the assisted living unit in the same facility. It was a difficult decision not to go home but that became less of an issue since my sister meanwhile had torn out the farm house bathroom for a remodel. The project wasn't finished. Other issues complicated a move home. Among them that my mother's doctor said she needed 24-7 care to keep her from falling. The cost of that care at home would have been around $11,000 a month. Assisted living is running more like $4,500 a month.
While my mother still wishes she could be at home, she's telling me that she "prefers" to stay where she is. When she falls...there's someone there to pick her up. That happened twice in the past 10 days.
Meanwhile my sister's petition to be mom's guardian is alive in the local court system. I'm expecting there will be a hearing in January. The interesting thing is that in most, if not every state, all attorneys involved in such a case can submit their fees to the estate of the person (my mother, in this case) who would become a ward of the guardian. My sister's attorney, my mom's attorney and my attorney (oh yes, I've got to have my own lawyer) all are paid by my mother's trust, now managed by a bank.
The bill will be at least $10,000 but could be much more if we get into a "court like" contested hearing. The sad thing is that mother has tried to do all the right things....setting up a power of attorney, if she needed that. Setting up power of attorney for health care decisions. Putting her assets in a bank trust. An ordinary family would typically have come to some agreement about what was best for mom with her as a lively participant in the decision. Does she need a guardianship? If you look at the history of the past several years: There's been "serial" rounds of power of attorney assignments. There's been undocumented spending out of her checking account. She's not had control of her check book for a year. She doesn't know how much money is in her checking account and can't see well enough to read documents or know what she's signing.
At 96, she probably does need a guardian. The court will decide who that is.
Rehab on the ol' barn
On the farm front, we've just learned that we've won a grant from the Washington Archaeological & Historic Building Preservation Department to put more effort and material into saving our 1920s historic barn here on the farm. The work will involve new support beams, new footings and a drain around the upper side of the structure to manage water runoff. It's an exciting project, which will get started next spring.
Right this minute, we've got lots of plans for the holidays with gift-buying well under way.
New topics coming up at
- How to get the best deal on insurance.
- Communal living for women, 60 and on their own.
- How to sell stuff your kids don't want.
- How the demographics are changing -- 80 is the new 65.
- Revisiting 5 Steps to a successful retirement.
Please send your ideas to

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