Building Senior-Specific Services

March 11, 2005
Print
Text Size:
A A

GRAND RAPIDS — A month ago, Paul Damon — president of Family Capital Management — became one of the latest of a growing number of professional financial planners to earn his designation as a certified senior advisor (CSA).

Damon joins 14,000 people in the professions nationally — 514 in Michigan and two dozen in West Michigan — who have the designation, offered through the Society of Certified Senior Advisors

“Many of the challenges facing seniors are somewhat unique,” Damon said. “We’re living longer, but not always healthy and we don’t always have money. A lot of my clients are seniors or pre-retirement where they are getting close to these issues or the age where it’s important.” Damon has some clients who retired at 50 and others who are still working in their 70s.

He explained that programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance and long-term care require specialized knowledge.

Changes in Social Security have moved the benefit age for some groups to 67, Damon said, but the deadline for automatic Medicare enrollment remains 65. Income tax planning is different for seniors and health care and long-term care can require supplemental insurance. Possible changes in health-care premium structures by behavior profiles could have special implications for seniors.

“There are huge changes and they can catch people off guard,” Damon said. “Retirement is changing. It’s very different from the models our parents or grandparents went through. This is a needed extra focus within the profession that makes sure that the person you’re working with really understands the issues.

“If you make a mistake at this point in your life, you might not recover.”

CPA Ella Weymon, of Holland-based Weymon and Associates, also has earned the CSA designation. While Weymon is currently wrapped up in the tax season, she is preparing to divert her firm’s marketing efforts toward the senior market within the coming year.

“We’re having more and more seniors who are at different levels of their financial freedom,” Weymon said. “They need the type of advice that we as planners and CPAs and tax professionals can bring to that arena. It will become a bigger emphasis in most of our practice in terms of who are seniors, what are their needs and how can we serve those needs.”

Weymon added that from a service perspective, it is becoming necessary for professionals like her to become knowledgeable and demonstrate understanding of senior issues.

That specialized knowledge is what attracted Brian Yarch, Regal Financial vice president of operations, to the CSA.

“You can get all your financial designations, but this doesn’t just teach you about business,” he said. “It’s about seniors and what they go through so that you can relate to them more.

“Not only are you better able to help them out financially and with different types of insurance, but you’re able to understand more of what they’re going through.”

Yarch started out in the business selling long-term care insurance, and while the ratio of seniors within his business hasn’t changed, he expects it to grow rapidly in the near future.

Jerry O’Bee holds the CSA designation and is certified in long-term care (CLTC). O’Bee is the former personnel director of Clark Retirement Home, where he earned his nursing home administrator license.

His 89-year-old widowed father moved from Detroit to Grand Rapids to live with O’Bee and his family, then later moved to Clark and transitioned from independent living to assisted living and, eventually, to skilled nursing, where he died at age 93.

For O’Bee, the designations aren’t as much a matter of learning about senior care and issues as they are about staying informed.

Today, O’Bee is the principal of O’Bee Long-term Planning, specializing in just that.

“What I’ve discovered is that the (baby boomers) have all been accumulating, and now they’re trying to figure out how to start taking it out in an efficient way,” he said.

Originally an insurance firm, O’Bee sold his first long-term care insurance policy in 1990. He has been working to maintain that client base while evolving into a full estate and long-term planner.

One of the most important issues facing seniors is often not considered as part of a general retirement plan. The cost of a semiprivate room in a nursing home in Grand Rapids is $161 per day or roughly $60,000 a year, a rate that has seen annual increases on average of 5.8 percent.

“You’re looking at what could be the biggest bill of your life,” he said. “Imagine if someone has a retirement plan that would cover living expenses, and then they get another $60,000 annual bill.

“Your retirement plan is not going to last with this $60,000 bill going up 5.8 percent a year.”

Long-term care insurance can protect those assets.

Another possibility is Medicaid, which requires assets to be spent away. Efficiently spending down to the $2,000 cap is easy enough for a single person, O’Bee said, but it becomes increasingly difficult for couples and even more so when assets must be protected to pass onto surviving family.

A senior could stay at home or move in with family, but then Medicaid won’t absorb the cost burden of care and an additional burden is placed on the family.

“When the parents need home health care and the children are involved, it is never a unifier,” O’Bee said. “There are financial costs, but worse are the emotional costs.”    

Recent Articles by Daniel Schoonmaker

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus