Sunday, June 26, 2011

Elder Abuse by Family Members


In my past life as a financial Guru, I’ve had many encounters with unscrupulous CPAs, lawyers, trust officers and bankers who advise elderly clients to transfer assets to their children so that they may be able to qualify for Medicare and other welfare benefits provided by the government.

Many of these “suggestions” are often instigated by the children or other family members who would be the beneficiaries of such transfers. When a person is a financial advisor to others, whether they’re family members or not, he has to remove himself as a potential beneficiary as a result of any advice put forth.

One case that I’m intimately familiar with involved an older couple with substantial assets, including a house in an exclusive part of Honolulu. The elderly couple had two sons and one daughter.

About 30 years ago, all assets, including the house that the couple owned were transferred to the oldest son as is the custom in a lot of oriental households. Over the years, the elderly couple became restricted to their room. They were able to get their food from the kitchen but had to go back to their room to eat.

The husband passed on a few years ago and the elderly widow became more of a prisoner in her own home. The daughter lived on the mainland and the other son came by once a week to take his mother shopping. That was the only time she was able to enjoy the outside world and to see and talk to real people.

As her health deteriorated, the oldest son placed her in a nursing home. Her younger son visited her weekly and the older son visited sporadically. It was rare that her daughter-in-law visited. Even her grandchildren, who were raised and grew up in her house rarely visited her.

But, she was happy at the nursing home because there were other people that she could socialize with. All costs were paid by welfare or Medicaid.

Another situation I was involved in was where the oldest son was given a “Remainder” interest in the house and the elderly couple retained the “life estate”. The remainder interest means that the house passes to the son only when the elderly couple both pass away. The elderly couple retains all ownership rights to the house while they‘re alive with their life estate.

The elderly father passes on and asked the younger son to protect the mother from the eldest son. In the two months it took to transfer the mother to the younger son’s home, the elder son had already made arrangements to break the life estate by putting himself on title for 50% of the property so he could obtain a loan for a substantial amount.

When the mother passed away, the house didn’t pass to the older son by deed because the life and remainder interests were broken when the son put himself on title. Thus, the mother’s 50% was passed by her will, which gave the younger son everything.

The older son wanted the entire house because he believed he was entitled to it so he ended up suing his younger brother to gain the mother‘s 50%. Once the life estate is broken, the Will controlled how the mother’s half would pass. Needless to say, the brothers are estranged.

The abuse came about because the mother was frail and the elder son bullied her into signing over half the house to him in order to obtain a loan. What’s worse, is that she lived for the rest of her life with the fear that the younger son would find out about the bullying and the transfer.

In many of these cases, the children believe that their parent’s assets are theirs and do whatever they can to keep the assets intact. By transferring the assets, then the government pays for all long term care costs.

Many parents are also of the same mindset. They transfer their assets because they want their children and grandchildren to remember them in a positive way. In my observations, once the assets are transferred, the children and grandchildren will ignore the elderly parents. The elderly become paupers and must live with whatever bone is tossed their way by their children or the government.

These abuses are very commonplace in our society. There are lawyers and estate planners advertising that they can show people how to save your assets and get taxpayers to pay for elder and nursing care.

And we wonder why our government is bankrupt

Thursday, June 16, 2011



I ran across a very special person doing extraordinary things for people who are  facing a difficult period in their lives. She has been volunteering with hospice programs for 20 years and has been using hula as therapy for cancer patients and their families. I wanted the readers to be aware of people like Nancy, who quietly go about their volunteering because she believes she's making a difference in her community and for people in her community.

Nancy was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii. When she was about four years old, her father, Master Sergeant Robert Sweeney, was killed in Korea. He was a Silver Star recipient. That was one of the many profound events in Nancy's life that led her to the path she has chosen.

In 1979, when Nancy was 33 years old, she joined the Army where she spent the next 21 years serving her country. She would've likely have been the oldest person at boot camp. Older than the cadre, I'm sure. She did that to honor her father and joined despite her family's disapproval. She even took back her maiden name after her divorce to keep her father's name alive.

In 1991, her daughter Tiare passed away in Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. from an inoperable brain stem tumor. Coincidently, Nancy's mother passed away just 3 months prior to that so it was a trying time for her. This was when she was first exposed to hospice services in Virginia which further molded Nancy's choices in life.

After she was transferred to Hawaii by the Army so she could heal emotionally, she underwent training through Hospice of Hawaii to become a hands-on volunteer. She underwent 18 hours of training and was determined to help the dying and their families transition during this very emotional time in their lives. She has been volunteering at every station that the military assigned her to since then.

Nancy decided to retire from the Army after 21 years and settled down in Washington State to complete her education where she received a B.A. in Psychology and another B.A. in Social Work. She did a thesis on "Death and Dying Across Cultures" in her senior year. Shortly after receiving her degree in 2009, her sister passed away as a result of leukemia and Nancy was able to put her 20 years of hospice experience to use in managing her sister's emotions as well as the emotions of her family.

Many people are afraid to volunteer at nursing homes or in a hospice setting because they fear that getting close to the patients and their eventual death will emotionally depress them. I asked Nancy about that and how she deals with the emotional ups and downs.

She said that she believes that death is a transition into another life and therefore she doesn't experience sadness when a person passes on. And perhaps she has a point there.

Many people look at life and death in terms of themselves and how these events affect them. When one is as giving as Nancy, it is about helping the person and their loved ones to accept death as a transition and only then, can she help them to let go of life.

Nancy still works for the government in finance as a pay officer. While she was completing her college work, she had to do 18 hours of internship. Since she was familiar with the hospice program, she decided to do hospice work for her internship and also included dance therapy for the elderly. Much to her surprise, she learned that many of the breast cancer survivors were young and not elderly as she expected.

The program worked so well that in 2009, the Parks and Recreation department hired her to teach hula as a form of therapy. Her students include people who are breast cancer survivors and well as family members of breast cancer survivors.

They perform at various public functions like the 2010 Dickens Festival.

Nancy's work has even been touched by a child who was the recipient of the "Make a Wish" Foundation.

Hula wish will come true for Iraq veteran's ill 4-year-old daughter | County G

The dance group dances under the name Kaimiola Polynesian Dance. Kaimiola is Nancy's name that she shares with her grandmother. It means "One who seeks life and to heal" and she fully intends to live up to the name.

Nancy has always considered Hawaii as her home and if things work out, may be making the move to Hawaii in a couple of months if she is accepted by Hawaii Pacific University into their masters program. If that happens, she will be looking to offer hula as therapy for the elderly in nursing homes and continuing her work as a hospice volunteer.

Hawaii will be enriched with the love and aloha that she shares. And our kupunas will benefit from it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011



After observing our elected officials this past session, one can confirm that people should stop being taxpayers in Hawaii. A good example of "kicking the can down the road" for future government officials to solve.

At any social gathering, you're sure to find someone who is receiving a State or County Retirement System pension and obtaining free Part B medical reimbursement as well as Part D benefits. Ask them what they think the solution to the state's insolvency problem is. In my experience, every one of those who were asked the question went into a tirade about how they were underpaid and took government jobs because these benefits were a part of the package promised.

When asked how, since the pension fund and the medical fund are both bankrupt, do they think the government will come up with the money, the reply is always to tax the rich and the businesses. Therefore, if your replies are the same as mine, then they plan to go after your money if you invest it here in Hawaii. They will further get your money if you remain a Hawaii taxpayer.

Hawaii's excise tax is unique in that it taxes an investor's or business' cash flow. It is not a tax on profits. So if you lose money in your investment or business, but have cash flow, you still must pay this tax. If you have rental property in Hawaii, then you must pay excise taxes on the gross rental income.

We have examined the different types of investments that people would consider and if real estate is your choice because you want to hedge against inflation, then you ought to invest in property outside of Hawaii because the excise tax will drive your investment into insolvency. Better yet, you may want to buy into a Real Estate Investment Trust, which is a mutual fund that invests in real estate. The fund itself pays excise taxes if they're dumb enough to invest in Hawaii property, but in general, you would be free of the excise tax.

If you owned the out-of-state rental properties directly and lived in Hawaii, the Hawaii tax collectors will still go after you for this excise tax. They get you if the property is located in Hawaii and if it's not, they will tax you on the cash flow if you're a Hawaii taxpayer.

The U.S. is in the second phase of printing vast amounts of currency. It's called QE2. For those of you who went to private school, the following link explains everything.

If you believe that your currency will go down in value, then you could invest in energy mutual funds. Or, perhaps into International Funds that invest in companies operating in foreign countries. When doing so, you're investing in both the profitability of the company and the movement of the U.S. currency.

Kupunas need to be more conservative because they're past their productive life. Most invest their funds in investment grade 10 year bonds. When interest rates go down, bond prices go up. Similarly, when interest rates go up, bond prices come down. If inflation looms, then the government has to raise interest rates to stifle inflation. Well, inflation is here, but the government has chosen to redefined what is taken into account when they calculate the inflation rate. Thus, they've determined that we have no inflation even though food, housing and consumer prices keep going up and they're able to do it by simply redefining what inflation is. Their reason is that if interest rates go up, they too, must pay higher interests to those who bought government bonds. On $14 trillion of debt, the interest costs will exceed the operating cost of the government.

For the short term, those who own intermediate term bond funds can cover themselves by buying more shares with each monthly interest payment when bond prices go down. When bond prices rise, they'll buy fewer shares, but, they can sell the shares at a higher price.

Each summer, stock prices generally go down until after Labor Day. Most investors take the summer off. It's generally a good opportunity to reallocate one's portfolio at this time because if one plans to buy more stocks, you'll do so when prices are low.

Too complicated? O.K. For those who went to Punahou or Iolani, here's a simple way to lower your risks and increase your returns. If you have a mortgage where the interest rate is at 5% and you have a bank account where they pay you 1/4 of 1%, you would increase your returns by 2000% by paying down your mortgage. So if you put $500 a month into your bank account, use that money to pay an extra $500 towards your mortgage instead, and you'll be saving the 5% interest on that $500.

I've had lots of people upset with me for recommending that investors take their investments out of Hawaii. Words like "traitor" are used frequently when I go further and suggest that investors think about investments in foreign companies.

We all agree, though, that taking investment money out of Hawaii will further spiral the State into insolvency. But if investing in Hawaii is a losing proposition, then unless your goal is to lose your investment capital, then you'd better invest elsewhere.

We cannot control what our government does. We know that they are not truthful. What we can control is how we react to them and their policies.

My money loves Hawaii and this country. Hawaii and the country doesn't love my money.

Uh, oh! I stole that somewhere.