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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beware Annuity Sharks?

The March 22, 2009 edition of The Columbus Dispatch advised "Advice for Elderly Beware Annuity Sharks". This article, written by Steve Wartenberg, told the story of a blind woman with dementia who had just moved into a nursing home.

With all of these health issues going on, she was advised to cash in her current annuities and invest her life savings in another one (most likely generating surrender charges and high commissions for the financial advisor).

Two weeks after purchasing these annuities, the woman passed away, and the new annuity investment left her loved ones with half of what they would have inherited if she had not invested in the annuity.

In all fairness, I think it is critical to note that there ARE many circumstances when annuities can be a valuable piece of a family's financial plan - just almost never for ill elderly.

Quite often I must advise clients that the annuity they were sold (with the advisor knowing long-term care would be likely needed soon) must be cashed in in order to protect any of the money or to qualify for Medicaid. This often means paying a surrender charge (penalty) of thousands or even into the tens of thousands of dollars. This sometimes makes some shocked and angry clients.

Other times, I find clients that were told the annuity would protect their money from the nursing home, which is usually not correct. Would they have bought the annuity had they known the truth?

I've also seen people that bought an annuity to qualify for the Veterans Administration (VA) Aid and Attendance benefit, only to find out that when they needed nursing home care later that the annuity severely damaged their ability to leave money to children in the end.

Unfortunately, some people think seniors are good marks for financial fraud, identity theft, or financial products that really don't fit their needs.

My advice is to understand that like all financial investments, or even legal techniques you might develop with a lawyer, they must fit your individual goals and values. Otherwise, you won't get a whole lot of benefit, and it could possibly be damaging to your financial health.

As I said, annuities can be great investments, but beware of buying them when there are health concerns, advanced age, or if you are often advised to cash in one for another.
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