Rajiv Nagaich Of AgingOptions: 5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement

The advice you get from professionals may not always support the goals you have for your retirement years. Don’t ever forget that.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajiv Nagaich.

Rajiv Nagaich, J.D., L.L.M., author of YOUR RETIREMENT: DREAM OR DISASTER?, is an elder law attorney and a nationally known retirement planning visionary who has electrified the nation with his new approach to retirement planning — called Lifeplanning. Nagaich is one of the country’s most influential retirement planning thought leaders. He is the host of two public television specials (Master Your Future and The Path to Happily Ever After) and the AgingOptions Radio Show, which has been dispensing retirement planning advice in the Seattle area for more than twenty years.

Nagaich is founding partner of the Life Point Law firm in the Seattle area and Chief Executive Officer of AgingOptions. He holds a Masters in Tax Law (L.L.M.) from the University of Washington and J.D. from Seattle University School of Law. For more information, please visit www.AgingOptions.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was working for an insurance company in the Seattle area when I first met Jamie, the woman who would become my wife. Jamie lived in Spokane. As I got to know her better, I discovered that her father, Bill, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the last year of his 40-year career with the U.S. Postal Service. I learned how her mother, Vivian, had been trying to keep Bill at home. Vivian had been told by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) that there was no help to be had if Bill desired to stay home.

After struggling to keep Bill home for a year or two, financial pressures coupled with the pressures of managing his care and the care of the household made it impossible for Vivian to continue living in their home. She sold the house and moved with Bill. The move was stressful for Bill, who had started to wander. Eventually, the demands of care became overwhelming, and Bill had to be moved to a skilled care nursing home.

As time went on, Jamie and I became close, and she invited me to meet her family in Spokane. It was during that visit that I had my first exposure to life in a nursing home. It was a shocking experience to say the least. I had heard stories about old folks’ homes, but I had never seen one while growing up in India. All my grandparents had taken their last breath at home surrounded by loved ones.

The moment I walked through the nursing home door, the smell alone was enough to make me want to turn around and leave. Bill was unshaved and smelled bad. Jamie went out and asked for a nurse to change him. After visiting for a while, we left. Jamie was in tears, and I was lost in my thoughts. This is not how the richest nation in the world should be treating its elders, I thought. There had to be a better way.

Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, there was nothing unusual about Bill’s story. In fact, it’s a very ordinary story. Bill was moved to a nursing home when Vivian was perfectly willing to take care of him at home. The system had told her she had no way to get help at home. With limited means and in no physical condition to manage the demands of care on her own, what else was she to do?

Bill’s story lit my fire for elder law. It made me want to devote my life to helping families navigate the system so they could avoid the fate that befalls so many elders. Later on, when Vivian was diagnosed with kidney cancer, I was determined to give her story a different ending. Fortunately, we were able to avoid the nursing home and Vivian lived with me and Jamie for eleven years before her death.

Before Bill and Vivian Wallace, I was just another Indian kid who came to America to seek out his fortune. Bill’s tragic situation opened my eyes to a reality I didn’t anticipate in a place I didn’t expect to confront it: the richest country in the world. What happened to Bill, and what happens to millions of middle-class Americans just like him, was a reality I couldn’t unsee. It was a reality no one was talking about.

It was never my intention to go to battle. This battle found me. So, I started fighting, first for Bill Wallace and then for every frail, sick, and frightened person who came to my elder law firm for help. In the process, I discovered the ridiculousness of a broken system that fails families at every turn. Why were so many people ending up like Bill Wallace? Why didn’t anyone seem to notice…or care? How could I make things better for them? I have dedicated my life to answering these questions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Two stories stand out. The first involves learning the inside story of the highly publicized family conflicts surrounding the long-term illness of American Top 40 host Casey Kasem. His family had everything — love, money, and a team of professionals advising them — yet everything fell apart when he got sick. The family never recovered from the disputes about his care. The second involves one of my clients, Louise Smith, a single woman of moderate means who wanted to avoid the nursing home. Thanks to the LifePlan I created for her, she was able to draw her last breath at home, just as she wanted to.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Early in my career, I got a call from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Thinking it was a pre-hearing meeting about a client case, I discussed the case with them. Little did I know that this conversation was a “fair hearing” with a judge. The Department was going through the motions to deny my client’s claim. Fortunately, I was able to have the decision reversed because I was not notified that this was the hearing, not a pre-hearing meeting. I learned an important lesson that day. Never take the opposition to be friends. They will always have an agenda. I also learned the importance of being clear about my goals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to two elder law attorneys: Preston Johnson in Washington State and Tim Takacs in Tennessee. Preston Johnson helped me get my start as an elder law attorney. He took me under his wing when I was in law school, taught me how to run an elder law practice, and introduced me to members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the most influential group of elder law attorneys in the country. Tim Takacs helped me take my elder law practice in a direction more aligned with my goals. Tim introduced me to the possibility that an elder law firm could do more than just handle legal documents and Medicaid qualifications. An elder law firm could employ social workers, registered nurses, and other professionals capable of delivering the care management services families so desperately needed. Tim taught me how to implement this practice model in my own firm and I will be forever grateful to him for his insight.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Be passionate about your work. If you are not passionate, find something different to do. If you live your passion, it will NOT be work, nor will it lead to burnout.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Hire team players who are just as passionate about your mission as you are.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously, everyone’s experience is different. But in your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

  1. The initial thrill of having unlimited time to do anything you want won’t last forever. You need to find a new purpose for your life and new activities to fill your time.
  2. Aging is a family affair. Leaving your family out of your retirement plans makes it more likely that your loved ones will fight about your care when your health fails.
  3. There is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” way to plan for life in retirement. Just as every person is unique, every retirement is unique.
  4. The advice you get from professionals may not always support the goals you have for your retirement years. Don’t ever forget that.
  5. You will likely live more years in retirement than you ever imagined.

Let’s zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. Prepare a financial dashboard well before you retire. Don’t wait until you’re already retired. Creating the financial dashboard before you retire gives you the insight you need to be confident in your answers to question like these: When should I retire? When should I start drawing Social Security? How long will my money last? How much money can I afford to give to my kids? A financial dashboard can also help you decide whether buying a long-term care insurance policy is the right move and, if it is, what type of policy to purchase.
  2. Money alone won’t keep you out of the nursing home. It’s important to have a healthy nest egg, but it’s not more important than having a plan in place for your family to use your assets for your care when your health fails. If your goals for your retirement years include aging at home without running out of money and without recruiting family members into service as your unpaid caregivers, assets alone won’t accomplish that goal. My book, Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster? is filled with examples of wealthy people who ended up forced into institutional care because they didn’t think to create a roadmap for their family to follow to help them accomplish their goal to age at home.
  3. Plan for a longer lifespan than you expect. Most financial planners help their clients plan in a way that will make their money last to age 85, 90, or 95. When I work with clients, I help them create a plan that enables them to live to the age of 105 without running out of money. We know that we are unlikely to see our 105th birthday but think of this — if you’re one of the few who makes it to 105, what would happen if you planned for your money to last until age 90? However, if you plan to live to 105 and you end up dying at 90, your heirs get more. How bad could that be? A financial dashboard can help you find the sweet spot.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. Learn how to access healthcare from a preventative point of view. Enrolling in Medicare, seeing your doctor a few times a year, and accessing healthcare when you get sick isn’t enough. If you are serious about avoiding the nursing home, the single most important thing you can do is to avoid falling ill. You do that by learning how to use the healthcare system to stay healthier longer and prevent illnesses, not just how to access care if you fall ill. In other words, you focus on prevention. Good health is your most valuable asset in retirement, and you must do all you can to protect it. In order to avoid getting sick, you must approach the preservation of your health as an integral part of your retirement plan.
  2. Carefully consider your options between Medigap plans and Medicare Advantage plans. For most of my clients, I will suggest the Traditional Medicare route with a Medigap plan and a prescription drug plan, as this will allow the broadest coverage available. Know in advance that these policies won’t include dental, vision, or hearing coverage, for which you could obtain coverage from outside the Medicare plan if you so desire. Though some Medicare Advantage plans offer dental, vision, and hearing benefits, the coverage is usually sparse. If you decide to choose a Medicare Advantage plan, know that in most states, Washington included, if you want to switch from a Medicare Advantage plan to a traditional Medicare plan, you may be denied because companies can ask for medical underwriting.
  3. Choose a geriatrician to be your primary care physician. Staying with the primary care doctor you’ve had for years may not be your best move if your goal is to age at home without going broke paying for care and without burdening your family. Working with a geriatrician can lower your risk of needing home care or home health services — and by extension your risk of needing to access care in a nursing home — by 40 percent. If a pediatrician is a good choice for a child under age 18, a geriatrician is an equally good choice for those over 70.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. If your plan for housing in retirement is to live at home until you can’t, you’ll probably end up in institutional care. Not having a plan for housing in retirement is often a one-way ticket to a nursing home after a health crisis. The goal is to avoid a forced relocation to an institutional care setting after your health fails. This starts by making housing decisions well before the health crisis. Then, if something happens and you need care, that care will come to you wherever you are living. You won’t need to be institutionalized to receive care. You will be able to accomplish all of this without going broke or recruiting your loved ones into service as your unpaid caregivers.
  2. Live close to your named healthcare agent. If you’re serious about aging in place, it is vitally important to live close to the people you name as agents in your Healthcare Power of Attorney. A dream home in Hawaii doesn’t do you much good when your children who are supposed to be your agents live in Germany. It is ideal to live within two to five miles of the people who will be supporting you and checking on you every day if you’re receiving care in the home. This greatly minimizes the burdens on your agents and increases the probability that you will be able to avoid institutional care.
  3. Avoiding institutional care takes more than just living in a one-story home. Your one-level home should be age friendly, which means it incorporates Universal Design principles such as no-step entries, switches and outlets reachable at any height, extra-wide hallways and doors to accommodate wheelchairs, lever-style door and faucet handles, and walk-in or sit-in showers. These features ensure that it is safe to remain in your home while you age. Unfortunately, it is estimated that less than four percent of homes in America are age friendly.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would debunk the myth that retirement planning is about money. Planning for a successful retirement, the kind where you avoid the nursing home, avoid going broke, and avoid burdening your family, requires more than a large nest egg. It requires a detailed plan that coordinates health, housing, financial, and legal issues in retirement, a plan that also includes gaining the support and buy-in from family members about their roles in the process.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Even before I became an attorney, I was fascinated with the story of the dying professor and his student who helped shepherd Morrie through his last days. Morrie’s optimism and Mitch’s dedication are the foundational elements of a life well lived — and a life that ends well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Aging is a Family Affair. I’ve watched this maxim play out in my own life and in the lives of my clients. No one wants to be a burden to others. We all want to have the pride of knowing that we are independent and there to help others, not to receive help from others. But, in the end, for most of us, we would be well served by learning not only how to give, but how to receive gracefully. It’s just the nature of life.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Readers can follow me on Facebook @therajivnagaich and on LinkedIn and Twitter at @rajivnagaich.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Rajiv Nagaich Of AgingOptions: 5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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