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How to Age Gracefully With Your Parents and Plan for the Future

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Son Giving Senior Parent Financial Advice In Home Office

Have you ever read the children’s book Love You Forever, where the mother cares for her growing son until, as a grown man, the son cares for his aging mother? The story depicts a parent/child role reversal that many experience in real life.

Talking about aging with parents can be difficult. But being honest about the topic is important. To help guide the conversation, here are four common concerns you may face with an aging parent and tips on how to address them.

Decide on Living Arrangements Early
Multi-level homes or complicated floor plans might make everyday living difficult and dangerous for aging parents. Discussing it sooner rather than later, while parents are active and not in a distressed state, can help them ease into the idea of new living arrangements like a one-story home or assisted living facility.

If parents insist on staying in their current home, consider homecare and installing assistive equipment, like handrails, as needed.

Focus on the Road
Ninety-year-old Vivian Cash, who started driving in 1949, loved the independence that comes with driving. While priding herself on never having an accident, she had a near-miss that resulted in her decision to stop driving.

“If I’m driving my car and I had a problem, I could hurt someone or myself. It just isn’t worth it,” explained Vivian. “My doctor told me I’m going to live to 100 and I’m planning a big party. I want to be here to enjoy it.”

Once you begin to notice a difference in your parents’ driving ability, consider suggesting a driving class that may help sharpen skills and also lower insurance costs. Offer to accompany them to classes so they don’t feel alone. Help map out ways for your parents to get to all of their daily activities via alternate transportation. Encourage them to sign up for group activities with friends where carpooling moves them from point A to point B.

Update Important Documents

Ensure parents have a will and that it’s been updated in the past five years. A lot can change in five years, so be sure it reflects their current wishes. Establish who will be in charge of executing the details and determine where the documents will be stored for quick and easy access.

Any updates to the will also need to be reflected in life insurance policies, since life insurance beneficiaries take precedence over what is specified in the will. Consider working with a trusted advisor who can help with insurance and retirement planning.

Gather Financial Information
Speaking of retirement planning–it’s important to discuss finances. Help your parent create a list that includes bank, benefits, pension, debt payment and other account information. You’ll also need to have ready access to usernames and passwords for each account. Keep this information in a binder or notebook somewhere like a fire-resistant safe, along with items like tax files and car titles.

Although these conversations are not easy, planning for the future will be less intimidating and will make everyone better prepared for the changes ahead.

The Ultimate Guide to Fire Extinguishers

Friday, July 8th, 2016

FireExtinguisherAfter a close call in my apartment–who knew olive oil is bad for high-heat cooking? – it dawned on me that I had never used a fire extinguisher. I’m no fire chief, but learning on the fly while your smoke detector is blaring seems like the wrong time to figure that out.

Fortunately, I removed my smoking pan from the heat before anything could ignite—but the experience left me reeling.

Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to wonder about fire extinguishers. Here’s what smart homeowners (and renters) need to know.

Do I need a fire extinguisher?

Short answer: Yes.

It’s a good idea to have at least one, although many experts, like the National Fire Protection Association, recommend having a fire extinguisher on each floor. Place yours near an exit, in an easy-to-grab spot.

A fire extinguisher can make a big difference in an emergency, but it can’t replace your most important safety tools: working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan.

What if I rent?

If you rent, your landlord is typically responsible for providing smoke detectors in each unit – but not necessarily fire extinguishers. That depends on your state and local fire codes, so ask your landlord to be sure. If you end up buying one, it generally won’t break the bank. Fire extinguishers typically run from $20 to $70, depending on the type.

Types of fire extinguishers

Not all fires are the same, and neither are fire extinguishers. The letters A, B and C on the label refer to the types of fire the extinguisher is capable of putting out.

  • Class A extinguishers are effective on fires in paper, wood, textiles and plastics. (Think “A” for “ash.”)
  • Class B extinguishers are effective on liquid fires, like those involving cooking oil, paint, gasoline or kerosene. (Think “B” for “barrel.”)
  • Class C extinguishers are effective on electrical fires and live wiring. (Think “C” for “current.”)

The best choice for your home is a multi-purpose extinguisher like ABC, which can be used on all types. You can opt for a single-use or a rechargeable model.  A rechargeable fire extinguisher is filled with either water or a powdered chemical—check your extinguisher’s label to see what to refill yours with.

Typically, fire extinguishers are sold in 2-pound, 5-pound or 10-pound canisters. Larger sizes pack more punch, but choose a size that you can lift easily. If it’s too heavy, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

How to use a fire extinguisher

First things first: If there’s a fire of any size in your home, call 911. Remember that fire spreads rapidly – even if you end up extinguishing the fire yourself, it’s a good idea to have the pros on the way to check your work.

If you do need to use your extinguisher, the National Fire Protection Association uses the handy acronym PASS:

  • Pull the pin. Grab the extinguisher, point the nozzle away from you and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim low, pointing the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

Use your extinguisher on a small fire that’s not growing – for example, a fire contained in a wastebasket. When fighting the fire, keep your back to a clear exit so you can make an escape if you need to. If the room fills with smoke or the fire grows, leave immediately.

If you’d prefer a hands-on learning experience, call your local fire department. Most offer training on how to use a fire extinguisher.

When to replace a fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers don’t last forever. All models can lose pressure over time. Depending on the model, they last between 5 and 15 years – even if no expiration date is listed.

To make sure your fire extinguisher is in good working order, check the pressure gauge monthly. If it’s in the green, it’s functional. If it’s in the yellow or red, it will need refilled or serviced. Replace yours ASAP if you notice any of these things:

  • The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped, or jammed.
  • The locking pin is unsealed or missing.
  • The handle is missing or unsteady.
  • The inspection sticker or service record is missing.

Also talk to an insurance professional at Melendez Insurance. He or she  can help make sure your home has the right homeowners insurance in case a fire happens despite your best efforts to prevent one.

Use Just a Tiny Percent of What You Already Spend to Protect Your Kids

Monday, March 21st, 2016

LifeInsForKidsDo you know how much it takes to raise a child these days? Are you sitting down?That would be almost a quarter of a million dollars.  It costs $245,000 to raise a child born in 2013 until they hit 18, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

This is not about a luxury upbringing. This is no Kardashian-esque baby outfitted in cashmere onesies. This is not about a privileged college education, because these numbers do not include the cost of college. That’s extra. Add on about $18,000 a year for public and $41,000 a year for private college.

This number—$245,000—is a place to live, food, clothes, health care…the basics.

You’re here to take care of these expenses now. But what happens if something were to happen to you? If an average middle-income family is spending around $13,000 a year on their child,that money would have to come from somewhere.

That’s where life insurance comes in. If you take between one and two percent of what you already spend on your child each year—or about $200—it could pay the yearly premium for $250,000 in term life insurance coverage. If something happens to you, your child would be okay financially.

We’ve used a healthy 30-year-old dad or mom (who doesn’t smoke!) who gets a 20-year level term policy for the above example. Age and health will vary the amount of your premium—as your age increases or health decreases, the price goes up.

But the truth is, setting aside one to two percent of what you’re already spending on your child is a small price to pay to protect them. There’s no reason to wait. To help you figure out how much life insurance you might need, contact Melendez Insurance. We can help you decide the amount and type of protection is right for you, and how affordable life insurance can be to protect the ones you love most.

How to Organize Your Important Paperwork, Once and For All

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Important Paperwork

First things first:

  • Invest in a good shredder. Identity thieves have been known to comb through trash (gross) to find bits and pieces of your discarded personal information. Shred any documents with personal information in them so they don’t get the opportunity.
  • Invest in a sturdy safe deposit box. On the other end of the spectrum, there are records you want to hold on to forever–so buy something solid to keep them protected from theft, water damage or fire. Also keep an inventory of what’s in there, and review it once a year.
  • Establish a trusted system, and stick to it. What good is an organization binge if the papers will just pile up in another week because you don’t know where to put them? Find what works for you–a bill box, a filing cabinet, a desk drawer–and stick to it.
  • Think about going digital. Consider receiving your bills and statements electronically to reduce the paper pile-up. Bonus: Many owner’s manuals and mail-order catalogs can be found online, so don’t feel too bad about tossing those.
  • Get organizing. Your financial paperwork can be divided into two big categories:
    • Short-term storage is for those papers you need to access fairly regularly, so keep them in a filing cabinet, drawer or accordion file. That includes stuff you keep for a year or less (like your insurance policies) and stuff you shred when you get rid of the item it relates to (think big purchases, like a car or a laptop).
    • Deep storage is for the stuff you need to access less frequently, but should still keep. These things are better off in a safe-deposit or fire-proof box. They include tax records (save these for seven years) and official documents (like your birth certificate and Social Security card).

Keep this stuff for a year or less:

  • Bank records, like your monthly checking and savings statements. If you reconcile your deposit and ATM receipts with your statement, you can shred them right after.
  • Credit card bills. Once you’ve paid ‘em, shred ‘em. An exception is when you need a record to support a charitable donation you will be deducting on your taxes.
  • Documents you need for your tax return. There are a lot of different forms and papers that may or may not apply to you. Here’s a list from TurboTax.
  • Insurance policies. Shred the previous year’s policy when your agent sends you a new one. (While we’re chatting, make sure to schedule an annual review with Melendez Insurance to make sure you’re properly covered and getting all the discounts you qualify for.)
  • Annual investment statements. Shred the monthly and quarterly statements from your 401(k) or IRA, but keep the yearly ones until you sell the investments.
  • Pay stubs. Keep these until you reconcile them with your annual W-2.
  • Most receipts. Let’s get real about receipts: If you’re not actually using them to track your spending or to reconcile your statement, you can pitch them right away. But if you plan to return a purchase or itemize a tax deduction, it helps to keep them all together in a folder.

Keep this stuff on file (but review it once a year to keep it up to date):

  • Paperwork from big purchases like furniture, electronics or appliances. This includes warranties, receipts and instruction manuals.
  • Loan documents. Shred closing documents for mortgage, vehicle, student and other loans when you pay them off. (Hooray! No more loan.)
  • Savings bonds. Save them until you cash them in or convert them to electronic form.
  • Vehicle records. Hang on to receipts, titles, registration information, and maintenance and repair records for as long as you own the vehicle.
  • Personal health record(s) for you, your spouse, your kids and– yes, even your pets. Keep a list of important events and information about each person’s medical history, like immunizations, medications, surgeries and lab/X-ray reports. Get started with this checklist from the American Health Information Management Association.

Don’t even think about throwing these things away:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce decrees
  • Social Security cards
  • Military service records
  • Pension-plan documents from both your current and former employers
  • Estate-planning documents, like wills, trusts and powers of attorney
  • Life insurance policies. Insider tip: It’s best to keep copies in at least two places to ensure your beneficiaries will find them.

Knowing the basics of what to keep and what to shred gave me peace of mind now that my personal information is under control. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert, but my system works for me–even if it’s not Pinterest-perfect. (On that note: Who honestly has a room fully devoted to chic, color-coded filing cabinets? Do these people sleep?!)

Keep Loved Ones Safe With These Pool Tips

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

pool-safety-family-and-friendsMany Americans retreat to swimming pools throughout the summer to escape the blistering heat. For some, a pool party complete with drinks, grilled food, and music is an essential part of a perfect summer day. While swimming pools are great for bringing family and friends together, there are risks and pool safety concerns home owners should consider.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly ten people drown each day in the United States and there are over 3,000 unintentional drowning deaths, unrelated to boating, every year. While swimming in a residential pool is relaxing and great for physical exercise, it does present dangers that home owners should prepare for—especially when children are present. In fact, the Red Cross states that about 200 children drown in residential swimming pools annually. Vigilance and certain safety precautions can greatly reduce accidental injuries and swimming-related deaths.

Invest in Adequate Fencing and Gates

According to MSN Real Estate, it is extremely important for home owners to have locking gates and fencing surrounding a pool. Privacy fencing at least six feet high greatly reduces the chances that an uninvited person will enter a backyard to swim. In addition to regular privacy fencing, there are specially made fences with childproof locks that can enclose the immediate pool area. The Red Cross recommends using a four-foot high fence that has self-latching and self-closing gates to keep children and pets away from the water.

Provide Swimming Lessons and/or CPR Training for Members of Your Household

If you reside in a home with a pool, every member of your household should know how to swim and understand basic CPR methods in case a swimmer or guest needs resuscitation. Furthermore, young children should be enrolled in swimming classes that are age- and skill-level appropriate so that they can learn basic swimming techniques to help prevent fear of water and promote better responses to pool-related accidents. The Red Cross and the National Swimming Pool Foundation offer an online course that teaches pool safety tips and training for accident prevention.

Beware of Faulty Drains

A potential danger to adults and children alike is faulty drains that produce too much suction where clothing, hair, and limbs can become trapped at the bottom of a pool or spa. Faulty drain issues resulted in federal mandates and consumer advocacy education regarding this danger, especially after the death of a young girl, Virginia Graeme Baker, in 2002. The Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a public awareness campaign to help prevent faulty draining mechanisms from claiming more lives.

Precautionary measures recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission include ensuring that spa and pool drain covers are compliant with the latest safety codes and installing Safety Vacuum Release Systems, which automatically stop a pool pump if blockage in the drain is detected. Additionally, home owners should have easy, quick access to pump switches so they can be rapidly shut down if necessary. If a swimmer is trapped by the suction of a drain, avoid pulling the person out of the drain. Instead, break the seal by inserting a small object or several fingers between the swimmer and the drain or grate.

Arm Your Pool with an Alarm System

Like homes, pools can be armed with alarm systems. For example, Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies, a company with stores throughout the United States, offers in-ground pool alarms that can sense entry into a pool by an animal or person weighing over 18 pounds. Using negative displacement technology, this type of pool alarm is submerged and can be activated by a remote control device. When its sensor detects in-water movement, an alarm will sound inside the home as well as in the pool to alert home owners. In addition to sounding a noticeable alarm, this safety device will also sound off when removed from the pool in its armed state. Other alternatives to pool alarms that can help notify home owners of unwanted pool activity are motion-sensor lighting and security systems for doors and windows that limit access from the home to the pool area.

Practicing pool safety and receiving proper training in responding to swimming-related accidents or injuries can offer home owners more peace of mind when it comes to protecting loved ones and friends. For more safety tips, talk with an agent at Melendez Insurance. We can help you protect your home and its occupants with valuable information and insurance coverage.