Financial planning: How to know what you don’t know

Federal workers didn’t go into government to get rich, but Senior Correspondent Mike Causey says many civil servants have built up substantial estates and don...

Have you ever considered the possibility that you, even as a federal civil servant or postal worker, either have or are creating an estate? For real.

When it comes to building, and leaving an estate, many federal workers are a lot better off than they think. And if their spouse is also a U.S. government employee, better yet. Two salaries. Two annuities. Jobs that, at least up to now, have been layoff-proof. Even during the Great Recession, when private employers cut millions of jobs. Or forced employees to take 5-to-25 percent pay cuts in order to keep those jobs. Not Uncle Sam.

A wise man once said the secret to financial success in the Washington area was to get married 20 or 30 years ago, buy a house before prices skyrocketed, and stay married to the same person.  And have a government job.

The same could be said for feds in Austin, many parts of California, and places like San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston and other cities. With a house with low (or already paid) mortgage payments, a guaranteed lifetime indexed to inflation annuity and a choice of very good health insurance plans (with the employer paying most of the premium), many feds who make think of themselves as middle class — particularly in a high-cost place like Washington and the D.C. suburbs — are in fact relatively high up on the economic ladder. Especially compared to many private sector workers whose employers long-ago dumped their defined benefit pension plan.

When it comes to estate planning, having a will is great. But remember it kicks in only after you kick off. What about between now and then? And as people live longer, but not necessarily better, an important question to consider now is what happens if I can no longer take care of myself? What options do you have? For instance, what’s a joint ownership arrangement? How does it work and what can go wrong? What about the pros and cons of having a court-appointed guardian? What about powers of attorney: Medical and financial? What about a trust?

Sometimes it is easiest to think ahead and make plans by looking at the situation of someone we know — even if only by reputation — when they fall on hard times.

Although I am not a football fan (baseball, yes) even I know the name Sam Huff. He was a wonderful football player with the New York Giants and later, for the Washington Redskins. He had a hard-scrabble life, born in the middle of the Great Depression in Edna Gas, West Virginia. His parents supported their six children by picking up coal and loading it into railroad cars. Sam and his brothers later joined them. After college, he became one of the best, eventually one of the best-paid people in football. He later had a successful business career with Marriott, then ran for Congress but lost the Democratic primary. In 2012, Huff, now 82, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Currently, his daughter and his long-time companion are involved in a legal dispute over who can best take care of him. A tough end to a rewarding, but often very tough life. Probably not the way he wanted the fourth quarter to end.

Most of us have a friend or relative who has been through that the caretaker argument. Or whose family members have. Not the way most of us want it to go.

So today on our Your Turn radio show we’ll be talking with Tom O’Rourke. Tom is an attorney who knows feds and their problems. He is much in demand as a speaker and we (you and me) are lucky to have him today. He’s going to talk about what you should consider now as part of your estate planning. Especially if you will need some of that money to provide for your own long-term care. If you have questions you can call in (the show starts at 10 a.m. EDT) at 202-465-3080. Or if you want to email them to me before showtime, send questions to: The show will also be archived on the Your Turn page, so you can refer it to a friend, or listen later yourself.

Don’t miss an episode of Your Turn with Mike Causey. Subscribe on iTunes and have the episode downloaded automatically to your phone or desktop. You can also download past episodes.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

The longest piece of licorice measured 1,702 feet, 9 inches.  Lakritsfabriken (Sweden) made the candy in in collaboration with Scandi Candy (Sweden), in Vellinge, Skåne, Sweden, on April 4, 2012.

Source: Guinness World Records

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