Make It Last – Ep 78 – What Does it Mean to Have an E.P.I.C. Retirement & Interview with Bernie Sokal of MoneyCare Financial
In the first half of episode 78 Victor explains the concept of an E.P.I.C. retirement and how the meaning of retirement has changed over the years. In the second half of the episode Victor interviews Bernie Sokal of MoneyCare Financial. Bernie is a daily money manager and fiduciary, meaning he is able to manage the finances of individuals who might struggle with bill paying, preparing checks or bank deposits, balancing their checkbook, or organizing and maintaining financial records, and he does so all in the best interest of the client. Tune in to learn how a daily money manager might be able to help you.
If you or a loved one might be in need of a daily money manager, you can contact Bernie at MoneyCare Financial’s website, www.moneycarefinancial.com
Make It Last with Victor Medina is hosted by Victor J. Medina, an estate planning and Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA®) and Certified Financial Planner™ professional (CFP). Through his law firm and independent registered investment advisory company, Victor provides 360º Wealth Protection Strategies for individuals in or nearing retirement.
Click below to listen to the full episode…
Click below to read the full transcript…
Victor J. Medina: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Make It Last. I’m your host, Victor Medina. I’m so glad you can join us this Saturday morning. I’ve got an exciting show for you.
A little bit later, we’re going to be speaking with Bernie Sokal from MoneyCare Financial, who is a daily money manager who helps people who are seniors who might be dealing with a special needs trust, high net worth individuals might be too busy.
It offers a set of services for daily money management that can make your life a little bit better if the person you’ve named as an agent doesn’t want to serve. Maybe, you need somebody to serve as a power of attorney agent.
I’m excited to welcome Bernie. He’ll be on a little bit later. In the meantime though, I wanted to share with you an article that I came across because we spend so much time in this show talking about retirement planning, specifically with legal and financial focus. Want to make sure everything’s in line for that.
The question now is, “Is retiring at all something that you want to follow?”
I’ve shared with this in a prior show that the whole idea about different kinds of retirement. You can have phased‑in retirement. You can have retirement over different segments. You retire for a year or two and then you go back to work. Just the whole concept of retirement has turned on its head.
One of the ideas behind that’s being shared is, maybe, that not retiring at all might be the best advice that you can get. Retirement is this social construct that no longer fits in the age that we live in. It’s this sort of artificial finish line imposed on our lives and based on age.
The biggest thing that I’ve seen on the cornerstone for retirement has nothing to do with someone’s age. That shouldn’t be necessarily what dictates what they’re doing. If you end up looking at people’s retirement planning, it’s always like living on the money that’s left after you’re no longer able to work. We are facing this in all different directions.
There are mandatory retirement ages definitely surrounding certain ages like 75, so on and so forth. That is a construct from a very long time ago. Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck signed a law in 1885 in Germany, which was basically the first example of a modern retirement coupled with the Social Security system.
At that time in 1885, the mandatory retirement age was 70 years old, but the average life expectancy was 46. The law made sense at the time because Germany was an industrialized nation where workers traded their physical output for a paycheck. As they aged, of course, it was no longer possible for them to be productive.
Now, where we live today ‑ a hundred and thirty something years later, ‑ how many people feel like they’re still living in an industrial age? Are the clients that we work with, are they living in an industrial age? The answer almost to a person is no. Most people are not trading for a paycheck, this ability to work.
We’re trading our intellectual knowledge where black box workers are trading the ability to deliver some form of results or service in exchange. That value of that service is between our ears. Now, there’s a ton of value in manual labor and working in things that were related to an industrial‑age.
For a lot of people, that’s not what they’re capable of doing all the way through. If you couple this whole idea about mandatory retirement with an entitlement that you’ve been working so long, that you’ve earned a day in the sun, I don’t know that that does a lot of good for my clients. We may want for them to think about their entire lifespan. What we might consider retirement in a much different way.
One of the ideas that’s being championed is this concept of what’s known as an EPIC retirement, E‑P‑I‑C. Each of those letters stands for something. E in epic stands for engagement. The idea is that you want to be able to engage at any age.
Age is a number. Feeling old is some form of attitudinal marker. One does not get old until they decide to get old. We want to think about them being able to stay engaged with the world.
The P is for purpose. We want to make sure that within their lifespan, whether you call it retirement or not, we want somebody to feel as though they have a place in the world that is more than just their money or sitting on the sideline.
The I is for integration. You want to think about integrating both leisure and working. Leisure doesn’t have a lot of meaning outside of work. If you’re told to go live in a life where all you do is play, that doesn’t have great context.
If you’re not also having something to measure against, it’s just some form of working or having it to balance. We want both of those things at the same time.
Then finally, challenge. We want to make sure that maintaining intellectual challenge is something that happens through retirement. A lot of the research suggests that it’s one of the ways of staving off things, like dementia and other Alzheimer’s related types of conditions. Physical challenges as well, make sure that your body stays at its highest level.
If you start to think about your retirement in these EPIC terms, engagement, purpose, integration, challenge…
Victor: …you might be able to think about retirement in a completely different way and maybe not even retire altogether.
This idea of sitting up on the shelf and retirement is just done and over with. I present that there for your contemplation, as you’re thinking about yourself and your retirement going forward.
We’re going to take a break now. When we come back, I’m going to be joined by Bernie Sokal from MoneyCare Financial. We’re going to talk about daily money management. He’ll be my guest when we come back from this quick break.
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Victor: I’m joined today by Bernie Sokal, who is the founder of MoneyCare Financial. I have gotten to know Bernie over the number of years that I have been an elder law attorney in various networking meetings that we both attend.
I found it interesting because Bernie does some daily money management activities that I think gets to be important for somebody as they get older. First, thank you for joining me, Bernie. I appreciate you being on the show.
Bernie Sokal: Thank you for inviting me.
Victor: First of all, just tell me a little bit about MoneyCare Financial. What is it? What does it serve to do? Who’s a perfect client for you? Talk a little bit about your business.
Bernie: MoneyCare Financial is a daily money manager firm and also provides fiduciary services. We mainly support the senior marketplace. It’s also high net worth individuals. Busy professionals can also take advantage of our services.
Divorcees, widows and widowers as well. We provide services that provide helping people who struggle with their bill paying, writing of checks, budgeting. We go to their homes or facilities and help them manage their personal finances.
Victor: You mentioned some fiduciary services. Listeners of my show know that I hammer on a fiduciary concept from the financial planner perspective and from the investment professional. That’s different. What are fiduciary services that your company offers? What does that phrase mean?
Bernie: A little about why I became a fiduciary. A number of elder law attorneys came to me and said, “Sometimes, we have clients without family members or family members they trust.” I would be of help for them if I were to become a fiduciary, which basically means I work in the best interests of the client, not for my personal gains.
I actually went back to school, got my certificate in Professional Fiduciary Management from Cal State Fullerton. I wanted to know what I’m doing, basically. I can provide financial power of attorney services, trustee services, special needs trustee services, executor of wills.
Victor: That’s different than being hired to be the person to bill, right? Although you might do both things. If you serve as an agent, you can actually be the person that does the daily money management and whatever else.
You’re in a higher‑level position if you’re serving as their agent than if you’ve been contracted, not that you wouldn’t do the right thing if you were contracted. It’s just if they don’t literally have somebody to stand in their shoes, you can do that with the fiduciary services.
Bernie: Yes, I can. It is definitely a lot more specialty insurance, fiduciary insurance that was needed. I have through Lloyds of London. It’s just an expansion of my services to meet the full needs of the clients.
Victor: I see that happening more and more. When we start to see clients, whether it’s that this generation, their kids get spread out all over. Either they’re so busy or they’re so remote, that they can’t take on the responsibility or just smaller families.
Gone the days of the large eight‑children families where everyone’s around and lives in the same neighborhood. That’s changed a lot. Have you experienced that?
Bernie: Yes. I have received a new client yesterday whose son is in California and the mom lives in assisted living. I actually have another client who has a financial power of attorney who lives in New York City but finds it very stressful when she would visit her cousin in this case.
She said to me, “Since you’ve been there, when I visit I have laughs. I don’t have the stress of going around the apartment looking at bills.” She knows somebody there is overlooking the individual’s finances and knows that it’s taken care of.
Another set of eyes and ears, too. I don’t just report on what I did financially. I also give a clue as what I see in the individual, whether there’s issues, physical issues or memory issues that I see.
Victor: When you think about working in their best interests, you’re not just segmenting yourself as watching the money and making sure that’s happening the same way. Everything is related to their best interests. You got to make sure that their care is adequately provided.
Yes, there’s a component of whether or not you can afford and pay for it, but the whole idea is that you’re looking at the totality of where they’re at and making sure that you’re keeping them on a road to being well cared for in every capacity.
Bernie: Definitely. I partner with financial planners, elder law attorneys, CPAs, in terms of providing resources for them. The first question I ask my clients is do they have their legal documents in order?
Victor: Geez, you’re my favorite guest ever, Bernie. What can I tell you!
Bernie: That’s very important. In terms of do they have a power of attorney? Do they have a will? Do they have a living will? That’s very important for people who need to plan for the future.
Victor: What got you started in doing this? This wasn’t your main career. You haven’t been doing this forever and ever.
Bernie: No, actually funny story. I worked 38 years in the banking industry. I worked 33 years for Citigroup, 5 years for JP Morgan Chase. I was executive vice president, senior vice president working in primary financial planning and analysis roles, expense management roles.
I was commuting to New York City, Brooklyn, spending four hours a day commuting. I wasn’t getting job satisfaction anymore. I met with my financial planner in New York City who told me about this profession of people called daily money managers, who I didn’t know existed.
She told me about it. I did my due diligence, went up to a number of daily money managers in New York City and New Jersey. I had some experience in terms of helping my own parents and my father‑in‑law. My parents are now 93.
I had to help them when they were 90 moving from Queens, where they lived for over 50 years, to Florida. I saw how they couldn’t do what they used to be able to do. They needed help. I also saw it with my father‑in‑law. He is now 99 and a half.
Victor: [laughs] The half is very important.
Bernie: He’ll be 100 January 1st, a New Year’s baby. He was an ex‑IRS agent. He’s legally blind. I’d get calls from him three times a day when his statement would come in, “Help me reconcile this.” I had been doing that over the years, so I had developed a lot of patience dealing with the senior population.
When I would speak to my financial planner who told me about daily money management, I said, “Let me look into it.” I decided to go into it.
Victor: There’s a bunch of stuff that’s changed. On the one hand, the rate the technology’s being adopted and required to be used is ever increasing. If you’ve got somebody that’s older, every call center that they have to deal with their banking or financial issues is like, “We want you to log online and do something.”
They don’t want to do that. They want to talk to a person. You can almost serve as an intermediary between that if that work ends up being too different for them.
Bernie: I spend a lot of time talking to banks. [laughs] Part of my role is to look at what they’re spending money on and try to save money. I had a client in Princeton who was having high‑speed Internet service who didn’t need it. He had a subscription to “Rolling Stone” magazine.
Bernie: He signed up when he moved and it renews. Even this funny story with my father. They live in Florida, so I monitor them remotely. I saw this $19.95 charge on his credit card two months in a row. I asked my dad, “What is it?” He didn’t know what it was. I Googled it. It turned out to be a pornography website. [laughs]
I got him a computer when he was 90.
Man: I don’t know how he …
Victor: He clicked something!
Man: He clicked something.
Bernie: He would still be paying that today. A lot of seniors get the bills and pay it.
Victor: It’s so important because in that retirement phase, fixed income is the reality of their life. Between Social Security and pension, maybe, they’re drawing it off of retirement, but this is all they’ve got. They don’t have an opportunity to go make any more money.
If we can make sure we don’t leave the barn door open with charges like that, it’s just going to help everybody in the end. That’s important as well.
Bernie: I was trying to save money, helping them pay the bills. I have a win‑win story I’d like to tell you about. I had a client who had a trust that his aunt set up. He’s the sole beneficiary. When he passes, it goes to five charities. It was through US Trust. He was only getting…the trust said $300 a month.
It was generating $2,000 a month in dividends. He had expenses ‑‑ home care expenses, living expenses, daily money management expenses ‑‑ that consumed his income. I told US Trust, “There’s a clause for health, education, and welfare benefits.” I was able to get additional funding from him. From that $300, additional $2,500 a month to him.
He can now pay and not have it go into his savings. He has the trust that was set up for him.
Victor: What’s interesting, too, is I’ve always been of a mind that corporate trustees are trustees of last resort because if you don’t have a real human being talking, if it’s a department, they’re not going to be as interested in making the distributions. You’re not going to have eyes on the ground to see what’s going on.
Any time you’ve got a human being that you can serve in those roles, the better. You said something interesting to me, Bernie, which is that having somebody come on to help allows you to migrate your relationship to one of just loving interactions.
You don’t also have to be overwhelmed with the craziness that can happen from dealing with money management day in and day out.
You serve as an intermediary between those two roles. You’re not as cold as a trust company might be, but you also have the distance so that you don’t have to have those persons take on those responsibilities as well.
Bernie: Yes. You develop a lot of relationships with your clients. I bring that because I care for my clients. I care for them, for their well‑being even though it may not be purely finance‑related, but what I can do to help them. How can I connect them to better resources? I found it very satisfying in terms of waking up in the morning, looking forward to having my client visits.
While, maybe in the corporate world, you’re there for 35 years, you weren’t getting that excitement anymore.
Victor: Traderitis is soul sucking, right?
Man: [off‑mic comment]
Victor: What is the biggest obstacle that someone has to overcome before inviting that in? Is it a crisis‑related thing that, all of a sudden, it makes sense to have somebody? Do they have to have had a problem, or do you have to overcome some general objections to bringing in help?
Bernie: Sometimes, I get called because a home care agency’s not getting paid.
Bernie: They know there’s a problem.
Victor: They want to pay you. It’s just not happening. That’s what it is, right?
Bernie: They call me in because they’re not getting paid. They realize that there are other issues. If they’re not paying them, they’re not paying other vendors as well. I had one client, a good client. I’d go through the mail. They were going to cut off the electricity in two days for not paying a bill.
That’s one thing. That would be someone in crisis not paying, but there are other cases where it may not be a crisis and I have to overcome the objection. You have a stranger come into their home who has access to their banking, their checking account.
I try to overcome that by a number of ways. I have an MBA from Columbia University. I have 38 years of banking experience from two of the largest banks in the world. I have a Certificate in Professional Fiduciary Management. I also serve the community.
I became a trustee for Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County as well and joined a lot of networking groups. I have professional liability insurance. I try to overcome those questions. I know that my parents, in Florida, said, “Oh, we met someone in the supermarket.”
Victor: We’ll give them our checkbooks.
Bernie: “She’s giving us a ride home from the supermarket,” and you get a little leery. Is this a legitimate person? I’ve tried to give back to the community and have that background that someone would feel comfortable with in terms of talking…
Victor: Where we’re going in this world is that there is an increasing chance for there to have bad things happen. We see elder abuse situations come in. I don’t know that it is limited only to people in a professional capacity. We have as many stories of bad children doing things as we do as bad professionals doing something.
We’re not going to let go. We’re not going to be able to let go of the need to have to rely on people for help. It’s just this human condition. It’s not like we can close the door and never trust anyone again. Having enough information to make sure that we’re trusting the right people is definitely a component. It’s one of the reasons why I talk so hard about the fiduciary relationship.
When you set up the conditions so that someone has to be working in your best interest, at least, you’re in the right world. Your daughter doesn’t have to look out for your best interests. You hope she does, but there’s no obligation. There’s no malpractice policy behind it, so at least you’re starting on that. It takes time and it takes reputation to develop, “OK, this is OK to do.”
Bernie: You’re right about it just in terms of your case of family members. I had a client who was contacted by Caregiver Volunteers, and said the bills were piling up. She was fearful of going to check her mail.
My first day there, opening up her checking account statements, I saw wire transfers to JPMorgan Chase that she was not aware. Her son was wiring money out without her knowledge.
Victor: That’s probably another area where somebody with your service offerings is valuable. If you’ve got family members who may not trust each other, there’s multiple kids and they just want somebody objective that’s handling that because they might be suspicious of child one.
Even the parents are like, “Look, I don’t want you all to be in a relationship where you’re all casting side eyes at each other because you know what’s going on. Let’s bring in somebody from the outside, somebody who’s objective, and then we’ll all…”
You would be providing reports. There’s nothing that you’re hiding. You’re transparent about everything that going on, I would imagine.
Bernie: Yes, that could help when you have somebody who’s the independent and not for every one child or sibling over the other. I’m very big on transparency. I ask and show my letter of engagement, “Who can I talk to on your behalf? Who shouldn’t I talk to on your behalf?” I give reports each time I visit.
This is exactly what I did on the visit. These are the bills I paid. These are the calls I made. They have a sense of what I do for their loved ones.
Victor: That’s great. If people wanted to figure out more information about what your services are and how they can contact you, why don’t you give them the information that they can do that?
Bernie: One thing, just like those before I do that…
Victor: Sure. Certainly.
Bernie: Part of what I do is telling people what a daily money manager is. Sometimes, I say what it’s not. I’m not a financial planner. I don’t invest people’s money. I don’t sell long‑term care insurance. I don’t tell them when they can retire. It’s purely helping people go through the day‑to‑day personal monetary affairs. I just want to make that point to your listeners.
Victor: That’s important because those are other professionals, too. It’s not to say that people can’t have a skill set that serves some of that.
When you have somebody in a component of, “Look, I’m going to watch to make sure that the dollars in and the dollars out meet whatever your needs are.” That’s a different skill set to saying, “I want to make sure that the investments that are selected are correct.”
You even would be able to provide a second opinion on that, or at least a second set of eyes, be like, “Look it, I don’t know what’s going on here, but apparently you’re paying premiums for some life insurance policy that we’ve got to figure out whether or not it’s even appropriate for you at this time.”
You also have the benefit of doing that even if you’re not doing the work directly.
Bernie: I am very knowledgeable about financial planning because I did go, actually…I’m very big on education, as you can see. I went three years at night at NYU for their Certificate of Financial Planning program. I did it ‑‑ at that time, I was working with Citigroup ‑‑ just for my own education because things changed a lot since I went to graduate school for my MBA.
I have knowledge about, as I said, six courses of all aspects of financial planning, so I’m knowledgeable about that as well.
Victor: Which it can be very helpful, especially when you’re reviewing something. It’s not just a checkbook manager to watch and make sure everything fits at the end, but really looking a little bit deeper to say, “OK, what do you own and is it appropriate for you?”
Just because the information or the education that you got suggests that there are categories of these things, some of which are better or worse, even expense ratios or whatever else, and say, “This is appropriate,” or, “It isn’t.”
Bernie: You did mention what are some ways people get in touch with me.
Bernie: In terms of ways they can, I have a website called www.moneycarefinancial. You can email me at bernie@moneycarefinancial.
Victor: That’s B‑E‑R‑N‑I‑E?
Bernie: That’s right, and my phone number is 908‑770‑2695. You’ll have Bernie. It won’t be somebody else. You’ll have me. Again, I try to make a useful website with a lot of FAQs, a lot of links on it for a lot of good websites for people to know about. You can also read some testimonials from my clients as well.
Victor: Thank you for being my guest, Bernie. I really appreciate your appearance on the show. As you suggested, for people who are interested in learning more about daily money management and, specifically, your company, they can go to moneycarefinancial.com and look up Bernie and his services. Thanks for being my guest today.
Bernie: Thank you for having me.
Victor: Hey, everybody. Victor here, again. Listen, that was my interview with Bernie Sokal from MoneyCare Financial. I hope you enjoyed that. If you’ve enjoyed this show, certainly we ask you to share it with your friends. You know that we broadcast this show on the radio as well as a podcast. It releases at eight o’clock in the morning every Saturday morning.
You can go to Apple iTunes, go to Spotify, Stitcher, any place that you can get your podcasts, not only get this episode, but all the future episodes, all the prior episodes. It’s a great way to have this information and share this information.
You send the link to the show and then they’ll be able to take this episode, or any episode they might be interested in, and listen to a quick 30‑minute show for them. Other than that, we will join you next Saturday. We’ve got a couple more guests in the lineup.
I’ll be happy to share these with you. Hoping you’re enjoying it. If you are, drop us a line and we’d be happy to hear from you. If you have any show ideas, the same thing there.
Victor: This has been Make It Last, where we help you keep you legal ducks in a row and your financial nest egg secure. We’ll catch you next Saturday. Bye‑bye.