April 2018 Columns

Savvy Senior – April Columns

  1. How to Write a Will
  2. What to Know About the New Medicare Cards
  3. Simple Video Calling Devices for Tech-Challenged Seniors
  4. Is Your Blood Pressure Too High?
  5. How to Find Great Volunteer Vacations

How to Write a Will

Dear Savvy Senior,
Though it may seem hard to believe, at age 65, I never have gotten around to making a will, but I’d like to now. My question is: Do I need to hire a lawyer to write my will, or can I do it myself? I want to get my affairs in order, but I hate paying an attorney fee if I don’t have to.
Getting Organized

Dear Getting,
It’s not hard to believe at all. Fewer than half of American adults have a will, mainly because they either haven’t thought about it or gotten around to it, or they’ve put it off because they don’t want to think about dying.

But having a will is important because it ensures that your money and property are distributed to the people you want to receive it after your death.

If you die without a will, your estate will be settled in accordance with state law. Details vary by state, but assets typically are distributed using a hierarchy of survivors. Assets go to first to a spouse, then to children, then your siblings, and so on.

You also need to be aware that certain accounts take precedence over a will. If you jointly own a home or a bank account, for example, the house, and the funds in the account, will go to the joint holder, even if your will directs otherwise. Similarly, retirement accounts and life insurance policies are distributed to the beneficiaries you designate, so it is important to keep them up-to-date too.

Do You Need a Lawyer?
Not necessarily. Creating a will with a do-it-yourself software program may be acceptable in some cases, particularly if you’re single and have a modest bank account.

But if you have significant financial assets or a complex family situation, like a blended family or child with special needs, it’s best to seek professional advice. An experienced lawyer can make sure you cover all your bases, which can help avoid family confusion and squabbles after you’re gone.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) and the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC.org) websites are good resources that have directories to help you find someone in your area.

Costs will vary depending on your location and the complexity of your situation, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $1,500 to get your will made. To help you save, shop around and get price quotes from several different firms. And before you meet with an attorney, make a detailed list of your assets and accounts to help make your visit more efficient.

If money is tight, check with your state’s bar association (see www.FindLegalHelp.org) to find low-cost legal help in your area. Or call the Eldercare Locater at 800-677-1116 for a referral.

If you are interested in a do-it-yourself will, one of the best options is the Quicken WillMaker Plus 2018 software (available at NOLO.com) that costs $70, works with Windows personal computers and Macs, and is valid in every state except Louisiana.

It’s also recommend that if you do create your own will, it’s wise to have a lawyer review it to make sure it covers all the important bases.

Where to Store It?
Once your will is written, the best place to keep it is either in a fireproof safe or file cabinet at home, or in a safe deposit box in your bank. But make sure your executor knows where it is and has access to it. Or, if a professional prepares your will, keep the original document at your lawyer’s office. Also, be sure to update your will if your family or financial circumstances change, or if you move to another state.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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What to Know About the New Medicare Cards

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about the new Medicare cards? I’ve heard there are a lot of scams associated with these new cards and I want to make sure I protect myself.
Leery Senior

Dear Leery,
The government will soon be sending out brand new Medicare cards to 59 million Medicare beneficiaries. Here’s what you should know about your new card along with some tips to help you guard against potential scams.

New Medicare Cards
Starting this month (April 2018), Medicare will be removing Social Security numbers from their new Medicare cards, and begin mailing them out to everyone who gets Medicare benefits.

The reason for this change is to help protect your identity and reduce medical and financial fraud. The new cards will have a randomly generated 11-character Medicare Number.

This will happen automatically. You don’t need to do anything or pay anyone to get your new card.

Medicare will mail your card, at no cost, to the address you have on file with the Social Security Administration. If you need to update your official mailing address, visit your online Social Security account at SSA.gov/myaccount, or call 800-772-1213. When you get your new card, your Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.

If you have a relative or friend who lives in another state and gets their card before you, don’t fret. The cards will be mailed in waves, to various parts of the country over a 12-month period starting in April 2018, and ending next April 2019.

Medicare beneficiaries in Alaska, California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will be the first to receive the mailings, between April and June.

The last wave of states will be Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

When you get your new Medicare card, don’t throw your old one in the trash. Instead, put it through a shredder or cut it up with a pair of scissors and make sure the part showing your Social Security number is destroyed.

If you have a separate Medicare Advantage card, keep it because you’ll still need it for treatment.

Watch Out For Scams
As the new Medicare cards start being mailed, be on the lookout for Medicare scams. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t pay for your new card. It’s yours for free. If anyone calls and says you need to pay for it, that’s a scam.
  • Don’t give personal information to get your card. If someone calls claiming to be from Medicare, asking for your Social Security number or bank information, that’s a scam. Hang up. Medicare will never ask you to give personal information to get your new number and card.
  • Guard your card. When you get your new card, safeguard it like you would any other health insurance or credit card. While removing the Social Security number cuts down on many types of identity theft, you’ll still want to protect your new card because identity thieves could use it to get medical services.

For more information about changes to your Medicare card go to Go.medicare.gov/newcard. And if you suspect fraud, report it to the FTC (FTCcomplaintassistant.gov), AARP’s fraud help line, 877-908-3360, or your local Senior Medicare Patrol program. Go to SMPresource.org for contact information.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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Simple Video Calling Devices for Tech-Challenged Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any senior-friendly devices that you can recommend for video calling? I live about a day’s drive from my 83-year-old father and would like to see him more often but he doesn’t use a computer, tablet or a smartphone.
Searching Susan

Dear Susan,
Video chatting is a great way to stay connected and keep tabs on an elder parent when you can’t be there. To help you and your dad achieve this, there are various products on the market today that offer simple video calling for seniors who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology. Here are three unique devices to consider.

ViewClix
If you’re interested in a device that requires no input from your dad, check out the ViewClix Smart Frame. This is a 15-inch digital picture frame with video calling capabilities designed specifically for seniors.

Ready to use right out of the box, this device lets family and friends make video calls and send photos (displayed as a slideshow) directly to your dad’s ViewClix Smart Frame anytime from their smartphone, tablet or computer. To do this, you simply download the free ViewClix app to your devices.

All photos sent and video calls made to your dad’s ViewClix are received automatically. But, it is worth noting that this is a receiving device only. Your dad cannot initiate video calls from his ViewClix.

This device is available at ViewClix.com or 800-304-4281 for $299 (Wi-Fi is required), or you can purchase their 4G Broadband model that works with T-Mobile if Wi-Fi is not available for $299, plus a $20 monthly broadband fee.

GrandPad
Another nifty product that offers simple video calling, and much more, is the grandPad. This is an 8-inch touchscreen custom tablet designed for seniors, ages 75 and older. It comes with a stylus, charging stand and Verizon 4G LTE built-in so it works anywhere within the Verizon network – home Wi-Fi is not necessary.

This unique tablet provides a simplified menu of big colorful icons and large text to only essential features, giving your dad clutter-free, one-touch access to make and receive video calls and phone calls, send voice emails, view photos and videos, listen to personalized music, check the weather, play games and more.

But to simplify usage and avoid confusion, it does not offer Web browsing.

GrandPad also has a “Help” button that offers 24/7 phone/tablet remote assistance to help your dad with any facet of his tablet, and it provides damage and theft insurance so if your dad breaks or loses his tablet it will be replaced at no additional cost. Available at grandPad.net or call 800-704-9412, a grandPad leases for $66 per month, or $49/month if you pay one year in advance.

Echo Show
If you don’t think your dad would mind talking to a machine, the voice activated Amazon Echo Show is another senior-friendly device for video chatting (Wi-Fi is required).

Available at Amazon.com for $230, the Echo Show has a 7-inch color touchscreen that would let your dad make and receive video calls to those who have their own device, or who have the free Amazon Alexa app installed on their smartphone or tablet.

Once you set up his contacts, to make a call your dad would simply say, “Alexa, call Susan.” And when a call comes in, he would ask Alexa to answer or ignore the call. There’s also a feature called “drop-in,” which could allow you and other pre-selected  relatives or friends to video in to your dad’s device at any time without his input.

The Echo Show also offers a bevy of other features your dad might enjoy like voice-activated access to news, weather, his favorite music and more.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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Is Your Blood Pressure Too High?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What numbers constitute high blood pressure? I use to be pre-hypertensive, but they keep changing the guidelines, so I’m not sure where I fit in now.
Approaching 60

Dear Approaching,
If you’re unsure what your blood pressure levels should be, you’re not alone. Recent changes in the hypertension guidelines made by the American Heart Association and the American College Cardiology mean that roughly 30 million more Americans than previously thought are now considered to have high blood pressure (hypertension).

According to the new guidelines, anyone with a blood pressure reading above 130/80 is considered to have high blood pressure.

Previously, those with a blood pressure reading between 120/80 and 139/89 would have been put in the prehypertension category and wouldn’t have been considered hypertensive until they got to 140/90.

But the new guidelines eliminate the prehypertension category, putting everyone with systolic pressure readings (top number) between 120 and 129 and a diastolic reading (bottom number) below 80 in a new “elevated” category.

And those with a reading of 130/80 or higher fall in some stage of hypertension. Here’s a complete rundown of the new five category blood pressure ranges:

  • Normal: A top number less than 120 and a bottom number less than 80.
  • Elevated: A top number between 120 and 129, and a bottom number less than 80.
  • Stage 1: A top number between 130 and 139, or a bottom number between 80 and 89.
  • Stage 2: A top number of 140 or higher, or a bottom number of 90 or higher.
  • Hypertensive crisis: A top number over 180 or a bottom number over 120.

Get Checked
Millions of Americans with high blood pressure don’t know they have it because it usually has no outward signs or symptoms. But high blood pressure, over time, can damage your arteries and increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney damage and even dementia.

To guard against this, everyone over the age of 40, as well as those younger with risk factors for hypertension should get their blood pressure checked at least once a year.

If you find that your blood pressure numbers fall in the “elevated” category, you should take steps now to get it under control. Lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, losing weight, exercising, watching your salt intake, quitting smoking, and cutting back on alcohol is often all you need to get it back to normal.

Even if your blood pressure numbers are in the “stage 1” category, lifestyle changes are recommended first, unless you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, or you’re at high risk for cardiovascular problems because you smoke, have high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes. Then medications may be prescribed.

But if your blood pressure falls in the “stage 2” or higher category, the new guidelines suggest medication, regardless of age, plus lifestyle changes.

There are several different kinds of drugs used to lower blood pressure. It usually makes sense to start with the oldest, safest, and least expensive drug: diuretics, or water pills, such as chlorthalidone or hydrochlorothiazide.

But these meds can drive up blood sugar levels, so if you have type 2 diabetes or are at risk of it, your doctor may prescribe another drug, such as an ACE inhibitor, ARB or calcium channel blocker.

You should also be aware that blood pressure drugs could cause side effects including dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue and headaches. They can also cause a decline in kidney function so make sure your doctor periodically monitors your potassium levels.

For more information, see the American Heart Association comprehensive Web page on high blood pressure at Heart.org/HBP.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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How to Find Great Volunteer Vacations

Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are approaching retirement and are interested in learning more about volunteer vacations. Can you give us some information on this travel option, and refer us to some good organizations that offer these types of trips.
Love to Travel

Dear Love,
If you’re looking to do more on your next vacation than relax in the sun or go sightseeing, volunteer vacations – also known as voluntourism – which combine travel and volunteer work, are a great alternative and a growing trend among retirees.

Volunteer Vacations
There are many organizations today that offer short-term volunteer vacation projects in the U.S. and abroad, lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Common program themes include teaching English, working with children and teens, building and repairing homes and schools, and assisting with community or environmental projects.

In addition, volunteer vacations also give travelers the opportunity to experience the culture more fully and connect with the local people — much different than your run-of-the-mill sightseeing vacation.

Most volunteer vacation groups accept singles, couples and families and you don’t need to speak a foreign language. Costs usually range from around $1,000 to $3,000 per week, not including transportation to the country your site is in.

Fees typically cover pre-trip orientation information, room and board, on-site training, ground transportation once you get there, the services of a project leader, and a contribution to the local community that covers material and services related to the project.

And, if the organization running your trip is a nonprofit, the cost of your trip, including airfare, is probably tax-deductible.

Where to Look
While there are many organizations that offer volunteer vacations, here are some good ones that attract a lot of retirees.

  • Global Volunteers (org): A pioneer in global travel, this group tackles hunger, poverty and educational needs. It offers a variety of one, two and three-week service programs in 17 countries, including the U.S.
  • Earthwatch Institute (org): With an emphasis in environmental conservation and research, they offer dozens of one and two-week expeditions in countries all over the world.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions (org): Based in New Rochelle, NY, they focus on health, education, and economic volunteer opportunities in Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
  • Biosphere Expeditions (Biosphere-expeditions.org): Offers wildlife conservation expeditions in 13 countries.
  • Habitat for Humanity (org): Offers international house-building trips through its Global Village Program in more than 40 countries.
  • Sierra Club (org): This venerable environmental group sponsors dozens of service trips in the U.S. each year, with more projects offered through local chapters.

How to Choose
With so many different volunteer vacations to choose from, selecting one can be difficult. To help you decide, you need to think specifically about what you want.

For example: Where you want to go and for how long? What types of work are you interested in doing? What kind of living situation and accommodations do you want? Do you want to volunteer alone or with a group?

Do you want a rural or urban placement? Also consider your age and health. Are you up to the task, or do you have any special needs that will need to be met?

Once you figure out what you want and spot a few volunteer vacations that interest you, ask the organization to send you information that describes the accommodations, the fees and what they cover including their refund policy, the work schedule and work details, and anything else you have questions about.

Also, get a list of previous volunteers and call them.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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