January 2019 Columns

Savvy Senior – January Columns

  1. What You Should Know About Your Aging Parents Finances
  2. Smart Home Devices That Can Help Seniors Age-In-Place
  3. Can You Deduct Medicare Costs on Your Income Taxes?
  4. Could You Have Glaucoma?
  5. How to Fight Age Discrimination in the Workplace

 

What You Should Know About Your Aging Parents’ Finances

Dear Savvy Senior,
My siblings and I don’t know much about our elderly parent’s financial situation or their wishes if something happens to them. When mom broke her hip last year, it got me thinking we need to be better prepared. What’s the best way to handle this, and what all should we know?
Tentative Daughter

Dear Tentative,
Many adult children don’t know much about their elderly parent’s financial situation or end-of-life plans, but they need to. Getting up to speed on their finances, insurance policies, long-term care plans and other information is important because some day you might have to help them handle their financial affairs or care, or execute their estate plan after they die. Without this information, your job becomes much more difficult. Here are some tips that can help.

Have the Conversation
If you’re uncomfortable talking to your parents about this topic, use this column as a prompt or start by talking about your own finances or estate plan as a way to ease into it.

Also see TheConversationProject.org, which offers free kits that can help you kick-start these discussions.

It’s also a good idea to get your siblings involved too. This can help you head off possible hard feelings, plus, with others involved, your parents will know everyone is concerned.

When you talk with your parents, you’ll need to collect some information, find out where they keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here’s a checklist of areas to focus on.

PERSONAL & HEALTH INFORMATION

  • Contacts: Make a list of names and phone numbers of their doctors, lawyer, accountant, broker, tax preparer, insurance agent, etc.
  • Medical information: Make a copy of their medical history (any drug allergies, past surgeries, etc.) and a list of medications they take.
  • Personal documents: Find out where they keep their Social Security card, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.
  • Secured places: Make a list of places they keep under lock and key or protected by password, such as online accounts, safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.
  • Pets: If they have a pet, what are their instructions for the animal’s care?
  • End of life: What are their wishes for organ or body donation, and their funeral instructions? If they’ve made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, get a copy of the agreement.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS

  • Will: Do they have an updated will or trust, and where is it located?
  • Power of attorney: Do they have a power of attorney document that names someone to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated?
  • Advance directives: Do they have a living will and a medical power of attorney that spells out their wishes regarding their end-of-life medical treatment? If they don’t have these documents prepared, now’s the time to make them.

FINANCIAL RECORDS

  • Debts and liabilities: Make a list of any loans, leases or debt they have – mortgages owed, car loans, medical bills, credit card debts. Also, make a list of all their credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.
  • Financial accounts: Make a list of the banks and brokerage accounts they use (checking, savings, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs, etc.) and their contact information.
  • Company benefits: Make a list of any retirement plans, pensions or benefits from their former employers including the contact information of the benefits administrator.
  • Insurance: Make a list of the insurance policies they have (life, long-term care, home, auto, Medicare, etc.) including the policy numbers, agents and phone numbers.
  • Property: Make a list of the real estate, vehicles or other properties they own, rent or lease and where they keep the deeds, titles and loan or lease agreements.
  • Taxes: Find out where they keep copies of past year’s tax returns.

For more tips, see the Eldercare Locator publication “Let’s Talk: Starting the Conversation about Health, Legal, Financial and End-of-Life Issues” at N4A.org/files/Conversations.pdf.

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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Smart Home Devices That Can Help Seniors Age-In-Place

Dear Savvy Senior,
I recently read an article about how “smart home” devices can help seniors with aging-in-place. What types of smart home products can you recommend that can help with this?
Inquiring Senior

Dear Inquiring,
There are actually a wide variety of affordable smart home devices you can add to your home that can help make it safer and easier to live in as you age. Here’s what you should know.

Smart Home Technologies
While most Americans today use technology and enjoy the conveniences they provide, there are millions of seniors who still don’t have much use for it. But you don’t have to like technology or be tech savvy to benefit from the many different smart home automation devices that can help seniors age-in-place.

Smart home devices can also give family members and caregivers the ability to electronically keep tabs on their elder loved one when they can’t be there, which provides peace-of-mind.

If you’re interested in adding some smart home products to your house, you need to know that these devices require home Wi-Fi, and for many of the products, you’ll need either a smartphone, tablet or voice-enabled assistant to operate them. Here are some popular aging-in-place smart home products to help you get started.

Voice-enabled assistant: Popular products like the Amazon Echo (Amazon.com/echo), Google Assistant (Assistant.google.com) or Apple HomePod (Apple.com/homepod) will let you operate compatible smart home products with simple voice commands.

These devices can also play your favorite music, read audiobooks, make calls, set timers and alarms, provide reminders for medications, appointments and other things, check traffic and weather, ask questions, and much more – all done by voice commands.

Smart lights: Falls are common concerns among elderly seniors, which are often caused by fumbling around a dark room looking for a light switch. Smart light bulbs like the Philips Hue (MeetHue.com) can turn on and off the lights by voice command, smartphone or tablet. These bulbs can also dim the lights and you can program them to turn on and off whenever you want.

There are also smart electric plugs like the Wemo Mini (Wemo.com) that offer remote control automation for lamps, fans, or other electrical devices.

Video doorbell: Safety is also a concern for seniors who live alone. Smart doorbells like the Ring video doorbell (Ring.com) would allow you to see, hear and speak to someone at her door (via smartphone, tablet, Google smart displays, Amazon Echo Show or Spot) without having to open it.

Stovetop shut-off: To help seniors prevent home cooking fires, stovetop shut-off devices like the IGuardStove (IGuardFire.com) uses motion sensors to turn off electric and gas stovetops when left unattended for a predetermined amount of time. It will also alert family members via text.

Medication management: Seniors on a complex medication schedule can benefit from a smart medication tracking system like the PillDrill (PillDrill.com) that reminds you when pills are due, tracks that you’ve taken them, and notifies loves ones.

Home monitoring: Family members can keep tabs on older loved ones from afar with smart home video cameras like Lighthouse Al (Light.house/elderly-care) or a smart home sensor system like TruSense (MyTruSense.com).

Other options: Some other helpful smart home products to consider include smart door locks like Kwikset Kevo (Kwikset.com), smart thermostats such as the Nest (Nest.com), and smart nightlights like Aladin (Domalys.com), which detects falls and alerts caregivers.

The costs for most smart home products range anywhere from a few dollars to several hundred dollars and can be found in many local home improvement stores as well as online.

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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Can You Deduct Medicare Costs on Your Income Taxes?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can I deduct my Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-payments on my income taxes? I had a knee replacement surgery last year and spent quite a bit on medical care out-of-pocket and would like to know what all I can write off.
Frugal Dave

Dear Dave,
The short answer is yes, you can deduct your Medicare costs but only if you meet certain conditions required by the IRS. Here’s how it works.

As a taxpayer, you’re allowed to deduct many medical and dental expenses as well as your Medicare out-of-pocket costs. But you can deduct only those expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your 2018 adjusted gross income (AGI), and you’ll also need to itemize your deductions. Next year, (2019 tax season) the threshold will rise to 10 percent.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that your AGI in 2018 was $50,000. Of that, 7.5 percent is $3,750. If your total allowable medical expenses last year were $8,000, you’d be able to deduct $4,250 ($8,000 minus $3,750). But, if your medical expenses were less than $3,750, you couldn’t claim any as a deduction.

You also need to understand that when taking a medical expense deduction, you don’t actually get back every dollar you claim. While a tax credit reduces your taxes dollar-for-dollar, tax deductions simply reduce your taxable income, and your savings ultimately depend on the effective rate at which you’re taxed. So, for example, if you qualify for a $4,250 deduction and your effective tax rate is 22 percent, you would get $935 in savings from that particular deduction.

To get this deduction you will need to file an itemized Schedule A (1040) tax return. You cannot claim medical expenses on Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ.

Allowable Medical Expenses
The list of allowable medical expenses, as defined by the IRS, is long and fairly flexible. As a Medicare beneficiary, you can deduct your monthly premiums for Part B, Part C (Medicare Advantage plans), Part D drug plans, and any supplemental (Medigap) insurance you have. If you have to pay a premium for Part A, that’s allowed too. You can also deduct the cost of all your deductibles, coinsurance, and c-opayments under Medicare.

In addition, you’re also allowed to deduct the cost of medical services not covered by Medicare, including dental treatment, vision care, prescription eyeglasses, hearing aids, and even long-term care. They also allow transportation to and from medical treatment to count as an eligible medical expense. And if necessary, you may even be able to deduct home alterations and equipment, like entrance ramps, grab bars, stair lifts etc., that can help you age in place.

Some things, however, you cannot deduct like vitamins and supplements unless recommended by a physician to treat a specific medical condition. And Medicare late penalties added to Part B or Part D premiums. Medicare beneficiaries who fail to sign up during their initial enrollment period are typically hit with a penalty that gets added to their monthly premiums, but these additional costs won’t count for tax purposes.

For more information, including a detailed rundown of allowable and unallowable medical expenses, see IRS Publication 502 “Medical and Dental Expenses” at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf or call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a copy.

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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Could You Have Glaucoma?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the warning signs for glaucoma? My 65-year-old brother lost some of his vision because of it but never had a clue anything was wrong. Could I be at risk too?
Concerned Sister

Dear Concerned,
It’s called the “silent thief of sight” for a reason. With no early warning signs or pain, most people that have glaucoma don’t realize it until their vision begins to deteriorate. Here’s what you should know.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness if it’s not treated. This typically happens because the fluids in the eye don’t drain properly, causing increased pressure in the eyeball.

There are two main types of glaucoma, but the most common form that typically affects older people is called open-angle glaucoma. This disease develops very slowly when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time, leading to blind spots in the peripheral or side vision. By the time you notice it, the permanent damage is already done.

Are You at Risk?
It’s estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma today, but that number is expected to surge to more than 4 million by 2030. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you’re at increased risk of developing it.

  • Are you African American, Hispanic/Latino American or Asian American?
  • Are you over age 60?
  • Do you have an immediate family member with glaucoma?
  • Do you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, migraines or extreme nearsightedness?
  • Have you had a past eye injury?
  • Have you used corticosteroids (for example, eye drops, pills, inhalers, and creams) for long periods of time?

What to Do
Early detection is the key to guarding against glaucoma. So if you’re age 40 or older and have any of the previously listed risk factors (especially if you’re African American), you need to get a comprehensive eye examination every year or two. Or, if you notice some loss of peripheral vision, get to the eye doctor right away.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, annual eye examinations are covered for those at high risk for glaucoma. Or if you don’t have vision coverage, check into EyeCare America, a national program that provides free glaucoma eye exams and there are no income requirements. Visit EyeCareAmerica.org or call 877-887-6327 to learn more.

While there’s currently no cure for glaucoma, most cases can be treated with prescription eye drops, which reduce eye pressure and can prevent further vision loss. It cannot, however, restore vision already lost from glaucoma. If eye drops don’t work, your doctor may recommend oral medication, laser treatments, incisional surgery or a combination of these methods.

For more information on glaucoma, visit the National Eye Institute at NEI.nih.gov, and the Glaucoma Research Foundation at Glaucoma.org.

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 Fight Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Dear Savvy Senior,
How does one fight against workplace age discrimination, and where can I turn to for help if I think I’ve got a case?
Discouraged Donna

Dear Donna,
Age discrimination can happen to anybody over age 40, but it’s difficult to prove. With that said, here are the steps you’ll need to take to fight this growing problem if you think you’ve been treated unlawfully in the workplace.

ADEA Protection

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is your first defense against age discrimination. This is a federal law that says an employer cannot fire you, refuse to hire you, or treat you differently than other employees because of your age. Some examples of age discrimination include:

  • You were fired because your boss wanted to keep younger workers who are paid less.
  • You were turned down for a promotion, which went to someone younger hired from outside the company, because the boss says the company “needs new blood.”
  • When company layoffs are announced, most of the persons laid off were older, while younger workers with less seniority and less on-the-job experience were kept on board.
  • Before you were fired, your supervisor made age-related remarks about you.
  • You didn’t get hired because the employer wanted a younger-looking person to do the job.

The ADEA protects all workers and job applicants age 40 and over who work for employers that have 20 or more employees – including federal, state and local governments as well as employment agencies and labor unions.

If your workplace has fewer than 20 employees, you may still be protected under your state’s anti-age discrimination law.

What to Do
If you think you are a victim of employment age discrimination, you may first want to talk to, or file a grievance with your company’s human resources department, but it’s important to remember that HR work for your employer, not for you.

If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you should file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days from the date of the alleged violation. In some states, it’s 180 days. You can do this by mail or in person at your nearest EEOC office (see EEOC.gov/field/index.cfm) or call 800-669-4000. They will help you through the filing process and let you know if you should also file a charge with your state anti-discrimination agency.

If you do file, be prepared to provide the names of potential witnesses, your notes about age-related comments and other episodes.

Once the charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate your complaint and find either reasonable cause to believe that age discrimination has occurred, or no cause and no basis for a claim. After the investigation, the EEOC will then send you their findings along with a “notice-of-right-to-sue,” which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.

If you decide to sue, you’ll need to hire a lawyer who specializes in employee discharge suits. To find one, see the National Employment Lawyers Association at NELA.org, or your state bar association at FindLegalHelp.org.

If you lose your job in a group termination or layoff, you should consider joining forces with other colleagues. There are advantages to proceeding as a group, including sharing costs of the litigation and strengthening your negotiating position.

Another option you may want to consider is mediation, which is a fair and efficient way to help you resolve your employment disputes and reach an agreement. The EEOC offers mediation at no cost if your current or former employer agrees to participate. At mediation, you show up with your evidence, your employer presents theirs and the mediator makes a determination within a day or less.

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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