Savvy Senior Columns — July 2020

Savvy Senior – July Columns

  1. RV Travel Tips in the Summer of COVID-19
  2. Can I Stop Social Security if I Go Back to Work?
  3. Video Calling Solutions for Tech-Challenged Seniors
  4. What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
  5. Stretching Tips to Help Seniors Gain Flexibility and Reduce Pain

RV Travel Tips in the Summer of COVID-19

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you write a column on RV travel for novices? My husband and I have been cooped up all spring and summer because of the coronavirus and would like to take a trip using a rented RV but could use some tips and want to be safe.
Recently Retired

Dear Recently,
Recreational-vehicle (or RV) travel has become a very popular option among U.S. retirees over the past few decades and is probably one of the safest and most convenient ways to get away this summer.

Because it’s a small home on wheels, RV travel will allow you to distance yourself from crowds of people and reduce your risk of COVID exposure that comes with other forms of travel, i.e. air/train travel, hotel/Airbnb lodging and eating in restaurants. But there are still risks – especially in public places like gas stations, shared restrooms and picnic areas – so exercise caution. If you’ve never traveled by motor home or RV, here are a few tips to consider.

Renting an RV
To help you determine the RV size and model you need for your trip, consider your budget, destination and the number of travelers. If it’s just you and your husband, and you’re visiting several locations and driving lots of miles you may want a smaller motor home with better fuel economy. But if you’re taking other family members or friends, you may want a larger RV with slide outs and more sleeping areas. See GoRVing.com for a breakdown of all the different types of RVs available today.

To locate an RV rental dealer near you visit CruiseAmerica.com, one of the largest RV rental companies in the world or search the Recreation Vehicle Rental Association at RVRA.org. Or use peer-to-peer RV rental sites like RVshare.com or Outdoorsy.com, which are usually a little cheaper.

Rental costs will vary greatly depending on what you choose and how far you drive, ranging anywhere from $50 up to $500 per day.

When renting a rig, be sure you get detailed instructions from the owner or rental company on how to use the RV’s systems, including the generator, air-conditioning, leveling, slide outs, electric and entertainment, as well as how to empty waste tanks and refill fresh water.

You should also know that because of COVID-19, most RV rental companies are vigilant about cleaning and disinfecting their units. But if you want to be extra safe, the CDC offers tips at CDC.gov/COVID19 – type “Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home” in the search bar.

Trip Planning Tips
It’s always wise to map out your trip route and reserve your campgrounds in advance, especially now during the pandemic, because some campgrounds and RV parks, as well as local, state, and national public parks may be closed or operating with restrictions.

A free tool that can help you plan your trip is Roadtrippers.com, which lets you plot out routes, calculate mileage and travel time, and will identify RV campgrounds, points of interest and restaurants along the way.

You should also consider becoming a Good Sam Club member (GoodSam.com/club, $29/year), which provides access to its web-based trip planner, camping and fuel discounts, and a copy of the Good Sam Guide Series that features detailed information on more than 12,000 private RV parks and public campgrounds.

Most RV parks rent spaces on a nightly or weekly basis with rates typically ranging from $30 to $50 per night, however some in city and country parks may be $10 or even free.

RV parks can also range from rustic facilities with limited or no utility hookups, as are more often found in state and national parks, to luxury resorts with amenities that rival fine hotels.

For first-time RV renters, staying at a fully loaded RV park or campground with full hookups, a dump station, and staff on site is highly recommended. Look at Kampgrounds of America (KOA.com) or ReserveAmerica.com to browse the accommodations.

And for more safe travel tips this summer, visit Coronavirus.gov – click on “specific resources for travelers.”

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 I Stop Social Security if I Go Back to Work?

Dear Savvy Senior,
I lost my job last month because of the coronavirus crisis. With little savings, I’ve been thinking about starting my Social Security benefits early to help me get by. But my question is, if I find a new job can I stop my Social Security benefits and restart them at a later date so they can continue to grow?
Almost 63

Dear Almost,
Yes, there are actually two ways you can stop your Social Security retirement benefits (once you’ve started collecting them) and restart them at a later date, which would boost your benefits. But in order to do this certain rules and conditions must be met. Here are your options.

Withdraw your benefits: One way to pause your Social Security benefits is to simply withdraw your Social Security application. But this must be done within 12 months of starting your benefits and you’ll also have to repay what you’ve received so far. If you choose this option, Social Security will treat your application for early benefits as if it never happened.

To withdraw your benefits, you’ll need to complete Form SSA-521 (SSA.gov/forms/ssa-521.pdf) and send it to your local Social Security office. Also be aware that you can only withdraw benefits once in a lifetime.

Suspend your benefits: If you aren’t eligible for withdrawal, but you’ve reached your full retirement age and have not yet reached age 70, another option is to voluntarily suspend your retirement benefits. With the suspension option you don’t have to repay the benefits you’ve received, and you can restart them anytime you wish, or they will be automatically be reinstated at age 70. (See SSA.gov/planners/retire/ageincrease.html to find your full retirement age.)

By suspending your benefits you’ll earn delayed retirement credits, which means your benefit amount increases for every month of the suspension. Your payment will go up by two-thirds of 1 percent monthly or 8 percent annually. A benefit of $1,500 monthly, for example, increases by $10 for each month you have benefits suspended.

You can request a suspension by phone (800-772-1213) or in person at your local Social Security office.

Working and Collecting Benefits
If you start collecting Social Security and you do go back to work, but your income is modest, you may want to continue drawing your benefits while working at the same time. But if your earnings are higher, it makes sense to stop your benefits.

Social Security has a “retirement earnings test” that says if you’re under your full retirement age and you earn more than $18,240 in 2020, Social Security will deduct $1 from your benefits for every $2 you earn over that amount. Those who reach full retirement age in 2020 a less stringent rule applies. In this case, $1 gets taken out for every $3 you make above $48,600 until you reach the month of your birthday.

It’s also important to know that if you were to lose some or all of your Social Security benefits because of the earning limits, they aren’t lost forever. When you reach full retirement age, your benefits will be recalculated to a higher amount to make up for what was withheld.

Also, if you do decide to work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time, you need to factor in Uncle Sam too. Because working increases your income, it might make your Social Security benefits taxable.

Here’s how this works. If your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000 as an individual or between $32,000 and $44,000 as joint filers, you will pay tax on up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefits. If you earn above the upper limit of these ranges, you will pay tax on up to 85 percent of your benefits. To help you calculate this see the IRS publication 915 at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.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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Video Calling Solutions for Tech-Challenged Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some simple devices that can help tech-challenged seniors with video calls? My 80-year-old mother has been isolating herself for months now in fear of the coronavirus and I haven’t been able to see her face-to-face in quite a while.
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned,
Video chatting is a great way to stay connected and keep tabs on an elder parent when you can’t be there, but it’s even more important now during this pandemic as many isolated seniors are also suffering from chronic loneliness.

To help connect you and your mom virtually, there are various products on the market that offer simple video calling for seniors who have limited ability or experience with technology. Here are four devices to consider.

GrandPad: This is a top option for simple video calling, and much more. The GrandPad is an 8-inch tablet specifically designed for seniors, ages 75 and older. It comes with a stylus, a charging cradle and 4G LTE built-in so it works anywhere within the Consumer Cellular network – home Wi-Fi is not required.

Ready to go right out of the box, GrandPad provides a simplified menu of big icons and large text for only essential features, providing clutter-free, one-touch access to make and receive video calls, send voice emails, view photos and videos, listen to personalized music, check the weather, play games, browse the Internet and more.

A GrandPad tablet costs $250 plus $40 monthly service fee and is sold through Consumer Cellular at GrandPad.net or call 888-545-1425.

Amazon’s Echo Show: With its built-in camera and screen, the voice-command Echo Show also provides a simple way to have face-to-face chats with your mom, but she’ll need home Wi-Fi installed.

Echo Shows, which come in three screen sizes – 5-inch ($90), 8-inch ($130) and 10-inch ($230) – will let your mom make and receive video calls to those who have their own device, or who have the Alexa app installed on their smartphone or tablet.

Once you set up her contacts, to make a call your mom could simply say, “Alexa, call my daughter” And when you call her, she would ask Alexa to answer the call (or ignore it). There’s also a feature called “drop-in” that would let you video call your mom’s device anytime without her having to answer it.

Available at Amazon.com, the Echo Show also offers thousands of other features your mom would enjoy like voice-activated access to news, weather, her favorite music and much more.

If you decide to order an Echo Show device for mom, be sure your ask Amazon to mark it as a gift so it doesn’t get tied to your Amazon account. For instructions to help your mom set it up, or if she doesn’t have a smartphone, go to Amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html, and type in “Help Loved Ones Set Up Their Echo Show Remotely” in the “find more solutions” bar.

ViewClix: This is a smart picture frame specifically designed for elderly seniors that lets family members make video calls, send photos and post virtual sticky notes with messages to their loved ones ViewClix from their smartphone, tablet or computer. Seniors, however, cannot initiate video calls from their ViewClix. Home Wi-Fi is also required.  Available in two sizes – 10-inch for $199, and 15-inch for $299 – you can learn more about this product at ViewClix.com.

Facebook Portal: If your mom is a Facebook user, a voice-command Facebook portal (see portal.facebook.com) is another simple way to stay connected – home Wi-Fi is needed.

Portals, which come in three sizes – the original 10-inch Portal ($179), the 8-inch Mini ($129) and the massive 15-and-a-half-inch Portal Plus ($279) – are like Echo Shows, except they connect through Facebook. With a Portal, your mom can video call your smartphone or tablet (and vice versa) using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

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 Happens if You Die Without a Will?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What happens to a person’s possessions if they die without a will? I’m almost 60 years old and have never gotten around to making one, but the coronavirus crisis has made it a priority.
Will-less Willie

Dear Willie,
The coronavirus crisis has lit a fire under many Americans when it comes to getting their affairs in older. Currently, fewer than half of American adults have prepared a will or living trust.

If you die without a will, the state you reside in will determine what happens to your assets. Every state has intestacy laws in place that parcel out property and assets to a deceased person’s closest living relatives when there’s no will or trust in place. But these laws vary from state-to-state.

Here is a general breakdown of what can happen to a person’s assets, depending on whom they leave behind.

Married with children: When a married person with children dies without a will, all property, investments and financial accounts that are “jointly owned” automatically goes to the surviving co-owner without going through probate, which is the legal process that distributes a deceased person’s assets.  But for all other separately owned property or individual financial accounts, the laws of most states award one-third to one-half to the surviving spouse, while the rest goes to the children.

Married with no children or grandchildren: Some states award the entire estate to the surviving spouse, or everything up to a certain amount (for example the first $100,000). But many other states award only one-third to one-half of the decedent’s separately owned assets to the surviving spouse, with the remainder generally going to the deceased person’s parents, or if the parents are dead, to brothers and sisters.  Jointly owned property, investments, financial accounts, or community property automatically goes to the surviving co-owner.

Single with children: All state laws provide that the entire estate goes to the children, in equal shares. If an adult child of the decedent has died, then that child’s children (the decedent’s grandchildren) split their parent’s share.

Single with no children or grandchildren: In this situation, most state laws favor the deceased person’s parents. If both parents are deceased, many states divide the property among the brothers and sisters, or if they are not living, their children (your nieces and nephews). If there are none of them, it goes to the next of kin, and if there is no living family, the state takes it.

Make a Will
To ensure your assets go to those you want to receive them, you need to create a will or trust. If you have a simple estate and an uncomplicated family situation, there are do-it-yourself resources that can help you create all these documents for very little money.

Some top-rated options include the Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 downloadable software (available at nolo.com) that costs $90 and works with Windows and Macs and is valid in every state except Louisiana; LegalZoom (legalzoom.com), which offers basic wills for $89 or $99 if you’d like assistance from an independent attorney; and Trust & Will (trustandwill.com) which charges $89 for a basic will.

If, however, you want or need assistance or if you have a complicated financial situation, blended family or have considerable assets, you should hire an attorney. An experienced attorney can make sure you cover all your bases, which can help avoid family confusion and squabbles after you’re gone.

Costs will vary depending on where you live, but you can expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $1,000 for a will.

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.

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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Stretching Tips to Help Seniors Gain Flexibility and Reduce Pain

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you offer some good stretching tips for seniors who are staying home during the pandemic? I’ve gotten so stiff and achy in recent years that I have a hard time doing basic activities like bending over to tie my shoes.
Stiff as a Board

Dear Stiff,
Of all possible exercises, stretching tends to be the most neglected, yet nothing is more vital to keeping an aging body limber and injury free.  As we age, our muscles naturally lose their elasticity if you’re not active, which can make common day-to-day activities like reaching down to tie your shoes or looking over your shoulder to back your car out of the driveway, difficult.

But the good news is, by incorporating some simple stretching exercises into your routine (at least three times a week) you can greatly improve your flexibility, as well as enhance your balance, posture and circulation, relieve pain and stress, and prevent injuries. In addition, stretching is also important as a warm-up and cool-down for more vigorous activities, and leg stretching is an excellent way to prevent nighttime leg cramps too.

Simple Stretches
Stretching exercises should focus on the muscles in your neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, hips, thighs, hamstrings and calves. If you’ve had hip or back surgery, you should talk to your doctor before doing lower-back flexibility exercises.

While stretching, it’s very important to listen to your body. You want to stretch each muscle group to the point where the muscle feels tight. If it hurts, you’ve gone too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. Relax, then repeat it three to five times, trying to stretch a little farther, but don’t bounce. Bouncing greatly increases your chance of injury.

It’s also a good idea to warm up a little before you start stretching by walking in place and pumping your arms. And remember to breathe when you stretch. Also, keep in mind that muscles that have not been stretched in a while take time to regain their flexibility. So be patient and go slow.

If you don’t have much experience with stretching, the National Institute on Aging offers a free guide that provides illustrated examples of flexibility exercises to help you get started. Go to order.nia.nih.gov, and type in “Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from The National Institute on Aging” to view it online.

There are also senior fitness programs, like SilverSneakers (silversneakers.com) and Silver&Fit (silverandfit.com), that are currently offering online flexibility and balance videos that can guide you through a series of stretching exercises you can do at home during the pandemic.

There are also a wide variety of stretching exercise DVDs or videos you could purchase at sites like CollageVideo.com or Amazon.com.

Yoga and Tai Chi
Another great way to improve your flexibility is through gentle yoga or chair yoga. In chair yoga you replace the yoga mat with a chair where most poses can be duplicated. This is much easier on tight, inflexible muscles. Tai chi and qi gong are also great exercise options for improving balance and flexibility.

To get started, there are many DVDs and videos that offer instructions and routines for seniors you can do at home. The YMCA has also launched a new series of free, online health and fitness videos at YMCA360.org that includes gentle yoga, chair yoga and tai chi videos.

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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