Savvy Senior Columns for August 2020

Savvy Senior – August Columns

  1. Financial Help for Retirees Affected by COVID-19
  2. How to Keep a Watchful Eye on an Aging Parent
  3. How Medicare and Other Tools Can Help Older Smokers Kick the Habit
  4. An Executor’s Guide to Settling A Loved One’s Estate

 

Financial Help for Retirees Affected by COVID-19

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any financial assistance programs you can refer me to? The coronavirus pandemic has cost me my part-time retirement job and has shrunk my measly IRA account.
Needy Retiree

Dear Needy,
Absolutely! In addition to the $1,200 federal coronavirus stimulus check that was distributed in April and May, there are many other financial-assistance programs (both public and private) that can help struggling retirees, as well as give relief to family members who help provide financial support for their loved ones.

To find out what types of assistance you may be eligible for, just go to BenefitsCheckUp.org, a free, confidential Web tool designed for adults 55 and older and their families. It will help you locate federal, state and private benefits programs that can assist with paying for food, medications, utilities, health care, housing and other needs. This site – created by the National Council on Aging – contains more than 2,500 programs across the country.

To identify benefits, you’ll first need to fill out an online questionnaire that asks a series of questions like your date of birth, ZIP code, expenses, income, assets, veteran status, the medications you take and a few other factors. It takes about 15 minutes.

Once completed, you’ll get a report detailing all the programs and services you may qualify for, along with detailed information on how to apply.

Some programs can be applied for online; some have downloadable application forms that you can print and mail in; and some require that you contact the program’s administrative office directly (they provide the necessary contact information).

If you don’t have Internet access, you can also get help in-person at any of the 84 Benefit Enrollment Centers located throughout the U.S. Call 888-268-6706 or visit NCOA.org/centerforbenefits/becs to locate a center in your area. Some centers also offer assistance over the phone.

Types of Benefits
Depending on your income level and where you live, here are some benefits you may be eligible for:

Food assistance: Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help pay for groceries. The average SNAP benefit for 60-and-older households is around $125 per month. Other programs that may be available include the Emergency Food Assistance Program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Healthcare: Medicaid and Medicare Savings Programs can help or completely pay for out-of-pocket health care costs. And, there are special Medicaid waiver programs that provide in-home care and assistance too.

Prescription drugs: There are hundreds of programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations that help lower or eliminate prescription drug costs, including the federal Low-Income Subsidy known as “Extra Help” that pays premiums, deductibles and prescription copayments for Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

Utility assistance: There’s the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as well as local utility companies and charitable organizations that provide assistance in lowering home heating and cooling costs.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI provides monthly payments to very low-income seniors, age 65 and older, as well as to those who are blind and disabled. In 2020, SSI pays up to $783 per month for a single person and up to $1,175 for couples.

In addition to these programs, there are numerous other benefits they can help you locate such as HUD housing, home weatherization assistance, tax relief, veteran’s benefits, senior transportation, respite care, free legal assistance, job training and employment and debt counseling.

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.
————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

How to Keep a Watchful Eye on an Aging Parent

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend any services or technology that help me monitor my elderly mother who lives alone? Since the coronavirus pandemic started last March, my sister and I have noticed that my mom’s health has slipped a bit, so we would like to find something that helps us keep tabs on her when we’re not around.
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned
Depending on how closely you want to monitor your mother, and what she’s comfortable with as well, there are check-in call services along with some new monitoring technology devices you can turn to for help. Here are several to consider.

Check-In Calls
If you just want a simple check to make sure your mom is OK every day, consider signing her up with a daily check-in call service program. These are telephone reassurance programs run by police or sheriff’s departments in hundreds of counties across the country and are usually provided free of charge.

Here’s how they work. A computer automated phone system would call your mom at a designated time each day to check-in. If she answers, the system would assume everything is OK. But if she didn’t pick up or if the call goes to voice mail after repeated tries, you (or her other designee) would get a notification call. If you are not reachable, calls are then made to backup people who’ve also agreed to check on your mom if necessary.

The fallback is if no one can be reached, the police or other emergency services personnel will be dispatched to her home.

To find out if this service is available in your mom’s community, call her local police department’s nonemergency number. If it’s not offered, there are other organizations or companies you can turn to that provide similar services.

One that I love that’s completely free to use is Mon Ani (monami.io, 650-267-2474), which offers a volunteer phone bank that provides phone or video calls daily, weekly or anything in between. The volunteer will connect with your mom, provide companionship and make sure everything is OK. And, they’ll let you know if they detect a problem.

Monitoring Technology
Technology also offers a variety of new ways to help you keep an eye on your mom when you can’t be there.

One nifty new option is the Electronic Caregiver’s (electroniccaregiver.com) “Premier” product, which is a wearable wrist device that provides activity monitoring, a 24/7 emergency help button, medication reminders and a GPS locator so you can determine your mom’s whereabouts when she’s away from home.

It’s also linked to a family caregiver app to keep you and other loved ones in the loop. The device is free with a monthly subscription that costs $40 to $60 a month, depending on the level of monitoring.

If your mom is primarily homebound, another option to consider is a sensor-monitoring system like Caregiver Smart Solutions (caregiversmartsolutions.com). This uses small sensors (not cameras) placed in key areas of your mom’s home to track her activities – everything from whether she used the coffee pot to how much she’s watching TV – and will let you know if something out of the ordinary is happening. For instance, if she went to the bathroom and didn’t leave, it could indicate a fall or other emergency.

You can also check up on her patterns anytime you want through the system’s website or app. And for additional protection, it offers emergency call buttons that can be placed around the house. Caregiver Smart Solutions starts at $99 for their activity sensors, plus a $29 monthly service fee.

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.
————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

How Medicare and Other Tools Can Help Older Smokers Kick the Habit

Dear Savvy Senior,
I understand that COVID-19 hits smokers a lot harder than nonsmokers but quitting at my age is very difficult. Does Medicare offer any coverage that helps beneficiaries quit smoking?
Must Quit

Dear Must,
It’s true. Smokers and vapers have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection as the coronavirus attacks the lungs. That’s why quitting now is more important than ever before.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you’ll be happy to know that Medicare Part B covers up to eight face-to-face counseling sessions a year to help you quit smoking. And, if you have a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, certain smoking-cessation medications are covered too. Here are some other tips that can help you kick the habit.

It’s Never Too Late
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 12.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries smoke. Many older smokers, like yourself, indicate that they would like to quit, but because of the nicotine, which is extremely addictive, it’s very difficult to do.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness, responsible for an estimated one-fifth of deaths in the United States each year.

But research shows that quitting, even after age 65, greatly reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and many other diseases including COVID-19. It also helps you breathe easier, smell and taste food better, not to mention saves you quite a bit of money. A $6 pack-a-day smoker, for example, saves about $180 after one month without cigarettes, and nearly $2,200 after one year.

How to Quit
The first step you need to take is to set a “quit date,” but give yourself a few weeks to get ready. During that time, you may want to start by reducing the number or the strength of cigarettes you smoke to begin weaning yourself.

Also check out over-the-counter nicotine replacement products – patches, gum and lozenges – to help curb your cravings (these are not covered by Medicare). And just prior to your quit day get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car, and place of work, and try to clean up and even spray air freshener. The smell of smoke can be a powerful trigger.

Get Help
Studies have shown that you have a much better chance of quitting if you have help. So, tell your friends, family, and coworkers of your plan to quit. Others knowing can be a helpful reminder and motivator.

Then get some counseling. Don’t go it alone. Start by contacting your doctor about smoking cessation counseling covered by Medicare and find out about the prescription antismoking drugs that can help reduce your nicotine craving.

You can also get free one-on-one telephone counseling and referrals to local smoking cessation programs through your state quit line at 800-QUIT-NOW or call the National Cancer Institute free smoking quit line at 877-44U-QUIT.

It’s also important to identify and write down the times and situations you’re most likely to smoke and make a list of things you can do to replace it or distract yourself. Some helpful suggestions when the smoking urge arises are to call a friend or one of the free quit lines, keep your mouth occupied with some sugar-free gum, sunflower seeds, carrots, fruit or hard candy, go for a walk, read a magazine, listen to music or take a hot bath.

The intense urge to smoke lasts about three to five minutes, so do what you can to wait it out. It’s also wise to avoid drinking alcohol and steer clear of other smokers while you’re trying to quit. Both can trigger powerful urges to smoke.

For more tips on how to quit, including managing your cravings, withdrawal symptoms and what to do if you relapse, visit 60plus.SmokeFree.gov. There are also a variety of helpful quit smoking apps you can download like SmokeFreeApp.com and QuitGenius.com.

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.
————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

An Executor’s Guide to Settling A Loved One’s Estate

Dear Savvy Senior,
My aunt recently asked me to be the executor of her will when she dies. I’m flattered that she asked, but I’m not sure what exactly the job entails. What can you tell me about this?
Inquiring Niece

Dear Inquiring,
Serving as the executor of your aunt’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a lot of work. Here’s what you should know to help you prepare for this job.

As the executor of your aunt’s will, you’re essentially responsible for winding up her affairs after she dies. While this may sound simple enough, you need to be aware that the job can be time consuming and difficult depending on the complexity of her financial and family situation. Some of the duties required include:

  • Filing court papers to start the probate process (this is generally required by law to determine the will’s validity).
  • Taking an inventory of everything in her estate.
  • Using her estate’s funds to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.
  • Handling details like terminating her credit cards and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of her death.
  • Preparing and filing her final income tax returns.
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in her will.

Be aware that each state has specific laws and timetables on an executor’s responsibilities. Your state or local bar association may have an online law library that details the rules and requirements. The American Bar Association website also offers guidance on how to settle an estate. Go to AmericanBar.org and type in “guidelines for individual executors and trustees” in the search bar to find it.

Get Organized
If you agree to take on the responsibility as executor of your aunt’s estate, your first step is to make sure she has an updated will and find out where all her important documents and financial information is located. Being able to quickly put your hands on deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after she dies will save you a lot of time and hassle.

If she has a complex estate, you may want to hire an attorney or tax accountant to guide you through the process, with the estate picking up the cost. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (naepc.org) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) are good resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.

Avoid Conflicts
Find out if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of your aunt’s estate. If there are some potential problems, you can make your job as executor much easier if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and why. So, ask your aunt to tell her beneficiaries what they can expect. This includes the personal items too, because wills often leave it up to the executor to dole out heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, suggest she make one and put it in writing.

Executor Fees
As the executor, you’re entitled to a fee paid by the estate. In most states, executors are entitled to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which often ranges anywhere from 1 to 5 percent depending on the size of the estate. But, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee. That’s because fees are taxable, but Uncle Sam in most states doesn’t tax inheritances.

For more information on the duties of an executor, get a copy of the book “The Executor’s Guide: Settling A Loved One’s Estate or Trust” at Nolo.com.

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.

Leave a Comment