NEW Savvy Senior Columns for December 2020

Savvy Senior – December Columns

  1. What You’ll Pay for Medicare in 2021
  2. How to Write an Online Will
  3. Noticing Memory Problems? What to Do Next
  4. How Robotic Pets Can Help Isolated Seniors Avoid Loneliness

What You’ll Pay for Medicare in 2021

Dear Savvy Senior,
I know there will be a small cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits next year but what about Medicare? What will the Medicare Part B monthly premiums be in 2021, and when do the surcharges kick in for higher income beneficiaries?
Inquiring Senior

Dear Inquiring Senior,
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced their cost adjustments for 2021 and the increases for premiums and out-of-pocket costs for most beneficiaries will be modest. But if you’re a high earner, you’ll pay more. Here’s what you can expect starting in January.

Medicare Part B
While Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital care, is premium-free for most beneficiaries, Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient services does have a monthly premium. Starting in 2021, the standard monthly Part B premium will be $148.50, up from $144.60 in 2020. That $3.90 bump represents a 2.7 percent increase, which is more than double the most recent Social Security cost-of-living adjustment which was 1.3 percent.

But if you’re a high earning beneficiary, which makes up about 7 percent of all Medicare recipients, you’ll have to pay more. Medicare surcharges for high earners are based on adjusted gross income from two years earlier, which means that 2021 Part B premiums are determined by 2019 annual income.

So, if your 2019 income was above $88,00 up to $111,000 ($176,000 up to $222,000 for married couples filing jointly), your 2021 Part B monthly premium will be $207.90, up from $202.40 in 2020.

Monthly premiums for singles with an income between $111,000 and $138,000 ($222,000 and $276,000 for joint filers) will rise from $289.20 to $297. Individuals earning above $138,000 up to $165,000 ($276,000 to $330,000 for joint filers) will see their monthly premium increase from $376 to $386.10.

Those with incomes above $165,000 up to $500,000 ($320,000 to $750,000 for joint filers), you’ll pay $475.20 per month in 2021. And single filers with income of $500,000 or more ($750,000 or more for joint filers) will pay $504.90 per month next year.

Medicare Part D
If you have a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan, the average premium in 2021 will be about $30 per month for most beneficiaries. But, again for high earner with annual incomes above $88,000 ($176,000 for joint filers) you’ll pay a $12.30 to $77.10 monthly surcharge on top of your regular Part D premiums.

How to Contest Income
Beneficiaries that fall into any of the high-income categories and have experienced certain life-changing events that have reduced their income since 2019, such as retirement, divorce or the death of a spouse, can contest the surcharge. For more information on how to do this, see “Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries” at SSA.gov/benefits/medicare/medicare-premiums.html.

Other Medicare Increases
In addition to the Part B and Part D premium increases, there are other cost increases you should be aware of. For example, the annual deductible for Medicare Part B will see a bump from $198 to $203 in 2021. The deductible for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital services, will increase from $1,408 in 2020 to $1,484 in 2021. There are no surcharges on Medicare deductibles for high earners.

For more information on all the Medicare costs for 2021 visit Medicare.gov and click on “2021 Medicare Costs,” or call 800-633-4227.

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 Write an Online Will

Dear Savvy Senior,
Writing a will has never been a high priority to me but this lingering coronavirus crisis has changed my thinking. Can you recommend some good do-it-yourself resources to help me write a simple will?
Getting Older

Dear Getting Older,
The coronavirus crisis has changed the way a lot of people look at things, including wills. Currently, fewer than half of American adults have prepared a will. But having a last will and testament is important because it ensures that your money and property will be 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.

Online Will Makers
If you have a simple, straightforward estate and an uncomplicated family situation, writing your own will – with the help of a good online will making program – is a viable alternative to hiring an attorney and much cheaper. Like tax software, these online tools will guide you through a series of questions and will insert your answers into a will for you, and it usually takes less that 20 minutes from start to finish.

Three top-rated do-it-yourself options include the Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2021 downloadable software (available at nolo.com) that costs $100 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 that’s more than you’re willing to pay, consider FreeWill (freewill.com), which is a completely free will making resource made possible with the support of nonprofit organizations.

When to Hire a Lawyer
If you have considerable financial assets or a complex family situation, like a blended family or child with special needs, it would be smart for you 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 National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (naepc.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 $1,000 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.

Make it Valid
Be aware that to make your will valid, you must sign and date it and have it witnessed according to the laws of your state. Most states require two witnesses who are not listed as beneficiaries in your will to watch you sign it. Some states also require that a notary witness the signing as well. Nationalnotary.org can tell you if a notary is needed to legalize a will in your state, if remote notary services are available, and how to access such online services to execute your will if you are sheltering at home during the pandemic.

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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Noticing Memory Problems? What to Do Next

Dear Savvy Senior,
My mom, who’s 76, has become more forgetful lately and is worried she may be getting Alzheimer’s disease. What resources can you recommend to help us get a handle on this?
Oldest Daughter

Dear Oldest Daughter,
Many seniors worry about memory lapses as they get older, fearing it may be the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia. To get some insight on the seriousness of your mom’s problem, here are some key warning signs to be vigilant of and some resources you can turn to for help.

Warning Signs
As we grow older, some memory difficulties – such as trouble remembering names of people or places or forgetting where you put your glasses or car keys – are associated with normal aging. But the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are much more than simple memory lapses.

Knowing the early warning signs is a good first step in recognizing the difference between typical age-related memory loss and a more serious problem. To help you evaluate your mom’s condition, here’s a checklist of some common early symptoms to watch for:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly.
  • Getting lost in familiar areas.
  • Failing to recognize familiar people.
  • Having difficulty following directions.
  • Misplaces items in inappropriate places, for example putting her keys in the microwave.
  • Having difficulty completing familiar tasks like cooking a meal or paying a bill.
  • Having trouble remembering common words when speaking or mixing up words.

For more information, see the Alzheimer’s Association list of 10 early signs and symptoms at 10signs.org.

Another good tool to help you evaluate your mom is the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE test) that was developed at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. This free test helps identify mild cognitive impairment and early dementia and can be taken at home in about 10 to 15 minutes. The SAGE test can be taken online at BrainTest.com.

Get Help
If you would rather have professional assistance in evaluating your mom, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (see alzfdn.org) is another good resource you can turn to.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they provide free, confidential virtual memory screenings done via video chat in real time. Your mother will need a phone, tablet or computer with a webcam and internet capability to complete the screening.

The screenings are given by healthcare professionals and take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Once the screening is complete, the screener will review the results with her and let her know if she should see a doctor for further evaluation. To set up a memory screening for your mom call 866-232-8484 and make an appointment.

If you find that your mom does need further evaluation, make an appointment with her primary care doctor for a cognitive checkup and medical examination. Depending on what’s found, she may be referred to a geriatrician or neurologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease.

Keep in mind that even if your mom is experiencing some memory problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has early-stage Alzheimer’s. Many memory problems are brought on by other factors like stress, depression, thyroid disease, side effects of medications, sleep disorders, vitamin deficiencies and other medical conditions. And by treating these conditions she can reduce or eliminate the problem.

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 Robotic Pets Can Help Isolated Seniors Avoid Loneliness

Dear Savvy Senior,
I recently read an article about robotic pets being a great substitute for pet-loving seniors who can’t have or take care of a pet any longer. What do you think of this? My mother, who has some dementia, is living in an assisted living facility that doesn’t allow pets. And because of COVID, we haven’t been allowed inside the facility to visit her since March. I’ve been thinking about getting her a robot pet to help cheer her up but would like to know if they are worth buying, and if so, where can I go to find one.
Locked Out Daughter

Dear Locked Out,
There have actually been several studies on this topic that has shown that robotic pets – which are lifelike interactive pets – can have a positive impact on many lonely, socially isolated seniors, especially those who have dementia. This is particularly important now as the pandemic has caused millions of high-risk, vulnerable seniors to isolate as a means to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Here’s what you should know.

Robotic Pet Studies
In 2018, the New York State Office for the Aging was the first state in the U.S. to test the robotic pets with isolated seniors and results showed that using pets to lower social isolation was highly successful, with 70 percent of pilot participants reporting a decrease in isolation after one year. Subsequent programs done in aging agencies in Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania have also shown positive results

Other clinical studies conducted by AARP, UnitedHealthcare, and other clinicians and have also found that robotic pets can help to enhance the well-being and quality of life of lonely or isolated individuals and those living with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, by providing a level of interaction and comfort from a lifelike companion.

Where to Look
If you’re interested in getting your mom a robotic pet, a top option is Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All Companion Pets – see JoyForAll.com.

They offer cats, a kitten and a pup that look, feel and sound like the real thing – minus the feeding, watering, litter box or backyard cleanup, and the vet bills. With prices ranging between $65 and $130, these soft, plush animals have built-in sensors, “vibrapurr” or “barkback” technology, and brushable fur, making them surprisingly realistic.

Insert four batteries, and the cats, which come in four different shades to mimic real breeds, can open and close their eyes, lift their paws, and move their head and body. If you pet them in the right spot – like on their belly or back side – they’ll let out a purr.

If your mom is more of a dog person, you can also buy a stuffed golden puppy, accessorized with a red bandana, that will bark if he’s feeling happy, sad, or needy. At only four pounds, the stuffed pup is easy to play with and won’t weigh down even the most fragile frame.

Some other robotic pet options you should look into include Tombot’s Jennie ($399; tombot.com), a lapdog that barks on command and has realistic facial features; AIBO ($2,900; us.aibo.com) by Sony, which is a plastic puppy that has lifelike expressions and a dynamic array of movements; and Paro the Seal ($6,120; parorobots.com), which is marketed as a “carebot,” designed specifically for people with dementia.

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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