NEW Savvy Senior Columns for December 2020

November 20, 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.

NEW Savvy Senior Columns for November 2020

October 27, 2020

Savvy Senior – November Columns

  1. How Seniors can Save Money on Prescription Eyeglasses
  2. What Happens to Medicare if Obamacare is Overturned?
  3. How to Track Down Old Friends Online
  4. How to Claim Social Security Benefits During the Pandemic

How Seniors can Save Money on Prescription Eyeglasses

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for finding affordable prescription eyeglasses? I used to have vision insurance through my work but lost it when I turned 65 and signed up for Medicare.
Need Spectacles

Dear Need,
Unfortunately, in 2020 it’s still true that original Medicare does not cover vision services, which includes routine eye exams and prescription eyeglasses – unless you’ve just had cataract surgery. While there’s no one solution to this common need, here are a few tips that can help you save.

Medicare Advantage
While original Medicare doesn’t cover vision services, there are Medicare Advantage plans that do. Medicare Advantage plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover all the same medical and hospital services that original Medicare does, but many of them also provide vision as well as dental, hearing and prescription drugs too.

To locate Advantage plans in your area that provide vision coverage, go to Medicare.gov/plan-compare or call 800-633-4227. But before enrolling in a plan, check the benefit details to ensure the plan’s vision coverage includes routine eye exams, eyeglass frames and lenses.

If you are currently enrolled in original Medicare you can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan each year during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7. Or, if you already have an Advantage plan that doesn’t provide adequate vision coverage, you can swap to another plan between Jan. 1 and March 31.

If you don’t want to change your Medicare plan, you can still get coverage by purchasing a vision insurance policy – see eHealthInsurance.com. Vision policies typically start at around $11 to $13 per month for an individual, but before signing up make sure your savings potential is worth the cost of the monthly premiums and required copays.

Discount Stores
Purchasing eyeglasses from discount retailers is another way to save. Costco Optical is one of the best discount stores for good eyewear and low prices. Eyeglasses cost an average of around $184, but to shop there you have to pay a $60 annual membership fee. Some other good retail options for low prices include Sam’s Club Optical and Walmart Vision Centers.

You also need to find out if you are eligible for any discounts. Some retailers provide discounts to membership groups like AARP and AAA. AARP members, for example, can get 30 percent off a pair of glasses (frames and lenses) at LensCrafters and Glasses.com, and you save an additional $10 on a complete pair at Target Optical. AARP also offers $55 comprehensive eye exams (dilation included) at participating eye doctors. See AARPVisionDiscounts.com for more information.

Buy Online
Buying eyeglasses online can also offer huge savings. Stores like ZenniOptical.com and EyeBuyDirect.com sell prescription eyeglasses for as little as $6 and $7. These sites let you upload a photo of your face, so you can see what you’d look like in different frames.

Or, for a snappier choice of frames see WarbyParker.com, which offers single-vision glasses starting at $95. They even offer a free program where you can request up to five pairs to try on at home for five days.

To purchase glasses online, you’ll need a valid prescription from an eye doctor (typically no more than a year old), plus your pupillary distance number, which is the distance, measured in millimeters, between the centers of your pupils in each eye.

Low-Income Assistance
If your income is low, depending on where you live, there may be some local clinics that provide free or discounted eye exams and eyeglasses. Put in a call to your local Lions Club to see what’s available in your area. See Directory.LionsClubs.org for contact information.

You may also be able to get free eyeglasses through New Eyes (New-Eyes.org, 973-376-4903), a nonprofit organization that provides free eyeglasses through a voucher program to people in financial need.

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 to Medicare if Obamacare is Overturned?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Will my Medicare benefits be affected if Obamacare is overturned by the Supreme Court?
Concerned Beneficiary

Dear Concerned,

Unfortunately, yes. If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – also known as Obamacare – gets repealed by the Supreme Court next year, it will weaken Medicare and increase costs for beneficiaries. Here’s what you should know.

Currently, about 60 million people are covered under Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and people of all ages with disabilities. Even though the main aim of the ACA was to overhaul the health insurance markets, most people don’t realize that the law also touches virtually every part of Medicare.

Without the ACA, Medicare beneficiaries will have to pay more for preventive care services, which are now free; they’ll have to pay more toward their prescription drugs; their premiums and deductibles will rise faster; and Medicare will face insolvency much sooner because of lost funding and cost cutting measures. With the help of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, here is a more detailed breakdown of what happens to Medicare if the court invalidates the law.

Preventive care services will no longer be free: Thanks to the ACA, there’s no copayment or deductible for potentially life-saving screenings for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Flu shots and annual wellness visits are also free. Before the ACA, beneficiaries had to pay 20 percent of the cost for most preventive care services, after their deductible was met.

The doughnut hole will return: Since 2011 the ACA has been steadily closing the prescription drug coverage gap, also known as the doughnut hole, in Medicare Part D by requiring drug manufacturers and insurers to pick up more of the cost. The hole was finally closed this year with seniors paying 25 percent of the cost for both generic and brand-name medications and manufacturers picking up 70 percent of the tab, while insurers kick in the remaining 5 percent. Before the ACA, seniors paid 100 percent of Part D prescription drug expenses while in the doughnut hole.

Medicare premiums and deductibles will rise faster: The ACA also curbed Medicare payments to providers to help keep Medicare Part A deductibles and copayments in check. Similarly, Part B premiums and deductibles are much lower than projected before the ACA became law. From 2011 to 2020, Part B premiums increased 23 percent. From 2000 to 2009 – the nine years before the law’s passage – Part B premiums rose almost five times faster, increasing 112 percent over that period.

Medicare Advantage plans will be more expensive: The ACA requires Medicare Advantage plans to spend 85 percent of premium dollars on health care, not profits or overhead. The plans also can’t charge more than traditional Medicare for chemotherapy, renal dialysis, skilled nursing care and other specialized services.

Those restrictions dramatically lowered costs for Medicare Advantage plan enrollees. Since the ACA became law in 2010, the average Medicare Advantage premium has decreased by 43 percent while enrollment has increased 117 percent.

Insolvency accelerates: The ACA extended the solvency of the program’s trust fund by eight years to 2026, mostly by finding new sources of revenue and slowing the growth of payments to all providers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that reversing those changes would cost the program $700 billion over 10 years, which would make Medicare almost immediate insolvent.

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 Track Down Old Friends Online

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m interested in tracking down some old friends I’ve lost touch with over the years but could use some help. What websites can you recommend that can help me find them?
Tracking Tom

Dear Tom,
Thanks to the Internet, tracking down long-lost friends from many years ago is relatively easy to do and, in most cases, it won’t cost you a cent. Here are some tips and online tools to help you get started.

Remembering the Details
Before you begin your search, a good first step is to jot down any information you can remember or find out about the people you’re trying to locate. Things like their full name (maiden and married), age or birth date, last known address or phone number, old e-mail address, names of family members, and so forth. Knowing details can help you turn up clues while you search.

Social Media and Search Engines
After you compile your information, a good place to start your search is at social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And search engines like Google and Yahoo.

When using search engines, type in the name of the person you’re searching for in quotation marks, for example, “John Smith.” You can narrow your search by adding other criteria like their nickname or middle name, the city or state they may live in, or even their occupation.

People Search Sites
If your initial search comes up empty, you can also use people searches like AnyWho.com, Intelius.com or WhitePages.com. These sites will provide a list of potential matches from across the U.S.

Because many people share the same name, these sites will also supply details to help identify the right person, perhaps including their age, prior hometowns, names of relatives, colleges attended or employer.

While these sites are free to use at a basic level, they charge a small fee for providing certain details like the persons contact information. WhitePages, however, sometimes provides home phone numbers for free.

Niche Finding Sites
Here are a few other niche people-finding websites to help you with your search.

To look for old high school classmates, try Classmates.com. This site has contact information only for people who have registered with it. But even if your friend hasn’t registered, it could provide contact info for another classmate who remains in touch with your friend.

Another option is to check out your high school alumni website. Not every school has its own site, but some do, and you can look for it by going to any search engine and typing in the name of the school with the city and state it’s located in. You can also search at AlumniClass.com, a huge hosting site for thousands of high schools across the U.S.

If you’re looking for old college friends, look for an alumni directory on the school’s website. You might be able to access your friend’s contact info by completing an online registration. Or, try calling or emailing your alumni relations department and ask them to pass on your contact info to your friend.

If you’re looking for someone you served with in the military, Military.com offers a free “Buddy Finder” service that has a database of more than 20 million records – visit Military.com/buddy-finder. You can also search for free at GIsearch.com, TogetherWeServed.com and VetFriends.com.

If you can’t find any current information about the person you’re searching for, it could be that he or she is dead. To find out if that’s the case, use obituary databases such as Tributes.com and Legacy.com, which has a newspaper obituary search tool from hundreds of U.S. newspapers.

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 Claim Social Security Benefits During the Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
With my local Social Security offices being closed due to COVID-19, what is the best way to apply for my Social Security retirement benefits?
Approaching 62

Dear Approaching,
Because of the pandemic, all Social Security field offices across the country have been closed since March, so you can’t just walk-in, talk to a counselor and apply for benefits in person right now. But there are other ways to claim your benefits that are much easier and quicker. Here’s what you should know.

How to Apply?
The easiest and most convenient way to apply for your Social Security benefits during the pandemic is to do it yourself online at SocialSecurity.gov. It usually takes around 15 minutes to complete the application, as long as you’ve gathered all of the required information and documentation (more on that at the bottom of the column). You can also save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time.

If your situation is complicated or you’re uncomfortable using the Internet to apply, you can have a Social Security employee assist with the process via telephone. To make an appointment call 800-772-1213. (If you’re hearing impaired, you can call 800-325-0778.) The phones are monitored Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. At the time of your appointment, the representative will call you.

If you start to complete the online application form but find that it’s too confusing or complicated, call the agency and set up a phone appointment.

Once you have submitted your application, a representative may contact you with updates or questions about your application. You can also check the status of your application by signing in to your “my Social Security” account at SSA.gov/myaccount.

When to Apply?
You should file one or two months before you want benefits to begin, but if you’re the worrying type, you can do it up to three or four months before. It takes a little time to process the paperwork, so by putting in your application a few months early, you can fix any problems that come up without it interfering with your starting date.

It’s also worth noting that if you start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits before age 65, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, and you’ll receive your Medicare card about three months before your 65th birthday. It will include instructions to return it if you have work coverage that qualifies you for late enrollment.

But if you decide to delay your retirement benefits, you’ll need to sign up just for Medicare at age 65, which you can also do at SocialSecurity.gov or over the phone at 800-772-1213.

Needed Information
In order to apply for Social Security benefits online or over the phone, you’ll need to be able to document some information about your identity and work history. So before applying, have the following information handy:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your birth certificate (original or certified).
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.
  • A copy of your U.S. military service papers if you had military service before 1968.
  • A copy of your W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for last year.
  • Your bank information (including your account number and the bank routing number) where you want your benefits direct deposited to.

For a complete checklist of what you’ll need to complete your application, see SSA.gov/hlp/isba/10/isba-checklist.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.

Savvy Senior Columns — October 2020

October 1, 2020

Savvy Senior – October Columns

  1. Coronavirus Versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference
  2. Helping Seniors Recognize Fake News and Propaganda
  3. How to Create an Online Memorial for a Departed Loved One
  4. How to Find an Online Therapist
  5. How to Recognize and Stop Elder Abuse in the COVID Era

 

Coronavirus Versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you explain the differences between the coronavirus and seasonal flu? I’m 70-years-old, and usually get a standard flu shot, but would like to find out what else I can do to protect myself this winter.
Worried Senior                                                                                     

Dear Worried,
Great question! Because of the dual danger of Influenza (flu) and COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned that this fall and winter could be the worst ever for public health. Understanding this, knowing the differences and similarities between the viruses, and knowing what you can do to protect yourself is the best way to stay healthy and safe through this difficult time.

Flu vs COVID
Because many of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, so testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. With that said, here are some similarities and differences you should know.

For starters, seasonal flu symptoms come on pretty quickly, whereas COVID-19 develops gradually over a period of a few days and then either fades out or gets worse. Common shared symptoms include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, headache, fatigue and even chest pain. Pinkeye and a dry cough are associated with COVID-19, while it’s now thought that a fever is more likely with the flu, as are diarrhea and nausea.

Many people are having their temperatures taken these days before entering public spaces. But fever occurs in only half of COVID-19 cases. Fever does not rule out COVID-19, but the absence of fever makes flu unlikely.

You’re also unlikely to have a runny or stuffy nose with the flu, but you may with COVID-19. What sometimes happens within the nose with COVID-19 is loss of smell and, often as a consequence, loss of taste, too.

To learn more about the similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19, visit the CDC website ​at CDC.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.

How to Protect Yourself
While there is currently no vaccine available yet to prevent COVID-19, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. So, stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet away from other people. And every time you come home, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

There’s also evidence that suggests that people who are deficient in vitamin D may be at higher risk of getting COVID-19, than those with sufficient levels. So, make sure you take in around 800 to 1,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D from food or supplements daily, and get outside as much as you can.

And to help guard against the flu this year, you should consider getting a flu shot that’s specifically designed for people 65 and older. The “Fluzone High Dose Quadrivalent” or the “FLUAD Quadrivalent” are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot offers. You only need one flu shot, and if you haven’t already gotten it, you should do it now because takes up to two weeks to build immunity after you receive it.

Pneumonia Vaccines
If you haven’t been vaccinated for pneumonia, you should also consider getting the pneumococcal vaccines. Both flu and COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia, which hospitalizes around 250,000 Americans, and kills around 50,000 people each year. But these numbers could be much higher this year.

The CDC recommends that all seniors, 65 or older, get two vaccinations – Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered one year apart, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection.

Medicare Part B covers both flu and pneumonia shots.

To locate a vaccination site that offers any of these shots, visit VaccineFinder.org and type in your location.

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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Helping Seniors Recognize Fake News and Propaganda

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any resources that you know of that can help seniors detect fake news? My 75-year-old mother shares a lot of misinformation with her family and friends that she sees on Facebook. I’ve talked to her about it, but for some reason she has a difficult time deciphering real news from fake news and propaganda.
Frustrated Daughter

Dear Frustrated,
Unfortunately, the digital misinformation problem your mom is experiencing is not uncommon. According to researchers from Princeton and New York University, people aged 65 and older are up to seven times more likely to share fake news and dubious links on social media than their younger counterparts.

Why?
There are several theories. The first is that many seniors started using social media sites like Facebook only within the past five or six years and may lack the digital literacy skills to identify false or misleading content.

Some other possible theories are that most seniors experience some cognitive decline as they age, making them more likely to fall for hoaxes. Many older Americans also suffer from chronic loneliness which can cause them to share misinformation as an attempt to make connections with other people. And studies have shown that older people are generally more trusting than younger generations, which can make them more gullible.

All this is particularly concerning now as we sit in the midst of a global health pandemic and a 2020 election season, both of which are ripe with misinformation, rumors and conspiracy theories. And seniors are prime targets of this false/misleading information because they are much more likely to vote than their younger cohorts and are much more vulnerable to getting sick and dying if they contract COVID-19.

Where to Get Help
To help your mom detect and combat online misinformation there are several great resources she can turn to that offer free courses and tips.

One is MediaWise for Seniors, a project of the Poynter Institute, which offers two free online courses to help seniors detect and combat online misinformation – see Poynter.org/mediawise-for-seniors.

The first four-week course has already filled up, but your mom can still enroll in a self-directed course called “Hands-On Lessons to Separate Fact and Fiction Online.” It is hosted by Christiane Amanpour and Joan Lunden, and is scheduled to begin Sept. 24, but she can take the course anytime.

In addition, Poynter has worked with AARP to produce Fact Tracker interactive videos and a webinar on spotting and filtering misinformation at AARP.org/facttracker.

Some other free course options you should look into include Senior Planet, which is offering a one-hour online course on “How to Spot Fake News” at SeniorPlanet.org.

The News Literacy Project that provides the Checkology virtual classroom, which was initially created for middle and high school students, is now offering an independent learners option that is ideal for older adults – see Get.Checkology.org. Their lessons will help your mom detect the difference between news, opinion and propaganda.

And Coursera, a free world-wide online learning platform, which offers an in-depth six-week course called “Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens,” which she can access at Coursera.org/learn/news-literacy.

There are also many good websites, like PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com and FactCheck.org that will let your mom fact check a story to help her identify fact versus fiction. These sites have most likely already fact-checked the latest viral claim to pop up in her news feed.

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 Create an Online Memorial for a Departed Loved One

Dear Savvy Senior,
My mother passed away last week, and because of COVID we didn’t have a funeral. I would like to create some type of online memorial for her so family and friends can express their condolences and share their stories. What can you tell me about making an online memorial for my mom?
Grieving Daughter

Dear Grieving,
I’m very sorry for your loss. Creating an online memorial for your mom is a great idea and one that’s become increasingly popular in the age of COVID-19. Thousands of families have created them for their departed loved ones, especially those who didn’t have a proper funeral because of the pandemic. Here’s what you should know.

What is an Online Memorial?
An online memorial is a website created for a deceased person that provides a central location where their family and friends can visit to share stories, fond memories, photographs, comfort one another and grieve. The memorial can remain online for life, or a specific period of time, allowing people to visit and contribute any time in the privacy of their own space.

Online memorials started popping up on the Internet in the late 1990s but were created primarily for people who were well known. But now, these sites are for anyone who wants to pay tribute to their departed family member or friend and ensure they will be remembered.

Content typically posted on an online memorial includes a biography, pictures and stories from family and friends, timelines of key events in their life, along with favorite music and even videos.

Another common feature is an online guestbook where visitors sign their names and write tributes to the departed. Online memorials can also direct visitors to the departed person’s favorite charity or cause to make a donation, as an alternative to sending funeral flowers.

Some online memorial sites today even offer virtual funeral/event capabilities as a replacement for an in-person funeral. And they’ll help you get the word out by offering invitations and RSVP tracking.

Top Online Memorials
To make an online memorial there are a wide variety of websites available that make it easier than ever to create a thoughtful, personalized profile for your mom to celebrate and honor her life, and the process of creating it can be very satisfying.

You also need to know that some online memorial sites are completely free to use, while others offer a free and a paid version that provides additional features.

Some of the best sites that offer both free and paid options are MyKeeper.com (free or $75) and iLasting.com (free or $49/year or $99 for a lifetime membership).

Or, if you’re interested in one that’s completely free to use, some top options are GatheringUs.com (they do charge for virtual events), Memories.net, InMemori.com and WeRemember.com.

Memorialize Facebook
If your mom used Facebook, you can also turn her profile into a memorialized account for free when you show proof of death. This option will let your mom’s family and friends share stories, photos or memories to celebrate her life, with the word “Remembering” shown next to her name.

Once her account is memorialized, the content she shared is still visible on Facebook to the audience it was originally shared with, however, her profile will not show up in public spaces such as people she may know, ads or birthday reminders.

In addition, you can also request a Look Back video, which is a short video created by Facebook highlighting your mom’s pictures and most liked status messages.

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 an Online Therapist

Dear Savvy Senior,
What is the best way to find online therapy services for my anxiety and depression? I just turned 63 and have become increasingly hopeless since the COVID pandemic hit and cost me my job. I need to get some professional help, but I’m also high risk for illness and very concerned about leaving the house.
Need Help

Dear Need,
I’m sorry to hear about your job loss and the difficulties you’re going through right now, but you’re not alone. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic downturn, fear, anxiety and depression is being reported by 45 percent of Americans, according a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll.

To help you through this difficult time there are a variety of therapists, psychologists, and other mental health providers you can turn to. And because of the pandemic, most of them are now offering counsel to their clients online through teletherapy services. This will allow you to interact virtually with a therapist from the comfort of your home using only a smartphone, tablet or computer.

How to Find a Therapist
A good first step to locating a therapist is to ask your primary care provider or family and friends for a referral. You can also look on your insurer’s website for a list of therapists covered under your plan. But be aware that some insurers have limited, or even no coverage for mental health, and many mental healthcare providers don’t participate in insurance plans. (Medicare does cover mental health services.)

Other resources to help you find a good therapist include online finder tools at the American Psychological Association (locator.apa.org) and the American Psychiatric Association (finder.psychiatry.org).

If you want some help, there are also online platforms that can help match you with a licensed mental health provider. For example, Talkspace (talkspace.com) and BetterHelp (betterhelp.com), are virtual services you can access through your phone or computer, that contracts with thousands of licensed and credentialed therapists.

The process starts with a few questions to assess your goals, your condition, and your preferences, and then matches you with some top therapists in your state.

If you don’t have insurance coverage or can’t afford therapy, you can call or text 211 (or go to 211.org) anytime for a referral to a provider who offers support at no cost or on a sliding scale, based on your budget.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 and ask for a referral to a local resource or provider or ask to be transferred to their “warm line” for non-emergency calls, where you can talk anonymously to a trained professional at no cost.

Another possible option is Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are community-based health centers, some of which may offer teletherapy services at no-cost. To search for centers in your area visit FindAHealthCenter.hrsa.gov.

There’s also this website called Open Path Collective (openpathcollective.org), where therapists offer low-cost online sessions for between $30 and $60.

Interview Your Therapist
Before you start sessions with a therapist, it’s important to make sure he or she meets your needs. If you’re not comfortable with the person, you’re unlikely to benefit from the therapy. So, schedule a call or a video chat to get a feel for each other, and to ask about the therapist’s training, years in practice, specialties, therapy techniques and fee. Ideally the therapist you choose will be a good personality fit for you and will be within your budget and/or covered by your insurance.

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 Recognize and Stop Elder Abuse in the COVID Era

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you write a column on how to recognize elder abuse and what to do if you suspect it?
Concerned Relative

Dear Concerned,
Elder abuse is a big problem in the United States that has escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Council on Aging, as many as 5 million seniors are victims of abuse each year, but studies suggest this crime is significantly under-reported. Only 1-in-14 cases of elder abuse ever get reported to the authorities because victims are usually too afraid, too embarrassed, too helpless or too trusting to call for help.

The term “elder abuse” is defined as intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes or can cause harm to a vulnerable senior. Elder abuse also comes in many different forms: emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect and self-neglect, and financial exploitation.

Those most vulnerable are seniors that are ill, frail, disabled, socially isolated or mentally impaired due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s also important to know that while elder abuse does happen in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the vast majority of incidents take place at home where the senior lives. And tragically, the abusers are most often their own family members (usually the victim’s adult child or spouse) or caregiver.

How to Recognize Abuse
So, how can you tell if an elderly relative or friend is being abused, and what can you do to help?

A change in general behavior is a universal warning sign that a problem exists. If you notice that your relative or friend has become very depressed, withdrawn or gets upset or agitated easily, you need to start asking questions. Here are some additional warning signs on the different types of elder abuse that can help you spot a possible problem.

  • Physical or sexual abuse: Suspicious bruises or other injuries that can’t be explained. Sudden changes in behavior (upset, withdrawn, fearful). Broken eyeglasses. Caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to see an elder alone.
  • Neglect or self-neglect: Weight loss, poor hygiene, unattended medical needs, and unsanitary, unsafe living conditions.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: The senior is extremely upset, agitated, withdrawn, unresponsive, fearful or depressed, or demonstrates some other unusual behavior.
  • Financial exploitation: Missing money or valuables. Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, or transfers between accounts. Unauthorized use of credit, debit or ATM card. Unpaid bills despite available funds. Checks written as a loan or gift. Abrupt changes in a will or other documents.

For more tips on how to recognize the warning signs of abuse during the pandemic, see the National Center on Elder Abuse website at NCEA.acl.gov/Resources/COVID-19.aspx.

What to Do
The best ways to help stop elder abuse is to be in touch and keep the lines of communication open. If you suspect any type of abuse or neglect in your relative’s or friend’s home, report it to your local protective services agency.

Adult Protective Services is the government agency responsible for investigating elder abuse cases and providing help and guidance. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the agency contact number in your area or visit NCEA.acl.gov/Resources/State.aspx.

The agency will ask what you observed, who was involved, and who they can contact to learn more. You don’t need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professional.

Or, to report suspected abuse in a nursing home or assisted living facility, call the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman – see LTCombudsman.org for contact information.

However, if you feel the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help.

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.

Savvy Senior Columns for September 2020

September 1, 2020

Savvy Senior – September Columns

  1. How to Prevent Falls During a Pandemic
  2. Should Seniors Consider a Reverse Mortgage Now?
  3. Is There an Age Limit for Organ Donation?
  4. Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?

How to Prevent Falls During a Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
My 80-year-old mother, who lives alone and is self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic, has fallen several times. Are there any extra precautions you recommend that can help prevent this?
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned,
Falls are a common concern for many elderly adults and their families, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when many seniors are sheltering at home alone.

Each year, more than 1-in-4 older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and older. But many falls can be prevented. Depending on what’s causing your mom to fall, here are some different tips that can help prevent it.

Encourage exercise: Weak leg muscles and poor balance are two of the biggest risk factors that cause seniors to fall. Walking, strength training and tai chi are all good for improving balance and strength, as are a number of balance exercises your mom can do anytime like standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot, and walking heel-to-toe across the room.

For additional balance and leg strengthening exercises, see AgeBold.com.

Review her medications: Does your mom take any medicine, or combination of medicines, that make her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, make a list or gather up all the drugs she takes – prescriptions and over the counter – and contact her doctor or pharmacist for a drug review and adjustment.

Get a vision test: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls, so your mom should get her eyes checked once a year and be sure to update her eyeglasses if needed. Also be aware that if your mom wears bifocal or progressive lenses, they too can cause falls, especially when walking outside or going down steps. These lenses can affect depth perception, so she may want to get a pair of glasses with only her distance prescription for outdoor activities.

If your mom is concerned about a trip into her eye doctor during the pandemic, she can get her vision tested online. Put a call her eye doctor about this option, or consider some online vision testing sites likeEssilor.com or 6over6.com. And to buy eyeglasses online, some popular options include WarbyParker.com and ZenniOptical.com.

Fall-proof her home: There are a number of simple household modifications you can do to make your mom’s living area safer. Start by helping her arrange or move the furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through and pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip like newspapers, shoes, clothes, electrical or phone cords.

If she has throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them.

In the bathroom buy some non-skid rugs for the floors and a rubber suction-grip mat or adhesive non-skid tape for the floor of the tub or shower, and have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower for support.

Also, make sure the lighting throughout the house is good, purchase some inexpensive plug-in nightlights for the bathrooms and hallways, and if she has stairs, put handrails on both sides.

For more tips, see the NIA “fall-proofing your home” web page at NIA.NIH.gov/health/fall-proofing-your-home.

Choose safe footwear: Going barefoot or wearing slippers or socks at home can also cause falls, as can wearing backless shoes, high heels, and shoes with smooth leather soles. The safest option for your mom is rubber-sole, low-heel shoes.

Purchase some helpful aids: If your mom needs some additional help getting around, get her a cane or walker. Also, to help ensure your mom’s safety, and provide you some peace of mind, consider getting her a medical alert device that comes with a wearable emergency button that would allow her to call for help if she were to fall or need assistance.

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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Should Seniors Consider a Reverse Mortgage Now?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about reverse mortgages? The coronavirus damage to my retirement account has me considering it but want to make sure I know what I’m getting into.
Cash-Strapped Senior

Dear Cash-Strapped,
Massive job losses, a volatile stock market and low interest rates caused by the coronavirus pandemic has caused many cash-strapped retirees to consider a reverse mortgage. But there’s a lot to consider to be sure it’s a good option for you now.

Let’s start with the basics.

A reverse mortgage is a unique type of loan that allows older homeowners to borrow money against the equity in their house (or condo) that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at least 12 months. At that point, you or your heirs will have to pay back the loan plus accrued interest and fees, but you will never owe more than the value of your home.

It’s also important to understand that with a reverse mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you’re still required to pay your property taxes and homeowners insurance. Not paying them can result in foreclosure.

To be eligible, you must be 62 years of age or older, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there.

You will also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to continue paying your property taxes and insurance. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live on, you’ll be denied.

Loan Details
Around 95 percent of all reverse mortgages offered are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), which are FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders and banks. HECM’s also have home value limits that vary by county but cannot exceed $765,600.

How much you can actually get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age (the older you are the more you can get), your home’s value and the prevailing interest rates. Generally, most people can borrow somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of the home’s value. To estimate how much you can borrow, use the reverse mortgage calculator at ReverseMortgage.org.

To receive your money, you can opt for a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of these.

But be aware the reverse mortgages aren’t cheap. HECM loans require a 2 percent upfront mortgage insurance payment, plus an additional 0.5 percent annual charge, on top of origination costs and lenders’ fees. Any amount you borrow, including these fees and insurance, accrues interest, which means your debt grows over time.

To learn more, read the National Council on Aging’s online booklet “Use Your Home to Stay at Home” at NCOA.org/home-equity.

Also note that because reverse mortgages are complex loans, all borrowers are required to get counseling through a HUD approved independent counseling agency before taking one out. Most agencies charge between $125 and $250. To locate one near you, visit Go.usa.gov/v2H, or call 800-569-4287.

Other Options
If you have a short-term need for cash, there are other options you should look into. For example, many low-income seniors don’t realize they qualify for the earned income tax credit, a refundable tax break that can put cash in your pocket. You also could use BenefitsCheckUp.org to search for financial assistant programs you may be eligible for.

Another possibility is a regular home equity loan or line of credit. This type of borrowing requires you to make payments, and lenders can freeze or lower limits on lines of credit, but the borrowing costs are much lower.

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 There an Age Limit for Organ Donation?

Dear Savvy Senior,
I never thought about becoming an organ donor until my brother died of kidney failure last year. But at age 78, I would like to know if I’m too old to be a donor, or if they would even use my organs if I were to die from COVID-19. What can you tell me?
Potential Donor

Dear Potential,
There’s no cutoff age for being an organ donor. Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up. In fact, there are many people well up into their 80’s that donate. The decision to use your organs is based on health of the organ, not age. So, don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

Regarding the COVID-19 part of your question, as of right now, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) does not recommend transplantation of organs from donors known to have the virus. So, if you were to contract the coronavirus and die, your organs would probably not be used, however, this may change as treatments are developed.

Here’s what else you should know about becoming a donor.

Donating Facts
In the United States alone, more than 112,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants. But because the demand is so much greater than the supply, those on the list routinely wait three to seven years for an organ, and more than 7,000 of them die each year.

Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas and intestines. Tissue is also needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. And heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.

By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. The United Network for Organ Sharing maintains the OPTN, a national computer registry that matches donors to waiting recipients.

Some other things you should know about being an organ donor are that it does not in any way compromise the medical care you would receive in a hospital if you are sick or injured, nor does it interfere with having an open-casket funeral if you want that option. And, most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider it as the final act of love and generosity toward others.

How to Donate
If you would like to become a donor, there are several steps you should take to ensure your wishes are carried out, including:

Registering: Add your name to your state or regional organ and tissue donor registry. You can do this online at either OrganDonor.gov or DonateLife.net. If you don’t have Internet access, call Donate Life America at 804-377-3580 and they can sign you up over the phone.

Identify yourself: Designate your decision to become an organ donor on your driver’s license, which you can do when you go in to renew it. If, however, you don’t drive anymore or if your renewal isn’t due for a while, consider getting a state ID card – this also lets you indicate you want to be a donor. You can get an ID card for a few dollars at your nearby driver’s license office.

Tell your family: Even if you are a registered donor, in many states, family members have the ultimate say whether your organs may be donated after you die. So, clarify your wishes to family. Also tell your doctors and indicate your wishes in your advance directives. These are legal documents that spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. If you don’t have an advance directive, go to MyDirectives.com where you can create one for free.

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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Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?

Dear Savvy Senior,
My wife and I have thought about purchasing a long-term care insurance policy, but we hate the idea of paying expensive monthly premiums for a policy we may never use. Is there a good rule of thumb on who should or shouldn’t buy long-term care insurance?
Getting Old

Dear Getting Old,
There are two key factors you need to consider that can help you determine if purchasing a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy is a smart decision for you and your wife. One factor is your financial situation and second is your health history. Currently, around 8 million Americans own a policy.

Who Needs LTC Insurance?
As the cost of LTC – which includes nursing home, assisted living and in-home care – continues to rise, it’s important to know that most people pay for LTC either from personal savings or Medicaid when their savings is depleted, or through a LTC insurance policy. National median average costs for nursing home care today is around $92,000 per year, while assisted living averages around $50,000/year.

While national statistics show that about 70 percent of Americans 65 and older will need some kind of LTC, the fact is, many people don’t need to purchase a LTC insurance policy.

The reasons stem from a range of factors, including the fact that relatively few people have enough wealth to protect to make purchasing a policy worthwhile. Seniors with limited financial resources who need LTC turn to Medicaid to pick up the tab after they run out of money.

Another important factor is that most seniors who need LTC only need it for a short period of time, for example, when they’re recovering from surgery. For those people, Medicare covers in-home health care and nursing home stays of 100 days or less following a hospital stay of more than 3 consecutive days.

So, who should consider buying a policy?

LTC insurance policies make the most sense for people who can afford the monthly premiums, and who have assets of at least $150,000 to $200,000 or more that they want to protect, not counting their home and vehicles.

Another factor to weigh is your personal health and family health history. The two most common reasons seniors need extended long-term care is because of dementia and/or disability. And, almost half of all people who live in nursing homes are 85 years or older. So, what’s your family history for Alzheimer’s, stroke or some other disabling health condition, and do you have a family history of longevity?

You also need to factor in gender too. Because women tend to live longer than men, they are at greater risk of needing extended LTC.

Choosing LTC Insurance
After evaluating your situation, if you’re leaning towards buying a LTC policy, be sure to do your homework. The cost of premiums can vary greatly ranging anywhere between $2,500 and $8,000 per year for a couple depending on your age, the insurer, and the policy’s provisions.

Also note that because of coronavirus, it may be more difficult to qualify for coverage now if you’re age 70 or older, in a high-risk group or have had a positive COVID-19 test.

To find a policy, get a LTC insurance specialist who works with a variety of companies. See the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance website (AALTCI.org) to locate one. Also shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York Life, who work only with their own agents.

Another option you may want to consider are Hybrid policies that combine long-term care coverage with life-insurance benefits. These policies promise that if you don’t end up needing long-term care, your beneficiaries will receive a death benefit.

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.

Savvy Senior Columns for August 2020

August 1, 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Savvy Senior Columns — July 2020

June 22, 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.

Savvy Senior Columns — June 2020

May 22, 2020

Savvy Senior – June Columns

  1. How to Find Health Insurance After a Job Loss
  2. How to Make the Most of Your Telehealth Appointment
  3. What to Know About Advance Care Planning in the Age of Coronavirus
  4. Why High Blood Pressure is Even More Dangerous in the COVID-19 Era

How to Find Health Insurance After a Job Loss

Dear Savvy Senior,
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I just got laid off from my job of 22 years and need to find health insurance until I can get another job or enroll in Medicare at age 65. What are my options?
Scared to Death                                                                                   

Dear Scared,
I’m very sorry about your job loss. It’s estimated that as many as 45 million Americans could lose their health insurance as businesses continue to lay off workers due to repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s where you can find health insurance coverage while you’re looking for new employment or waiting for Medicare.

The Affordable Care Act Marketplace
Your best option for getting affordable health insurance is through Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces, also known as Obamacare. Or, if your income is very low you may qualify for Medicaid.

Normally, enrollment in an ACA Marketplace is limited to the short window for Open Enrollment, which is between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15 each year. But there’s an exception for people who’ve lost their jobs, known as the Special Enrollment Period, which allows you to apply because your layoff meant a loss of health insurance. To do so, you must enroll within 60 days of when your coverage stopped and prove that you lost your health insurance.

There is no limited enrollment period for Medicaid.

Eleven of the states with their own health-insurance marketplaces (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington), plus the District of Columbia, are also offering special enrollment periods, allowing anyone who is eligible under the ACA rules to sign up.

ACA health insurance is major medical insurance that covers essential health benefits with no annual or lifetime coverage maximums. And they can’t charge you more or deny you coverage because of a pre-existing health condition.

You also need to know that if your annual income will fall below the 400 percent poverty level, the ACA provides premium subsidies, which will reduce the amount you’ll have to pay for a policy.

To qualify for subsidies your household’s estimated income for 2020 must be under $49,960 for an individual, $67,640 for a couple, or $103,000 for a family of four. The lower your income is under these limits the higher your subsidy will be. Unemployment benefits count toward income.

To see how much subsidy you may qualify for, use Kaiser Family Foundation health insurance marketplace calculator at KFF.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator.  Or, if your income is very low – below the 138 percent poverty level – you may qualify for free, or low-cost health coverage through expanded Medicaid services, which is available in many states.

To apply for ACA Marketplace health plans or Medicaid, go to HealthCare.gov. Or, you can call their toll-free number at 800-318-2596 and get help over the phone.

COBRA
If you need health insurance coverage for less than 18 months, another option you may want to consider is COBRA, which allows you to remain on your former employer’s group health plan, but not every employer plan is COBRA-eligible. Contact your employer benefits administrator to find out if yours is.

In most cases COBRA is expensive, requiring you to pay the full monthly premium yourself. But, if you’ve already met or nearly met your employer plan’s deductible and/or out-of-pocket maximum for the year, and don’t want to start over with a new plan; or if you find your employer’s health plan to be better or more affordable than the marketplace options, it makes sense to keep your current coverage under COBRA.

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 Make the Most of Your Telehealth Appointment

Dear Savvy Senior,
I manage a large doctor’s clinic that treats hundreds of seniors each month. We are moving to more telehealth visits to help keep our patients safe at home during the coronavirus pandemic, but this new way of seeing a doctor is befuddling to many of our elder patients. Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for a telehealth appointment?
Regular Reader

Dear Reader,
I’d be happy to help! To help keep patients safe and at home during the coronavirus crisis more and more doctors and other health care providers are turning to telehealth (a.k.a. telemedicine) appointments, which are remote e-visits using a digital communication device like a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Although telehealth has been around for a few years now, recent updates to regulations and a surge in demand has made it the easiest way to get many different types of medical care. Most telehealth appointments today tend to be primary care or follow-up visits that can assess symptoms or check on people who have had a medical procedure. Telehealth also works well for some specialties like dermatology or mental health care (counseling/therapy) services.

So, what can patients expect from a telehealth visit, and how should they prepare?

The first step is to call your doctor’s office to find out whether telemedicine visits are available and whether you will need to set up an account or install special software on your computer, phone or tablet.

Until recently, doctors were required to conduct telehealth visits through platforms such as Doxy, Thera-Link or MyChart that were compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. But some of those requirements have been relaxed in the current crisis, so many providers are using popular apps such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom to conduct visits.

Once you know what technology you will be using, get familiar with it. You don’t want to spend the first 10 minutes of your visit trying to figure out how to unmute the audio.

For older patients that aren’t familiar or comfortable with technology, ask a relative or friend with a smartphone, tablet or laptop to assist you.

Take the time to clarify the purpose of the televisit before it begins. Prioritize a written list of three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor and make a list of the medicines you’re taking, along with the dosages.  Also, have relevant medical devices or logs on hand, such as a penlight or smartphone flashlight for viewing a sore throat, a blood-pressure cuff and thermometer (or recent readings), blood-sugar logs if you’re diabetic or a food log if you have gastrointestinal problems.

If you’ve received medical care at different places, such as an urgent care facility or another doctor’s office, have your latest medical records with you during the telemedicine visit.

Wear loose clothing that will allow you to show your medical provider what is concerning you.

The length of the appointment may depend on the problem. A routine visit could be very quick, while others, such as a physical-therapy appointment, may last as long as a session at a clinic. Waiting rooms are sometimes replaced by virtual waiting rooms.

Before the visit ends, make sure you know the follow-up plan. Do you need to schedule an in-office visit, fill a prescription or get a referral to a specialist?

Right now, Medicare and Medicaid are covering the cost of telehealth visits (see medicare.gov/coverage/telehealth for details), and most private insurers are following suit.

If you don’t have a primary care physician or need urgent care, you can get help through virtual health care service like Doctor on Demand (doctorondemand.com) or TeleDoc (teladoc.com). These services currently do not accept original Medicare, but they may be covered by private insurers including some Medicare Advantage plans – be sure you check.

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 Advance Care Planning in the Age of Coronavirus

Dear Savvy Senior,
All this horrible coronavirus carnage got me thinking about my own end-of-life decisions if I were to get sick. Can you recommend some good resources that can help me create a living will or advance directive, or other pertinent documents? I’ve put it off long enough.
Almost 70

Dear Almost,
Creating a living will (also known as an advance directive) is one of those things most people plan to do, but rarely get around to actually doing. Only about one-third of Americans currently have one. But the cold hard reality of the novel coronavirus may be changing that. Here’s what you should know along with some resources to help you create an advance directive.

Advance Directives
To adequately spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment are two key documents: A “living will” which tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a “health care power of attorney” (or health care proxy), which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to.

These two documents are known as an “advance directive,” and will only be utilized if you are too ill to make medical decisions yourself. You can also change or update it whenever you please.

It isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer to prepare an advance directive. There are free or low-cost resources available today to help you create one, and it takes only a few minutes from start to finish.

One that I highly recommend that’s completely free to use is My Directives (MyDirectives.com). This is an online tool and mobile app that will help you create, store and share a detailed, customized digital advance directive. Their easy-to-use platform combines eight thoughtful questions to guide you through the process. If you’re not computer savvy, ask a family member or trusted friend to help you.

The advantage of having a digital advance directive versus a paper document is being able to access it quickly and easily via smartphone, which is crucial in emergency situations when they’re most often needed.

However, if you’d rather have a paper document, one of the best do-it-yourself options is the Five Wishes advance directive (they offer online forms too). Created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit advocacy organization, Five Wishes costs $5, and is available in many languages. To learn more or to receive a copy, visit FiveWishes.org or call 850-681-2010.

Another tool you should know about that will compliment your advance directive is the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST (sometimes called Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or MOLST). A POLST form translates your end-of-life wishes into medical orders to be honored by your doctors. To learn more about your state’s program or set one up, see POLST.org.

Readers should also know that if you’ve already prepared an advanced directive paper document, a POLST form or the VA advance directive form 10-0137, you can upload, store and share these documents too at MyDirectives.com.

And finally, to ensure your final wishes are followed, make sure to tell your family members, health care proxy and doctors. If you make a digital advance directive or have uploaded your existing forms, you can easily share them electronically to everyone involved. Or, if you make a paper advance directive that isn’t uploaded, you should provide everyone copies to help prevent stress and arguments later.

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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Why High Blood Pressure is Even More Dangerous in the COVID-19 Era

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are people with high blood pressure at increased risk of getting coronavirus?
Hypertensive Helen

Dear Helen,
If you have high blood pressure, you definitely need to take extra care to protect yourself during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Research shows that people with hypertension are more susceptible to getting COVID-19, are more likely to develop severe symptoms if they do get sick, and are more likely to die from the infection, especially if they’re older.

High Risk Links
A weaker immune system is the key reason people with high blood pressure and other health problems are at higher risk for coronavirus. Long-term health conditions and aging weaken the immune system so it’s less able to fight off the virus. Nearly two-thirds of Americans over 60 have high blood pressure.

Another concern that has been circulating, but was put to rest last month, were theories that the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure – ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) – could make patients more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, and more susceptible to severe illness if they did become infected.

But new research published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month found no risk linked to these medications.

COVID Complications
While pneumonia is the most common complication of the virus, it can also damage the cardiovascular system. That’s why people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart failure are at risk.

High blood pressure damages arteries and reduces the flow of blood to your heart. That means your heart has to work harder to pump enough blood. Over time, this extra work can weaken your heart to the point where it can’t pump as much oxygen-rich blood to your body.

Coronavirus can also damage the heart directly, which can be especially risky if your heart is already weakened by the effects of high blood pressure. The virus may cause inflammation of the heart muscle, which makes it harder for the heart to pump.

If you also have plaque buildup in your arteries, the virus may make those plaques more likely to break apart and cause a heart attack. Studies have shown that people with heart disease who get a respiratory illness like the flu or earlier types of coronavirus are at higher risk for a heart attack.

What to Do?
While everyone needs to take precautions to prevent coronavirus, people with high blood pressure and other health conditions need to be extra careful.

The best way to avoid getting sick is to stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet away from other people. And every time you come home, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Also, clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces like cell phones, countertops and doorknobs.

The CDC also recommends that you have enough medicine on hand to treat high blood pressure and other health conditions. And stock up on over-the-counter medicines to treat a fever and other symptoms if you get sick.

While a coronavirus vaccine isn’t available yet, you should stay up to date on your other important vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccines – Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 – will prevent you from catching pneumonia on top of coronavirus. Also get a flu shot in September or early October. Its symptoms are easy to confuse with coronavirus, which could make it harder for doctors to diagnose you if you do get sick.

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.

Savvy Senior Columns for May

April 21, 2020

Below are the four”Savvy Senior” columns from May.  Again this month, the columns largely deal with the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

Savvy Senior – May Columns
1.    How the Coronavirus Relief Law Helps Retirement Savers and Retirees
2.    Do Pneumonia Vaccines Protect Seniors from Coronavirus?
3.    Grocery and Meal Service Delivery Options for Seniors Sheltering in Place
4.    What Older Diabetics Should Know About Coronavirus
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How the Coronavirus Relief Law Helps Retirement Savers and Retirees

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about the retirement account changes that Congress recently passed in response to the coronavirus crisis?
Seeking Answers

Dear Seeking,
Tucked into the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, that President Trump signed into law in late March were a series of changes that can help retirement savers in need of cash, as well as help preserve the retirement savings accounts of current retirees while the stock market is down. Here’s a rundown to how three provisions in the CARES Act might help you, or someone you know.

Hardship Withdrawals
Normally, if you took money out of an employer-sponsored retirement plan or IRA before 59 ½, you’d be hit with taxes and a 10 percent tax penalty on that amount. But the CARES Act waives the early distribution penalty on up to $100,000 of such distributions in 2020 for what the law calls “affected individuals.” You are, however, still on the hook for income taxes on any amounts withdrawn, but the new law allows you to pay them over three years.

To qualify for this penalty-free hardship withdrawal, you must either have been diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19), have a spouse or dependent diagnosed with it or experienced adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, being unable to work due to a lack of child care due to COVID-19, or closing or reducing hours of a business you owned or operated if you had COVID-19.

Bigger Loans
The CARES Act will also allow you to take larger loans against the money you’ve saved in your 401(k) or 403(b) during the six-month period after the law was implemented, which was March 27. IRAs do not allow loans.

Normally, you can borrow only up to $50,000 or 50 percent of your vested account balance, whichever is less. The CARES Act will double that: up to $100,000 against the amount you’ve saved in your plan.

Borrowers typically have five years to repay a loan or the amount will be treated as a distribution and taxed. But you also need to know that if you leave or lose your job, you may be required to pay back the balance early, or owe taxes and, possibly, an early-withdrawal penalty.

This prevision also helps those with an existing 401(k) loan by allowing them to delay repayments that are due in 2020 for one year.

Suspended RMDs
Starting in 2020, individuals who turn 72 are required to take annual mandatory distributions from their tax-deferred 401(k)s and IRAs. In prior years, this requirement kicked in after savers turned 70½ years of age.

This is known as the required minimum distribution or RMDs.

The CARES Act suspends RMDs for 2020, including those for inherited IRAs, which means you can skip taking your required distributions this year if you wish.

The one-year waiver of RMDs will help retirees, who would otherwise have been forced to base their minimum withdrawals for 2020 on their account balances as of Dec. 31, 2019, when the stock market was near record levels. It will also give the market time to recover before resuming distributions in 2021.

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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Do Pneumonia Vaccines Protect Seniors from Coronavirus?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Do currently offered vaccines against pneumonia provide seniors any protection against the coronavirus disease? I’ve always been bad about getting vaccinated, but this coronavirus pandemic is causing me to change my thinking.
Pro-Vax Patty

Dear Patty,
This is a great question. Because the coronavirus (COVID-19) attacks the lungs and respiratory system, many readers have asked whether the pneumonia vaccines, which are administered to millions of patients each year, might protect someone if they contract the coronavirus.

But unfortunately, the answer is no. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.

This virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are in the process of rapidly developing a vaccine against COVID-19, but it is expected to take at least a year before it’s ready.

Having said that, you should also know that there are several other important vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all seniors should get up to date on after the coronavirus pandemic dies down. Here’s a rundown of what they are, when you should get them, and how they’re covered by Medicare.

Flu vaccine: While annual flu shots are recommended each fall to everyone, they are very important for older adults to get because seniors have a much greater risk of developing dangerous flu complications. According to the CDC, last year up to 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died because of the flu – most of whom were age 65 and older.

To improve your chances of escaping the seasonal flu, this September or October consider a vaccine specifically designed for people 65 and older. The Fluzone High Dose or FLUAD are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot offers. And all flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.

Pneumococcal vaccine: As previously stated, this vaccine protects against pneumonia, which hospitalizes around 250,000 Americans and kills about 50,000 each year. It’s recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get two separate vaccines – PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). Both vaccines, which are administered one year apart, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are taken at least a year apart.

Shingles vaccine: Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than 1 million Americans every year. All people over age 50 should get the new Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, two to six months apart. Even if you’ve already had shingles, you should still get this vaccination because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix because it’s significantly more effective.

All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover shingles vaccinations, but coverage amounts, and reimbursement rules vary depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.

Tdap vaccine: A one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended to all adults. If you’ve already had a Tdap shot, you should get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.

Other Vaccinations
Depending on your health conditions, preferences, age and future travel schedule, the CDC offers a “What Vaccines Do You Need?” quiz at www2.CDC.gov/nip/adultimmsched to help you determine what additional vaccines may be appropriate for you. You should also talk to your doctor during your next visit about which vaccinations you should get.

To locate a site that offers any of these vaccines, visit VaccineFinder.org and type in your location.

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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Grocery and Meal Service Delivery Options for Seniors Sheltering in Place

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good grocery and/or meal service delivery options for seniors? My 78-year-old mother has always shopped for herself, but since the coronavirus pandemic hit the grocery store shelves are always half empty, and she’s getting more fearful of leaving the house.
Parent Helper

Dear Helper,
There are numerous grocery and meal service delivery options available to help seniors stay safe at home during this pandemic, but what’s available to your mom will depend on her location and budget. You should also be aware that because of demand, many grocery and meal delivery services are overwhelmed right now, so some services in your mom’s area may be greatly delayed or temporarily unavailable. That said, here are some good options to look into.

Grocery Delivery Services
Today, there are a variety of websites and apps that allow you or your mom to shop for groceries and other household goods without having to step foot inside a store.

Most of these services offer memberships (fees usually run around $100/year), which will get you or your mom free deliveries on orders over $30 or $35. Or, they’ll charge a flat delivery fee, which typically cost around $8 to $10.

Depending on where your mom lives there are numerous grocery delivery services like Instacart (instacart.com) and Shipt (shipt.com), which work with a wide variety of grocery retailers, including national and local chains and are widely available throughout the U.S. They use independent-contractor shopper/drivers to pick up orders in stores and deliver them to you.

You should also check into Walmart’s online grocery delivery or pick-up service (grocery.walmart.com), which is available in hundreds of locations across the U.S.; Amazon Prime Now (primenow.amazon.com), which is offered in many U.S. cities; Peapod (peapod.com) that’s available in 24 metro markets; and FreshDirect (freshdirect.com) which serves the New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. areas and a few other select cities in the northeast.

Meal Delivery Services
If your mom still enjoys cooking, another convenient option to consider is meal kit delivery services like Home Chef (homechef.com), Sun Basket (sunbasket.com) or HelloFresh (hellofresh.com).

Meal kits are subscription-based services that will send your mom a box containing fresh, pre-portioned ingredient items for that kit’s recipe. All she’ll need to do is combine the ingredients (some chopping, and slicing may be required) and cook it. Most meal kit services run between $8 and $12 per meal.

Or, if your mom wants a break from cooking, a great alternative is to set her up with a ready-made meal delivery service like Mom’s Meals (momsmeals.com) or Silver Cuisine (silvercuisine.com). Both of these companies, which cater to older adults, offer a wide variety of healthy, fully prepared meal choices (just heat and eat), that accommodate a host of dietary needs for those managing diabetes or needing heart-friendly and/or lower-sodium meal options.

Mom’s Meals, which run $7 per meal plus delivery, arrive fresh and will last up to 14 days in the refrigerator. Silver Cuisine meals are delivered frozen and cost $12 or $13 per meal.

You should also find out if there’s a senior home delivery meal program in your mom’s area. Meals on Wheels is the largest program that most people are familiar with, but many communities offer similar programs sponsored by other organizations that go by different names.

To find services available in your mom’s area, visit MealsOnWheelsAmerica.org, which offers a comprehensive directory on their website.

Most home delivered meal programs across the U.S. deliver hot meals daily or several times a week, usually around the lunch hour, to seniors over age 60. Weekend meals, usually frozen, may also be available, along with special diets (diabetic, low-sodium, kosher, etc.). Most of these programs typically charge a small fee (usually between $2 and $6) or request a donation, while some may be free to low-income seniors.

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 Older Diabetics Should Know About Coronavirus

Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are both in our late sixties and have diabetes. We would like to find out if our diabetes increases our risk of getting the coronavirus.
Concerned Diabetics

Dear Concerned,
Currently, there’s not enough data to show that people with diabetes are more likely to get coronavirus (COVID-19) than the general population. But the problem for diabetics is, if you do happen to contract the virus, your chance of developing serious complications are much higher. This is especially true if your diabetes isn’t well-controlled. Here’s what you should know.

Diabetic Risks
Health data is showing that about 25 percent of people who go to the hospital with severe COVID-19 infections have diabetes. One reason is that high blood sugar weakens the immune system and makes it less able to fight off infections. Your risk of severe coronavirus infection is even higher if you also have another condition, like heart or lung disease.

If you do get COVID-19, the infection could also put you at greater risk for diabetes complications like diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which happens when high levels of acids called ketones build up in your blood.

Some people who catch the new coronavirus have a dangerous body-wide response to it, called sepsis. To treat sepsis, doctors need to manage your body’s fluid and electrolyte levels. DKA causes you to lose electrolytes, which can make sepsis harder to control.

How to Avoid COVID-19
The best way to avoid getting sick is to stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, keep at least 6 feet away from other people. And every time you come back from the supermarket, pharmacy or another public place, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

Also wash your hands before you give yourself a finger stick or insulin shot. Clean each site first with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

To protect you, everyone in your house should wash their hands often, especially before they cook for the family. Don’t share any utensils or other personal items. And if anyone in your house is sick, they should stay in their own room, as far as possible from you.

The CDC also recommends that you stock up on medications and diabetes testing supplies to last for at least a month. The same goes for grocery supplies and other household necessities.

Also know that Medicare is now covering the cost of telehealth visits, so if you have questions for your doctor, you can ask by video chat or phone instead of going into the office.

If You Get Sick
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a dry cough, fever, or shortness of breath. If you develop any symptoms that are concerning, call your doctor about getting tested.

If you find that you have contracted COVID-19, the first level of care is to stay home and check your blood sugar more often than usual and check your ketones too. COVID-19 can reduce your appetite and cause you to eat less, which could affect your levels. You also need more fluids than usual when you’re sick, so keep water close by, and drink it often.

You should also know that many over-the-counter medicines that relieve virus symptoms like fever or cough can affect your blood sugar levels one way or the other. So, before you take anything check with your doctor.

And be aware that if you start experiencing severe shortness of breath, high levels of ketones or DKA symptoms like severe weakness, body aches, vomiting or belly pain, you need to see your doctor or get to an emergency room right away.

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.

Savvy Senior Columns — April 2020

March 23, 2020

Savvy Senior – April Columns

  1. How to Protect Your Elderly Parents from Coronavirus
  2. How to Get Help from Social Security During the Coronavirus Pandemic
  3. Medicare Expands Telehealth Services to Help Keep Seniors Safe at Home
  4. Beware of Coronavirus Scams
  5. Social Security Offers Lump Sum Payouts to Retirees

How to Protect Your Elderly Parents from Coronavirus

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m concerned about my 80-year-old mother who’s at high risk for coronavirus. She lives on her own about 100 miles from me, and I’ve been keeping close tabs on her since this whole pandemic started. What tips can you offer long-distance family members?
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned,
Because the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions are the most vulnerable to the new coronavirus, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guideline of social distancing and staying home is critically important.

Here are some additional tips and recommendations from the CDC and public health specialists that can help keep your elderly mother safe and healthy while she’s hunkering down at home until the pandemic passes.

Know and follow the other CDC recommendations: Make sure you and your mom know and practice the CDC recommendations for older adults and those with compromised health conditions. Some of their guidelines – like washing your hands and avoid touching your face – you’re probably already familiar with, but there are many other recommendations and they’re constantly changing. For the complete list visit Coronavirus.gov – click on “Older Adults & Medical Conditions.”

Have supplies on hand: Start by contacting your mom’s healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand for a prolonged period of time. If she cannot get extra medications, consider using mail-order for medications so she can avoid going into a pharmacy. Also be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies to treat fever and other symptoms.

She should also have enough groceries and household items on hand so that she can stay at home for an extended period of time. If she needs to restock supplies, there’s online grocery delivery options like Amazon Fresh, Instacart, Peapod, Target and Walmart, and a growing number of stores including Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Dollar General and many other that are offering early dedicated shopping times to vulnerable seniors to reduce their risk of being exposed to the virus.

There are also home delivery meal programs that can help home-bound seniors – see MealsOnWheelsAmerica.org to locate one in your mom’s area. Or, check out companies like Silver Cuisine (SilverCuisine.com) or Mom’s Meals (MomsMeals.com) that deliver nutritious pre-cooked meals to seniors that can be heated up in the microwave.

Use technology: For many seniors, social distancing can also lead to social isolation and loneliness, which is a common problem in the older population. If your mom has a computer, tablet or smartphone, she can stay connected to friends and relatives via videocalls through Skype, Zoom or FaceTime, which is a safe alternative.

If your mom isn’t familiar or comfortable with mainstream technology there are other solutions like the GrandPad (GrandPad.net), which is a simplified 4G tablet designed for seniors 75 and older that allows one-touch videocalls, email and much more.

And for peace of mind, there are also check-in services like Snug (SnugSafe.com) that send free daily check-ins to your mom’s phone to confirm she’s OK.  And, will let you know if she doesn’t respond.

Skip nonessential doctor’s appointments: Most public health experts are also recommending that seniors at risk cancel nonessential doctor’s appointments. If your mom has a condition that she feels should not be put off, see if a telemedicine session, which is now covered by Medicare would be an option.

Talk to caregivers: If your mom uses a home health or home care service, that means a number of different aides may be coming through her door.

Be sure you talk to the agency she uses or her aides about hygiene. They should all be reminded to wash their hands or use hand gel sanitizer frequently. And any equipment they bring into your mom’s home should be wiped down with disinfectant.

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 Get Help from Social Security During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that the Social Security Administration has closed all their offices because of the coronavirus pandemic. How are they accommodating people while they’re closed down?
Recently Retired

Dear Recently,
Yes, that’s correct. The Social Security Administration has closed its 1,200 field offices throughout the country to protect benefit recipients and workers from the coronavirus pandemic. Their offices have been closed since March 17. How long they will be closed is unclear. It will depend on the course of the pandemic.

In the meantime, services will continue to be available online at the SocialSecurity.gov website, and over the phone. You can also rest assured that monthly payments to the more than 69 million Social Security beneficiaries will not be affected in any way.

Here’s a rundown of how you can get help and get answers to your Social Security questions, while their offices are shut down.

Online Help
For any Social Security business you need to conduct, go to SSA.gov/onlineservices. There you can view your latest statement and earnings history, apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits online, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement Social Security card (in most areas), print a benefit verification letter, and much more – from anywhere and from any of your devices.

Their website also has a wealth of information to answer most of your Social Security questions without having to speak with a representative. For answers to your Social Security questions see their frequently asked questions page at SSA.gov/ask.

Phone Assistance
If you can’t conduct your Social Security business online, check the SSA online field office locator (see SSA.gov/locator) for specific information about how to directly contact your local office. Your local office will be able to provide critical services to help you apply for benefits, answer your questions, and provide other services over the phone.

You can also call the Social Security national toll-free number at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778). This number has many automated service options you can use without waiting to speak with a telephone representative.

If you already have an in-office appointment scheduled, Social Security will call you to handle your appointment over the phone instead. The call may come from a private number and not from a federal line.

Beware of Scams
Be aware that Social Security telephone impersonation scams are growing. These scammers may falsely tell you that there is a problem with your account, that your Social Security number has been suspended because of suspected illegal activity, that you’re owed a cost-of-living benefit increase, or that your monthly benefits will stop because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The caller may also threaten your benefits, suggest you’ll face legal action if you don’t provide information, or pressure you to send money via wire transfers, cash or gift cards. They may even “spoof” your caller ID to make it look like Social Security is actually calling.

If you receive one of these calls, hang up. Social Security rarely contacts anyone by phone unless you have ongoing business with them, and they never threaten you or ask for any form of payment.

For more information on how to get help with Social Security during the coronavirus shutdown, visit SSA.gov/coronavirus.

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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Medicare Expands Telehealth Services to Help Keep Seniors Safe at Home

Dear Savvy Senior,
Does Medicare cover telehealth services? My 71-year-old mother has chronic type 2 diabetes but is very concerned about going to the doctor for fear of exposing herself to coronavirus. What can you tell us?
Avoiding the Doctor

Dear Avoiding,
Yes! Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Medicare recently announced that it will be expanding coverage for telehealth services to help keep vulnerable seniors safe at home. Here’s what you and your mom should know.

Telehealth Services
If you’re not familiar with telehealth or telemedicine services, they are full visits with a health care provider who isn’t at your location using telephone or video technology device – i.e. smartphone, tablet or computer.

Telehealth services allow Medicare beneficiaries to take care of ongoing medical problems as well as new concerns, while following public health advice to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Medicare patients with chronic health conditions now don’t have to postpone a regular follow-up visit with the doctor to keep safe. They can do it via Skype or FaceTime. And people concerned they may have the virus could see their doctor or nurse practitioner virtually to find out how to get tested. Nursing home residents will also be able to have telehealth consultations with their doctors.

If your mom isn’t familiar or comfortable with technology, you or another relative or friend can assist her. You may need to go over to her house to help her do this. Bring your smartphone, tablet or laptop – but remember, don’t visit if you’re feeling sick.

Risk of serious illness from the coronavirus is much greater for older people and those with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems. Many seniors are also managing chronic health issues that put them at heightened risk.

Until recently, telehealth coverage under original Medicare has been limited to beneficiaries only in rural areas, and patients often need to go to specially designated sites for their visits.

The expanded telehealth coverage, which will remain in effect during the coronavirus outbreak, now allows doctors and hospitals to bill Medicare for visits via telemedicine that previously had to take place in person, at a medical office or facility.

If your mom happens to get her Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they will also be expanding their telehealth services. For coverage details, contact her plan directly.

Other Medicare Coverage
In addition to the expanded telehealth services, Medicare will also be covering all coronavirus testing costs to see your mom has been infected, and medically necessary hospitalizations, so if her doctor recommends that she remain in quarantine at the hospital rather than self-isolating at home, she will not have to pay for these costs.

And if your mom has a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, it will cover the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available and will waive prescription refill limits so she can have extra medication on hand during the pandemic.

For more information on how Medicare is covering the coronavirus see Medicare.gov/medicare-coronavirus. And for the latest information on the coronavirus, visit Coronavirus.gov.

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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Beware of Coronavirus Scams

Dear Savvy Senior,
Amid all the troubling coronavirus news, I’ve also read that there are various coronavirus scams going around right now taking advantage of innocent people who are afraid of getting sick or are worried about those that have. What can you tell me about coronavirus scams and what can I do to protect myself?
Scared Senior

Dear Scared,
Unfortunately, coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself, and seniors are often the most vulnerable.

These con artists are setting up websites to sell bogus products, and using spoofed phone calls, emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take your money and get your personal information.

The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your community. They also may be asking you to donate to victims, offering advice on unproven treatments, or contain malicious email attachments.

Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay.

Click carefully: Don’t click on coronavirus-related links from sources you don’t know in an email or text message. The same goes for unfamiliar websites. When you click on an email or download a file, you could get a program on your computer that could either use your computer’s internet connection to spread malware or dig into your personal files looking for passwords and other information.

Ignore bogus product offers: Ignore online offers for coronavirus vaccinations or miracle cures. There are currently no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges, or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus online or in stores. If you see or receive ads touting prevention, treatment, or cure claims for the coronavirus, ignore them because they’re not legitimate.

Beware of CDC spoofing: Be wary of emails, text messages or phone calls claiming to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and/or the World Health Organization (WHO). These scams could take several forms – such as fake health agency warnings about infections in your local area, vaccine and treatment offers, medical test results, health insurance cancellation, alerts about critical supply shortages, and more.

For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit CDC.gov/coronavirus.

Beware of fundraising scams: Be wary of emails or phone calls asking you to donate to a charity or crowdfunding campaign for coronavirus victims or for disease research. To verify a charity’s legitimacy use CharityNavigator.org. But, if you’re asked for donations in cash, by prepaid credit card or gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it because it’s probably a scam.

Beware of stock scams: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is warning people about phone calls and online promotions, including on social media, touting stocks of companies with products that supposedly can prevent, detect or cure coronavirus. Buy those stocks now, they say, and they will soar in price.

But the con artists have already bought the stocks, which typically sell for a dollar or less. As the hype grows and the stock price increases, the con men dump the stock, saddling other investors with big losses. It’s a classic penny-stock fraud called “pump and dump.” Making matters worse: you may not be able to sell your shares if trading is suspended.

When investing in any company, including companies that claim to focus on coronavirus-related products and services, carefully research the investment and keep in mind that investment scam artists often exploit the latest crisis to line their own pockets.

For more tips on how to avoid getting swindled, see the Federal Communications Commission COVID-19 consumer warning and safety tips at FCC.gov/covid-scams.

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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Social Security Offers Lump Sum Payouts to Retirees

Dear Savvy Senior,
In light of the stock market crashing, I’ve heard that Social Security offers a lump-sum payment to new retirees who need some extra cash. I have not yet filed for my retirement benefits and would like to investigate this option. What can you tell me?
Seeking Cash

Dear Seeking,
There is indeed a little-known Social Security claiming strategy that’s been around for many years that can provide retirees a lump-sum benefit, but you need to be past your full retirement age to be eligible, and there are financial drawbacks you need to be aware of too.

First, let’s review the basics. Remember that while workers can begin drawing their Social Security retirement benefits anytime between ages 62 and 70, full retirement age is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954, but it rises in two-month increments to 67 for those born in 1960 and later. You can find your full retirement age at SSA.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm.

At full retirement age, you are entitled to 100 percent of your benefits. But if you claim earlier, your benefits will be reduced by 5 to 6.66 percent every year you start before your full retirement age. While if you delay taking your benefits beyond your full retirement age, you’ll get 8 percent more each year until age 70.

Lump Sum Option
If you are past full retirement age, and have not yet filed for your benefits, the Social Security Administration offers a retroactive lump-sum payment that’s worth six months of benefits.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say for example that you were planning to delay taking your Social Security benefits past your full retirement age of 66, but you changed your mind at 66 and six months. You could then claim a lump-sum payment equal to those six months of benefits. So, for instance, if your full retirement age benefit was $2,500 per month, you would be entitled to a $15,000 lump sum payment.

If you decided at age 66 and three months that you wanted to file retroactively, you’d get only three months’ worth of benefits in your lump sum, because SSA rules prohibit you from claiming benefits that pre-date your full retirement age.

Drawbacks
The downside to this strategy is that once you accept a lump-sum payment, you’ll lose the delayed retirement credits you’ve accrued, and your future monthly retirement benefit will be reduced to reflect the amount you already received. It will also affect your future survivor benefit to your spouse or other eligible family members after you die.

You also need to consider Uncle Sam. Depending on your income, Social Security benefits may be taxable, and a lump-sum payment could boost the amount of benefits that are taxed.

The federal government taxes up to 50 percent of Social Security benefits at ordinary income tax rates if your combined income – defined as adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest income plus half of your Social Security benefits – exceeds $25,000, and up to 85 percent of benefits are taxable if combined income exceeds $34,000. For married couples, the comparable income thresholds for taxing benefits are $32,000 and $44,000.

To help you calculate this, see IRS Publication 915 “Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits” at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf, or call 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a copy.

In addition, if the lump-sum payment of retroactive Social Security benefits boosts your yearly income beyond the $85,000 level, it will increase your future Medicare premiums too. ​SeeMedicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/11579-medicare-costs.pdf for details.

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.

Savvy Senior Columns — March 2020

March 23, 2020

Savvy Senior – March Columns

  1. Beware of Potential 2020 Census Scams
  2. Important Legal Documents All Seniors Should Have
  3. How to Prevent the Silent Epidemic of Kidney Disease
  4. Travel Tips for Grandparents and Grandchildren

Beware of Potential 2020 Census Scams

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you offer some tips to help seniors guard against census scams? With the 2020 census gearing up, I’ve read that there are a lot of potential scammers out there looking to take advantage of older people and I want to protect myself.
Cautious Judy

Dear Judy,
Unfortunately, scams have become a persistent problem when the U.S. Census Bureau does its once-a-decade count of the U.S. population. Here’s what you can expect from the 2020 Census in the coming weeks, and how you can protect yourself from potential scams.

What to Expect
In mid-March, you and nearly every other U.S. household will receive an invitation in the mail to respond to the 2020 Census. This year, you will have the option of completing the 2020 census questionnaire either online, by mail, or by phone. The invitation will include detailed instructions of what you need to do.

If you don’t respond to this invitation letter, you will receive several follow-up postcard reminders from the Census Bureau by mail. If you still don’t respond by late April, a census worker will come to your door to collect your response in person.

It only takes a few minutes to complete the census questionnaire.

While census participation is very important and required by law, you also need to be vigilant of census-linked scams. This is especially important for seniors who tend to be prime targets.

The Census Bureau warns against phishing email scams as well as con artist masquerading as census workers who will try to solicit your personal financial information. Here are some tips that can help you protect yourself.

Guard Your Information
Don’t give out your personal or financial information. The Census Bureau or a legitimate census worker will never ask for your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, money or donations. And they will never contact you on behalf of a political party. If you’re asked for any of these, whether it be via phone, mail, email or in person, it’s a scam and should be reported to [email protected].

Avoid Online Scams
The Census Bureau will not send you an unsolicited email to request your participation in the 2020 Census. So, ignore any emails you get that may direct you to a census website that looks real but is fake – and may be infected with malware. Also, don’t reply to the email or open any attachment because they could contain viruses that could infect your computer. Forward the email or website address to the Census Bureau at [email protected]. Then delete the message.

Be Safe at Home
If someone visits your home to collect a response for the 2020 Census, make sure you verify their identity. A legitimate census taker must present a field badge that includes a photograph of themselves, a Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. Census workers will also be carrying a Census Bureau laptop or cellphone, as well as a bag with a Census Bureau logo.

Also, remember that a census worker will only ask you the questions that appear on the questionnaire – your name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, phone number, type of residence and number of people living with you. They will not ask for sensitive personal information, such as your Social Security or credit card number.

If you have questions about their identity, you can call 800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative. If it is determined that the visitor who came to your door does not work for the Census Bureau, contact your local police department.

For more information on the 2020 Census, visit 2020census.gov.

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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Important Legal Documents All Seniors Should Have

Dear Savvy Senior,
What kinds of legal documents do I need to prepare to help my family after I’m gone? I would like to get my affairs in order but could use some help.
Almost 75

Dear Almost 75,
All adults – especially seniors – should have at least four essential legal documents to protect yourself and your family. These documents will make sure your wishes regarding your estate are legal and clear and will help minimize any conflicts and confusion with your family and your health care providers if you become seriously ill or when you die. Here are the key documents you need, along with some tips to help you create them.

Will: This document lets you spell out your wishes of how you’d like your property and assets distributed after you die, whether it’s to family, friends or a charity. It also allows you to designate an executor to ensure your wishes are carried out and allows you to name guardians if you have dependent children.

In addition to a will, if you own real estate or have considerable assets, another option you may want to consider is a “revocable living trust.” This functions like a will but allows your estate to avoid the time and expense of probate (the public legal process that examines your estate after you die) and helps ensure your estate’s privacy.

Durable Power of Attorney: This allows you to designate someone you trust to handle your financial matters if you become incapacitated.

Advanced Health Care Directive: This includes two documents that spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment. The two documents are a “living will” which tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a “health care power of attorney” (or health care proxy), which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable.

You should also consider making a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) as part of your advance directive, since advanced directives do little to protect you from unwanted emergency care like CPR. To create a DNR, ask your doctor to fill out a state appropriate form and sign it.

Do-It-Yourself
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 options to consider include Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 software (available at Nolo.com) that costs $90 and works with Windows and Macs and is valid in every state except Louisiana. And LegalZoom.com, which offers an estate plan with professional legal guidance with an independent attorney for $179.

Get Help
If 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 lawyer can make sure you cover all your bases – especially when writing a will or living trust – which can help avoid family confusion and squabbles after you’re gone.

Costs will vary depending on where you reside, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $500 and $2,000 for a basic estate plan that includes a will, power of attorney and advance directive. If you want your estate plan to include a living trust, that can run anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) and the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC.org) are two good resources that have directories on their websites to help you find someone in your area.

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.

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 Prevent the Silent Epidemic of Kidney Disease

Dear Savvy Senior,
Do kidney problems run in families? My mother died from kidney failure 10 years ago at age 74 but didn’t know she had a kidney problem until it was too late.
Just Turned 60

Dear Just Turned 60,
Anyone who has a family history of kidney disease, or who has high blood pressure or diabetes is at increased risk and needs to have their kidneys tested.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 37 million U.S adults have chronic kidney disease (when the kidneys can’t properly do their job of cleaning toxins and wastes from the blood), and millions more are at risk of developing it, yet most people don’t realize it. That’s because kidney disease develops very slowly over many years before any symptoms arise. But left untreated, the disease can eventually require people to spend hours hooked up to a dialysis machine or get a kidney transplant. Even mild kidney problems can double a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as cause anemia and bone disease.

The reason kidney disease has become so widespread today is because of the rise of obesity, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure which all strain the kidneys.

Another factor is the increasing number of people who take multiple medications, which can overtax the organs. People over age 60 are especially vulnerable both because they tend to take more drugs, and because kidney function normally declines somewhat with age.

Get Tested
Because kidney disease has no early symptoms, the only way to catch it before it advances is to have a simple blood and urine test by your doctor. So, anyone that has diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, a family history of kidney disease, or is age 60 or older needs to get tested. African, Hispanic, Asian and Indian Americans along with Pacific Islanders are also at increased risk.

If you’re diagnosed with kidney disease you need to know that there’s no cure, but there are steps you can take to help contain the damage, including:

Control your blood pressure: If you have high blood pressure, get it under 130/80. If you need medication to do it, ACE inhibitors and ARBs are good choices because of their proven ability to protect the kidneys.

Control your diabetes: If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible.

Change your diet: This usually means reducing the amount of protein and phosphorus you eat and cutting back on sodium and possibly potassium. Your doctor can help you determine an appropriate eating plan, or you may want to talk to a dietitian.

Watch your meds: Dozens of commonly used drugs can damage the kidneys, especially when taken in high doses over long periods – most notably NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Herbal supplements can also be very dangerous. Talk to your doctor about all the prescription, over the counter and herbal products you take to identify potential problems and find alternatives.

Exercise and lose weight: If you’re overweight and inactive, start an aerobic fitness routine (walk, swim, cycle, etc.) that gets your heart pumping. This will help lower blood pressure, control diabetes and help you lose excess weight all of which will help your kidneys.

Quit smoking: If you smoke, quit. Heart disease becomes a much greater risk to the kidneys if your smoke. Smoking also doubles the rate of progression to end-stage renal failure.

Limit alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol can worsen kidney disease too, so talk to your doctor to see if it’s safe for you to drink, and if so, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day.

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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Travel Tips for Grandparents and Grandchildren

Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are interested in taking our two grandkids on a big trip this summer and are looking for some good ideas. Can you recommend some travel companies that offer special travel packages for grandparents and grandkids?
Doting Grandparents

Dear Doting,
Grandparents traveling with their grandchildren has become increasingly popular in recent years. Not only is this type of travel fun, it’s also a wonderful way to strengthen family bonds and create some lasting memories.

To help you with your traveling aspirations, there are a number of travel companies today that offer specialized multi-generational trip packages for grandparents and grandchildren. This is a nice way to go because they plan everything for you, with most activities for the two generations together, but some just for adults so you can get an occasional breather.

Available in various trip lengths and price ranges, these tours are designed for children, typically between the ages seven up to 17 or 18, and are usually scheduled in the summer, or sometimes during winter breaks when the kids are out of school. Here are some top tour companies to check into that will take you and your grandkids on a fun, well-planned vacation.

Road Scholar (RoadScholar.org): This well-established not-for-profit organization has offered educational travel to older adults since 1975. They currently offer 130 different programs geared to grandparent and grandchildren. About 75 percent of the grandparent trips are domestic; 25 percent are international. Some of the most popular destinations include the U.S. National Parks, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and Paris. The average cost per person per night is $250 for domestic trips, $360 for international.

Tauck (Tauck.com): This is a large tour operator that offers 22 foreign and domestic multi-generational trips called Tauck Bridges family tours. Some of their most popular trips are Costa Rica, the European riverboat cruises, and the Cowboy Country, which tours you through Wyoming and South Dakota.

Austin Adventures (AustinAdventures.com): An adventure travel tour operator that offers 119 family friendly trips ideally suited for grandparents and grandchildren. Popular packages include destinations to Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, Costa Rica, Austria and Holland.

Adventures by Disney (AdventuresByDisney.com): Offers more than 35 vacations all over the world, including itineraries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America.

Smithsonian Journeys (SmithsonianJourneys.org): They offer seven different family journey trips to London and Paris, Tuscany, Iceland, Galapagos Islands, Botswana, Yellowstone and a Rhine River cruise.

Journeys International (JourneysInternational.com): They offer customized multi-generational trips primarily to Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific.

Grandkids’ Travel Documents
Depending on where you go and your mode of transportation, you’ll need to gather some documents for your grandchildren to make sure everything goes smoothly. In general, most travel experts recommend you bring a notarized travel consent form (letter of permission from the parents), and a medical consent form in case any emergencies or problems arise. Also bring copies of insurance cards.

If you’re traveling domestically, you should know that airlines and trains don’t require any form of ID for children under 18. But if you’re traveling to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, or other areas of the Caribbean by land or sea, grandchildren 15 and under will need certified copies of their birth certificates. And if your grandkids are 16 or older, or you’re traveling to these locations via air, passports will be required.

If you’re traveling overseas, all children, even infants, must have a passport. Some countries also require a visa for entry, and vaccinations may be required in some cases. Before booking a trip, check the U.S. Department of State’s website at Travel.State.gov for country-specific 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.