SAVVY SENIOR
Understanding the Responsibilities of an Executor

 

Sept. 3, 2015

Jim Miller

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

An old family friend recently asked me to be the executor of his will when he dies. I feel flattered that he asked, but I’m not sure what exactly the job entails. What can you tell me?

Concerned Friend
 

Dear Concerned,

Serving as the executor of your friend’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a huge chore. Here’s what you should know to help you prepare.
 

Rules and Responsibilities

As the executor of your friend’s will, you’re essentially responsible for winding up his affairs after he dies. While this may sound simple enough, you need to be aware that the job can be tedious, time consuming and difficult depending on the complexity of his 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 his estate. 

*Using his estate’s funds to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.

*Handling details like terminating his credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of his death.

*Preparing and filing his final income tax returns.

*Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in his 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” to find it.

 
Get Organized

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

If he has a complex estate, you may want to hire an attorney or tax account 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 great 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 friend’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 friend to tell his 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 he 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 usually 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 don’t tax inheritances.

 


Mobile Safety Products that Can Help Seniors on the Go    
  
Aug. 27, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

Do you know of any medical alert SOS buttons for seniors that work away from the home? I would like to get one for my 80-year-old mother, but would like to find one that’s not limited to the house.

Shopping Son
 

Dear Shopping,

There are actually a number of medical alert products on the market today that give seniors the flexibility to call for help both inside and outside the home.

For years, medical alert devices (also known as “personal emergency response systems” or PERS) have been popular home safety products for elderly seniors that live alone. These systems come with a wearable SOS pendent button - usually a necklace or wristband - and a base station that connects to the home phone line.

At the press of a button, your loved one could call and talk to a trained operator through the system’s base station receiver, which works like a powerful speakerphone. The operator will find out what’s wrong, and will notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services as needed.

But these devices are limited because they only work in and around the house. If you’re away from home and need help, you’re out of luck. But today, there are numerous mobile products that work anywhere. Here are some top options.

 

High-End Device

If you’re interested in getting your mom a comprehensive, high-end medical alert device that works everywhere, consider the Philips Lifeline GoSafe system. It provides a necklace pendent button, which works like a two-way communication device, allowing your mom to speak and listen directly through the pendant.

If your mom were to fall or need help at home, she could press the button and the home-base communicator system would be activated to make the call to the response center, who would then dispatch help as needed. But if she fell or needed help away from home, the system’s AT&T wireless network would kick in and place the call

This system also has six sophisticated locating technologies so the response center would know your mom’s exact location, even where GPS signals are weak. And it has fall detection sensors built into the pendent that can automatically summon help if a fall is detected and your mom is unable to push the button.

The GoSafe is available at lifelinesys.com (or 855-276-7761) for $149, with monthly services fees that start at $55.

 

Most Affordable Alert

If the GoSafe is more than your mom needs, another option that’s easier on the budget is the GreatCall Splash, which costs only $50, with a $35 activation fee and monthly service fees that starts at $20.

This pendent-style waterproof device, which fits in the palm of your hand, works like a cell phone with GPS tracking capabilities, and can be worn on a belt, around the neck or attached to a key chain.

To call for help, your mom would push one button, and an operator from the device’s emergency monitoring service would be on the line to assist her, and because of the GPS technology, her general location would be known. Or, for even more peace of mind, there’s the Splash with fall detection capabilities (this option costs $35 per month, and the pendent must be worn around the neck for it to work) that will automatically call for help when a fall is detected.

The Splash can be purchased at GreatCall.com (or 800-918-8543), or at Walmart, Sears, Best Buy and Rite Aid Pharmacy stores.

 

Other Options

If you want some additional options to shop and compare, there are other good companies that offer moderately priced mobile alerts, including Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com/ally); Bay Alarm Medical (bayalarmmedical.com); MobileHelp (mobilehelp.com); Medical Alert (medicalalert.com); Life Alert (lifealert.com) and SafeGuardian (safeguardian.com).

 



How to Reduce Your Medication Costs     
  
Aug. 20, 2015


Can you recommend any tips to help me save on my medication costs? I currently take five different prescription medications that are very expensive even with insurance. 

Searching Susan
 

Dear Susan,

There are actually a variety ways you can reduce your out-of-pocket medication expenses without sacrificing quality. Here are a few strategies that can help, whether you are covered by employer-based health insurance, a health plan on the individual marketplace, or a private Medicare Part D drug policy.

Know your insurance formulary rules: Most drug plans today have formularies (a list of medications they cover) that place drugs into different “tiers.” Drugs in each tier have a different cost. A drug in a lower tier will generally cost you less than a drug in a higher tier, and higher tier drugs may require you to get permission or try another medication first before you can use it.

To get a copy of your plan’s formulary, visit your drug plan’s website or call the 800 number on the back of your insurance card. Once you have this information, share it with your doctor so, if possible, he or she can prescribe you medications in the lower-cost tiers. Or, they can help you get coverage approval from your insurer if you need a more expensive drug.

You also need to find out if your drug plan offers preferred pharmacies or offers a mail-order service. Buying your meds from these sources can save you some money too.
 

Switch to generics: Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medications you’re taking are available in a generic form or a less expensive brand-name drug. About 75 percent of all premium drugs on the market today have a lower-cost alternative. Switching could save you between 20 and 90 percent.

Pay for generics yourself: Most generic medications cost less if you don’t use your insurance. For example, chains like Target and Walmart offer discount-drug programs (these programs will not work in conjunction with your insurance) that sell generics for as little as $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply, while some insurance companies charge a $10 copayment for a 30-day supply.

Ask your pharmacy if they offer a discount-drug program and compare costs with your insurance plan. You can also find free drug discount cards online at sites like NeedyMeds.org, which can be used at most U.S. pharmacies. 

Split your pills: Ask your doctor if the pills you’re taking can be cut in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months worth of medicine for the price of one. If you do this, you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor for twice the dosage you need.

Try over-the-counter drugs: Ask your doctor if a nonprescription medication could work as effectively as a more expensive prescription drug. Many over-the-counter drugs for common conditions such as pain-relievers, allergy medications, anti-fungals and cold-and-cough medicines were once prescription only. But be aware that if you have a flexible spending account or a health savings account, you’ll need to get a doctor’s prescription for the over-the-counter drugs (except insulin) to get reimbursed.

Shop around: Drug prices can vary widely from drugstore to drugstore, so it’s definitely worth your time to compare prices at different pharmacies. To do this use GoodRX.com, a Web tool that lets you can find prices on all brand name and generic drugs at virtually every U.S. pharmacy.

Search for drug assistance programs: If your income is limited, you can probably get help through drug assistance programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations. To find these types of programs use BenefitsCheckUp.org, a comprehensive website that lets you locate the programs you’re eligible for, and will show you how to apply.





 

Medicare Options for Retirees who Travel      
Aug. 13, 2015


What are the best Medicare coverage options for retirees who travel a lot?

Almost 65

 

Dear Almost,

The best Medicare options for retirees who travel extensively depends on your destination.

Let’s start with a quick review of the different coverage choices Medicare offers beneficiaries today.

One option is Original Medicare, which has been around since 1966, and covers (Part A) hospital services and (Part B) doctor’s visits and other medical services.

If you choose Original Medicare, you may also want to get a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan (if you don’t already have coverage) to cover your medication costs, and a Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policy to help pay for things that aren’t covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

Or, you could get Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, which is sold through private insurance companies, that covers everything Original Medicare covers, plus many plans also offer prescription drug coverage and extra services like vision, hearing and dental care all in one plan.

To help you evaluate your options, the National Council on Aging offers an online tool at MyMedicareMatters.org, and your State Heath Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free Medicare counseling - call 800-677-1116 for contact information.

You can also shop and compare Medicare health and drug plans and Medigap policies at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan, or call 800-633-4227.

Also note that whatever Medicare plans you choose to enroll in, if you find that they are not meeting your needs or your needs change, you can always switch to a different plan during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.

 

U.S. Travel

If you and your husband are planning to travel domestically, Original Medicare provides coverage everywhere in the U.S. and its territories (this includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa) as long as the doctor or hospital accepts Medicare.

But, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, your coverage may be restricted. This is because most Medicare Advantage plans (which are usually HMOs or PPOs) require you to use doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that are in the plan’s network within a service area or geographic region. So if you’re traveling outside that area, you may need to pay a higher fee, or your services may not be covered at all.

Before enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, check the benefit details carefully to see what costs and rules apply when traveling outside your service area.

 

Traveling Abroad

If you’re planning to travel abroad, Original Medicare does not provide coverage outside the U.S. including cruising, except in rare cases, and Medicare drug plans will not cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S. either.

But, there are some Medigap policies that do provide limited coverage abroad. Medigap C, D, F, G, M, and N plans will pay for 80 percent of medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S., but only for the first 60 days of the trip, and you have to meet an annual $250 deductible first. There’s also a lifetime maximum benefit of $50,000, so you’d need to cover any costs above that amount

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, your coverage outside the U.S. will depend on the plan. Some plans offer emergency care coverage while others don’t. You’ll need to check your plan for details.

If you want additional emergency medical coverage when traveling abroad, some good shopping sites are squaremouth.com and insuremytrip.com, which compare policies from major travel-insurance companies. Prices vary considerably, ranging from under $100 to several hundred dollars depending on your age, what they cover and how long you’ll be away.

 

 

Financial aid for older adults going back to school     
  
Aug. 5, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

Are there any financial aid resources you can recommend to baby boomers who are interested in going back to school? I’ve been thinking about taking some classes at a nearby college, and wanted to check into financial aid opportunities first.

Looking For Aid


Dear Looking,

If you know where to look, there’s quite a bit of financial assistance out there that can help working baby boomers and retirees go back to school. Here are some steps to take that can help you find it.

Fill out the FAFSA form: A good place to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA). This will help you learn about grants, federal student loans (which are a better option than private student loans), and even work-study jobs. But, be aware that for most types of federal financial aid you will need to be enrolled at least half time in a degree or academic program to be eligible. To learn more or to fill out an application online, visit fafsa.gov. Or call 800-433-3243 and request a paper FAFSA.

Search for scholarships: While most scholarships are aimed at traditional undergraduates, there are a number of national and local scholarships offered specifically to older, non-traditional students. To find them try fastweb.com and scholarships.com. Both sites will prompt you to enter your birth date to find ones that are age appropriate.

Contact financial aid office: Call the financial aid office at the college or university that you plan to attend to see if they offer any other financial aid options you may be eligible for. Also, find out if they offer any special tuition wavers or discounts for students over age 50. Many community colleges and some four-year colleges offer discounted tuition rates, and many allow older students to audit courses for free.

Seek a tax break: Uncle Sam may also be able to help you with a tax credit, like the annual $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, which is worth up to $2,000 per year. Or, if you’re not eligible for the tax credits, the government also provides tuition and fees deductions for students that can cover up to $4,000 in expenses.

To learn more, visit the IRS’s Tax Benefits for Education Information Center at irs.gov - type in “tax benefits for education” in the search bar to find it. Or call 800-829-3676 and request a copy of IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits for Education (irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf).

Open a 529 account: If you don’t plan to go back to school right away, you should consider opening up a 529 college-savings plan for yourself (see savingforcollege.com). Available in every state, 529’s allow you to save money for college tax-free. And in many states you can even deduct part or all of your contribution on your state tax return.

Sign up for a free or low cost MOOC: That’s the acronym for the popular “Massively Open Online Courses,” which offers thousands of certificate and no-certificate courses by the best universities around the world. MOOCs offer a free or cheap way to learn from their instructors anytime, anywhere. See mooc-list.com to search for courses.

Consider lifelong learning: If you’re interested in taking classes just for fun, consider Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs). These are noncredit educational programs designed for retirees that involve no tests or grades, just learning for the pure joy of it.

Usually affiliated with colleges and universities, LLIs offer a wide array of courses in such areas as literature, history, religion, philosophy, science, art and architecture, finance, computers and more.

To find an LLI, call your closest college or search the websites of the two organizations that support and facilitate them - Osher (osher.net) and Road Scholar (roadscholar.org/ein/intro.asp). Together they support around 500 LLI programs nationwide.





How to protect your eyes from macular degeneration    
  
July 30, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

Is macular degeneration hereditary? My mother lost her vision from it before she died a few years ago, and now at age 65, I’m worried I may get it. What can you tell me?

Nearsighted Susan
 

Dear Susan,

Having a parent or sibling with macular degeneration does indeed increase your risk three to four times. But the good news is there are things you can do to protect your eyesight, and a number of treatments that are available if you do happen to get it. Here’s what you should know.
 

What is AMD?

Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (or AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 50, affecting about 10 million Americans.

AMD is a progressive eye disease that damages the macula, the part of the eye that allows us to see objects clearly, causing vision loss in the center of your vision. This affects the ability to read, drive, watch television and do routine daily tasks, but it does not cause total blindness.

There are two types of AMD - wet and dry. Dry AMD, which affects about 90 percent of all people that have it, progresses slowly and painlessly over a period of years. While wet AMD is much more aggressive and can cause severe vision loss in a matter of weeks or months.

Factors that can increase your risk of getting AMD include age (60 and older); smoking; excessive exposure to sunlight especially if you have light-colored eyes; certain genetic components; a family history of AMD; high blood pressure; obesity; and being Caucasian.

For anyone over the age of 60, it’s a smart idea to get your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist every year. They can spot early signs of AMD before vision loss occurs. Early signs, however, may include shadowy areas in your central vision or unusually fuzzy or distorted vision. The Amsler grid at amslergrid.org, is a good tool to check your eyes for AMD.

 

Preventing AMD

While there’s currently no cure for AMD there are some things you can do if you’re high risk. One option is to talk to your doctor about taking a daily dose of antioxidant vitamins and minerals known as AREDS - vitamins C and E, plus copper, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc. Studies by the National Eye Institute have shown that AREDS can reduce the risk by about 25 percent that dry AMD will progress.

Most drug stores sell these eye supplements in tablet or soft gel form over-the-counter for around $20 to $30, but be aware that not all eye supplements contain the proper formulation. Choose either the PreserVision Eye Vitamin AREDS Formula, PreserVision Eye Vitamin Lutein Formula, PreserVision AREDS2 Formula, or ICAPS AREDS. These four options contain the right formula mix.

Other lifestyle adjustments that may help prevent or delay AMD include eating antioxidant-rich foods such as dark green, leafy vegetables, and cold-water fish for their omega-3 fatty acids; protecting your eyes from the sun by wearing UV protective sunglasses; controlling high blood pressure; exercising regularly; and if you smoke, quit.

 

Wet AMD Treatments

For wet AMD, there are several effective medications (Lucentis, Avastin and Eylea) available that can stop vision loss and may even restore it. These medications are given by injection into the eye, and repeated every month or two, perhaps indefinitely.

Note that each of these three drugs works equally in treating wet AMD, but there’s a big cost difference. Avastin costs just $50 per month, compared with $2,000 for the other two. So experts recommend Avastin as the first choice for most people with wet AMD, especially if you don’t have supplemental Medicare coverage.



 

 

How to choose the best place to retire    
July 23, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

My wife and I will both be retiring in a year or two and are interested in moving to a smaller house in a better climate but could use some help. What resources can you recommend for locating and researching good places to retire in the U.S.?

Looking To Relocate

 

Dear Looking,

If you’re interested in relocating when you retire, like millions of other baby boomers, there are a wide variety of free Web-based resources that can help you find and research a new location that meet your wants, needs and budget. Here are several to help you get started.

 

Where to retire?

If you aren’t sure where you want to retire, a good place to begin is by taking a retirement test at sites like Sperling’s Best Places (bestplaces.net/fybp) or Find Your Spot (findyourspot.com). These are free quizzes that ask dozens of questions on your preferences such as climate, recreation, community size and more, and suggest possible destinations that best match your answers.

There are also various media sources and websites, like U.S. News and World Report, Kiplinger’s, Forbes, Money magazine, Reuters, Bankrate.com, TopRetirements.com, the Milken Institute and AARP that publish top retirement location lists you may find helpful too. To find them, go to any search engine and type in “best places to retire” along with the name of the media source.

You should also consider getting a subscription to “Where to Retire” magazine (wheretoretire.com, 713-974-6903), which is designed to help you find ideal retirement settings. A yearly subscription runs $18 for six issues.
 

Once you find a few areas that interest you, your next step is research them. Here are some important areas you need to investigate.

- Cost of living: Can you afford to live comfortably in the location you want to retire to? BestPlaces.net and Numbeo.com offer tools to compare the cost of living from your current location to where you would like to move. They compare housing costs, food, utilities, transportation and more.

- Taxes: Some states are more tax friendly to retirees than others. If you’re planning to move to another state, Kiplinger’s has a tax guide for retirees at Kiplinger.com/links/retireetaxmap that lets you find and compare taxes state-by-state. It covers income taxes, sales tax, taxes on retirement income, Social Security benefits taxes, property taxes, and inheritance and estate taxes.

- Crime rate: To evaluate how safe a community or area is, NeighborhoodScout.com is a top tool that provides property and violent crime rates, and crimes per square mile.

- Health care: Does the area you want to relocate to have easy access to good healthcare? To locate and research hospitals in a new area, use HospitalCompare.hhs.gov and QualityCheck.org. To search for new doctors that accept your insurance, contact your plan, or, if you’re 65 or older use Medicare.gov/physiciancompare. It’s also important to know that healthcare costs can vary by region, so you should contact your insurer to check out possible cost variables.

- Transportation: If you plan to travel much, or expect frequent visits from your kids or grandkids, convenient access to an airport or train station is a nice advantage. You should also investigate alternative transportation options, since most retirees give up driving in there eighties. To do this contact Rides in Sight (ridesinsight.org, 855-607-4337), a free transportation referral service, and the Area Aging Agency - call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the local number.

 

Other resources            

To learn more about specific communities across the U.S., AARP’s new livability index (livabilityindex.aarp.org) along with Epodunk.com and GangsAway.com are three excellent resources, as well as the city’s chamber of commerce office. To locate it, go to any search engine and type in the name of the city and state followed by “chamber of commerce.”





 

When and how Social Security checks are delivered    
July 23, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

I plan to apply for my Social Security benefits in September. When can I expect my first check? And, is direct deposit my only option for receiving my monthly payment?

Almost Eligible

 

Dear Almost,

Generally, Social Security retirement benefits (as well as disability and survivor benefits) are paid in the month after the month they are due. So, if you apply for your Social Security benefits in September, you will receive your September benefits in October.

The day of the month you receive your benefit payment, however, will depend on either your birthdate, or the birthdate of the person whose work record you’re receiving benefits on.

If you’re applying for benefits as a retired worker, your benefit payment day will be determined by your own birthdate. But if you’re applying for spousal or survivors benefits based on your spouse’s or (if you were married at least 10 years) ex-spouse’s work record, your benefit payment date will be determined by his or her birthdate. Here’s the schedule of when you can expect to receive your monthly check:

*           Birthdate is 1st through 10th of month: Payment day is second Wednesday of each month.

*           Birthdate is 11th through 20th of month: Payment day is third Wednesday of each month.

*           Birthdate is after the 20th of the month: Payment day is fourth Wednesday of each month.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this schedule. For example, if the day your Social Security check is supposed to be deposited happens to be a holiday, your check will be deposited the previous day. And, if you are receiving both Social Security benefits and SSI payments, your Social Security check will be deposited on the third day of the month.

You should also know that Social Security beneficiaries who started receiving benefits before 1997, their Social Security checks are paid on the third day of the month.

To get a complete schedule of 2015 payment dates, visit ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10031-2015.pdf.

 

Direct deposit delivery

There are two ways you can receive your Social Security benefits today. Most beneficiaries choose direct deposit into their bank or credit union account because it’s simple, safe and secure. But, if you don’t like this option or if you don’t have a bank account that your payments can be deposited into, you can get a Direct Express Debit MasterCard and have your benefits deposited into your card’s account.

This card can then be used to get cash from ATMs, banks or credit union tellers, pay bills online and over the phone, make purchases at stores or locations that accept Debit MasterCard and get cash back when you make those purchases, and purchase money orders at the U.S. Post Office. The money you spend or withdraw is automatically deducted from your account. And you can check your balance any time by phone, online or at ATMs.

There’s also no cost to sign up for the card, no monthly fees and no overdraft charges. There are, however, a few small fees for optional services you need to be aware of, like multiple ATM withdrawals. Currently, cardholders get one free ATM withdrawal per month, but additional monthly withdrawals cost 85 cents each not including a surcharge if you use a non-network ATM. To learn more about the Direct Express Debit MasterCard, visit usdirectexpress.com or call 800-333-1795.






Choosing a Home Blood Pressure Monitor 
  
July 10, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend some basic simplified cellphones for seniors with hearing loss? My 82-year-old father needs to get a new cellphone for occasional calls or emergencies, but he needs something that’s easy to use and one that he can hear on.

Looking Around
 

Dear Looking,

There are several simplified cellphones on the market today that are specifically designed for seniors - including those with hearing loss. These are basic cellphones that come with big buttons, easy to navigate menus, SOS emergency buttons, enhanced sound and are hearing aid compatible too. Here are some top options.
 

Senior-friendly phones

If your dad isn’t locked into a cellphone contract, there are three senior-friendly options to consider, all from no-contract cellphone companies.

One of best is GreatCall’s Jitterbug5 (greatcall.com, 800-918-8543). This custom designed Samsung flip-phone offers a backlit keypad with big buttons, large text on a brightly colored screen, and “YES” and “NO” buttons to access the phone’s menu of options versus confusing icons.

It also offers voice dialing, a powerful speakerphone, a built-in camera, and a variety of optional health and safety features like the “5Star” medical alert button that would let your dad call for help and speak to a certified agent 24/7 that could identify his location and dispatch help as needed. “Urgent Care,” which provides access to registered nurses and doctors for advice and diagnoses. And “GreatCall Link,” which keeps family members informed through your dad’s phone activities.

The Jitterbug5 sells for $99 with a one-time $35 activation fee, no-contract, and calling plans that start at $15 per month.

If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, the Doro PhoneEasy 626 sold through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509) is an excellent option.

This flip phone offers a backlit, separated keypad that can speak the numbers as you push them, which is a nice feature for seniors with vision problems. It also has a big easy to read color display screen that offers large text with different color themes.

Other handy features include two speed dial buttons, shortcut buttons to texting and the camera, a powerful two-way speakerphone, and a ICE (in case of emergency) button on the back of the phone that will automatically dial one preprogramed number.

The Doro 626 sells for $50 with service plans starting at $10 per month, and no long-term contract. They even offer discounts to AARP members.

Another budget-friendly cellphone you should look into is the Snapfon ezTWO for seniors (snapfon.com, 800-937-1532), which costs under $20, with a $35 activation fee, no-contract, and monthly service plans that start at $10. If you don’t want the Snapfon service plan (you can go through AT&T or T-Mobile), the phone is $80.

This is a bar-style phone that provides big buttons, a color screen, enhanced volume with a speaker phone, a speaking keypad, and an SOS emergency alert button on the back of the phone that can sound an alert when pushed and held down for five seconds. It then sends a text message to as many as five emergency contacts and calls those contacts in order until the call is answered. Or, for an additional $15 per month you can subscribe to their SOS monitoring service that will dispatch help as needed.

 

Shared plan options

If you want to get your dad a simple cellphone through your cellphone provider, most carriers - like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile - still offer a few basic cellphones that are inexpensive and hearing aid compatible.

If you’re an AT&T customer the option is the “LG A380.” For Verizon users, there’s the “Samsung Gusto 3” and “LG Revere 3.” If you’re a Sprint customer there’s the “Kyocera Kona” and “Alcatel OneTouch Retro.” And for T-Mobile users there’s the “LG 450.”





How seniors can tame pet care costs  
  
July 2, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

What tips can you recommend to help senior pet owners with their veterinary bills? I have two cats and a dog that are family to me, but their vet bills have become unaffordable.

Fix Income Frankie
 

Dear Frankie,

The high cost of veterinary care has become a problem for millions of pet owners today, but it can be especially difficult for seniors living on a fixed income. Routine medical care can cost hundreds of dollars, while urgent/specialized treatments and procedures can run into the thousands. But, it is possible to reduce your pet care costs without sacrificing their health. Here are some tips that can help you save.

Shop around: If you’re not attached to a particular veterinarian, call some different vet clinics in your area and compare costs. When you call, get price quotes on basic services like annual exams and vaccinations, as well as bigger-ticket items, like to repair a broken leg, so you can compare. Also, check to see if you live near a veterinary medical school (see aavmc.org for a listing). Many schools provide low-cost care provided by students who are overseen by their professors.

Ask your vet for help: To help make your vet bills more manageable, see if your vet’s office accepts monthly payments so you don’t have to pay the entire cost up front. Also, find out if your vet offers discounts to senior citizens or reduces fees for annual checkups if you bring in multiple pets.

Search for low-cost care: Many municipal and nonprofit animal shelters offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering programs and vaccinations, and some work with local vets who are willing to provide care at reduced prices for low-income and senior pet owners. Call your local shelter or humane society to find out what’s available in your area.

Look for financial assistance: There are a number of state and national organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. To locate these programs, the U.S. Humane Society provides a listing on their website that you can access at humanesociety.org/petfinancialaid.

Buy cheaper medicine: Medicine purchased at the vet’s office is usually much more expensive than you can get from a regular pharmacy or online. Instead, get a prescription from your vet (ask for generic is possible) so you can shop for the best price.

Most pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Kmart, Rite Aid and Target fill prescriptions for pets inexpensively, so long as that same drug is also prescribed to humans. And, many pharmacies offer pet discount savings programs too.

You can also save by shopping online at one of the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, like 1-800-PetMeds (1800petmeds.com), Drs. Foster & Smith (drsfostersmith.com), KV Supply (kvsupply.com), and PetCareRx (petcarerx.com).

Consider pet insurance: If you can afford it, pet insurance is another option worth looking into. You can get a basic policy for under $10 per month, and some insurers provide discounts for insuring multiple pets. See petinsurancereview.com to compare policies. Membership discount plans like Pet Assure (petassure.com) are another way to save, but you’ll need to use a vet in their network.

Look for other ways to save: In addition to cutting your veterinary bills, you can also save on pet food and other supplies depending on where you shop. Target, Walmart, Costco and the dollar stores typically offer much lower prices than supermarkets and specialty retailers like Petco and PetSmart. You can also save on treats and toys at sites like coupaw.com and doggyloot.com.

 

 

Helping seniors learn new technology     
June 24, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

What teaching resources can you recommend to help seniors learn how to use computers, tablets and smartphone devices? At age 72, I am interested in joining the technology revolution so I can keep up with my kids and grandkids a little better, but I need help.

Technology Novice

 

Dear Novice,

There are lots of different technology teaching tools available to boomers and seniors today, but what’s available to you will depend on where you live. Here are some different places and to look for help.

 

Local Classes and Workshops

There are many communities that offer beginning computer and personal technology classes for older adults that are new to technology. To find out what’s available in your area, contact your local public library, senior center, college or university, or local stores that sell computers. Your Area Agency on Aging may also be able to help you - call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number. If you can’t find any local programs that meet your needs, here are some national resources that offer technology training in select locations.

SeniorNet: This organization offers a variety of basic online computer courses as well as instructor-led workshops at 36 learning centers throughout the United States. A first year membership fee of $43 is required. See SeniorNet.org or call 239-275-2202 for more information.

Oasis Connections: Provides primarily free computer, Internet and mobile technology classes in 30 U.S. cities. They partner with local libraries, job help centers, senior centers and faith-based organizations where these classes are offered. OasisNet.org/connections, 314-862-2933 ext. 272.

Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs): Usually affiliated with colleges and universities, LLIs offer a wide array of noncredit courses to retirees, and some may offer technology courses. To find an LLI that offers computer/technology classes, contact your closest colleges or search the websites of the two organizations that support and facilitate them - Osher (osher.net) and Elderhostel (roadscholar.org/ein/intro.asp). Together they support around 500 LLI programs nationwide.

AARP TEK Workshops: Available to everyone, TEK workshops are free technology learning events on tablets or smartphones and are offered in various cities throughout the U.S. AARPTEK.org, 202-434-3021.

Older Adults Technology Services (OATS): If you live in New York City, OATS provides free tech training to seniors in 70 locations throughout the city. OATS.org, 718-360-1707.

 

How-To Books

There are also a wide variety of books you can purchase that can help you learn how to use different types of technologies. Visual Steps (visualsteps.com), for example, offers a number of practical and accessible computer handbooks, software user guides and other instructional materials that are tailored specifically for seniors, as does the “For Dummies” books (dummies.com), which you can buy in book stores nationwide or online at sites like Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

 

Online Instructional Services

If you already have a computer and some computer and/or Internet skills, but would like to expand your knowledge, there are a number of online services you can turn to that offer a wide variety of self-paced technology lessons and instructional videos.

Some good ones to checkout include GCFLearnFree.org, which is supported by the Goodwill Community Foundation and is completely free to use. And MyPCSchool.com, which is privately owned and offers nearly 700 lessons for $39 for three months or $79 for one year.

Also check out TechBoomers.com, a free educational website that teaches seniors with basic computer skills about frequently used websites, and Geekatoo.com, which offers tech support house calls in all 50 states, and offers two-hour tutorial instruction for $79.

 

 

Choosing a Home Blood Pressure Monitor    
June 18, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you offer me any tips on choosing a home blood pressure monitor? I just found out I have high blood pressure, and my doctor told me I need a monitor for the house so I can keep an eye on it.

Shopping Around
 

Dear Shopping,

Almost everyone with high blood pressure or prehypertension should have a home blood pressure monitor. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you’re taking medication it will make certain it’s working, and alert you to a health problem if it arises. Here are some tips to help you choose a good monitor.
 

Types of Monitors

The two most popular types of home blood pressure monitors on the market today are (electric and/or battery powered) automatic arm monitors, and automatic wrist monitors.

With an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your bicep and with the push of one button the cuff inflates and deflates automatically giving you your blood pressure reading on the display window in a matter of seconds.

Wrist monitors work similarly, except they attach to the wrist. Wrist monitors are also smaller in size and a bit more comfortable to use than the arm monitors, but they tend to be a little less accurate.

To help you choose the best monitor for you, here are several things you need to check into:

*           Fit: Using a cuff that’s the wrong size can result in a bad reading. Most arm models have two sizes or an adjustable cuff that fits most people. Make sure your choice fits the circumference of your upper arm.

*           Accuracy: Check the packaging to make sure the monitor has been independently tested and validated for accuracy and reliability. You can see a list of validated monitors at dableducational.org.

*           Ease of use: Be sure the display on the monitor is easy to read and understand, and that the buttons are big enough. The directions for applying the cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.

*           Extra features: Many monitors come with additional features such as irregular heartbeat detection that checks for arrhythmias and other abnormalities; a risk category indicator that tells you whether your blood pressure is in the high range; a data-averaging function that allows you to take multiple readings and get an overall average; multiple user memory that allows two or more users to save previous readings; and computer connections so you can download the data to your computer. 

*           Portability: If you plan to take your monitor with you while traveling, look for one with a carrying case.

 

Where to Shop

You can find blood pressure monitors at pharmacies, medical supply stores or online, and you don’t need a prescription to buy one.

The price will typically range anywhere from $30 to $120 or more. Unfortunately, original Medicare does not pay for home blood pressure monitors unless you’re receiving dialysis at home. But if you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a private health insurance policy it’s worth checking into, because some plans may provide coverage.

Some of the best arm monitors as recently recommended by Consumer Reports include the Rite Aid Deluxe Automatic BP3AR1-4DRITE; iHealth Dock BP3 (requires an Apple iOS device); Omron 10 Series BP786; A&D Medical UA767F; and the ReliOn BP200. And the top recommended wrist monitor is the Omron 7 Series BP652.

After you buy a monitor, it’s a good idea to take it to your doctor’s office so they can check its accuracy and teach you the proper techniques of how and when to use it.

For more information on how to measure your blood pressure accurately at home, see the American Heart Association Blood Pressure Monitoring tutorial page at homeBPmonitoring.org.

 

 

How to compare and locate senior housing options  
  
June 11, 2015


Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you go over the different types of housing options available to seniors, and recommend some good resources for locating and choosing one? I need to find a place for my elderly mother, and could use some help.

Searching Daughter
 

Dear Searching,

There’s a wide array of housing options available to seniors, but what’s appropriate for your mom will depend on her needs and financial situation. Here’s a rundown of the different levels of senior housing and some resources to help you search.

Independent living: If your mom is in relatively good health and is self-sufficient, “independent living communities” are a good place to start. Typically available to people over age 55, this type of senior housing is usually apartments or town homes that are fully functional. In addition, many of these communities also offer amenities such as meals served in a common dining area, housekeeping, transportation and a variety of social activities.

To locate this type of housing, contact your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number), or use online services like newlifestyles.com and caring.com. Most of these communities are private-pay only, and run anywhere from $1,000 to over $4,000 per month. 

If that’s too expensive, another option is “senior apartments,” which are often subsidized by HUD for lower income seniors. You can locate these through your local housing authority or online at hud.gov - click on “Find Rental Assistance.”

Assisted living: If your mom needs some help with daily living activities, an “assisted living facility” is another option. These facilities provide personal care (like bathing, dressing, eating, going to the bathroom) as needed, as well as meals, housekeeping, transportation, social activities and medication management. Many facilities also offer special care units for residents with dementia. Costs typically run between $2,000 to $5,000 or more per month. Most resident’s pay for assisted living from personal funds, and some have long-term care insurance policies. But, some states now have voucher plans that let you use Medicaid money.

Another similar, but less expensive option to look into is “board and care homes.” These offer many of the same services as assisted living facilities but in a much smaller home setting. 

Your Area Aging Agency is again a good resource for finding these facilities, as are the previously listed senior housing locater websites. And for help choosing a facility, the Assisted Living Federation of America offers an excellent guide at alfa.org/checklist.

Nursing homes: If your mom needs ongoing medical and personal care, a “nursing home,” which provides 24-hour skilled nursing care, is the next option. To find a good one, use Medicare’s nursing home compare tool at medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare. But be aware that nursing home care is very expensive, costing anywhere between $4,500 and $11,000 per month depending on location. Most residents pay from either personal funds, a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid after their savings are depleted.

Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRC’s): If your mom has the financial resources, a “CCRC” is another excellent option that provides all levels of housing (independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing home care) in one convenient location. But, these communities typically require a hefty entrance fee that can range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, plus ongoing monthly service fees that vary from around $1,000 to over $5,000. For more information see carf.org/aging.

 

Need Help?

Consider hiring an aging life care expert (aginglifecare.org) who can evaluate your mom’s situation, and find appropriate housing for a fee - usually between $300 and $800. Or, you can use a senior-care advising service like A Place for Mom (aplaceformom.com, 866-344-8005) for free. (They get paid from the senior living facilities in their network.)

Some other helpful resources include the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information (longtermcare.gov), and your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (shiptalk.org), which provides free counseling.

 

 

 

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