Simplified tablets designed for tech-challenged seniors


May 18, 2016

Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

I’m interested in getting my 78-year-old mother a tablet for video calls and email but want to get one that’s super simple to use. What can you recommend?

Shopping Around


Dear Shopping,

There are several different ways you can go about getting your mom a simplified tablet that’s easy for her to use. Depending on how much help she needs and how much you’re willing to spend, here are some different options to consider.

Simplify a Tablet

If you or your mom already has a tablet, but it’s too difficult for her to use, you can install a free senior-friendly software application on it like Oscar Senior (, which works on Apple iPads and Android tablets.

This app will change the appearance and performance of your tablet into a simplified device with big understandable icons to only commonly used features (video calls, photos, instant messages, Internet, news, weather, reminders, contacts, etc.) for easy navigation, with no clutter. It even offers remote access capabilities so you can gain access to your mom’s tablet from your smartphone, so you can see what she sees, and help her if she gets stuck.

Limited Tech Skills

If you’re interested in purchasing your mom a new tablet that’s specifically designed for seniors, you have options here too, depending on how simple it needs to be.

For seniors with some, but limited computer/tablet skills, there’s AARP’s RealPad, which is an Android Intel tablet with a 7.85-inch touchscreen that provides a simplified home page with large text icons to frequently used functions. It also comes with 24/7 phone support, and a “Real QuickFix” tool that connects users to technology support agents over the Internet who can access the tablet and fix problems. Available at for only $60, AARP recently announced that the RealPad will be discontinued when inventory sells out in a few months, but they will continue offering customer/technical support throughout the life of the product.

No Tech Skills

If your mother is completely unfamiliar with technology, two simpler options are the grandPad and Claris Companion.

GrandPad is a 7-inch touchscreen Android tablet that is designed for seniors, ages 75 and older. It comes with a stylus, charging stand and Verizon 4G LTE built-in so it works anywhere within the Verizon network - home Wi-Fi is not necessary.

This tablet provides a simplified menu of big colorful icons and large text, to only essential features, giving your mom clutter-free, one-touch access to make phone calls and video calls, send voice emails, view photos and videos, listen to personalized music, check the weather, play games and more. But, to simplify usage and avoid confusion, it does not offer Web browsing.

GrandPad also has a “Help” button that offers 24/7 phone/tablet remote assistance to help your mom with any facet of her tablet, and it provides damage and theft insurance so if your mom breaks or loses her tablet it will be replaced at no additional cost. Available at or call 800-704-9412, a grandPad leases for $60 per month, or $53/month if you pay one year in advance.

Another good option to check out is the Claris Companion (, 866-284-4939), which offers Wi-Fi and 4G tablets that costs $549 and $649 respectively, plus a $29 and $49 monthly subscription fee.

These tablets are designed specifically for elderly seniors living at home so their family can connect with them socially via video calls, email, text messages and photos. It also gives caregivers the ability to receive alerts and monitor compliance with medications, treatments, and important appointments.

Claris Companions are 10-inch Android tablets that have big buttons and text to only essential functions. They come in a thick bamboo frame, with a charging stand that prop them up, and can be customized to fit your mom’s needs and abilities. Claris also offers a lower cost tablet option for $349 and an Android app for $29.

How to replace vital documents that are lost or stolen      
May 11, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you tell me how to go about replacing important lost documents?  My wife and I recently downsized to a retirement community, and somewhere in the move we lost our Social Security and Medicare cards, birth certificates, marriage license and passports.

Worried Ron

Dear Ron,

Replacing important documents that are lost, stolen or damaged is pretty easy if you know where to turn. Here are the replacement resources for each document you mentioned, along with some tips to protect you from identity theft, which can happen if your documents end up in the wrong hands.

- Birth certificate: If you were born in the United States, contact the vital records office in the state where you were born (see for contact information). This office will give you specific instructions on what you need to do to order a certified copy and what it will cost you. Birth certificate fees range between $9 and $30.

- Social Security card: You can replace a lost or stolen Social Security card for free, and if you live in the District of Columbia, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington or Wisconsin, you can do it online at

If, however, you live outside these areas, you’ll need to fill out Form SS-5 (see to print a copy) and take it in or mail it to your nearby Social Security office, along with your U.S. driver’s license, or a state-issued non-driver ID card or a U.S. passport (photocopies are not accepted). Any documents you mail in will be returned to you. To find the Social Security office that serves your area, call 800-772-1213 or see

You also need to be aware that losing your Social Security card puts you at risk for identity theft. If you find that someone uses your Social Security number to obtain credit, loans, telephone accounts, or other goods and services, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission at (or 877-438-4338). This site will also give you specific steps you’ll need to take to handle this problem.

- Medicare card: To replace your Medicare card for free, just call Social Security 800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office. You can also request one online at Your card will arrive in the mail in about 30 days.

By losing your Medicare card, you also need to watch out for Medicare fraud. So check your Medicare Summary Notice for services you did not receive and, if you spot any, call the Inspector General’s fraud hotline at 800-447-8477 to report them.

- Marriage certificate: Contact your state’s vital records office to order a copy (see You’ll need to provide your full names for you and your spouse, the date of your wedding, and the city or town where the wedding was performed. Fees range from $10 to $30.

Note: Divorce certificates can also be ordered from your state’s vital records office (fees range from $5 to $30), and divorce decree documents can be obtained from the county clerk’s office for the city or county in which the divorce was granted.

- Passport: A lost passport also puts you at risk for identity theft, so you need to report this as soon as possible to the U.S. State Department. Go to and fill out Form DS-64. You’ll receive an e-mail acknowledging that your report was received. Within a couple of days, you’ll receive another e-mail (or letter, if you request that option) confirming that your passport has been entered into the Consular Lost or Stolen Database.

You can apply for a replacement passport at a Passport Application Acceptance Facility. Many post offices, public libraries and local government offices serve as such facilities. You can search for the nearest authorized facility at The fee for a replacement passport is $135.


Choosing an appropriate walking cane         
May 3, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

I have severe arthritis in my knee and could use a walking cane to help me get around. Is there anything I should know about canes before I buy one? 

Limping Linda

Dear Linda,

When it comes to choosing a cane for balance and support most people don’t give it much thought, but they should. Walking canes come in hundreds of different styles, shapes and sizes today, so you need to take into account your needs and preferences to ensure you choose one that’s appropriate for you. Here are some tips that can help.


Types of Canes

The first thing you need to consider is how much support you need. That will help you determine the kind of cane you choose. The three basic types of canes you’ll have to choose from include:

1. Straight canes: These are basic, single point canes that typically incorporate a rounded “crook” handle or “L-shaped” ergonomic handle. Usually made of lightweight aluminum or wood, most of the aluminum models are adjustable in height and some even fold up.

2. Offset-handle canes: These also are single point straight canes, but come with a swan neck curve in the upper part of the shaft that puts the user’s weight directly over the cane tip for added stability. These canes are typically aluminum, adjustable-height and come with a flat, soft grip handle that’s easy on the hands.

Both straight canes and offset-handle canes are best suited for people who have a slight walking impairment.

3. Quad canes: Also called broad based canes, these work best for people who need maximum weight bearing and support. Quad canes comes with four separate tips (some have three tips) at the base, they usually have an offset flat handle, and can remain standing when you let go of it which is very convenient.


Fitting the Cane

Once you decide on the type of cane, you need to make sure it fits. Stand up with your arms hanging straight down at your side. The top of the cane should line up with the crease in your wrist, so your arm is slightly bent at the elbow when you grip the cane.

The cane should also have a rubber tip at the bottom to prevent slipping. A worn or torn rubber tip is dangerous, so check the tip frequently to ensure it’s in good condition and replace it when necessary. Rubber tips come in different sizes depending on the shaft diameter, and can usually be purchased in multipacks at your local pharmacy.

The grip is also very important, so choose one that’s ergonomically designed, or one that has a molded rubber or foam grip that’s comfortable to hold on to.

And if you travel much, consider getting a folding cane that can be packed or stored away easily.

How to Use

When using a cane, it should always be held in the hand opposite of the leg that needs support. For example, if your knee pain is on your left side, you should use the cane in your right hand. The cane should then move forward as you step forward with the bad leg.

If you have to go up stairs, you should lead with the good leg. And when you go down stairs, you should put your cane on the step first and then step down with your bad leg.

The Mayo Clinic offers a slide show at that will show you how to choose and use a cane. It’s also a smart idea to work with a physical therapist.

Where to Buy

You can buy canes at drugstores, discount retailers, medical supply stores and online, usually between $10 and $50. You’ll also be happy to know that Medicare covers canes with a written prescription from a physician.



How to downsize your stuff for a move
April 27, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you offer any helpful tips for downsizing? My husband and I are interested in moving to a condo downtown when we retire, but we need to get rid of a lot of our personal possessions before we can move. We’ve lived in the same house for almost 35 years and have accumulated tons of stuff.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Dear feeling,

The process of weeding through a house full of stuff and parting with old possessions can be difficult and overwhelming for many people.

A good place to start the downsizing process is to give your unused possessions away to your kids or grandkids. You can give up to $14,000 per person per year before you’re required to file a federal gift tax return, using IRS Form 709. Beyond that, here are a few other tips and services that may help you.


Sell It

Selling your stuff is one way you can downsize and pad your pocketbook at the same time. Some other popular selling options are consignment shops, garage sales and estate sales.

Consignment shops are good for selling old clothing, household furnishings and decorative items. You typically get half of the final sale price. Garage sales are another option, or for large-scale downsizing you could hire an estate sale company to come in and sell your items. Some companies will even pick up your stuff and sell it at their own location - they typically take about 40 percent of the profits. 

Or, if you’re willing, online selling at sites like Craigslist, eBay and Amazon are another way to make top dollar for your stuff. is a huge classified ads site that lets you sell your stuff for free. While and takes a cut of your sale - roughly 10 to 15 percent. Or, if you don’t want to do the selling yourself, eBay offers a valet service ( to do it for you, for 20 to 40 percent of the selling price.

Donate It

If you itemize on your tax returns, donating your belongings is another way to downsize and get a tax deduction. Goodwill (, 800-741-0186) and the Salvation Army (, 800-728-7825) are two big charitable organizations that will come to your house and pick up a variety of household items, furnishings and clothing.

If your deduction exceeds $500, you’ll need to file Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions” ( You’ll also need a receipt from the organization for every batch of items you donate, and will need to create an itemized list of the items you donated. To calculate fair market value for your stuff, use the Salvation Army’s donation guide at, or the free program “It’s Deductible” at


Trash It

If you have a lot of junk you want to get rid of, contact your municipal trash service to see if they provide bulk curbside pickup services. Or, depending on where you live, you could hire a company like 1-800-Got-Junk (, 800-468-5865) or Junk-King (, 888-888-5865) to come in and haul it off for a moderate fee.

Another good disposal option is Bagster (, 877-789-2247) by Waste Management. This is a dumpster bag that you purchase for around $30, fill it to a limit of 3,300 pounds and schedule a pickup, which costs an average of $140 but varies by area.


Enlist Help

You can also hire a professional senior move manager (, 877-606-2766) to do the entire job for you. These are organizers who will sort through your stuff and arrange for the disposal through an estate sale, donations or consignment. Or, you can hire a professional organizer through the National Association of Professional Organizers at Organizers may charge $30 to $80 per hour or by the project.

When Does it Pay to Take Social Security Early?  
April 21, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

I will turn 62 in a few months and am trying to decide when to start taking my Social Security retirement benefits. Almost everything I read on this topic tells me it’s better to wait until my full retirement age or beyond. Is there ever a good reason to start early?

Ready to Retire

Dear Ready,

You’re right! Most financial planners agree that waiting to take your Social Security retirement benefits is a smart financial move. Why? Because each month you defer, from your 62nd birthday to your 70th, your monthly benefits grow. That adds up to around 6 to 8 percent higher payments for every year you delay.

Yet despite the financial incentive to wait, most people (58 percent of men and 64 percent of women) claim their benefits before full retirement age, which is currently 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954.

But speeding up the clock isn’t always a bad idea. Here are some scenarios where it may make sense for you to collect early.

- You need the money: If you’re retired and don’t have enough savings or a pension to cover your living expenses, you’ll probably have to start early. But, if you decide to work, be aware of the earnings test.

If you claim Social Security benefits before full retirement age (and you don’t reach 66 this year), you’ll forfeit $1 for every $2 you earn over the earnings limit of $15,720 in 2016. It usually doesn’t make sense to take benefits early if you’re working, unless your income is below the earnings limit.

- You have poor health: Having a serious medical problem that is likely to shorten your life is another reason to start your benefits sooner rather than later.

Consider the “breakeven point” - the age you need to reach to come out ahead by waiting to claim Social Security - is 78 for someone who claims at 62 versus waiting to 66. If you don’t anticipate making it to 78, go ahead and claim early.

However, if you are married or have other dependents at home that depend on your benefit, you may want to hold off because starting early will reduce their survivor’s benefits.

- You’re a lower-earning spouse: If you’re married and your lifetime earnings are much lower than your spouse’s, you could take your benefit early but your higher-earning spouse should delay. This lets you increase your household income now, while the higher-earning spouse’s benefit grows, therefore increasing the survivor benefit.

This strategy is best suited when a lower-earning wife is three to six years younger than her husband and her earnings are 30 to 40 percent of his. She should claim at 62 and he should claim at full retirement age, or better yet wait to age 69 or 70. Because the husband is likely to die earlier, the wife’s reduced benefit will be temporary and she will then qualify for the higher survivor benefit.

- Skeptical of Social Security: Many people take their retirement benefits early because they fear Social Security will go bankrupt, but this not a good reason to start collecting early.

While it is true that the Social Security trust fund will become insolvent around 2033 - 17 years from now - if no changes are made, that doesn’t mean there will be no more money for benefits. It means that the fund is no longer taking in enough money to cover all promised benefits. Thus payment checks are likely to end up shrinking by about 25 percent.

But, if the thought of losing out on your benefits keeps you up at night, then it may be better to start claiming early instead of holding off for more later.

To see how much your benefits will be affected by your claiming age, use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new Planning for Retirement tool at


Auto insurance discounts for older drivers       
April 13, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

I’ve read that many car insurance companies offer a variety of discounts to older drivers when they retire or reach a certain age. What can you tell me about this?

Discount Seeker

Dear Seeker,

Most auto insurance companies offer policyholders a wide variety of discounts, many of which can benefit retirees. Auto insurers love older drivers because they’re experienced behind the wheel and they drive less than younger age groups, which makes them a lower risk for accidents and a safer bet for insurance companies.

While discounts will vary by insurer, many of these benefits can reduce your overall premium by 15 to 20 percent or more, and you are usually allowed to combine discounts to increase your savings, though total discounts are often capped at around 25 percent.

To find out what discounts may be available to you, contact your auto insurer and inquire about these benefits, and any others that may benefit you.

- Age discount: Many auto insurance companies offer a general “senior” discount that will reduce your premium just because you’ve reached a specific age. The actual name and amount of the discount will vary by insurer.

Allstate, for example, provides a “senior adult discount” of up to 10 percent to drivers who are at least 55 years old and aren’t actively looking for full-time work. And Liberty Mutual offers a “newly retired discount” to drivers who reach that employment milestone, regardless of age.

- Low-mileage discount: Most insurers offer discounts to customers who drive limited miles each year, which is often beneficial to retirees who drive less because they don’t commute to work every day. The fewer miles you drive, the lower your odds of getting into an accident.

The parameters of low-mileage differ by insurer, but generally about a 10 percent discount is available for driving less than 5,000 to 8,000 miles each year, although smaller discounts may also be available to seniors who drive more than this but less than 15,000.

- Drivers Ed discount: Many states require insurance companies to offer “defensive-driving” discounts to drivers who take a refresher course to brush up on their safety skills. The discounts vary usually ranging between 5 and 15 percent.

Driver safety courses are inexpensive, usually costing around $20 to $30 and can often be taken in a classroom or online. To locate a class contact your local AAA (, which operates a Driver Improvement Course for seniors, or AARP (, 888-227-7669), which offers the Smart Driver Course to members and non-members.

- Club member discount: Insurers offer discounts to members of clubs and associations with which they have partnered. These could include professional associations, workers’ unions, large employers or membership organizations such as AAA, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the Seniors Coalition, AARP, etc. You could even qualify for savings based on the college you attended or the fraternity or sorority you belonged to decades ago.

- Safe-driving discount: Many insurance providers now offer discounts based on how and when you use your car. To do this, they would place a diagnostic device in your car that transmits wireless data on how you drive (including how fast you’re going and how hard you’re braking), when you drive and how much you drive. Drivers are rewarded for safe driving, low mileage and for not driving late at night. 

In addition, many insurance providers also offer discounts to drivers who do not have any violations or accidents for three or more years.


Booster shots recommended for seniors      
April 6, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

I just turned 65 and would like to find out what types of vaccinations are recommended to Medicare beneficiaries, and how they are covered.

Health Conscious


Dear Conscious,

Most people think that vaccinations are just for kids, but adults, especially seniors who tend to have weaker immune systems, need their shots too. Here’s a rundown of what vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for seniors 65 and older, and how they’re covered by Medicare.

- Flu (Influenza): While you probably already know that flu shots are recommended every fall to all seniors, you may not know that those over 65 also have the option of getting a high-dose flu vaccine instead of a regular flu shot. This vaccine - known as the Fluzone High-Dose - has four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. All annual flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.

- Td/Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis): 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 return to getting a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.

- Pneumococcal: This vaccine protects against pneumonia, which kills about 50,000 Americans each year. It’s now recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get two separate vaccines - Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 - at different times. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are taken at least 11 months apart.

- Shingles (zoster): Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than 1 million Americans each year. All people over age 60 should get the Zostavax vaccine, even if they’ve had shingles before. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover this one-time vaccination, but coverage amounts and reimbursement rules vary depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.

- Varicella (chickenpox): If you’ve never had the chicken pox, this two-dose vaccine (called Varivax) is recommended to adults, and is also covered by Medicare Part D plans.

- Hepatitis A: This is a two-dose series of shots recommended to adults that have chronic liver disease, a clotting-factor disorder, have same-sex male partners, illicit injectable drug use, or who have close contact with a hepatitis A-infected individual or who travel to areas with a high incidence of hepatitis A. These shots are covered by Medicare Part D drug plans.

- Hepatitis B: This three-dose series is recommended to adults who are on dialysis, have renal disease or liver disease, are sexually active with more than one partner, have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV. These vaccinations are covered under Medicare Part B.

- Meningococcal: Adults 56 and older, who have had their spleen removed, have certain blood deficiencies or plan to travel to parts of the world where meningitis is common, should receive the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine. This is covered by Medicare Part D.

To help you get a handle on which vaccines are appropriate for you, take the CDC’s What Vaccines Do You Need? quiz at Also, talk to your doctor during your next visit about what vaccinations you should get.

If you can’t remember which vaccines you’ve already had, check with your past doctors to see if they have any records, or contact your state’s health department. Some agencies have vaccination registries (see that may help you.

If you can’t locate your records, your doctor can give you blood tests to see if you’re immune to certain vaccine-preventable diseases. Or, they may just give you the shot. It’s safe to repeat vaccines, according to the CDC.



The Consequences of Dying Without a Will     

March 23, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

What will happen to my money and possessions if I die without a will?

Getting Old

Dear Getting,

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

A good resource to help you find out how your state works is’s Wills and Estate Planning site, which provides a state-by-state breakdown of how your estate would be distributed if you die without a will. See for a direct link to this page.

In the meantime, here is a general (not state specific) 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 (typically the spouse or child), 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. If you have a simple estate and an uncomplicated family situation, there are several good do-it-yourself resources that can help you for very little money.

One of the best is the Quicken WillMaker Plus 2016 software (available at that costs $55, works with Windows personal computers and is valid in every state except Louisiana. If you use a Mac, they offer an online will maker for $35.

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 reside, but you can expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $1,000 for a will.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ( and the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils ( are good resources that have online directories to help you find someone in your area.

If money is tight, check with your state’s bar association (see to find low-cost legal help in your area. Or call the Eldercare Locater at 800-677-1116 for a referral.



Elder Mediation Can Help Families Resolve Caregiving     
March 23, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

Are there any services that you know of that help families resolve caregiving conflicts? My mother - who just turned 82 - recently had a stroke, and to make matters worse, my two siblings and I have been perpetually arguing about how to handle her caregiving needs and finances.

Bickering Siblings


Dear Bickering,

It’s not unusual when adult children disagree with each other regarding the care of an elder parent. If your siblings are willing, a good possible solution is to hire an “elder care mediator” who can help you work through your disagreements peacefully. Here’s what you should know.

Elder Mediation

While mediators have been used for years to help divorcing couples sort out legal and financial disagreements and avoid court battles, elder care mediation is a relatively new and specialized service designed to help families resolve disputes that are related to aging parents or other elderly relatives.

Family disagreements over an ill or elderly parent’s caregiving needs, living arrangements, financial decisions and medical care are some of the many issues that an elder care mediator can help with. But don’t confuse this with family or group therapy. Mediation is only about decision-making, not feelings and emotions.

The job of an elder mediator is to step in as a neutral third party to help ease family tensions, listen to everyone’s concerns, hash out disagreements and misunderstandings, and help your family make decisions that are acceptable to everyone.

Good mediators can also assist your family in identifying experts such as estate-planners, geriatric care managers, or health care or financial professionals who can supply important information for family decision making.

Your family also needs to know that the mediation process is completely confidential and voluntary, and can take anywhere from a few hours to several meetings depending on the complexity of your issues. And if some family members live far away, a conference or video call can be used to bring everyone together.

If you’re interested in hiring a private elder care mediator, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to more than $500 per hour depending on where you live and who you choose. Or, you may be able to get help through a nonprofit community mediation service which charges little to nothing.

Finding a Mediator

To locate an elder mediator, start by contacting your area aging agency (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number), which may be able to refer you to local resources, or search online at Another good option is the National Association for Community Mediation website (, which can help you search for free or low-cost community-based mediation programs in your area.

Unfortunately, there is currently no formal licensing or national credentialing required for elder mediators, so make sure the person you choose has extensive experience with elder issues that are similar to what your family is dealing with. Also, be sure you ask for references and check them. Most elder mediators are attorneys, social workers, counselors or other professionals who are trained in mediation and conflict resolution.

How retirees can save on prescription eyeglasses  
March 16, 2016

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, retired, and signed up for Medicare.

Looking For Eyeglasses


Dear Looking,

Prescription eyeglasses today aren’t cheap. You can easily spend $200 for a basic pair, but if you want designer frames or need bifocal or progressive lenses the price can more than double. Here are a few different options that can help you save.


Medicare/Insurance Coverage

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you already know that original Medicare (Part A and B) and Medigap supplemental policies do not cover routine eye exams or eyeglasses (unless you’ve just had cataract surgery), but there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that do.

Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover vision as well as dental, hearing and prescription drugs, in addition to all of your hospital and medical insurance. To locate Advantage plans in your area that provides vision coverage, visit 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.

You can switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan each year during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.

If, however, you don’t want a Medicare Advantage plan, you can still get coverage by purchasing an inexpensive vision insurance policy - see Policy costs vary depending on where you live, but they usually start at around $6 to $9 per month for an individual. Before signing up, make sure your savings potential is worth the cost of the premiums and copays.


Discount Stores

Purchasing eyeglasses from discount retailers is another way to save. Costco is one of the best discount stores for good eyewear and low prices. Eyeglasses cost an average of around $150, but to shop there you have to pay a $55 annual membership fee. Some other good retail options for low prices include For Eyes Optical, BJ’s Optical, Sam’s Club and Walmart.

You also need to find out if you are eligible for any discounts. Many retailers provide discounts to membership groups like AARP and AAA. AARP members, for example, can get 30 percent off a pair of prescription eyeglasses as well as discounts on eye exams at any LensCrafters, most participating Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, JCPenney Optical and thousands of private optometrist offices.

Look Online

Buying eyeglasses online can also offer huge savings. Some online stores like, and sell prescription eyeglasses for as little as $7 plus shipping. 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 fancier choice of frames see, which offers single-vision glasses for $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 your eyeglass prescription from a local eye doctor, 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 for contact information.

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


How to Avoid Medicare Mistakes When You’re Still Working    
March 9, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

Should I enroll in Medicare at age 65 if I’m still working and have coverage through my employer?

Almost 65

Dear Almost,

The rules for enrolling in Medicare can be very confusing with all the different choices available today. But when you postpone retirement past age 65, as many people are doing, it becomes even more complicated.

First, let’s review the basics. Remember that original Medicare has two parts: Part A, which provides hospital coverage and is free for most people. And Part B, which covers doctor’s bills, lab tests and outpatient care. Part B also has a monthly premium of $104.90 in 2016 (though it’s higher for individuals earning $85,000 or more a year).

If you are receiving Social Security, you will be enrolled automatically in parts A and B when you turn 65. If you aren’t yet receiving Social Security, you will have to apply, which you can do online at, over the phone at 800-772-1213 or through your local Social Security office.

If you plan to continue working past the age of 65 and have health insurance from your job, your first step is to ask your benefits manager or human resources department how your employer insurance works with Medicare. In most cases, you should at least take Medicare Part A because it’s free. But to decide whether to take Part B or not will depend on the size of your employer.

 - Small employer: If your current employer (or spouse’s employer if it’s providing your coverage) has fewer than 20 employees, Medicare will be your primary insurer and you should enroll in Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. This is a seven-month period that includes the three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday.

If you miss the seven-month sign-up window, you’ll have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 with benefits beginning the following July 1. You’ll also incur a 10 percent penalty for each year you wait beyond your initial enrollment period, which will be tacked on to your monthly Part B premium.

- Large employer: If your employer has 20 or more employees, your employer’s group health plan will be your primary insurer as long as you (or your spouse if the coverage is from his/her employer) remain an active employee. If this is the case, you don’t need to enroll in Part B when you turn 65 if you’re satisfied with the coverage you are getting through your job. But if you do decide to enroll in Medicare, it will supplement your employer insurance by paying secondary on all of your claims.

Once your employment (or group health coverage) ends, you will then have eight months to sign up for Part B without a penalty. This is known as the Special Enrollment Period.

- Drug coverage: You also need to verify your prescription drug coverage. Call your benefits manager or insurance company to find out if your employer’s prescription drug coverage is considered “creditable.” (Creditable prescription drug coverage is one that is considered to be as good as or better than the Medicare prescription drug benefit.) If it is, you don’t need to enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. If it isn’t, you should purchase a plan (see during your initial enrollment period or you’ll incur a premium penalty (1 percent of the average national premium for every month you don’t have coverage) if you enroll later.

For additional help, visit or contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at The Medicare Rights Center also offers a free helpline at 800-333-4114.


Make Long-Term Care Coverage More Affordable     
March 2, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

I have been thinking about getting a long-term care insurance policy, but have found the monthly premiums to be very expensive. How can I find cheaper coverage?

Getting Old       

Dear Getting,

Cost is usually the biggest factor that keeps most people from purchasing long-term care insurance - only around 8 million Americans currently have a policy.

Depending on your age, health, and the provisions of the policy, costs can range anywhere from $1,000 up to $5,000 a year for an individual policy that covers nursing home care, assisted living and in-home care. Fortunately, there are various cost-cutting strategies that can help you save and still get adequate coverage. Here are several to consider:

- Buy young: The most basic way to get long-term care insurance at a cheaper rate is by purchasing it at a younger age. For example, a typical policy that costs a 55-year-old $1,500 a year in premiums could cost a 65-year-old $3,000. Health is another fact that can affect costs. While good health can lower your monthly payments, having a preexisting medical condition can increase your costs, or you may not be able to get insurance at all.

- Sign up as a pair:  Many insurers offer 20 to 30 percent discounts on premiums if you sign-up at the same time as your spouse, partner or sibling.

- Choose a shorter benefit period: Most people need long-term care for just under three years on average. So, by choosing a policy that covers you for two or three years, versus five or more years, it can cut your premiums by 20 to 40 percent.

- Lengthen the time you pay: Most policies have 30 to 90-day waiting periods that require you to pay out-of-pocket for care before the policy kicks in. By choosing a longer wait period, it can lower your premiums 15 to 20 percent.

- Lower the daily benefit: You can get a policy that pays out $100, $150, $200 per day or more, but the higher the benefit, the higher your premium. So consider a plan that covers two-thirds the daily cost, and pay the other third out of savings. That could cut your premiums by about one-third.

- Buy lower inflation protection: Inflation coverage protects you from the rising costs of care. Five percent compounded annually has been a common practice in the industry but it’s expensive. Consider a policy that has a 3 percent CPI-adjusted inflation protection. This can save you 50 percent or more.

- Get state help: Currently, 41 states have a long-term care partnership program that can help you save too. Under these programs, if you buy a long-term care policy approved by your state Medicaid agency, you can protect an amount of assets from Medicaid equal to the benefits that your policy pays out. With this program, you can choose a shorter benefit period, which will lower your premiums. See to learn more.

- Buy a hybrid policy: If the thought of paying expensive monthly premiums for long-term care insurance - which you may never use - is keeping you from buying a policy, consider one that combines long-term care insurance with either a life insurance policy or an annuity. Hybrid life insurance policies provide a death benefit for your heirs and a pool of money you can use for long-term care. Any funds you use for care are generally subtracted from the death benefit. While hybrid annuity policies generally allows you to purchase a deferred annuity, which can be used for long-term care or if you don’t need care, it can be redeemed for its accumulated value when it matures, or left to your heirs when you die.

To find a policy that offers the best rates, get a long-term care insurance specialist who works with a variety of companies. See to locate one. Also shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York Life, who work only with their own agents.



2016 Tax Filing Requirements for Retirees      
Feb. 24, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

What is the IRS income tax filing requirements going to be for this tax season? Due to health problems I stopped working early last year, so I’m wondering if I need to file.

Unintended Retiree

Dear Unintended,

There are a number of factors that affect whether or not you need to file a federal income tax return this year including how much you earned last year (in 2015), and the source of that income, as well as your age and filing status.

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s IRS filing requirements. For most people, this is pretty straightforward. If your 2015 gross income - which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately - was below the threshold for your age and filing status, you probably won’t have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

* Single: $10,300 ($11,850 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2016).

* Married filing jointly: $20,600 ($21,850 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $23,100 if you’re both over 65)

* Married filing separately: $4,000 at any age.

* Head of household: $13,250 ($14,800 if age 65 or older).

* Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,600 ($17,850 if age 65 or older).

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554), or see

Special Requirements

There are, however, some other financial situations that will require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For example, if you had earnings from self-employment in 2015 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax penalties, you’ll probably need to file.

To figure this out, the IRS offers an interactive tax assistant tool on their website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund.

You can access this tool at - click on “Do you need to file a return?” Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See or call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.

Check Your State

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies see

Tax Prep Assistance

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 or visit to locate a service near you.

Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call 888-227-7669 or visit You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.


Choosing a Hospice Care Program         
Feb. 17, 2016

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you offer any information on hospice care, how to choose a good provider, and whether Medicare covers it? My grandmother has terminal cancer and wants to die at home, if possible.

Grieving Granddaughter


Dear Grieving,

Hospice can be a wonderful option in the last months of life because it offers a variety of services, not only to those who are dying, but also to those left behind. Here’s what you should know.


What Hospice Offers

Hospice care is a unique service that provides medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support to people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness - it does not speed up or slow down the process of dying. Hospice’s goal is to simply keep the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible, with loved ones nearby until death.

The various services provided by a hospice program comes from a team of professionals that works together to accommodate all the patients’ end-of-life needs.

The team typically includes hospice doctors that will work with the primary physician and family members to draft up a care plan; nurses who dispense medication for pain control; home care aids that attend to personal needs like eating and bathing; social workers who help the patient and the family prepare for end of life; clergy members who provide spiritual counseling, if desired; and volunteers that fill a variety of niches, from sitting with the patient to helping clean and maintain their property.

Some hospices even offer massage or music therapy, and nearly all provide bereavement services for relatives and short-term inpatient respite care to give family caregivers a break.

Most hospice patients receive care in their own home. However, hospice will go wherever the patient is - hospital, nursing home or assisted living residence. Some even have their own facility to use as an option.

To receive hospice, your grandmother must get a referral from her physician stating that their life expectancy is six months or less.

It’s also important to know that home-based hospice care does not mean that a hospice nurse or volunteer is in the home 24 hours a day. Services are based on need and/or what you request. Hospice care can also be stopped at anytime if your grandmother’s health improves or if she decides to re-enter cure-oriented treatments.


How to Choose

The best time to prepare for hospice and consider your options is before it’s necessary, so you’re not making decisions during a stressful time. There are more than 5,500 hospice programs in the U.S., so depending on where you live, you may have several options from which to choose.

To locate a good hospice in your area, ask your grandmother’s doctor or the discharge planner at your local hospital for a referral, call your state hospice organization (see for contact information), or search online at sites like the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at

When choosing, look for an established hospice that has been operating for a few years and one that is certified by Medicare. To help you select one, the American Hospice Foundation provides a list of questions to ask at


Who Pays

Medicare covers all aspects of hospice care and services for its beneficiaries. There is no deductible for hospice services although there may be a very small co-payment - such as $5 for each prescription drug for pain and symptom control, or a 5 percent share for inpatient respite care. Medicaid also covers hospice in most states, as do most private health insurance plans.

For more information, see the “Medicare Hospice Benefits” online booklet at And if you have financial questions or concerns, talk to your hospice provider. Most hospices offer financial assistance to help families in need.





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