What Seniors Can Do to Stop Robocalls | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 September 2015 11:23

090315senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Millions of Americans who have signed up with the National Do Not Call Registry ( complain they still receive unwanted calls from robocallers.

Why? Because most robocalls are scams run by con artists who are only trying to trick you out of your money, and they simply ignore the law.

But there’s good news on the horizon. A few months ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a rule giving telecommunication companies more leeway to block robocalls. Before this ruling, the FCC has always required phone companies to complete all calls, much in the same way the postal service is required to deliver all your mail, even the junk.

So, look for your phone service provider to start offering call-blocking tools in the future. But in the meantime, here are some things you can do to reduce those unwanted calls.

Set up an “anonymous call rejection” option: This is a free landline-calling feature. It lets you screen out calls from callers who have blocked their caller ID information — a favorite tactic of telemarketers.

To set it up, you usually have to dial *77 from your landline, though different phone services may have different procedures to set it up. Call your telephone service provider to find out if they offer this feature.

Sign up for Nomorobo: This is a free service and works only if you have an Internet-based VoIP phone service. It does not work on traditional analog landlines or wireless phones.

Nomorobo uses a “simultaneous ring” service that detects and blocks robocalls on a black list of known offender numbers. It isn’t 100 percent foolproof, but it is an extra layer of protection. To sign up, or see if Nomorobo works with your phone service provider, visit

Buy a robocall-blocking device: If you don’t mind spending a little money, purchase a call-blocking device like the Sentry 2 ($59) or Digitone Call Blocker Plus ($100), sold at These small devices, which plug into your phone line allow you to blacklist numbers you no longer wish to receive, or manually program the phone to accept a certain number of safe numbers. Both devices are very effective.

Don’t pick up: If you have a caller ID, another tip is to simply not answer the phone unless you recognize the number. But if you do answer and it’s a robocall, you should just hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator and don’t press  any other number to complain about the call or get your number off the list.

If you respond by pressing any number, you’re signaling that the autodialer has reached a live number and will probably lead to more robocalls.

Get a cellphone app: To help with robo telemarketing calls and robo spam texts to your cellphone, get a call-screening app like Truecaller ( or PrivacyStar ( that screens and blocks them.

It’s also important that you report illegal robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission at or call 888-225-5322.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

When Should I Think About Updating My Trust? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 September 2015 11:20

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: My wife and I have a Living Trust and related estate planning documents which were prepared some years ago. We were told that we should keep them current. Do you have any advice on when it is time to update or revise them?

A: When your trust was prepared, your attorney probably did his or her best to encourage you to plan for normal contingencies, such as by naming backup beneficiaries and successor trustees in the event your first choices predeceased you or became unable to serve.

However, none of us can peer into the future and anticipate all events. The real key to keeping your documents current is to coordinate them with any significant change in your own personal circumstances, and to keep them compliant with any changes in the law.

While certainly not an exclusive list, here is my short list of times when it may be prudent to at least review your trust and related estate planning documents and, where appropriate, seek the guidance of your attorney:

• When there is a change in family circumstances, such as births, deaths, marriages, divorce

• At the beginning signs of incapacity

• When you anticipate the need for long-term care, including the need for a Medi-Cal subsidy to help with the cost

• When you feel it is time to delegate decision-making powers to your successor trustee

• When there is a significant change in your assets and net worth

• When there is a significant change in the tax law that would affect your planning

• When any of your beneficiaries become disabled and apply for public benefits, such as SSI and/or Medi-Cal.

In terms of Advance Healthcare Directives, HIPAA Privacy Authorizations and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (“POLST”), I would have a different list. With these health-related documents, it is important to keep them current so that your physicians know they reflect your current wishes, especially wishes regarding end-of-life care.

With regard to the Health Directive and HIPAA Authorization, I would suggest reaffirming those wishes at least every three years. You might do so by simply attaching an addendum reaffirming your wishes, dating and signing it and asking two disinterested witnesses to sign.

Regarding the POLST, I would suggest doing the same but with a frequency of at least once a year, and perhaps every six months depending upon your circumstances.

If your agents change addresses and telephone numbers, you might notate their new contact information by way of a dated addendum, rather than by interlineating or writing over their addresses in the original documents.

Generally speaking, I encourage my clients to look at their trust and related documents annually and when any of the above events occur, and to consider a review by their attorney every five years.

Not all reviews will necessitate a change in the plan documents, but the above benchmarks will serve you in good stead should a revision be necessary.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward. Visit his website at

Celebrate Grandparents Day | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 September 2015 11:17

090315sen2The Aitken Senior Center at 17800 Redwood Road and the Kiwanis Club of Hayward/Castro Valley invite you to the annual Grandparent’s Day Pancake Breakfast and Celebration from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19. Enjoy a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, juice and coffee for just $4 for adults, $3 for kids. Sulphur Creek Nature Center Critters will be on hand from 10 to 11:00 a.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door.


Reduce Out-of-pocket Medication Expenses | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 21:12

082015senBy Jim Miller Special to the Times

There are a variety ways to reduce out-of-pocket medication expenses without sacrificing quality. These 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 to 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, which can be used at most U.S. pharmacies.

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, an internet tool that lets you 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, a comprehensive website that lets you locate the programs you’re eligible for, and will show you how to apply.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”

In-Home Supportive Services Can Give Family Relief | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 21:09

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Our 90-year-old mother is frail but wishes to remain at home. She has limited financial resources, so my sister is living with her and providing care without pay. Are there any government programs to help us hire a caregiver and give my sister some relief?

Yes. There are a number of programs, but one that may be of special interest is the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Program. It is designed for persons of limited financial means who are blind, disabled or over age 65, and who are unable to live safely at home without assistance.

For qualifying individuals, it provides nonmedical services such as meal preparation, cleaning, laundry, bathing, feeding, dressing, grooming, toileting, and monitoring for persons with cognitive impairments who are at risk of injury at home.

It works like this: Following an application, an in-home assessment is made by a social worker to determine the number of hours of care needed. This can be up to 195 hours per month for a non-severely impaired applicant, and up to 283 hours per month for one who is severely impaired.

Upon approval, the beneficiary then selects and hires a caregiver and the IHSS program pays the worker for the  approved hours per month, currently at the rate of $12.50 per hour in Alameda County (in 2015).

Resource Limits

The program is designed for persons of very modest resources who are eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medi-Cal. To qualify, the applicant must generally have less than $2,000 in savings if single, and less than $3,000 if married.

Note: For those persons with excess assets, there may be lawful strategies to accelerate eligibility without the need to first spend down the excess.

Income Limits

For persons with low monthly incomes, the benefit is available without a share of cost (“co-pay”). However, for persons whose monthly income is above certain levels (currently, above $1,211 for a single person and $1,638 for a married person), the applicant will have a share of cost that must be paid to the worker before the IHSS program pays the balance. Thus, the program only works well for persons with low incomes, or persons with great need who are awarded hours close to the maximum.

In many cases, the caregiver may hire a family member, whether a spouse or an adult child. Also, for the caregiver who works at least 80 hours per month, the program makes healthcare available at a nominal monthly premium — a valuable benefit to the worker.

If your mother qualifies for IHSS, she could hire your sister so she could receive both a modest salary and health insurance. Also, to give your sister some relief each month, your mother could split care hours, hiring your sister part-time and another caregiver for the balance of approved hours.

To find out more, call the Alameda County Area Agency on Aging at 510-577-1800, or go to

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at

Mobile Safety Products Help Seniors on the Go | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 August 2015 14:33

080615senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Where are 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 (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 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 you to speak and listen directly through the pendant.

If you were to fall or need help at home, you 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 you 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  exact location, even where GPS signals are weak. And, it has fall detection sensors built into the pendant that can automatically summon help if a fall is detected and you are unable to push the button.

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

Most Affordable Alert

If the GoSafe is more than you need, 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 start 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, you would push one button and an operator from the device’s emergency monitoring service would be on the line to assist you; and, because of the GPS technology, your general location would be known.

For even more peace of mind, there’s the Splash with fall detection capabilities (this option costs $35 per month, and the pendant 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 (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 (; Bay Alarm Medical (; MobileHelp (; Medical Alert (; Life Alert ( and SafeGuardian (

CAPTION: The Philips Lifeline GoSafe system allows you to communicate directly through a pendent device with a response center, who could then dispatch help as needed.

How to Distribute Estate’s Personal Property Fairly | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 August 2015 14:31

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: Our father appointed me as executor of his estate, and I want to distribute his personal possessions among the four of us children in a way that is fair. Any suggestions?

A: Yes. I assume by your question that your father did not leave any specific direction in his will or in a separate memorandum, and that you are therefore left to your own discretion in handling this task. Here are some suggestions:

• Draw lots and take turns picking items. Change the order with each round of choosing, so that everyone gets a chance to pick “first.” For example, since there are four of you, the order of choosing personal items would go as follows: 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-1, 3-4-2-1, 4-1-2-3, and then repeat.

• Assign each sibling a set of colored stickers, with each sibling assigned his own color. Ask each to affix their sticker to the items that they want. If an item only has one sticker, it will go to that person; where an item has more than one sticker, you then revert to taking turns, as above.

Where possible, make copies. While many personal furnishings are unique, in the case of photographs and videos, copies can be made that are nearly identical to the original.

• Get appraisals for items of value. This is a good approach if there are items of particular value among the furnishings; otherwise, the child with the first turn may pick the Picasso.

Again, you would take turns, but you would go through several rounds so that everyone ends up with comparable value; some would get one or two items, while others would receive a greater number. Alternatively, a child getting the most valuable item(s) might pay the others for the excess value in order to establish rough equivalency.

• Sell items and divide the proceeds. This may be a good approach as to items that have no significant emotional value, but may have some resale value.

• Work with a neutral third-party who can act as a kind of mediator/arbitrator to defuse any strong feelings among siblings. This could be a mutual friend whom everyone respects, or a hired professional. For professional assistance, contact the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) at or call 1-877.606.2766.

For more information, a very readable reference entitled “Who Will Get Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?”, is available in workbook format through

For those who are designing their estate plans and wish to give their executors guidance, know that California permits the will-maker to create a dated and signed memorandum, designating the disposition of tangible personal property.

This memorandum can be periodically updated even without redoing the will. The limitation is that no single item can have a value of more than $5,000, and the total value of all items listed cannot exceed $25,000. Thus, where items are likely to increase in value over time, or where values may be disputed, the use of this memorandum is not recommended.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at

Older Adults Head Back to School | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:22

071615sen1By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

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. To help you find it:

• Fill 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 Or, call 800-433-3243 and request a paper FAFSA.

•Search for scholarships: A number of national and local scholarships are offered specifically to older, non-traditional students. To find them, try and Both sites will prompt you to enter your birth date to find ones that are age appropriate.

• Call the financial aid office at the college 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 – 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 (

• Open up a 529 college-savings plan for yourself (see if you don’t plan to go back to school right away. Available in every state, 529s 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 “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 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. The websites of two organizations that support and facilitate them are and


How to Choose the Best Place to Retire | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:19

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

If you’re interested in relocating when you retire, like millions of other baby boomers, there are a wide variety of free internet-based resources that can help you find and research a new location that meets 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 ( or Find Your Spot ( 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,,, 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 (, 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 to 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? and 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 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, is a top tool that provides property and violent crime rates, and crimes per square mile.

Healthcare: Does the area you want to relocate to have easy access to good healthcare? To locate and research hospitals in a new area, use and To search for new doctors that accept your insurance, contact your plan, or, if you’re 65 or older use 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 (, 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 ( along with and 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.”

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Unique Long-term Care Policy Offers Asset Protection | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:14

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: While shopping for long-term care insurance, I heard something about a special kind of policy that offers asset protection by coordinating with Medi-Cal. Do you know anything about that?

A: Yes, you refer to the California Long-Term Care Partnership Plan — California was one of the first states in the country to put together a very unique long-term care insurance policy as a kind of partnership involving the state, the individual, and selected insurance companies.

The program was designed to encourage individuals to purchase long-term care insurance and thereby shift much of the cost of long-term care away from public benefits programs and on to the individual and his insurance carrier.

The inducement is the offer of a high-quality policy with automatic inflation protection and a corresponding Medi-Cal asset protection feature. To understand how the policy works, let’s review how Medi-Cal works:

Background: Generally speaking, in order to qualify for a Medi-Cal long-term care subsidy in a nursing facility, single individuals generally cannot have more than $2,000 in savings, and a married couple no more than approximately $120,000. They may also have certain exempt assets, such as a home.

However, if their savings exceed these resource ceilings, they must generally spend them down on care until they fall below those ceilings. Only then will they be eligible for a Medi-Cal subsidy.

However, if an individual owns a Partnership Policy, the amount of the policy payout for care expenses increases the insured’s Medi-Cal resource ceiling by that same amount, thereby accelerating his later eligibility for Medi-Cal and protecting that same amount from later Medi-Cal recovery.

Example: Jane and Mary are both age 65, each has $175,000 in savings and each owns her own home. Jane buys a Partnership Policy and Mary buys a Non-Partnership policy. Both policies provide for two years of benefits and both have inflation protection.

At age 85, both need nursing home care and both begin to draw policy benefits. Because of inflation, the cost of care for those two years has increased to approximately $500,000, of which approximately $450,000 was paid by insurance. After two years, their insurance benefits are exhausted and both turn to Medi-Cal for help:

Medi-Cal Without “Spend Down”: Because Jane had purchased a Partnership Policy, she is allowed to keep $450,000 plus the normal $2,000 for a total of $452,000 in resources and immediately qualify for Medi-Cal. Because Mary had not purchased a Partnership Policy, Medi-Cal requires that she first spend down her assets to no more than $2,000 before becoming eligible, essentially forcing her to deplete her estate.

Protection From Estate Recovery: After qualification, both Jane and Mary continue to receive a Medi-Cal subsidy for the rest of their lives. At their deaths, Medi-Cal files a claim against Mary’s estate to recover benefits paid, and the recovery claim eats up most of her estate. But because Jane had purchased a Partnership Policy, her estate is protected up to the amount of $450,000, the amount of her policy payout, allowing Jane to leave most of her estate to her designated beneficiaries free of any Medi-Cal recovery claim.

For those considering the purchase of long-term care insurance, it makes sense to consider a Partnership Plan Policy. With advance planning, it can be a viable alternative to Medi-Cal planning in a crisis. For more information, visit For free counseling, contact  HICAP at 510-839-0393 or 1-800-434-0222 and ask for a Long Term Care HICAP Counselor.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at

Companies Make Cellphones Senior Friendly | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:09

070215senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

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 hearing aid compatible, too. Here are some top options.

Senior-friendly Phones

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

One of the best is GreatCall’s Jitterbug5 (, 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 you call for help and speak to a certified agent 24/7 that could identify your 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 parent’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 (, 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 an 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 also offer discounts to AARP members.

Another budget-friendly cellphone you should look into is the Snapfon ezTWO for seniors (, 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 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.”

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”

Law Allows Retention of Parents’ Tax Rate | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:05

By Gene L. Osofsky, Esq. • Special to the Times

Q: My mom owned her home for 35 years before she recently passed. Her trust leaves it, 50-50, to my brother and me. I would like to keep the home by purchasing my brother’s interest for cash, and he is okay with that. Is there a way that we can do this without triggering a property tax reassessment?

A: Yes there is! However, the matter must be handled in a special way.

Background: Prop. 13, which California voters passed in the 1970s to hold the line on property taxes, nevertheless, allowed the County Assessor to reassess property whenever there is a “change in ownership.” Prop. 58, which the voters adopted later, provided that a transfer of a home between parent and child would not be considered a “change in ownership,” provided that a Claim for Reassessment Exclusion were timely filed.

Under these Propositions, your purchase of your brother’s 50-percent interest using your own money would be deemed a “change in ownership” as to that portion, because it would be deemed a non-exempt transfer between siblings, rather than a parent-child transfer. Your purchase would then trigger a reassessment as to that 50 percent.

Good news, however! There is a workaround that has been approved by the California State Board of Equalization (BOE). If, rather than using your own money, the trustee of the trust borrows money from a third-party lender, securing that loan by the home, and then distributes the entire home to you (encumbered by the loan amount) and an equivalent value in cash to your brother, there would then be no change in ownership and no reassessment. You would then be responsible for the loan.

To illustrate how this applies in various fact patterns, consider the following scenarios. In each case, assume that the home has a value of $500,000, that the trust does not prohibit a non-pro rata division of assets, that it permits the trustee to borrow money, and that a timely Claim for Reassessment Exclusion is filed:

• The only asset in the trust is the home. At the conclusion of trust administration, it is allocated by deed, 50-50, to you and your brother. No change in ownership; No reassessment.

• The trust is comprised of the home and $500,000 in cash. The home goes to you and all the cash to your brother. Same result as above: No reassessment.

• The only asset in the trust is the home. Trustee borrows $250,000 from a third-party lender, and distributes the home encumbered by the loan to you and the $250,000 in cash to your brother. Same result: No reassessment.

• The trust is comprised of the home and $100,000 in cash, for a total trust estate of $600,000. Trustee borrows $200,000 from a third-party lender, and distributes the home, encumbered by the loan, to you and $300,000 in cash to your brother. Same result: No reassessment.

Note: These transactions must be handled very carefully, with a suitable lender engaged and adequate documentation furnished to the County Assessor. This is not a do-it-yourself project, and it is strongly recommended that these transactions be fully supervised by an attorney familiar with trust administration.

If handled correctly, preserving a parent’s low property tax base can result in thousands of dollars in savings over time and help make retention of the family home more affordable.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward.  Visit his website at



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