Seniors
Medication Management Made Easier PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:23

041615senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Anybody who juggles multiple medications can relate to the problem of forgetting to take a medication, or not remembering whether they already took it.

This is especially true for people who take medications at varying times of the day. Here are some different product and service solutions that may help.

Medication Helpers

Getting organized and being reminded are the two keys to staying on top of a medication schedule. To help achieve this, there are a variety of affordable pillboxes, medication organizers, vibrating watches, beeping pill bottles and even dispensers that can make a big difference.

To find these types of products, go to Epill.com (800-549-0095), where you’ll find dozens to choose from.

Also check out Reminder Rosie (reminder-rosie.com, $130), a voice-activated talking clock that tells you when to take your medicine. It can also be used for other reminders, too.

And, for a super-comprehensive medication management device, there’s the MedMinder automatic pill dispenser. This is a computerized pillbox that will beep and flash when it’s time to take medications, and will call you if you forget. It will even alert you if you take the wrong pills.

This device can also be set up to call, email or text family members and caregivers, letting them know if you miss a dose, take the wrong medication or miss a refill. It is available at MedMinder.com, or call 888-633-6463. The MedMinder rents for $40 to $65 per month.

Medication Packaging

Another possible way to help simplify medication use is to get prescriptions filled in single-dose packets that put all medications (vitamins and over-the-counter drugs can be included too) together in neatly labeled packets organized by date and the time of day they should be taken. This does away with all the pill bottles and pill sorting.

Some compounding pharmacies or independent drug stores offer single-dose packaging along with a number of online pharmacies like PillPack.com.

Reminding Services

Another simple solution that can help you stick to your medication schedule is to use a medication reminding service. These are services that will actually call, email or text you reminders of when it’s time to take medicine and when it’s time to refill your prescriptions. Some even offer extra reminders like doctor and dentist appointments, wake-up calls and more.

Companies that offer such services are MyMedSchedule.com, which provides free medication reminders via text message or email. Their website can also help you make easy-to-read medication schedules that you can print out. Or, if you use a smartphone or tablet, there are free medication reminding apps that can help, like MediSafe (medisafeproject.com) or MedCoach (greatcall.com).

If, however, you don’t receive texts or use a smartphone, tablet or computer, either OnTimeRx.com or Snoozester.com may be the answer. With starting prices ranging between $4 and $10 per month, these services will call you (they can send text messages and emails too) for all types of reminders, including daily medications, monthly refills, doctor appointments, wake-up calls and other events.

Or, if you’re looking for extra help, Care Call Reassurance (call-reassurance.com, 602-265-5968 ext. 7) may be a better fit. In addition to the call reminders to your phone, this service can be set up to contact a family member or designated caregiver if you fail to answer or acknowledge the call. This service runs between $15 and $20 per month.

 

 
Power Of Attorney May Not Grant Gift Giving PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:20

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

Q: My father is in a nursing home and could really use a Medi-Cal subsidy to help with the cost (about $8,500 per month). He has dementia and cannot manage his own finances. Years ago, he signed a Power Of Attorney naming me as his agent. Can I use it to make gifts of his excess assets to help him qualify for Medi-Cal?

A: Whoa! Not so fast. There are a couple of real concerns here:

(1) whether the Power Of Attorney (POA) legally authorizes gifts, and

(2) whether making gifts of excess assets will help or hurt his eligibility for Medi-Cal.

The POA:

In California, a Power Of Attorney must expressly authorize the agent to make gifts. Gifting powers cannot be implied from other clauses, no matter how comprehensive they appear.

This requirement often comes as a surprise to clients, as many assume that the POA authorizes virtually any action that the agent desires, including the making of gifts.

Quite the contrary.

An agent under a POA is a fiduciary and cannot just give away the principal’s assets, no matter how well intended the act, unless the power to do so is expressly authorized in the POA document.

Another concern is that you, as agent, cannot include yourself as a gift recipient unless the POA expressly authorizes you to “self deal.” The phrase “self deal” means acting in your own self-interest.

In the absence of the right to “self deal,” the making of gifts to yourself would be viewed as acting in your own self-interest and breaching the higher duty you owe to your father. Further, those unauthorized gifts to yourself could be viewed as theft and/or as elder financial abuse.

Of course, the POA must also be “durable,” meaning that it survives your father’s incapacity and remains valid even though he is no longer competent.

The Medi-Cal Issue:

As you apparently know, in order to qualify for a Medi-Cal nursing home subsidy, an applicant’s countable resources must be under certain limits. For a single individual, the ceiling is $2,000, and for a married couple it is approximately $120,000.

Against that backdrop, many clients believe that the way to help a loved one qualify for Medi-Cal is to simply help them transfer away excess assets to other family members. However, unless handled in a very special way, gifting away a loved one’s excess assets could backfire: the transfers could potentially disqualify them from a Medi-Cal subsidy, perhaps for a lengthy period going forward.

In summary, your father’s POA must first be evaluated to determine if it includes broad gifting powers and self-dealing powers, and next whether it is a “durable” power. If it meets these tests, and if gifting otherwise appears appropriate to accelerate his eligibility for a Medi-Cal subsidy, then you should seek professional guidance to develop a divestment plan compliant with Medi-Cal rules.

If those rules are not strictly observed, the making of gifts could result in a long period of ineligibility from the very Medi-Cal subsidy that you seek.

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


 
Alternatives Make Colon Cancer Screening Easier PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 12:05

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

While a colonoscopy is considered the gold-standard screening test for detecting colon cancer and is widely recommended once adults reach age 50, only about half of Americans who’ve passed that milestone ever get tested.

Why? Because most people dread the all-day laxative prep and sedation, not to mention the procedure itself.

Fortunately, there are some easier alternatives, but be aware that if these tests uncover any suspicious results, you’ll still need to undergo a colonoscopy.

Take-Home Tests

There are two different types of tests on the market today that you can take in the privacy of your own home that require no laxative-taking/bowel-cleansing preparation.

The best option is the new FDA-approved Cologuard test (see cologuardtest.com), which has a 92 sensitivity rate for detecting colon cancers. With this test, you simply take a sample of a bowel movement and mail it in to the lab for analysis.

The lab looks for both blood and cancer-related DNA cells in your stool.

The Cologuard test, which is recommended every three years, requires a prescription from your doctor and costs $599, but it is covered by Medicare and many private insurers.

If, however, you find that the Cologuard test is not covered by your insurer, and you can’t afford or don’t want to pay the $599 fee, the other option is the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which detects 74 percent colon cancers.

These tests, which are also provided by your doctor, check for traces of blood in the stool that could indicate cancer or large polyps that can develop into cancer, but they don’t look at the DNA. You simply send a stool sample to the lab.

Recommended annually, both of these fecal tests cost only around $25, and are covered by Medicare and most insurers.

Less Invasive Tests

Two other tests to consider that are less invasive then a colonoscopy but more entailed than the take-home tests are the virtual colonoscopy and the sigmoidoscopy (both tests are recommended every five years).

A virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scan to view your colon instead of a scope in the rectum, so it’s a less invasive procedure than a traditional colonoscopy and doesn’t require sedation. But, it still requires the same bowel-cleansing prep.

It’s also more expensive, typically costing between $400 and $800, and it is not covered by Medicare or most insurers.

A sigmoidoscopy exam, which is covered by Medicare and most insurers, uses a short, flexible scope inserted in the rectum like a colonoscopy to look at the lower colon only. This is a much faster and less involved procedure than a colonoscopy and one that doesn’t require sedation. You will follow a clear-liquid diet the day before the exam and take a laxative or enema the morning of.

Colon Cancer Numbers

Colon cancer, which develops slowly over several years without causing symptoms especially in the early stages of the disease, is the second-largest cancer killer in the U.S., killing around 50,000 Americans a year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — an independent panel of medical experts that advises the government on health policies — recommends colon cancer screening to all adults, ages 50 to 75. Earlier screenings are recommended to people who have an increased risk due to family history or other factors.

Experts believe that as many as 20,000 lives could be saved each year, if the screening rate went up to 90 or 95 percent.

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


 
Don’t Unwind Your Trust by Mistake PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 11:56

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

Q. My father had a Living Trust which originally held title to his house. He recently died and when we went to handle his affairs, we discovered that the home was no longer in his trust. It seems that he took it out of his trust when he refinanced his home some years back. I know this is not what he intended. Any idea what is going on here?

A. You describe a common problem. Here is what I believe happened.

Some time after he created his trust, he refinanced his house. My guess is that the lender required that he remove his home from trust during the loan escrow, so that he could sign the loan papers as an individual owner rather than as a trustee.

Your father may then have been unaware that he needed to restore the home to his trust after close of escrow. Either no one so advised him or perhaps he neglected that advice.

It is not entirely clear to me why lenders make this request, but it seems to be common, especially in years past. My guess is that his lender did not want to go through the trouble or expense of arranging for its own attorney to read the trust document to determine if your father, as trustee, had the power to encumber or borrow against the home.

Rather, perhaps the lender felt it would be easier to have your father sign the loan documents as an “individual” owner, rather than as trustee of his Living Trust. The lender, or the escrow officer, may not have advised your father to restore the home to his trust after close of escrow. Perhaps they both assumed that your father would see his own attorney to take care of that final step.

My colleagues in the mortgage loan business advise that this practice of lenders is less common today than in years past, and that many lenders today permit the homeowner to sign loan documents  “as trustee,” thus eliminating the need to remove the home from trust to close the loan.

Sometimes lenders will have their own attorney review the trust and give an opinion to the lender that the trustee has such powers. So, in the future, we should see fewer problems such as the one you present.

The question, now, is whether you are stuck with a full probate in order to deal with the home outside of trust.

For guidance, you should contact an attorney for advice as to whether there may be an alternative to probate that would correct the situation and allow you to proceed with trust administration. In this regard, there is a procedure which attorneys often refer to as a “Heggstad Petition”, which might allow the court to restore the home to your father’s trust.

Whether it would be appropriate in your case is a fact-specific analysis. The good news is that there has been a very recent development which might enhance the chance that such a petition might work.

The lesson for parents who have taken out loans after creating a trust is this: Make sure that you have restored your home to your trust, an act which requires the signing and recording of an appropriate deed. Otherwise, your trust may not accomplish its purpose, and your children may be stuck with a probate to handle your final affairs.

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


 
No Need to Suffer from Achy Hands PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:23

031915senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

There are literally hundreds of different arthritis aids and other products on the market today that can help people with arthritic hands and carpal tunnel syndrome.

To find out which devices can best benefit you, a good place to start is to ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist, who can test the strength and functionality of your hands and recommend appropriate aids. With that said, here’s a rundown of some helpful products for different needs.

Kitchen Aids

Activities like gripping cooking utensils, cutting and chopping, opening jars and cans, and moving around heavy pots and pans can make preparing a meal much more difficult when you have hand arthritis.

Some products that can help are Oxo Good Grips, which makes dozens of soft, large-handle cooking, baking and cleaning utensils that are easier to grip. And for cutting and chopping the Dexter DuoGlide and Ergo Chef knives are excellent ergonomically designed options.

For opening jars, the wall-mounted or under-counter mounted Zim Jar Opener is a top manual opener. It has a V-shaped grip that holds the lid as you twist the jar with both hands.

Some other good options are the Hamilton Beach Open Ease Automatic Jar Opener, and a nifty tool called the JarPop that pops the seal on jars so lids can be removed easier.

For opening cans, an electric can opener is the best option. West Bend and Hamilton Beach make some of the best.

And if you’re interested in arthritis-friendly pots and pans, look for lightweight cookware that has two handles. These are much easier to lift and move around.

Household Helpers

Turning doorknobs, key locks, twist-handles on kitchen or bathroom faucets, and twist-on lamp switches can also be difficult. To help, there are doorknob lever adapters, key turners, lamp switch enlargers, and lever handles for faucets  that provide leverage for easier turning.

Personal Care

Squeezing a shampoo bottle or a tube of toothpaste, or gripping a bar of soap, a toothbrush handle or even a piece of dental floss can make grooming a challenge. Solutions include a wall-mounted soap, shampoo and toothpaste dispenser, which provides easy access to suds. And for brushing and flossing, there are wide-handled, electric toothbrushes and flossers that vibrate or spin to do the cleaning for you.

Easier Dressing

Fastening buttons, pulling zippers and tying shoelaces can also present problems. To help with these chores there are buttonhooks and zipper pulls, and elastic shoelaces, which transform lace-ups into slip-ons.

Reading, Computing

Holding and turning the pages of a book, hand writing and using a computer mouse can also stress arthritic hands.

For readers, an eReader like a Kindle or Nook is recommended because they’re lightweight and easier to hold than regular books. For writing, there’s the soft rubber Pencil Grip that fits on pencils and pens, and ergonomic-shaped pens like the Pen Again that reduce hand fatigue. And for easier computing, the 3M Ergonomic Mouse and Contour Roller Mouse can eliminate hand and wrist stress.

Hobby Helpers

There are dozens of arthritis aids for hobbies too. For example, there are automatic card shufflers and cardholders for card players. If you like to paint, knit or crochet, there are ergonomic paintbrushes, and oversized knitting needles and crochet hooks that are easier to hold. And for sewing, quilting or crafting, there are tools like Fiskars self-opening Easy Action Scissors that spring open for easier cutting.

For a rundown of additional products and where you can purchase them, visit my online article at AchyHandAids.org.

 

 
VA May Tighten Rules on Disability Pensions PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:19

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

Q: I hear that the VA is now proposing a “look back” rule to make it more difficult for disabled veterans to qualify for an Aid and Attendance pension. Do you know anything about this?

A: Yes. As you may know, veterans who served during wartime and have either a non-service-connected disability or are over age 65 can receive a “Veterans Pension” to help pay for long-term care. Some refer to this pension as an “Aid and Attendance” (A&A) pension. However, in order to qualify, the veteran or surviving spouse must meet certain income and net worth requirements.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently issued proposed regulations that would heavily penalize veterans who made asset transfers within a 36 month “look back” period in order to qualify.

The announced purpose of the proposed regulations is to protect veterans from predatory sellers of financial products. However, in operation, the proposed rules would, instead, severely punish deserving veterans and their dependents: Gift transfers of excess assets, or the purchase of annuities, if made within 36 months of application in order to reduce net worth would potentially disqualify the veteran or surviving spouse from a pension for a term up to 10 years.

This proposal represents a sea change for the VA. Historically, gift transfers to reduce net worth were perfectly fine. Likewise, using excess assets to purchase an annuity to create an income stream was also an accepted strategy. Both strategies helped many wartime veterans qualify for a VA Pension so that they could afford care to remain at home, rather than a nursing facility.

Under the proposed new rules, veterans who made these disqualifying transfers would be denied a disability pension for a term based on a formula: value of the excess assets transferred would be divided by the monthly A&A benefit rate and the result would be the number of months of disqualification.

Example: An applicant who transferred $100,000 in excess assets would be disqualified for pension for the following number of months if the application were made in 2015:

Married Veteran: $100,000 / $2,120 = 47 months

Single Veteran: $100,000 / $1,788 = 55 months

Surviving Spouse: $100,000 / $1,149 = 87 months

There are a number of troubling aspects about the proposed rules: (1) there is no effective date given in the regulations, raising the risk that the rules could be retroactive; (2) there is no “grand-fathering” of existing claims; (3) there is no exception for innocent transfers such as birthday gifts to family members or donations to charity or church; and (4) the duration of the penalty would depend upon the marital status of the claimant. Example: The penalty for a surviving spouse would be approximately double what it would be for a married veteran.

The regulations are not yet final and the VA has invited comments through March 24, 2015, before issuing final regulations.

My advice: Until regulations are clarified in regard to their effective date and grandfathering, Veterans and their surviving spouses — who might be considering application for a pension within the next 36 months — should refrain from making significant gifts or using excess assets to purchase an annuity.

Gene L. Osofsky is an elder law and estate planning attorney in Hayward. For more information on this topic, visit his website at www.LawyerForSeniors.com.


 
Make Smartphones Easier for Tech-Shy Seniors PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:54

030515sen1By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

here are several different ways you can go about getting a simplified smartphone that’s easy to use. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, here are some different options to consider.

Simplify a Used Phone

The cheapest way is to get a second-hand android phone, and install a senior-friendly “launcher app” on it, which is a user interface software application.

This type of launcher will turn the appearance and performance of most android smartphones into a simplified phone with big understandable icons for commonly used features (phone, text messaging, camera, contacts, etc.) and no excess clutter. Most launchers can also be customized to fit your needs and preferences.

There are a variety of launcher apps available today that provide this type of technology and are completely free to use. Some popular options include, Necta Launcher (launcher.necta.us), Wiser (wiser-me.com), Seniors Phone (seniorsphone.mobi), Fontrillo (fontrillo.com) and Big Launcher (biglauncher.com), which also offers an upgraded version for $9.

Or, if you have an old Apple iPhone that you’d like to convert, check out Silverline Mobile (silverline.mobi) that converts both Apple and androids for free.

Purchase a New Phone

For starters, you could purchase a smartphone that’s specifically designed for seniors, like GreatCall’s Touch3 that costs $150 (with no contract) at greatcall.com or  800-918-8543. This is an android phone, made by Samsung, that has a 4-inch touchscreen and provides a simple menu list to often-used features like the phone, text messages, camera, pictures, email and internet, along with your contacts and apps.

It also offers a variety of health and safety features like the “5Star app” that would let you speak to a certified agent 24/7 that could identify your location and get help. “Urgent Care,” which provides access to registered nurses and doctors for advice and diagnoses. And “MedCoach,” which sends medication reminders.

Another way you could go is to purchase a standard/mainstream smartphone that provides a built-in “Easy Mode” or “Simple” feature in the phone’s settings. This will let you convert the phone into a much simpler mode of operation, that provides larger, well-labeled icons, to only commonly used functions like the phone, camera, messaging, internet, pictures, contacts and your favorite apps.

Smartphones that offer the “Easy Mode” or “Simple” feature include the Samsung Galaxy phones, which are available through most cell phone carriers at prices typically ranging between $400 and $850 without a contract. Or, for a more budget-friendly option, the Huawei Vision 2 and Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which you can buy as an unlocked phone or through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509) for $80 or $225 without a contract. Consumer Cellular is a top-rated no-contract service provider that also offers discounts to AARP members.

A nice advantage of getting a mainstream phone is that if you master the Easy/Simple mode (or get bored with it), you can always switch the phone back to the standard operation mode for more options. You can also add any number of health and safety features to the phone, like what the Touch3 offers, by downloading their apps at greatcall.com/medical-apps.

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

CAPTION: There are a number of “launcher apps” available that will turn the appearance and performance of a complex smartphone into a simplified phone with big understandable icons for commonly used features.


 
Legal Documents All Seniors Should Have PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:52

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Every adult — especially seniors — should have at least four essential legal documents to protect them and their family.

These documents will make sure your wishes regarding your estate are legal and clear, and will help minimize any conflicts and confusion with your family and your health care providers if you become seriously ill or when you die.

Here are the key documents you need, along with some tips to help you create them.

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

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

4 Durable Power of Attorney: This allows you to designate someone you trust to make financial, tax and legal decisions on your behalf if you lose your decision-making capacity.

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

If you have a simple estate and an uncomplicated family situation, there are several good do-it-yourself guides that can help you create all these documents for very little money.

For creating a will, a top resource is the Quicken WillMaker Plus 2015 software (available at nolo.com) that costs $50, works with Windows personal computers and is valid in every state except Louisiana. If you use a Mac, nolo.com offers an online will maker for $35.

Or, if you only need to create an advance directive, you can do it for free at caringinfo.org (or call 800-658-8898), where you can get state-specific forms with instructions. Or, for only $5, an even better tool is the Five Wishes document (agingwithdignity.org, 888-594-7437), which is valid in 42 states and will help you create a customized advance directive.

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

Costs will vary depending on where you reside, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $1,000 for a will, or $1,200 to $5,000 for a living trust.

The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (actec.org) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) websites are good resources that have directories to help you find someone in your area.

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

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

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


 
New IRS Rule Endorses Annuities PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 14:50

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

Q: I just heard about a new IRS rule that gives favored treatment to the purchase of an annuity inside an IRA. Do you know anything about that?

A: Yes. You refer to the new IRS rule that allows an owner of a Traditional IRA to use a portion of his or her IRA or 401K funds to purchase a longevity annuity without the need to comply with the Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”) rules.  This is great news for IRA owners.

Background: Previously, the RMD rules required that an annuity purchased inside a Traditional IRA or 401K had to start distributions when the owner turned 70.5, even if the owner did not need the money at that time.

There was no real option to defer the annuity start date, so as to allow the annuity to grow in value inside the Traditional IRA and begin larger payouts at a later date. In short, the RMD rules previously clashed with the goal of planning for lifetime income.

Previously, for those who wanted to defer the annuity start date, often the only option was to purchase an annuity outside the IRA with after-tax dollars or use after-tax dollars in a ROTH IRA because ROTHs do not have a RMD requirement.

The new rule now gives owners of Traditional IRAs the green light to put a portion of their portfolio into a longevity annuity to provide for guaranteed income beginning at a future date, which can begin as late as age 85.

By permitting this deferred start date, the rule allows for the interim growth of the annuity contract and, hence, higher payouts beginning at a future date. The longer the payouts are deferred, the more money the owner receives.

In short, the rule allows retirees to insure themselves against the risk of outliving their money, because they can provide lifetime income for themselves later in life.

There are some requirements, including the following:

(1) Only up to 25 percent of the IRA account value, now capped at $125,000, can be used to purchase a Qualifying Longevity Annuity Contract (“QLAC”);

(2) the annuity must begin payout by age 85; and

(3) the annuity must be irrevocable once purchased. The rule also permits the contract to have a “return of premium” feature: If the IRA owner dies before receiving back all of the annuity premium payment, the difference will be paid back to his or her beneficiary.

Also, the $125,000 cap will be subject to cost-of-living adjustments.

Retirees who choose to take advantage of this new option can still invest the remaining 75 percent of their Traditional IRA or 401(k) account balance in other assets, as before, with the understanding that only these assets will be used to calculate the RMDs with the mandatory start date at age 70.5.

This new rule is especially significant for those persons who are not yet ready to retire or who do not need to begin drawing on their Traditional IRA or 401K at age 70.5. It is worth a serious look.

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



 
Prevent Osteoporosis; Protect Your Bones PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:19

021915senBy Jim Miller • Special to the Times

While osteoporosis is much more common in older seniors, it can strike at any age. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that half of women and up to 25 percent of men in the U.S. over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Here’s what you should know.

Who’s at Risk?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to become brittle and weak and more susceptible to fractures. Around 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis (80 percent are women) while another 43 million have “pre-osteoporosis,” or osteopenia. But the good news is this disease is both preventable and treatable.

Most people gradually start losing some of their bone mass by the time they reach their late 30s. But for women, menopause is the time when this process really accelerates. Bone loss for men occurs much more slowly.

However, by age 75, osteoporosis is as common in men as it is in women.

Some of the key risk factors of developing osteoporosis include: being over age 50; being female; menopause; having a family history of the disease; being small and thin; having an eating disorder; not getting enough calcium and vitamin D; getting too much protein, sodium and caffeine; having an inactive lifestyle; smoking; drinking too much alcohol; taking certain medications (see nof.org/articles/6 for a list); and having certain medical conditions (see nof.org/articles/5).

To help determine risk of osteoporosis, the National Institutes of Health has a quick, online quiz you can take at bonecheckup.org.

Prevention and Treatment

A good first step is to get screened. For women, that should start around menopause, especially if you’re not taking estrogen, or anyone who has broken a bone after age 50 or who has other risk factors.

All women over 65 and men over 70 should be tested every two years — Medicare covers it. Screening for osteoporosis is a simple, painless, bone density test, which takes about five minutes.

Here’s what else you can do to protect your bones.

Boost your calcium: The best way to get bone-building calcium is through your diet. Dairy products (low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurt), dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards), sardines and salmon, cooked dried beans, soy foods, almonds and fortified cereals and juices are all good sources of calcium. Vitamin D is also important to help your body absorb calcium. Note: Recent studies have found that excess calcium could increase the risk of heart disease.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,000 mg of calcium daily for women under age 50 and for men under 70, and 1,200 mg for women 51 and older and for men over 71.

The Foundation also recommends all adults under age 50 get 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D, or 800 to 1,000 IU if you’re over 50. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or food, consider taking a supplement. Most daily multivitamins contain at least 400 IU.

Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises like walking and strength training with weights or resistant bands three or four times a week can also significantly improve your bone health.

Control these vices: Avoid smoking, limit alcohol to no more than two or three drinks per day, and limit caffeine (coffee, tea or caffeinated soda) to three cups a day.

Consider medications: The most widely prescribed for osteoporosis are bisphosphonates, a class of drugs designed to slow or stop bone loss. Talk to your doctor about these and other medication options, as well as potential side effects.

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

CAPTION: The best way to boost your calcium is through your diet — low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurt; dark-green leafy vegetables; salmon; almonds; fortified juices; etc.


 
What’s the Hold-Up with Medi-Cal? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:17

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

Q: About six months ago, I applied for Medi-Cal to help with my husband’s ongoing nursing home bill, and we are still waiting for a decision. I keep calling Medi-Cal, but nothing happens. The nursing home has been patient, but I do not think they can wait forever. Is there anything I can do?

A: Unfortunately, you are not alone. With the expanded eligibility for Medi-Cal provided under the Affordable Care Act, California counties have been flooded with Medi-Cal applications. The backlog at one point rose to 900,000 pending cases.

The resulting delay in processing these applications has created great hardship for applicants, whose medical needs went unattended and health deteriorated while awaiting approval.

In one case, a mother’s son died of a pulmonary embolism while awaiting approval of his application filed seven months earlier. Sadly, two months after his death, his mother finally received the long-awaited letter of approval.

Under the law, California counties are supposed to make decisions within 45 days of application, but for hundreds of thousands of deserving applicants this 45-day legal limit has been illusory.

Finally, in the Fall of last year, a group of plaintiffs — including the mother referenced above — and a coalition of legal services organizations filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court seeking to put an end to this Medi-Cal application “limbo.”

On January 20, 2015, in a case entitled Rivera vs. Douglas, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued an Order Granting Petitioner’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The Order was designed to put an end to the backlog and indicated the judge’s intention to make a further, more specific order to accomplish just that.

As of this writing, the precise form of that more specific Order is still under consideration by the judge. However, we expect that it will be issued very soon and that, once issued, will direct the state to take specific and immediate actions, including the following:

• To grant immediate provisional Medi-Cal benefits on all cases pending more than 45 days where eligibility appears likely, and

• To send written notice to all other applicants advising them of their right to an Administrative Fair Hearing before a judge to secure a prompt ruling on their pending applications.

So, there are several things you can do at this time:

(1) write a letter to your Medi-Cal eligibility worker making reference to the recent Rivera vs. Douglas decision [Alameda County Superior Court case No. RG14740911], and ask that your husband be granted provisional Medi-Cal benefits immediately;

(2) contact the Health Consumer Alliance (Legal Aid) for assistance at 1-888-804-3536;

(3) make a written request for an Administrative Fair Hearing before a judge, sending the request to both your local Medi-Cal county office and the California Department of Healthcare Services, Appeals Unit, in Sacramento; and/or

(4) seek guidance from an elder law attorney familiar with the Medi-Cal program.

By pressing forward, my hope is that you will secure a favorable decision on your husband’s application in the very near future. Every good wish to you and your husband.

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


 
Must I File a Tax Return This Year? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:14

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year will depend on how much you earned (gross income) — and the source of that income — as well as your filing status and your age.

Gross income includes all the income you receive that is not exempt from tax, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately.

Here’s a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this tax season. If your 2014 gross income 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: $10,150 ($11,700 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2015).

Married filing jointly: $20,300 ($21,500 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $22,700 if you’re both over 65).

Married filing separately: $3,950 at any age.

Head of household: $13,050 ($14,600 if age 65 or older).

Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,350 ($17,550 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 irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.

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 2014 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 a tool on its 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 page at:  irs.gov/filing  and 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 irs.gov/localcontacts 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 California are at:  www.ftb.ca.gov/individuals/fileRtn/index.shtml.

Tax Prep Assistance

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get free help locally.

The AARP offers free tax assistance from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday at the Castro Valley Library, 3600 Norbridge Ave., through April 9. Appointments are required. Call 510-667-7900.

The Aitken Senior Center at 17800 Redwood Road in Castro Valley also offers free tax assistance on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 510-881-6738 for an appointment. The Hayward Area Senior Center at 22325 North Third St. offers free assistance on Tuesdays and Fridays. Call 510-881-6766 for an appointment.

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


 

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