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


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

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 (, Wiser (, Seniors Phone (, Fontrillo ( and Big Launcher (, 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 ( 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 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 (, 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

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 that costs $50, works with Windows personal computers and is valid in every state except Louisiana. If you use a Mac, offers an online will maker for $35.

Or, if you only need to create an advance directive, you can do it for free at (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 (, 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 ( and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ( 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 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

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

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 for a list); and having certain medical conditions (see

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

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

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

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

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:  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 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:

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.

Who Should Buy Long-term Care Insurance? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 February 2015 15:40

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

There are two key factors — your financial situation and health history — you need to mull over that can help you decide if buying a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy is a wise decision for you. Currently, only around 8 million Americans own a policy. Here’s what you should know.

LTC Insurance?

As the cost of LTC (which includes nursing home, assisted living and in-home care) continues to skyrocket, it’s important to know that most people pay for LTC either from personal savings or Medicaid when their savings is depleted, or through an LTC insurance policy. National median average costs for nursing home care today is over $87,000 per year, while assisted living averages $42,000/year.

While national statistics show that about 70 percent of Americans 65 and older will need some kind of LTC, most people do not need to purchase an LTC insurance policy. A recent study from Boston College said only 19 percent of men and 31 percent of women should actually get one.

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

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

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

Another factor to weigh is your personal health and family health history. The two most common reasons seniors need extended long-term care is because of dementia and/or disability. And, almost half of all people who live in nursing homes are 85 years or older.

So, what’s your family history for Alzheimer’s, stroke or some other disabling health condition, and do you have a family history of longevity? The U.S. Surgeon General offers a free tool at to help you collect, organize and evaluate your genetic risks.

After evaluating your situation, if you’re leaning towards buying an LTC policy, be sure to do your homework. The cost of premiums can vary greatly (ranging anywhere between $1,200 and $8,000 per year for a couple), depending on your age, the insurer and the policy’s provisions.

To help you find a policy, 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.

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

Rules Tighten on Reverse Mortgages PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 February 2015 15:39

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

Q: I hear that qualifying for a reverse mortgage will soon become more difficult. Is this true?

A: Yes, beginning March 2, 2015, all persons applying for a reverse mortgage under the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program will need to pass a Financial Assessment. This is new! No longer will reverse mortgages be based primarily on the borrower’s age, the value of the home and prevailing interest rates.

Now, for the very first time, qualifying will also depend upon the borrower’s income and credit history. This is a major development which will place reverse mortgages out of reach for some borrowers.

As you may know, reverse mortgage loans under the HECM program are insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). When the loans go sour, such as when the borrower fails to make real property tax payments and/or homeowner’s insurance premiums, HUD covers the default. This scenario has created significant expense to HUD, and has resulted in some homeowners losing their homes in foreclosure, causing much concern in Washington. Hence the new rule.

In the past, some borrowers have either been unwilling or unable to make property tax and insurance payments, placing the underlying security in jeopardy and triggering a default of the loan and sale of the home.

In an effort to address this problem, the new HUD rule will require applicants to demonstrate — by income and credit history — their “willingness and capacity” to timely meet their financial obligations and to comply with the mortgage requirements.

For borrowers who cannot demonstrate a satisfactory “willingness and ability” to meet these obligations throughout the life of the loan, the following are the likely new outcomes:

1) a full life-expectancy set-aside will be required out of the HECM loan proceeds, to cover all of these payments for the life expectancy of the youngest borrower; or

2) the loan will be denied.

For some borrowers, the new lifetime set-aside may be so large as to make the reverse mortgage impractical. This could occur, for example, where there is not enough equity in the home after the set-aside to generate meaningful proceeds for the borrower. This would be especially true for those borrowers who are obliged to pay off an existing mortgage as part of the reverse mortgage transaction.

While it could be argued that the new rule will make the loans “safer” for the homeowners by either imposing mandatory set-aside requirements or denying them the loans entirely, nevertheless the new rule may deprive some homeowners of the means to supplement their living expenses in retirement.

If you have been sitting on the fence about a reverse mortgage, you might consider  applying immediately so that your application is on file before the March 2 deadline.

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

What Are the Pros and Cons of Reverse Mortgages? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:38

012215sen1By Jason Alderman • Special to the Times

Over the last decade, reverse mortgages have been marketed as an easy way for seniors to cash in their home equity to pay for living expenses.

However, many have learned that improper use of the product — such as pulling all their cash out at one time to pay bills — has led to significant financial problems later, including foreclosure.

In actuality, there are some cases where reverse mortgages can be helpful to borrowers. However, it is imperative to do extensive research on these products before you sign.

Reverse mortgages are special kinds of home loans that let borrowers convert some of their home equity into cash. They come in three varieties: single-purpose reverse mortgages, Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) and proprietary reverse mortgages.

Who can apply?

Homeowners can apply for a reverse mortgage if they are at least 62 years old, own their home outright or have a low mortgage balance that can be paid off with the proceeds of the reverse loan.

Qualifying homeowners also must have no delinquent federal debt, the financial resources to pay for upkeep, taxes and insurance, and live in the home during the life of the loan.

Consider the following pros and cons as a starting point for trying or bypassing this loan choice. Even though HECM loans require a discussion with a loan counselor, you should bring in your own financial, tax or estate advisor to help you decide whether you have a safe and appropriate use for this product.

Pros of reverse mortgages:

• They’re a source of cash. Borrowers can select that the amount of the loan be payable in a lump sum or regular payments.

• Proceeds are generally tax-free. Final tax treatment may rely on a variety of personal factors, so check with a tax professional.

• Generally, they don’t impact Social Security or Medicare payments. Again, it’s important to check personal circumstances.

• You won’t owe more than the home is worth. Most reverse mortgages have a “nonrecourse” clause, which prevents you or your estate from owing more than the value of your home when the loan becomes due and the home is sold.

• Reverse mortgages may be a smarter borrowing option for some downsizing seniors. With proper advice, some borrowers use them to buy new homes.

Cons of reverse mortgages:

• You may outlive your equity. Reverse mortgages are viewed as a “last-resort” loan option and certainly not a singular solution to spending problems.

• You and your heirs won’t get to keep your house unless you repay the loan. If your children hope to inherit your home outright, try to find some other funding solution (family loans, other conventional loan products) first.

• Fees can be more expensive than conventional loans. Reverse mortgage lenders typically charge an origination fee and higher closing costs than conventional loans. This adds up to several percentage points of your home’s value.

• Many reverse mortgages are adjustable-rate products. Adjustable rates affect the cost of the loan over time.

• If you have to move out for any reason, your loan becomes due. If you have to suddenly move into a nursing home or assisted-living facility, the loan becomes due after you’ve left your home for a continuous year.

Bottom line: Reverse mortgages have become a popular, if controversial, loan option for senior homeowners. For some, they may be a good fit, but all applicants should get qualified financial advice before they apply.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.

What Medicare Doesn’t Cover PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:37

By Jim Miller • Special to the Times

While Medicare covers a wide array of health care services, it certainly doesn’t cover everything. If you need or want certain services that aren’t covered, you’ll have to pay for them yourself unless you have other insurance or you’re in a Medicare Advantage health plan, which may cover some of these services.

Here’s a rundown of what original Medicare generally does not cover.

Alternative medicine: This includes acupuncture or chiropractic services (except to fix subluxation of the spine), and other types of alternative or complementary care.

Cosmetic surgery: Elective cosmetic procedures are not covered, however, certain surgeries may be if necessary to fix a malformation. For example, breast prostheses are covered if you had a mastectomy due to breast cancer.

Long-term care: This includes nursing home care, the costs of assisted living facilities and adult day care. Medicare does, however, help pay up to 100 days of skilled nursing or rehabilitation care immediately following a three-day inpatient hospital stay.

Personal care: The cost of hiring help for bathing, toileting and dressing are not covered unless you are homebound and are also receiving skilled nursing care. Housekeeping services, such as shopping, meal preparation and cleaning, are not covered either unless you are receiving hospice care.

Routine dental and vision care: Medicare will not cover routine dental checkups, cleanings, fillings or dentures. Nor do they cover routine vision care like eye exams, eye refractions, contact lenses or eyeglasses – except when following cataract surgery.

Hearing: Routine hearing exams and hearing aids are not covered either, although some hearing implants to treat a severe hearing loss may be covered.

Foot care: Medicare does not cover most routine foot care, like the cutting or removing of corns and calluses, nor does it pay for most orthopedic shoes or other foot supports (orthotics). Medicare will, however, cover foot injuries or diseases like hammertoes, bunion deformities and heel spurs, along with foot exams and treatments if you have diabetes-related nerve damage.

Non-emergency services: Medicare does not pay for copies of X-rays or most non-emergency transportation including ambulette services.

Overseas coverage: In most cases, health care you receive outside of the United States is not covered.

The best way to find out if Medicare covers what you need, visit and type in your test, item or service, to get a breakdown of what is and isn’t covered.

Also keep in mind that even if Medicare covers a service or item, they don’t usually pay 100 percent of the cost. Unless you have supplemental insurance, you’ll have to pay monthly premiums as well as annual deductibles and copayments. Most preventive services, however, are covered by original Medicare with no copays or deductibles.

For more information on what original Medicare does and doesn’t cover, see the “Medicare and You” 2015 booklet that you should receive in the mail a few months before you turn 65, or you can see it online at

You can also get help over the phone by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll need to contact you plan administrator for details.

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



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