Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Celebrating Thanksgiving Can Extend Your Life

As we approach the "Bermuda Triangle" of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve, many people approach this time of year full of fear, concern about unpleasantness, stress over financial demands, and worry about excess drinking.

However, if you approach the season with the right attitude and actions, you don't have to succumb to all this stress and worry.  Instead, you can turn this opportunity into a way to actually add years to your life.

How to Benefit from the Holidays

*  Research shows that people who have a large number of social connections tend to live longer.  Of course, if you have relatives who increase your stress, your best move is to minimize the time you spend with them and maximize the time you spend with the people you really enjoy.  While none of us can completely eliminate the time we spend with irritating people, we all have the right to pleasantly and politely avoid them as much as possible.  It is important that you do it politely, however.  Nothing can increase your stress like a family feud.  In other words, drop by the home of that busy-body aunt or alcoholic uncle for an hour or so.  Drop off a small gift or home-baked treat.  Smile a lot, make your excuses, and move on!  Don't try to change the the people who are a problem to you; instead, spend your energy increasing your social connections with the people who you care about.

*  Give what you can, but don't go into debt to do it.  Giving is as enjoyable as receiving for most people, and we would all like to give gifts to our family and friends when we can. Giving to others also seems to bolster our life expectancy.  However, there is no reason to go into debt in order to enjoy the pleasure of giving.  First, look around your home.  Do you own things that you don't want, but you think someone else would ... a pretty vase or souvenir from a trip?  Perhaps you have received a gift that just isn't right for you.  Re-gifting is perfectly appropriate, as long as you don't give it to the person who gave it to you!  Still need more gifts?  Head to the Dollar Store.  That is where you can pick up holiday coffee mugs, Christmas tree ornaments, small children's toys, bubble bath, hand cream, picture frames, vases and candy.  You can even buy cheap holiday cards and gift bags there.  For $20, you can purchase 15 or more gifts that will allow you to give something to everyone on your list.  It really is the thought that counts.  Baking cookies or making candy is also a wonderful way to give gifts that will delight your family and friends.  Want to do more?  The Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday is known as Giving Tuesday.  Make a donation to your favorite charity, even if it is just a couple of dollars.

*  Volunteer to help others.  Volunteers tend to live longer than those who don't.  Whether you have an on-going commitment at your house of worship or a local children's hospital, or you just show up when you can to help at a food bank or soup kitchen, volunteering will make you feel good about yourself.

*  Finally, let the holidays lift your spirits.  Rather that getting down on yourself about the things you cannot do, allow yourself to feel grateful and appreciative for the good things you do have in your life.  Let the holidays lift your spirits.  Sing your favorite holiday songs.  Drive around and look at the holiday lights.  Invite friends over for a sweet treat or a glass of wine.  People who are optimistic and happy tend to live longer, too.

May this be your best holiday season ever!

Use the tabs at the top of this blog to find other ways to maintain your health and increase your longevity.  The tab on Medical Concerns contains links to dozens of other helpful health articles.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Long-Term Care Insurance -- Should You Buy It?

It may be hard to imagine today, but the time may come when you will have difficulty bathing yourself, getting dressed, preparing meals, eating, moving from the bed to a wheelchair or walker, using the bathroom, remembering to take your medication, or with incontinence.  This situation may come on slowly as we age, or it could happen suddenly as the result of a stroke or accident.  No matter the cause, it is important that you have a plan for dealing with these issues when the time comes.

Cost of Getting Long-Term Care

If you have not properly prepared, obtaining the care you need can be extremely expensive.  Although the exact amount varies across the nation, the Orange County Council on Aging estimates that it can range from $50,000 to $80,000. 

The least expensive type of care is when a family member provides the care you need.  However, this is not always a possibility.  Personally, I know of several widowed, childless men and women.  They have no near relatives who can care for them if they should become incapacitated.

Another option is to apply for MediCal.  This is a government program that covers long-term care expenses for many people.  A company called Nursing Home Solutions provides professional financial planners who can help you see if you qualify for MediCal.  In their ads they say that you do not have to spend down all your assets in order to qualify for MediCal assistance in paying for a nursing home. I am sure there are also other companies that can help you apply for this program.  You can contact Nursing Home Solutions at

The next least expensive type of care is the use of a part-time caregiver in your own home.  The cost becomes more expensive if you need full time care in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The most expensive care is for those people who choose to have 24-hour caregivers in their own home, since this requires three shifts of caregivers, seven days a week.

What Does Long-Term Care Insurance Cover?

Fortunately, there is a type of insurance that will pay for your care when you are no longer able to take care of yourself.   In California, where I live, these insurance policies must include coverage for in-home caregivers, as well as the cost of residing in an assisted living facility or a nursing home.  This gives you the option to receive your care in the setting that is most appropriate for you and your family.  For example, if your spouse needs long-term care, having this insurance may make it possible for them to stay in your home with you, without forcing you to put them in a nursing home.

Purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance

This type of insurance gives you a variety of options, so different people can choose the amount of insurance they can afford.  You can select a policy that covers your care for a few years, or you can choose one that would cover you for as long as necessary, even if that is the rest of your life.   The shorter the term of care, the lower the premiums will be.

Why Would You Buy a Short Term Policy?

You may be wondering why everyone wouldn't just buy a policy that would cover them indefinitely, rather than have a time limit on it.  Of course, that would be ideal, but it could be too expensive for many people.  When my husband and I purchased our policies, we bought a long-term policy for me, and one that would last a maximum of 4 years for my husband.

Our insurance agent said that you have to look at things practically.  I am more likely to outlive my husband.  If he were to become debilitated, I would probably care for him by myself as long as possible before bringing in a caregiver.  Once we reached that point, four years of long-term care would probably be adequate.

On the other other hand, when I am elderly and losing my ability to care for myself, I probably would not have a spouse to take care of me.  I would need to hire a caregiver sooner and would most likely need the care for the rest of my life.

Based on our conversations with our insurance broker, we purchased the policies that seemed to be affordable and would meet our projected needs the best.  The right policy for you will vary depending on your personal circumstances, such as whether you are single or married, whether or not you have adult children who are capable of providing the care you might need, the health and life expectancy of you and your spouse, and how much insurance you can afford.  Even a short-term policy is better than no long-term care insurance at all.

Whatever you decide, you want to make sure you select a policy that you can afford now, as well as in the future.

What If You Do Not Qualify for Long-Term Care Insurance?

The younger you are when you buy the policy, the better off you will be.  It will be less expensive in your 50's or early 60's and you are more likely to qualify for it.  However, if you do wait until you have a chronic condition and you have trouble qualifying, there are alternatives.  If you or your spouse is a Veteran, you may qualify for $2000 a month in long-term care aid from the Veteran's Administration.  There are also special life insurance policies that include long-term care riders.  You can talk to your insurance agent about those choices.  You may also be able to qualify for MediCal.

Whatever you decide, you need to give this issue some thought and let your loved ones know about any policies you own or money that has been set aside for your long-term care.  You do not want to wait until you are injured and cannot speak for yourself.

If you are retired or planning to retire soon, you will find links to more information about long-term care in the Medical Concerns tab at the top of this page.  You may also be interested in the article links you will find under the other tabs, which cover issues such as financial planning, where to retire, and family isues.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Avoid International Problems When Retiring Overseas

Tens of thousands of Americans have chosen to move to other countries in retirement and most have had pleasant experiences, often living happily in gorgeous tropical or European locations.  The people who have had the most success are those who took the time to do thorough research and careful financial planning.

Recently I wrote a post called "Investigate Exchange Rates Before Moving Overseas."  However, the currency exchange rates are not the only issues that could affect your pocketbook if you decide to move to another country.  While most potential problems can be avoided or dealt with, it is important that you take the necessary steps to be assured that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Factors To Consider Before Moving to Another Country

Have a realistic idea of the cost of living - While it might be possible to live very cheaply in another country, will you be living in a lifestyle that is comfortable for you?  One young couple we know who moved to Costa Rica recently spent $300,000 for a new, modern home in a gated community.  While they could live cheaper in other areas, they preferred the safety and modern amenities that were available in this neighborhood.  You need to ask yourself ... will I really be reducing my cost of living?  In addition, you need to factor in extra expenses, such as the cost of travel back and forth to visit family in the United States.

Make arrangements to receive your Social Security checks in your new country - Approximately 400,000 U.S. retirees currently get their checks abroad.  You can find out how to do this and whether or not the checks can be sent to your new country at  Once in your new country, the U.S. embassy or consulate can assist you if you have any problems.

Investigate the health care system and medical insurance in your new country - Will you have access to the specialists you need at a price you can afford?  Since you cannot use Medicare in other countries, can you buy into the national healthcare system in your new country or purchase private insurance?  Should you keep basic Medicare available for when you travel back to the U.S.?  Many people do, especially if they make frequent return trips or only live overseas for a portion of the year.

Another option is to selection a Medicare Advantage plan that will provide at least emergency coverage in foreign countries.  It is reassuring to know that part of your medical bills will be covered if you have a stroke or heart attack in your new country.

You are required to continue to file U.S. tax returns - If you have any assets in the U.S., or at least $10,000 in a foreign account, or any income coming from the U.S., or you are earning foreign income, you are required to file tax returns, even if you don't owe any taxes.  Failure to file the proper forms can result in a $10,000 fine and you can be arrested upon your return for felony tax evasion.  Make sure you cut all ties with the state where you have lived, too, or you could be expected to file state tax returns.  You may also have to file a tax return in your new country.  You need to check with an accountant in the country where you will be living to learn exactly what tax laws could affect you.

* If you plan to work in your new country, make sure you know the requirements - Will you be allowed to work?  Remember, you will also have to report any money you earn to the U.S. government as well as to the government of the country where you now live.

Set up a bank account in your new country - However, you may want to keep most of your assets in a U.S. bank where they will be less affected by currency fluctuations.

Consult an attorney before buying property in a foreign country - Some countries allow you to purchase property, while others do not.  In addition, a local attorney could help you avoid a real estate scam or other problems.

Have a local attorney look over your will, trust, power of attorney, etc. - Make sure your wishes will be honored in your new country and that your documents comply with their laws.

Register with the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program - This is important so the government can find you in an emergency.

In addition, some people I know who have owned homes overseas have told me that they enjoyed it most when they only spent part of the year there or only stayed for a few years.  In this way, they were able to still spend time with family and loved ones in the United States and not feel so isolated. 

In the end, the choice of whether to retire overseas or stay in the U.S. is up to each individual.  Whatever you decide, just make sure you have prepared carefully for everything you can and realize that some problems ... such as erupting volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, debilitating illnesses and other emergencies ... are things you will just have to deal with as they come.  After all, that's part of the adventure, isn't it?

If you are planning your retirement, you will also want to check out the tabs at the top of this article for links to hundreds of posts on a wide variety of retirement topics.

Sources and Reference Materials to Help You:

"Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad" at

"Before Relocating Abroad, Consider These 10 Guidelines" Where To Retire Magazine, September/October 2014.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Public Assistance for Low Income Retirees

Several people we know are struggling to live off their very low Social Security benefits and this seems to be a problem for low-income seniors across the country.  While some senior citizens are able to get assistance from their adult children or other family members, others do not know where to turn.  As a result, I decided to provide information about some of the programs that are available to help retirees who are destitute or nearly destitute.  In addition, I have included the names of the specific agencies that you need to contact in order to get these services, since you cannot go to one place to apply for everything, unfortunately.

If my readers are aware of other programs, please mention them in the comments section and I will amend this post to include them.  In addition, if you know of someone who would benefit from this information, please email it to them or print it out and give it to them.  Let's all work together to keep a few people off the streets this winter.

At the end of this article, you will also find links to websites that will provide you with additional information.   As you will notice in the description of the different types of help available, you may need to be persistent in order to be approved for help.  Some forms of public aid are routinely denied to applicants when they first apply.  Do not hesitate to seek legal or other assistance and appeal your denial.

Assistance Programs for Low Income Senior Citizens (And Qualified Younger Adults)

SSI or Supplemental Security Insurance

SSI is a program that makes payments to people with a very low income who are age 65 or older, or those who are under 65 and have disabilities or are blind.  You can be collecting a small amount of Social Security benefits or be earning income from a low-paying job and still qualify for SSI.  People who did not work long enough to qualify for Social Security may still be eligible for SSI. You can also own certain assets or have a small amount of savings and qualify for this help.

The federal government has a base amount that they pay, but some states add money to that amount.  Therefore, the exact amount you could receive will vary from state to state.  This is income-based aid, but they do not consider the value of food stamps, housing provided by non-profits or certain other income you receive when they calculate your eligibility.

They do consider your assets.  However, you are allowed to have up to $2000 in cash if you are an individual or $3000 if you are a couple.  In addition, your home and car will not usually prevent you from qualifying.

No one is going to call you and ask if you want this supplemental income, or any of the other forms of aid mentioned below.  You need to seek it out.  Contact your Social Security office if you believe you may qualify for this program.  You can make an appointment with a Social Security Representative by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Social Security Disability

If you are unable to work, but you are not old enough to qualify for Social Security, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability.  If you have a health condition that is expected to last over 12 months, and it difficult for you to either have gainful employment in your former occupation or change your line of work due to your age, education or a physical impairment, you may qualify for disability.  In order to qualify, you generally must have worked at least 5 of the past 10 years.   Parents' work credits can be applied for young adults under the age of 22.  If you think you qualify, you need to be persistent in order to be approved.  Approximately 60% of applicants are denied when they first apply, especially if they have inadequate medical records.  Do not hesitate to appeal your denial.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps)

If you qualify for SSI, you may also be eligible for food stamps.  You can get more information about this nutritional assistance at the Social Security office when you apply for SSI.   If you are not yet eligible for Social Security or SSI, you may still be eligible for food stamps.  In this case, you will want to contact your local welfare office to check your eligibility for food stamps.


If you collect SSI because you are blind or disabled, and you are not old enough yet to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits, you may also be eligible to get free or low cost medical insurance through your state's Medicaid program.  Medicaid is also available to millions of low income wage earners.  You can apply through your local welfare or medical assistance office.  Go to a website called, which is a national nonprofit, if you want to find help paying for your medicine and food.


Most people have their Medicare premiums deducted from their Social Security benefits.  However, if your income is extremely low, your state may pay your Medicare premiums for you.  In some cases the state may also pay your deductibles and co-insurance expenses.  You need to contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid Agency.  Income requirements vary from state to state.

You may also qualify for help with your drug costs and Medicare Part D premiums.  The income requirements for this assistance are different than those for SSI so, even if you don't qualify for SSI, you might qualify for this assistance.

You can apply at your local Social Security office.  You can make an appointment with a Social Security Representative by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Section 8 Housing

In addition to SSI, disability, food stamps and assistance with your medical expenses, you may also qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers.  These vouchers can be used for any housing you find and the government will cover a portion of the rent.  This may make it possible for you to find an inexpensive place to live, even if you live in an area where rents tend to be high.  In order to be eligible, your income must be less than half of the median income for the city or county where you will be living.  At least 75% of the vouchers must go to people who have an income that is 30% or less of the medium income of the area where they will be living.

In other words, if you only receive the average Social Security benefit of about $15,000 a year and the median income in your area is $50,000, there is a very high probability that you will qualify for a housing voucher.  You may still qualify, even if you earn up to $25,000 in the same community.  If the median income in your area is higher, you can have more income and still qualify.

In order to apply, you must contact your local Public Housing Authority.  They are the ones who administer the program for the department of Housing and Urban Development.  You may have to go on a waiting list before receiving a voucher, so apply as soon as possible.  If your situation changes ... for example, if you become homeless ... you need to contact the PHA as soon as possible. You can get moved up the waiting list.

Veterans Administration Assistance

If you or your spouse is a military veteran, you may be qualified for various assistance programs from the Veterans Administration including healthcare, long-term care benefits, prescription drug coverage, counseling, mortgage assistance, disability compensation and more.  If you have been in the military you may want to contact your local Office of Veterans Affairs to see what services you may be eligible to receive.

If you are not satisfied with the answers you get, you may want to contact private organizations like the American Legion for assistance.  They will help you navigate all the confusing regulations.  It is not unusual for people to be denied benefits the first time they apply.  It is worth it to get help in completing the application or filing an appeal.

Private Assistance for the Poor

In addition to the public programs listed above, your religious organization may help you with short-term housing or other assistance for a few weeks until you begin to receive the public aid you are qualified for.

Even if they cannot provide housing or financial assistance, many churches and other organizations can provide you with food and clothing or direct you to the nearest available resource for those items.  A number of churches operate food banks that can help people get through a difficult time.

Senior Centers 

You should also contact the senior centers in your city or town.  Many of them will have information about community resources that may be available to you, people who might be looking for a roommate, rooms for rent to senior citizens, meals-on-wheels and other services that could help you.  For example, my local senior center sets out day-old bread and pastries that are dropped off daily by a local grocery chain. In addition, senior centers often provide low-cost lunches and similar programs to help the elderly.

Read these Sources for Additional Information About the Public Programs Mentioned Above:

Social Security Disability Help

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