Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Social Security and Remarriage

Many senior citizens are discovering that they have to do a lot of serious research before they decide whether or not they can afford to get remarried during their senior years.  With a record number of "gray divorces" added to the natural loss of spouses as we age, a large number of senior citizens are considering whether or not they should remarry, not just for companionship, but also to improve their financial security.

Some couples are learning that remarriage late in life can actually have a negative effect on their financial situation, especially when dealing with the complexities of Social Security.  Others are pleased to learn that remarriage can enhance their financial picture.  Every case is different.  This article will just give you an overview of some things to consider.  However, if you are planning to remarry late in life, I strongly suggest you consult with an attorney to draw up your new wills, set up trusts for adult children, give a new spouse a life estate in the communal home, etc.  An attorney can help you avoid many of the pitfalls that can arise, especially if either partner has adult children who may be counting on an inheritance!

In addition, you have to look at how remarriage will affect your Social Security benefits.  In some cases, both partners will be just as well off, especially if they are both receiving benefits based on their own earnings.  There are situations, however, when one of the spouses will receive higher or lower benefits because of their remarriage.

Remarriage When Benefits Are Based on the Income of a Former Spouse

Here's a typical scenario:  A woman is divorced from her first spouse after more than ten years of marriage and is able to collect Social Security benefits based on the income of her former spouse, once she is age 62.  If she waits until her full retirement age of 66, these benefits will amount to about one-half of what her former spouse receives.  If he is getting $2200 a month, she will be eligible to receive approximately $1100 a month at her full retirement age.  If she decides to collect earlier, she could receive as little as $750.  In either case, that is not very much money to live on.

What if she decides to remarry a man who only receives $1800 a month in Social Security?  Once she is married to someone new, she is no longer able to collect benefits based on the income of her former spouse.  Instead, she would now be eligible to collect about one-half of what her new husband earns, assuming she has reached her full retirement age.  This would drop her down to $900 a month.  Of course, the two of them together would be collecting $2700 a month, which might result in a more comfortable retirement than if the two of them continued to live separately.

On the other hand, what if they decide to live together, rather than marry?  Then, their combined income would be $2900 a month ... which would result in an even more comfortable retirement.  In this case, the woman is better off continuing to collect based on the earnings of the husband she divorced, while living with another man.  This may cause discomfort because of religious beliefs.  In addition, it could make it more complicated for the two of them in a medical emergency or in sharing their other assets.  None-the-less, many seniors make the decision to skip marriage and just live with each other, because they cannot risk the loss of income.  It is a matter of survival.

To ease the religious issue, I have heard of some couples who have had a religious ceremony, but did not file documents with the state.  They are not legally married, but may feel more acceptable in the eyes of their church.  You would have to discuss this with your minister to see if this is possible in your faith.

There is another issue with Social Security.   When a couple is married, if the spouse who is receiving the higher Social Security benefits dies, the surviving spouse will often see their benefits increase significantly.  However, if the couple did not marry, the surviving spouse will not see any change in their benefits, which could be a significant problem for the surviving spouse. 

To make the issue even more complicated, if the new boyfriend is eligible for additional income from a government pension, for example, he would not be able to pass a portion of this pension on to his new girlfriend, even if they are living together, because they are not married.  In addition, if he is already collecting his pension, it is possible that he would not be able to pass it on to her anyway, even if they do get married, depending on the particular state or federal agency and whether or not the terms and assignment of benefits can be changed once the principle party has begun to collect.

As you can see, a lot depends on the age you are when you begin to collect Social Security, the amount your receive, the amount your new spouse receives and whether or not there are other financial considerations that could affect your income.  This is a highly complicated decision and it is important to discuss it with your financial adviser and/or attorney before making a final decision.

Remarriage and Spousal Benefits for a Widow

The situation is a little different for a widow.  If she remarries after the age of 60 (age 50, if she is also disabled) and later begins collecting widow's Social Security benefits based on the earnings of her first husband, she should be able to continue to receive those benefits, whether or not she has remarried.  The amount of her benefits can vary depending on whether she began to collect in her early 60's or waited until her full retirement age.  Let's assume that she is receiving $1800 in widow's benefits.  Then, if she remarries someone who is also receiving $1800 in Social Security benefits, their combined income will be a generous $3600 a month.  However, what if her widow's benefits are extremely low because her first husband died fairly young without a lot of earnings? For example, assume that she would receive less than $900 a month in the above scenario; then she would be better off foregoing the benefits based on her first husband's income and collecting one-half of her new husband's benefits (assuming she is at her full retirement age).  She does have that option.  However, she should make an appointment with the Social Security office before she remarries and make sure there have been no rule changes that would affect this decision.

If a widow remarries before she turns 50, she cannot collect benefits based on the earnings of her first husband, unless her second marriage is also terminated through death or divorce.

Should You Remarry if Your Social Security is Based on the Income of a Former Spouse?

As you can see, there are no simple answers regarding whether or not a couple is better off getting remarried or living together late in life.

As mentioned above, before considering such a marriage, it would be wise for a couple to meet with a financial planner to consider all their options.  They might also wish to talk to a lawyer about the best way to set up their assets.  There may be some assets that they want to keep as separate property to make it easier to pass their property on to their own children from their former marriages.

The information in this post is not intended to give you legal advice.  Instead, it is hoped that it will inspire couples who are considering remarriage to discuss all the legal and financial repercussions of the decision with lawyers and their financial advisers.  It is not a simple decision, and what is right for one couple may be completely wrong for another couple.  While some people are much better off financially after a remarriage, others will find that they have decreased their income.

Read More About Remarriage and Social Security

You will also want to read these pages from the official handbook of questions and answers about Social Security, widowhood and divorce from the Social Security Administration.  You can find links to the information here:

If you are interested in learning more about important retirement issues, check out the tabs or drop down menu at the top of this page.  They can link you to hundreds of additional articles containing important retirement information.

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Photo credit:  Photo of wedding venue taken by author, Deborah-Diane.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

AFib - A Dancing Heart

Have you ever checked your own pulse or been lying quietly in bed at night, only to notice that your heart suddenly seems to be firing rapidly or irregularly every once in a while?  According to a brochure I recently received from Saddleback Memorial Hospital in Southern Califoria, this is called Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) and it increases your risk of having a stroke or developing heart disease.

I experienced this for a short time when my thyroid medication was set at too high a dose.  I have also heard of people experiencing it on certain diet medications.  However, sometimes it seems to happen for no reason at all.  If this is happening to you, be sure to report it to your doctor.

Symptoms of AFib

In addition to noticing that your heart seems to have palpitations or a stutter every once in a while, you may also have other symptoms:

Low energy
Chest discomfort
Shortness of breath

Of course, whether you are experiencing palpitations or not, you should talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.

Treatments for AFib

Fortunately, doctors do have an arsenal of different treatments they can try in order to get your heart operating smoothly again.  Here are the ones that were mentioned in the brochure I received:

Medications that can soothe your heart and help it maintain its normal rhythm.

Electrical cardioversion which is a shock to your heart.  This is done to "reset" it.

Catheter Ablation is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that is done to destroy tissue or cells that could be causing the irregular rhythm.

Cryoablation is similar to other types of ablation, but it "freezes" the unwanted tissue.

Pacemakers are frequently implanted under the skin near the collar bone to keep the heart from beating too slowly.

What You Can Do to Keep Your Heart Healthy

We all want to do everything we can to keep our heart working properly.  While medical intervention should be sought whenever we suspect that something is wrong with our heart, we also need to do our part to maintain it.

Get exercise
Maintain a healthy weight
Do not smoke
Eat a diet low in trans fats and saturated fats
Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol

The most important thing you should get from this article, however, is that you should tell your doctor if you notice anything unusual about your heartbeat.  It's a condition that can easily be treated and getting it taken care of could prevent you from having a heart attack or stroke.

If you are interested in learning more about health and other issues that could affect your during retirement, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this page.  They contain links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What To Expect After You Retire

Recently, the checker at my local grocery store told me that she was old enough to retire now and that she had moved into a condo in the same retirement community where I live.  However, she confided that she was very nervous about giving up her job.  She said she didn't know what to expect.

This seems to be a common concern for many people who retire.  Although most of the people I know are happy that they gave up their jobs, I have also known several who returned to their old occupations or found a new one, within a year or two of retiring.

As a result, I thought it was time to write a post to let people know what they can expect after retirement.  The fewer surprises you have, the happier you are likely to be.

You Still Have to Pay Attention to Money After Retirement

Just because you have stopped working and stopped contributing to a retirement plan, it does not mean that you can stop thinking about your finances.  You will need to continue to pay attention to how you spend money and how your retirement funds are invested.  You also need to make sure that you have realistic expectations of your potential return on your investments and how much you can withdraw each year in order to make sure your money lasts the rest of your life.

Statistics show that widows, in particular, often (but not always) go through their assets faster than they should.  Everyone should consult with a financial adviser periodically to make sure they are still spending their money in a realistic manner and they remain on track for their assets to last the rest of their lives.

On the other hand, spending down your retirement savings can be emotionally and psychologically painful for some people.  After spending years, or possibly decades, putting together a nice nest egg, it can be hard to see it shrink as the years go by.  If you are on a reasonable disbursement plan, such as using 4% of your assets each year, you may still have to give yourself permission to spend your money down!

No matter how critical you were of the Social Security program prior to retirement, it is likely to be a significant source of income for you after you retire.   Approximately 86% of retirees will receive Social Security.  Social Security makes up about 90% of retirement income for roughly one-third of retirees.  It makes up at least 50% of the income of 65% of retires.   The average benefit at the end of 2014 was $1,282.

Another financial concern you will have is making sure you know how you will cover your medical expenses.  Basic Medicare does not cover routine eye exams, eyeglasses, contact lenses, dental care or hearing aids.  In addition, it only covers 100 days in a nursing home.  Retirees really need to investigate the best Medicare supplemental plans, Medicare Advantage plans and long-term insurance plans to make sure the money they have set aside to cover medical expenses will go as far as possible.  In addition, they may need to keep some liquid assets on hand to cover deductibles and co-pays each year.

Loneliness Is An Issue for Many Retirees

Retirement is not always the way it is depicted on television and in movies.  Many retirees will not spend their Golden Years surrounded by children and grandchildren, enjoying leisurely Sunday dinners with their extended family, as depicted on shows like "Blue Bloods."

About 44% of people over the age of 65 are living alone because they are widowed, divorced, separated or never married.   As they get older, the percentage of people living alone goes up.  As a result, the average senior over the age of 75 watches more than four hours of television a day.  Many seniors watch significantly more television than that or spend additional hours playing computer games or engaged in other solitary activities.

To counteract the loneliness, it is important that you find group activities you enjoy and get involved with them as soon as possible after you retire.  This could mean signing up for classes, joining clubs, attending church, scheduling regular lunch or dinner dates with friends, volunteering or getting a "fun" job.   You need to reach out to your friends and neighbors on a regular basis, especially if you live alone.

You Might Start Dating Again

Much to their surprise, single retirees often discover that they want to date.  It can be fun and exciting to be involved in a romantic relationship again, and it can do a lot to minimize any loneliness you may be experiencing.  Our community television station has even begun to broadcast our own local version of "The Dating Game."  One of the former writers for the original "Dating Game" lives in our community and, when he offered to organize a show for our community, his idea was enthusiastically embraced.  Over 250 people showed up the first time they held auditions to appear on the show ... and it is only open to the people who live in this community!

It is possible you will meet people you want to date through some of the classes or clubs you enjoy.  It has also become more common for seniors to meet someone through an online dating site, like (see the ad in the sidebar) which is specifically designed for people over the age of 50.  On these sites, you should be honest about your age and use photos that show the "real" you.  You are more likely to end up in an healthy relationship.   

One warning:  Immediately drop any online relationships the minute the other person begins to mention that they need money ... no matter how worthy the cause.  Tens of thousands of elderly people have lost thousands of dollars to scammers who form relationships and then ask for money.  Other than that, just use your common sense ... go slow, meet in public places and take someone else with you until you feel comfortable. In addition, if you are computer savvy enough to engage in online dating, you should be computer savvy enough to do an online background check of any person you consider dating.

Many seniors have found a new chance at love when they open themselves up to dating again and it can be a lot of fun!

You Probably Will Not Move Very Far

While many seniors think they would like to move to a new, exotic location, the truth is that only 5.7% of Americans over the age of 65 moved between 2009 and 2013.  Most of those who did relocate, usually moved only a short distance.  Only about 1% of retirees moved to a new state.  Approximately 0.3% moved overseas.

Most senior citizens want to maintain their current support system ... continuing to belong to the same church and clubs, seeing the same doctors, shopping in the same stores, etc.  It is comforting to feel that you will not need to rebuild these relationships somewhere else.

Downsizing, finding a one-story home, moving into a retirement community or senior apartments can be a smart decision for many retirees.  As a result, it can be a good idea to start your search for a retirement home near the community where you currently live.  

Accept That Someday You Will Need Help

One of the most difficult realities that most people have to accept is that someday they will probably need help of some kind.  They may reach a point when they can no longer drive, grocery shop, cook, maintain their home, shovel snow, climb stairs or perform similar everyday activities.  They may even live long enough that they will need help performing basic personal tasks like dressing or bathing.

While paying for people to help you can be a financial concern, living long enough to reach this stage in your life can also cause depression and other emotional difficulties.  Many people postpone moving into an assisted living facility long past the time when it would have made their life much more comfortable.  It will make life easier for both you and your family when you accept that this is a natural stage of aging and it is OK to get help when you need it.

Despite Everything, Retirement Can Be FUN

Does it sound like retirement could be lonely and depressing?  The point of this post is that it does NOT have to be.  If you know what to expect and prepare yourself financially, emotionally and psychologically, you can have a lot of fun after you retire.

The key here is YOU.

It is up to you to make sure you have prepared financially, you have made appropriate adjustments to your lifestyle, you have chosen the right Medicare plan to meet your needs, and you have investigated ways to pay for long-term care when you need it.

In addition, you want to be sure that you have built up a network of doctors, friends, family members, and financial consultants whom you trust.

Join clubs, sign up for classes, build friendships, schedule social events and participate in activities that you enjoy.  Enjoy your free time.  Read a book, take a walk, eat leisurely meals, play with your grandkids. 

Take occasional trips, even if it is no more than a short commuter train ride to visit a relative for a few days.  The change of scenery will do you good.

When I look around at the people I know in my current retirement community, many of whom are well into their 90's, the ones who knew what to expect in retirement and took steps to make sure they were prepared, are still having a wonderful time, years after they stopped working.  It is up to you to make sure this is true for your retirement years, too!

If you are interested in getting more information to help you prepare for retirement, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article.  Those index articles will connect you to hundreds of other articles about retirement.

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Photo credit:  Photo taken by author, Deborah-Dian; all rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Independent Living Technology for Aging in Place

Would you or your aging parents like to avoid going into a nursing home and remain independent as long as possible, despite concerns about health, falls, declining memory or similar problems?  In the past, many senior citizens have gone into assisted living or skilled nursing facilities because family members were concerned that they could fall, wander off or were not taking their medications and eating properly.  Today, modern technology is allowing many people to age in place and stay in their own homes much longer than ever before.

While not everyone is likely to need all the different types of technology that are available to keep them safe, just using a few of the items listed here could help you stay in your home for years longer than you thought possible.  Below are a selection of great innovations.

Independent Living Technology to Assist Senior Citizens 


PERS Providers (Mobile Personal Emergency Response Systems)

There are a number of excellent PERS providers.  Each one has its own benefits, so it would be wise to check out several to see which system will bring you and your family members the most peace of mind.  Anyone with a serious illness that could cause them to faint or become confused would benefit from owning a system and keeping the device with them all the time.  PERS are also a good idea for healthy retirees who spend a lot of time alone.

GreatCall 5 Star Urgent Response SystemThis system can be used at home or when traveling ... either in your own neighborhood or around the United States.  Once you have purchased the inexpensive equipment, you then sign up for affordable monthly monitoring.  After it is set up, all the owner of the device has to do in order to summon help is push a button on a small device they wear as a pendant, bracelet or attached to a belt.  They can get in touch with a real person in the event they fall, become ill, or get confused or lost.  They will automatically be connected to trained emergency agents who can then determine what type of help they need and whether to call an ambulance, or connect the client to a nurse, neighbor or relative.   You provide them with a list of emergency numbers to call and they will contact these people when you need help.  It is very reassuring to know that, at the very least, a neighbor or friend could come over if something happens. It is a GPS system, so the agents can find you if you become lost, no matter where you are within the United States. 

You can use this Amazon link to learn more about the devices: GreatCall 5 Star devices from Amazon.


You can also contact:

Connect America - This is another mobile emergency response system that travels with you, wherever you go.  You can compare prices of their devices and the monthly monitoring fee with the other devices listed here.


Life Alert - This system is similar to the others and has the additional option that it can be set up on your smartphone, so it will speed-dial the monitoring agency for you from your phone, as well as on the pendant you wear.


Mobile Help - This company provides a combination mobile PERS system with a home base station.  Depending on the arrangements you make, the response team can both call and email your family to let them know where you are, including if you have been taken to a hospital.  In addition, it has a fall detection system that will summon help, even if you are not able to push the button or speak.  This system is particularly advantageous for someone who is in danger of passing out.


Philips Lifeline with Auto Alert - This is an affordable personal emergency response device that currently only works using a base station in your home.  Like most systems, the senior citizen wears a help button as a pendant or bracelet.  This device also has the ability to detect a fall and connect you to a response center.



Another reason why some people need to go into nursing homes is because they fail to take life-saving medication at the correct times.  The MedMinder aggressively alerts you so you know when it is time to take your medication.  You can purchase either a locking or non-locking medication tray.  The locking tray unlocks the compartment when it is time to take the medication.  The dispenser flashes and beeps until the medication is taken.  There are also voice alarms and automated phone calls.  A relative can log onto the website and see if the medication has been taken.  If you wish,  they will also receive an email, text or phone call if the medication has not been taken in a timely manner.  With this system, either you or a caregiver will need to fill the medication tray once a week.  This can minimize the frequency of visits from a caregiver, save you money, and make it possible to stay in your own home.


Reminder Rosie

This is a simple voice activated alarm clock that reminds you to take your medicine.  It is a much simpler device than the MedMinder, but works fine for many people who do not need such an aggressive reminder.


Grand Care Systems

Do you feel that you or your loved one needs a more comprehensive type of medical monitoring system?  Then the Grand Care system may be the right choice for your family.  With Grand Care, you place wireless sensors around the house and link them to the company via the internet.  The sensors can track daily activity so that you are assured that your loved one is moving around, opening the refrigerator, etc.  It can also monitor the person's glucose, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, their weight, etc.    It comes with an interactive touch screen that allows seniors to video chat with their family or simply watch videos, use Facebook or play games.  This can be perfect in families that are able to visit a few times a week and they just want some reassurance that everything is OK between their visits.


Which Independent Living Technology is Best for You?

Since I currently live in a retirement community, I have noticed that several people I know are subscribing to mobile personal emergency response systems.  Most of them are deciding to do this on their own, without being urged to do so by their adult children.  Sometimes they make the decision because they or someone they know has experienced a traumatic event, such as fall or heart attack, when they were home alone.  This is something you can do entirely on your own, without involving other family members.  In fact, you can choose to just give the emergency dispatch team the numbers of your doctors, ambulance service and neighbors, rather than family members, if you do not have a family member who is close enough to provide assistance.  Which people they will contact is entirely up to you.

If you worry about taking your medication on time, either you or a caregiver can set up the MedMinder or Reminder Rosie.  Even if you do not have memory problems, these devices can help assure you that you are taking your medication exactly as prescribed.

The GrandCare system works best if there is a relative or caregiver who will be available to monitor and interact with the person being monitored.  It is especially useful for families that are concerned about an elderly diabetic, for example, who may be having difficulty tracking their blood glucose levels and eating at the proper times.

Whichever technology you decide to use, it is reassuring to know that it could help you stay in your home rather than being pressured to move into a nursing home sooner than is absolutely necessary.  Today, we are so fortunate to have these types of technology available in our own homes to provide us with the type of assistance we need, when and where we need it.

Currently, Medicaid may help patients pay for some of these devices, if they determine that they are medically necessary.  Medicare does not cover any of these items, at this time.

Reference:  "Is This the End of The Nursing Home?" AARP Bulletin, March 2014, pg. 20.

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