Published in Montgomery News, Monday, November 11, 2013

Question: Are veteran senior citizens eligible for any special benefits?

Answer: Two such programs that have a financial benefit for veterans come to mind. The first is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s Aid and Attendance. The second is the Veterans’ Photo ID Discount Card distributed by the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds for veterans residing in the county.

1. Aid and Attendance

Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a relatively unknown entitlement, Aid and Attendance, to “veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person, or are housebound. These benefits are paid in addition to [a] monthly pension.”

“The Aid & Attendance increased monthly pension amount may be added to your monthly pension amount if you meet one of the following conditions:

• You require the aid of another person in order to perform personal functions required in everyday living, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, attending to the wants of nature, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting yourself from the hazards of your daily environment

• You are bedridden, in that your disability or disabilities requires that you remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment

• You are a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity

• Your eyesight is limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.”*

*Source: http://benefits.va.gov/pension/aid_attendance_housebound.asp

Debbie Burak, the founder of Veteran Aid, explains further that “this is a ‘Pension Benefit’ and IS NOT dependent upon service-related injuries for compensation. Aid and Attendance can help pay for care in the home, Nursing Home or Assisted Living facility.”

To apply for the Aid & Attendance or Housebound benefits, contact the VA’s regional office (www.va.gov), U.S. Benefits Analysts (http://www.usbaus.org) or a local Elder Law Attorney.

2. Veteran’s Photo ID Discount Card

The Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds provides veterans with photo ID cards and a program to receive discounts for goods and services from participating county merchants. Veterans will be able to present these cards to Montgomery County businesses who have agreed to provide a discount to Montgomery County veterans in appreciation for the veterans’ service to our country.

To obtain your Veteran’s Photo ID Discount Card, bring your DD214 (military discharge) document to the Recorder’s Office at One Montgomery Plaza – third floor, Swede and Airy Streets, Norristown, PA 19404. You will also be given a list of all participating businesses that offer discounts. The online merchant list will be updated monthly. For more information, visit http://www.montcopa.org/index.aspx?nid=353.

In recognition of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, we sincerely thank all veterans for their loyal and dedicated service to our county.

Published in Montgomery News, Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Question: I’m planning a move soon and wonder if my things will fit?

Answer:  This is probably the question that is asked most when individuals prepare for their move to a smaller residence. For many, moving the furniture and contents from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment is challenging and requires careful planning. Rightsizing will definitely be required.

Before you can decide if something will fit, the more pressing question should be “do you need it or want it?” By moving to a smaller home, you are considerably altering your lifestyle. Your activities will change as will the belongings you will need to support this new lifestyle. For example, if you once entertained on a grand scale and now no longer do, the need to store dozens of glasses and serving trays no longer exists. Once you decide what is truly important, identifying the contents and furniture you’ll need and making them fit will be easier. To assist in making your things fit, please consider the tips below.

1. Furniture

The best way to determine if your furniture will fit is to create a floor plan. Begin by having accurate measurements of each room and the furniture you want to take. Draw a floor plan that is to scale and place your furniture cut-outs on it. Keep in mind that your floor plan should be more than just attractive to the eye; it also needs to be safe and functional.

As you place your furniture on the floor plan, consider the location of electrical receptacles, cable outlets, HVAC units, thermostats and emergency call devices. If you watch a lot of television, you’ll want to place a favorite chair close to the cable outlet but away from the draft of an air conditioner. Don’t forget to factor in lighting. If you don’t have overhead lights, lamps that will provide enough light for reading need to be placed close to your furniture. Be creative and design a furniture arrangement that reflects your new lifestyle.

2. Your next step is to carefully evaluate the storage options in your new home.

You will most likely have less closet, cabinet and drawer space than you presently do so you will need to maximize the existing space you have.

Closets: Begin by assessing how you want to store your clothing, shoes, handbags and linens etc., and then consider installing extra shelves or double rods for shirts, sweaters and trousers that are folded over hangers. Shoe racks can save valuable closet space as can stackable drawers. Placing a book shelf or a small chest of drawers in a closet can provide similar storage options as those provided by more expensive built-in units.

Cabinets: Purchasing vinyl racks to better stack dishes, glasses, pots and food products are practical in cabinets with few shelves. These racks eliminate lots of otherwise wasted space. Plastic storage bins or baskets can keep smaller items neatly stored.

Drawers: Drawer trays or dividers, in addition to Ziploc® bags will keep your drawer contents more organized.

3. Under the bed storage

Floor space under the bed is the ideal location for long, plastic storage containers with wheels filled with seasonal clothing. Vacuum sealed storage bags that contain bulky sweaters and blankets are also practical for under the bed storage.

4. Storage lockers

Don’t overlook the storage lockers a living community may provide residents. Store items infrequently used in clear plastic tubs for easy identification and access.

Finally, before you identify any items to be moved to your new home, envision exactly where you will put them. Make a list or a sketch as a reminder as this could ultimately save you much distress on moving day. Remember to make it fit, you’ll need to simplify!

Published in Montgomery News, Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Question: My parents want to sell our family home of more than 50 years and move into a retirement community. What can I do to help them prepare for this relocation?

Answer: Wanting to offer your parents a helping hand during this often overwhelming process is very thoughtful, but you should be prepared that this transition could likely be as emotional and stressful for you as it may be for your parents. After all, the memories of your childhood home being sold and thoughts of your parents’ mortality can be quite a struggle. The suggestions below are offered as a guide to help you manage this process with grace and sensitivity.

1. Be patient and emotionally supportive. Because your parents may be entering uncharted waters, they will need extra “tender loving are.” When decisions are required, ask yourself, “what matters most” and “what will make mom and dad happy.” You should have a heart, act compassionately and maintain their and your dignity. Be sensitive to the losses they may be experiencing, i.e., loss of mobility, vision, hearing, memory, independence and now their home. They will appreciate your patience and sense of humor as the process unfolds. Engage them in frequent communications and recall happy family times by sharing memories. Provide positive reinforcement of what has been accomplished to date. Review the progress they have made and offer encouragement to continue.

2. Ask them what role they would like you to play. By asking how they would like you to help, you establish parameters that could avoid confrontations and potential hurt feelings. Offer your help without being judgmental or coercive. This can be perceived not only from words spoken but also from body language. Be careful not to label their belongings as “junk” that needs to be trashed. Give yourself and your parents time so no one feels rushed. Pace yourself and know when to call it a day and pick it up again at another time.

3. Empower your parents to make their own decisions. As much as they are able, let them take control of the process. By being in charge, they will have greater ownership of their future and become less resistant to the changes going on around them. Ask them open-ended questions that are positive and non-threatening. For example, “have you considered …” or “how will you be using this”? Listen attentively to their response and respect their feelings.

4. Introduce your parents to professional resources to assist and guide them on this journey. There are many qualified professionals who offer services that cater to the needs of older adults. A senior move manager could coordinate the details of the move and unpack the boxes in the new residence, thereby recreating the feeling of home for your parents. An elder law attorney can prepare estate planning documents, like wills and powers of attorney, and offer asset protection suggestions. A financial advisor would review the portfolio and a realtor with a senior real estate specialist designation can list and sell their house.

5. Remind them of the benefits of this move. Don’t underestimate the power of this final point. Focus on the many positives that their new lifestyle will bring them: freedom from home and garden work, opportunities to socialize with other people, chances to make new friends, the time to participate in enrichment programs or go on trips, and maybe the move brings them closer to family. Reiterate your desire for their happiness, well being and contentment and then give them a big hug!

Published in Montgomery News, Thursday, August 1, 2013

Question: I am cleaning out my file cabinet and discovered old financial documents. Before I make a mistake and toss something I should have kept, which files should I retain and how long should I keep them?

Answer: This facet of downsizing can be tricky because even though you may be tempted to purge that file cabinet of your old records, it’s just as important not to discard too much and run the risk of being unprotected in the future. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, the following document retention recommendations can serve as a guideline. Remember to use your own personal judgment when making these disposal decisions and always properly shred any records to be discarded to protect yourself from identity theft.

Financial Document Retention

One Year (unless needed for tax purposes, then keep for seven years):

Paycheck Stubs, Utility Bills, Canceled Checks, Credit Card Receipts, Bank Statements

Seven Years:

Brokerage Statements, Income Tax Returns, Receipts, Cancelled Checks and other documents that support income or deductions on tax returns, Purchase Confirmations and 1099s

Hold While Active:

Contracts, Insurance Documents, Stock Certificates, Property Records, Warranties, Stock Records, Records of Pensions and Retirement Plans, Property Tax Records and Disputed Bills, Home Improvement Records

Keep Forever:

Life Insurance Policies, Wills, Mortgage Records

Source: Financial Planning Association (as it appeared in Money Magazine, December 7, 2012)

Personal Record Retention

In addition to deciding which financial documents you need to discard or retain, there are also personal documents that require the same consideration.  Suggested best practices are to:

Retain Permanently:

Adoption Papers, Birth Certificates, Citizenship Papers, Death Certificates, Divorce Decrees, Marriage Certificates, Military Records and Powers of Attorney

Medical Record Retention

According to Elder Law Attorney, Maureen L. Anderson, you should keep your health records available for as long as possible. This will enable you and your family to provide your health history to health professionals. It is recommended that you keep a list of any conditions you have, medications you take, health insurance information, and physicians that treat you. This will allow others to assist you in an emergency situation if you are not able to provide the information yourself.

In summary, it is a good rule of thumb to review your files on a yearly basis and remove the documents you no longer need. Decluttering your files can be enormously satisfying and save you time and stress in the future.

Published in Montgomery News, Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Question: Our medicine cabinet is full of expired prescription drugs and medications we no longer use. What is the best way to dispose of them?

Answer: There are three recommended ways to properly dispose of unused medicines. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while most drugs can be thrown in the household trash, certain precautions should be taken before discarding them. A few drugs should be flushed down the toilet but only if the label specifically indicates to do so. Community-based “take-back” programs offer another safe disposal alternative.

Government Guidelines for Drug Disposal

The FDA in conjunction with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) developed the first consumer guidance for proper disposal of prescription drugs. The federal guidelines, which were updated in October 2009, are summarized here:

• Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.

• Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office also sponsors prescription drug collection programs so residents can bring unused drugs to various locations throughout Montgomery County for proper disposal free of charge. These programs help keep unused medicines out of the hands of children and protect the environment by keeping these items out of water sewers. For more information, visit: http://www.montcopa.org/index.aspx?NID=166

• If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:

• Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.

• Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

FDA’s Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance, Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., offers an additional tip. Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.

Source: http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm101653.htm

Published in Montgomery News, Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Question:  Everywhere I look, there are dusty boxes of old photos, slides, home movies, and VCR tapes. What should I do with them?

Answer: One of the most common discoveries people encounter when they downsize their homes is the treasure trove of old photos, home movies, slides and videotapes. They are often forgotten on an upper shelf of a closet, stored in boxes in the deep recesses of the attic or tucked away in the family room wall unit.

When they are discovered and shared with family and friends, they can conjure up many special memories from past birthdays, holidays, graduations and weddings that may have been long forgotten. They invoke smiles, laughter and perhaps even tears.

But once the reminiscing is over, the question of what to do with these items becomes a reality. Many cherish the photographic history of their family and want to preserve it, especially before the film begins to degrade or becomes lost to careless purging, fire or flooding. Here are a few suggestions that might be beneficial.

Basic sorting and identifying

First begin by decreasing the total number of photos, slides, films and tapes. Retain those with people and discard the ones with scenery. Try  to identify the people in the photos and then record their name(s), relationship, date, and location on the back of the photo. If you cannot identify the individuals, the photo may not be worth saving. For some people, this is enough downsizing and the “people” photos/slides are returned to their home in a box. The same applies to film. Retain the ones that focus on people and consider discarding the rest. Don’t forget to properly describe the contents on the box.

Photo collage

Another traditional method of retaining old photos is to display them in a framed collage. Select as many of the most important photos as will fit and affix them to the posterboard. Then display the framed collage in a prominent spot.

Using technology to document and preserve your family history

Thanks to technology advancements, old photos, slides, home movies, and videotapes can now be digitally scanned for use in many ways. Scanning can be done on a personal scanner or by the many companies that offer this professional service. The scanned photos can be transferred to digital photo frames or DVDs that can be viewed on a television or computer; 8 and 16 mm movies and VCR tapes can also be transferred to a DVD.

Some companies that specialize in this type of transfer offer additional services like restoring damaged photos or film. They can also add a personalized narration to the slide show to enhance the family’s legacy with an oral history. Imagine how your own voice will add an even more captivating dimension to your story. The DVD format has another benefit – it can be easily duplicated and makes an excellent gift to share with family and friends.

Now, with your prized images digitized and transferred to a DVD, the originals can be discarded so you can buy back valuable real estate in your closets, cabinets and attic. And, the best news, is that your family legacy has been preserved for future generations.

Published in Montgomery News, Friday, May 10, 2013

Question: I’m in the process of downsizing my home as I plan on moving into a retirement community. How do I properly discard the old appliances, paints, and televisions that have accumulated in my garage?

Answer: The desire to properly dispose of household hazardous waste and electronics found buried in the corners of garages, basements, attics and sheds has increased over the years as residents have become more aware and concerned about the impact that this waste has on the environment. To this end, Montgomery County and local businesses offer many community service programs for those who are socially responsible and want to be kind to Mother Earth. Several are listed below.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection

Montgomery County will collect household hazardous waste at five county-wide locations through the fall. Acceptable items include: paint products (oil-based paints, paint thinner, turpentine, stains), outdoor products (weed killers, swimming pool chemicals, rodent poison), automotive products (motor oil, antifreeze, gasoline), household products (drain/oven cleaners, rug cleaners, kerosene, mothballs) and miscellaneous items like acids, pesticides, rechargeable batteries and mercury bearing items. For a complete listing along with the exact dates and locations, visit www.MontgomeryCountyRecycles.org.

You should also consult the website of your local municipality, which may have a collection program specifically for the residents of your township or city.

Electronics Collection

Five Montgomery County electronics collection programs have been scheduled through mid-October to encourage the environmentally friendly disposal of old electronics. The electronics collected at these events will be recycled in accordance with Pennsylvania’s Covered Device Recycling Act 108 of 2010. Acceptable items include: televisions, computer monitors, computers, laptops, printers, copiers, VCR/DVD players, telephones, stereo and radio equipment, microwaves, toasters, blenders, mixers, coffeemakers and other small household appliances.  A complete list of accepted items and a schedule of dates and locations can be found at www.MontgomeryCountyRecycles.org.

Appliance Recycling

PECO offers its own “smart appliance recycling” which focuses on the responsible and environmentally friendly disposal of old refrigerators and freezers. PECO will pay $15 per appliance for your old refrigerator or freezer. “The rebate amount will be $35 for customers who schedule an appointment on or after June 1, 2013 to have their unit picked up” according to the PECO website. For more information about this initiative, visit https://www.peco.com/Savings/ProgramsandRebates/Residential/PECOSmartApplianceRecycling/Pages/Overview.aspx

Best Buy also has an electronics recycling program. “All US stores offer the in-store solution for customers to bring their old, unused, or unwanted consumer electronics — no matter where they were purchased — for responsible recycling.” In Pennsylvania, Best Buy will take three items per household per day and nearly everything electronic. For more details, see http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Global-Promotions/Recycling-Electronics/pcmcat149900050025.c?id=pcmcat149900050025

Published in Montgomery News, Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Question: My husband is 85 years old and I am 83. We decided that the time is right to move from our four bedroom house in the suburbs, where we’ve lived for 58 years, into a local retirement community. We’re overwhelmed with all the things we’ve accumulated over the years. The attic, basement and garage are full of stuff and we don’t know where to begin. Can you give us some advice?

Answer: Your question is not unlike many others who are experiencing the same problem with stuff. Downsizing several decades of treasures can be a daunting process because it is often physically taxing and emotionally draining, especially when you are deciding what to do with the items to which you are sentimentally attached.

To this end, I counsel my clients that they need a “stuff strategy,” a process that consists of five steps. You’ll need to decide what to keep, give to family, sell , donate and discard.

The most important consideration is what you should keep and move with you to your new residence. Begin by asking yourself which items in your home are the most important to you. Focus on the furniture, clothing, collections, kitchen items, hobby items, photographs and important papers that you’ll want and need to retain. Then determine what you will need to support your new lifestyle because this will assist you in making decisions.

If, for example, you don’t intend to do much entertaining after you move, you may not need to take large serving trays and dozens of cocktail glasses. Surround yourself with the possessions that make you happy, not the ones that you think should be kept because of a sentimental attachment or might be worth something some day.

Consider the gifts you will give to your family and closest friends. Continue the family legacy by keeping special pieces and heirlooms in the family. When you do, remember to share the background or provenance with the person receiving it. Now, for example, would be the time to give your china service for 12 to a family member. Think of the joy of seeing a beautifully set holiday table in your relative’s house with the linen, china, crystal and silver that once belonged to you.

Sell the items that you and your family do not want. By selling your possessions at auction, to antique dealers and consignment shops, on eBay or at estate sales, you can generate extra revenue. Personal Property Appraisers can inform you of the value of these items so you’re better informed.

Donate. Recycling and repurposing is very “in”. By donating the items you no longer need to a charity, your useful treasures will be acquired by someone who may not have the means to purchase new ones. “Tools of the trade” are especially appreciated. I recall a retired music teacher who offered his vast collection of sheet music to marching bands, school music programs and area churches. Donations like that can be deeply satisfying because they can make a huge difference to an underfunded organization. Consider giving gently used clothing, furniture and household items to thrift shops. Animal shelters appreciate receiving old linens; Lions Clubs request used eyeglasses. Food pantries would gladly accept unexpired and unopened food.

Discard. Be certain to carefully discard financial, medical and other personal papers. Review these documents before tossing them to determine if you need to retain them, perhaps for income tax purposes or the sale of your house, or if you should shred them. Use a personal shredder or dispose of sensitive documents at office supply stores. Check your local newspapers for free community shredding events. If you have a large volume of documents that require shredding, you may consider contacting a mobile shredding company that will come directly to your house. Remember, don’t become a victim of identity theft.

When discarding the rest, be sure to be kind to mother earth.

In summary, start the process now, begin with small tasks and collect your successes so you can continue to make progress!