Question: I was widowed 30 years ago and left with two young daughters. The older one is mildly retarded; she has a marginal job but still lives with me. My younger daughter is a nurse, married with two children. She lives out of state and was always sympathetic to her sister, but I feel she left the area to have a life of her own.
Now that I'm older, I'm coming to terms with the reality that my older daughter cannot function on her own. Is there anything I can do to ensure her future after my death? I've managed to set aside some savings over the years.
Answer: It is difficult for parents to face the limitations of children they have loved and protected for decades. But it is important to begin planning your daughter's future now. You should first talk with your younger daughter about what role she is willing to play in the care of her sister after your death.
One means many families in your situation are exploring is the use of a trust. The trust would set aside funds for your disabled daughter without her owning the estate. If she has assets in her name, she could be disqualified from federal and state programs and assistance.
Since few families can afford the cost of complete care for a handicapped person, the trust can be designed to provide for extras such as medical care and special education. State laws vary concerning trusts. Attorneys agree that careful language is the key to avoiding legal complications.
If your younger daughter is unable to look after her sister's affairs, you might explore nonprofit organizations that can be hired to care for your daughter or manage a small trust. The Assn. for Retarded Citizens publishes the pamphlet, "How to Provide for Their Future" ($2.50, P.O. Box 6109, Arlington, Tex. 76006).
You might also contact your state association for the mentally retarded, handicapped or disabled and ask for the names of attorneys who specialize in estate planning. Also see what programs and services the state has to offer your daughter. It might be wise to get her involved in some activities now so that she has a support network in place before she needs it.
Q: I'm 69 years old and about to retire. I have a decent pension and a small savings. Since the Individual Retirement Account came into being, I've put the maximum $2,000 per year into the account. When I retire, should I withdraw my IRA funds?
A: When and how to withdraw can be tricky. Individuals can begin collecting funds between ages 59 1/2 and 70 1/2. There is no minimum or maximum amount that must be withdrawn. Money withdrawn from the IRA is taxable when taken out. Experts believe that you should choose regular yearly payments because each payment is taxed only in the year it is collected and the balance continues to grow and is still tax free until it is withdrawn.
If your pension and savings are adequate, you might be wise to wait until age 70 1/2 before you begin withdrawing funds from your IRA.
Q: I was diagnosed as having high blood pressure over a year ago. I feel fine and would like to stop taking the medication my doctor prescribed. Would that be OK?
A: No. Since high blood pressure has few symptoms, even though you feel well you probably still need treatment. Drug therapy relaxes and opens narrowed blood vessels causing blood pressure to drop, but only while the drug is in your system. If the medication is eliminated, your pressure may increase.
Without proper treatment, the risks associated with high blood pressure increase tremendously. Don't stop taking your medication without consulting your physician. However, you should discuss with him or her the possibility of controlling this condition with other forms of treatment.
A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, weight loss, moderate exercise, limited salt intake and relaxation techniques may be effective in lowering your blood pressure. Some kind of treatment is usually needed for the rest of one's life, but it may not necessarily be drugs.
Q: My granddaughter joined a pen pal club and writes to a young girl in Ireland. I'm 67 years old and would like to correspond with someone my age. Do you know of pen pal clubs for the elderly?
A: Although we are not aware of pen pal clubs specifically for the elderly, the International Friendship League has no age limit. It is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote world understanding through pen friendships. Members range from ages 5 to 70 and represent 129 countries.
Even if English is your only language, you can have a pen pal from anywhere in the world, since letters from overseas are usually in English. If you prefer to write in a different language, or if you are particularly interested in a country or area of the world, the league will try to select a pen pal to suit you.
Once you have a pen pal, you can exchange letters, magazines, coins or whatever interests you. Describe your hobbies and special interests, family and friends in your correspondence. An upbeat letter is more likely to promote friendship than a complaining one. Since you'll be writing to someone in a foreign country, avoid abbreviations that your pen pal may not understand. Be sure to include your entire address, including zip code.
If you are interested in joining the league, send $5 in postal money order ($3 for under age 19) and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the International Friendship League, 55 Mount Vernon St., Boston, Mass. 02108. Include your full name and address, age and personal information that will be helpful in selecting the right pen pal for you.