Mother and daughter sitting together on the couch © iStock

Senior living involves more than just retiring from a job and relaxing in your later years.

For older Americans, a raft of issues arises and many questions need to be answered as you age. Some are personal, others are legal, and often they involve not only you but your family members.

These top 10 tips should help guide you through the must-do’s of senior living.

1. Have the talk

About 90% of Americans say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 30% of those surveyed had actually had that conversation, according to The Conversation Project’s 2013 National Survey.

Sure, it’s uncomfortable having these conversations, but having the discussions lets everyone know what you want and will make it easier when the time comes to make decisions about your care.

The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. Its website offers a free download of a starter kit that focuses on the issues that need to be discussed.

Once people know your mind on your end-of-life care wishes, you need the paperwork in place to allow it to happen the way you planned.

An advanced directive, or living will, specifies which medical treatments you want or don’t want at the end of your life, or if you are no longer able to make decisions on your own. CaringInfo.org lets you download a copy of a state specific advanced directive.

A health care proxy identifies your health care agent, or the person you trust to act on your behalf if you are unable to make health care decisions or communicate your wishes.

In some states, this is called the durable power of attorney for health care or medical power of attorney.

Looking for long-term care? Check out Bankrate’s Caring.com.

2. Obtaining wills, living trusts and powers of attorney

Do you have a valid will? If you don’t have one in place when you die, you are said to die intestate, and your state’s laws of intestacy will determine how your estate passes to beneficiaries.

According to a 2014 survey by Rocket Lawyer, 51% of Americans age 55-64 don’t have a will.

51% of Americans age 55-64 don’t have a will.

Source: 2014 survey by Rocket Lawyer

Living trusts are popular as a way for your estate to avoid probate. According to Nolo.com, they also reduce the chance of a court dispute over your estate and keeping your document private after death. They also can help you avoid a conservatorship should you become incapacitated.

A power of attorney allows someone else to act on your behalf. The power can be limited or wide-ranging in scope. The medical power discussed above is limited in scope.

There are springing powers of attorney that become effective when something happens, like if you should become incapacitated, and durable powers of attorney that stay in force even if you become incapacitated.

A living trust can reduce the need for a power of attorney. It also can limit the need for a will. The best approach is to work with an attorney who will explain these legal documents and prepare the ones that best meet your needs.

3. Create a list of your accounts

Put together a list of all your bank and brokerage accounts, including your retirement accounts and pension plan. List your home, auto, health and life insurance policies. List your professional contacts: doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents and financial services professionals.

Put it in a place that is safe, yet accessible to family members. That rules out a safe-deposit box.

4. List your virtual assets, too

Between your email accounts, photos, documents and other files and digital assets that you store on the Web, there can be a lot of your information hanging out in cyberspace.

Where does it go when you die? This issue can be really important to the surviving spouse if he or she is new to managing the family finances.

In many cases, the applicable laws haven’t caught up with technology. For example, does it violate the account’s terms-of-service agreement for someone other than you to access your account? Are your heirs hacking your account?

If you’re working with an estate planning professional, discuss your virtual assets as part of your estate plan.

If you’re trying to do this on your own, consider keeping a flash drive listing your accounts and passwords in a safe place, or look into a site like PasswordBox that allows you to assign a digital heir who is provided with a listing of your accounts and passwords after the site validates your death.

5. Cross-train on family finances

If you’ve been in charge of the family finances, could your spouse handle the responsibility should you die first? Letting your spouse drive the financial bus for a while will get him or her more comfortable with the household budget, monthly income and expenses.

6. Put yourself first

Putting yourself first can mean a lot of different things. In this case, it means with your finances.

Seniors who have accumulated savings and investments over their lifetime to meet their retirement income needs shouldn’t be using the money to finance their grandchildren’s college education, co-signing their college loans, paying for family vacations or making down payments on their children’s or grandchildren’s homes — unless it’s money you know you won’t need in retirement.

Looking for a place to stash your retirement money? How about a certificate of deposit? Find the best CD rates at Bankrate.com.

7. Invest in your health

Longer life expectancies won’t be much fun if you’re in poor health.

There are dozens of ways to invest in your health that don’t involve becoming a gym rat. Eating better, sleeping more, walking and working on improving your muscle tone with light weights or resistance bands will help improve your health.

Some Medicare Advantage plans may pay for a home exercise kit. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

8. Protect against identity theft

Seniors are often a target for identity theft. Some of the reasons are that they are more likely to keep paper records, write checks, avoid online banking and avoid monitoring their accounts electronically.

They also are targets because of their higher wealth levels.

Freezing your credit report is free in most states for seniors, but they may have to pay to unlock the report if they apply for credit.

At a minimum, seniors should get a free credit report annually from each of the 3 major consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Rotating through these 3 by requesting a different credit report every 3 or 4 months is a good approach.

MyBankrate provides a free credit report, credit score and free credit-monitoring alerts from TransUnion.

Medical identity theft is also a concern, especially for seniors. Periodically reviewing your explanation of medical benefits can help protect against it.

9. Get tech savvy

Try learning a new app on your computer or phone. Do you know how to use Skype or Apple’s FaceTime?

Aside from the social aspects of these applications, they could be useful in letting children sit in on a meeting with your doctor, lawyer or financial adviser.

Being able to tape an event also can help you personally remember the discussion, and share it with others involved in your care.

A smartphone can record video or audio. Always ask permission before recording. In some states, it’s the law, but it’s always good manners. And, not all doctors are amenable to being recorded.

10. What’s your plan for long-term care?

If you have a long-term care policy in place, you’ve made the decision to insure against the possibility that you’ll need long-term care.

Not everyone can afford or qualify for long-term care insurance. For those who don’t, a short-term care policy or a life insurance policy with a long-term care rider may be the answer.

For the most part, Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care. It will pay for skilled nursing care for up to 100 days after being admitted to a hospital for a 3-day stay, but hospitals are facing financial pressures to classify stays as observational rather than a formal hospital admission.

Medicaid does pay for long-term care, but you have to qualify for the coverage. The agency uses a 5-year look-back rule to check on whether you gifted away your assets to qualify for Medicaid.

If you did, you face a penalty period where you can’t qualify for the benefit. The length of the period varies with the amount of assets you gifted. Work with an elder law attorney if you’re trying to protect assets and qualify for Medicaid.

Bonus tip: Be a part of your community

Everyone wants to live in a good community, but people, not houses, make the difference. Give back to your community by volunteering and being a part of it rather than being an outsider or a curmudgeon.

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