Letter of Instruction: The Most Important Letter You Will Ever Write

“Where is Mom’s Social Security card?” It’s a common refrain when someone can’t help with their own affairs. Confusion and uncertainty compound the difficulties of dealing with a family emergency. There is a way to help those who will have to act in a family emergency. It’s called a “letter of instruction.”

How an Hour Now May Eliminate Uncertainty in Times of Family Emergencies

The letter of instruction is NOT a legal document. It does NOT replace a will or trust, a Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will, or a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. On the other hand, the letter of instruction offers practical guidance usually not contained in any legal document. It’s a good way to let to those trusted to take care of your affairs know what you would want them to know.

letter of instructionSince the letter of instruction is not a legal document, it does not need to be notarized or signed in the presence of witnesses or with any other special formality.

It is also different than the “Separate Writing” that lawyers sometimes recommend accompany a Will or Revocable Living Trust. That document directs the distribution of your personal property after your death. [For example, Aunt Sally's watch goes to my daughter Amanda; and Grandpa's shotgun to Billy.]

Who should write the Letter of Instruction?

A husband and wife should prepare one together. The person who handles the family financial affairs should write one for the person who will have to take over in case of death or incapacity.

When is it used?

A Will is usually not read until some time after the person’s death. The letter of instruction should be readily available and in a place where a family member or other friend can find it in the event of emergency. For example, my family knows ours is in the top left-hand desk drawer in my study.

What’s in the letter?

The letter should give the contact information for the people to be notified in the event of a family emergency, and should also tell the location of all important papers . . . and passwords! It could even spell out personal preference in how various matters are to be handled, including funeral arrangements.

It should contain the specific locations of items mentioned in the letter, such as: “My insurance papers are in my safe deposit box,” or “My Social Security file is in the bottom left-hand drawer of the living room desk.”

Who should have the letter?

You should consider making the letter available to someone outside the household. If you choose to provide a copy to the person who would most likely take over if something happened, you need to remember to send them updates when you change the letter. Mostly, however, it is important that someone be able to find the Letter in the event of an emergency.

Reprinted with permission from Maine Senior Guide.

Senate Aging Committee Launches New Anti-Fraud Hotline

If you or someone you know suspect that you have been a victim of a scam or fraud aimed at seniors, the U.S.Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which U.S.Senator Susan Collins is ranking member, has set up a toll-free hotline to help.

The hotline makes it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and receive assistance.  It will be staffed by a team of committee investigators weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.  The investigators, who have experience with investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes and lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud, and a variety of other senior exploitation issues, will directly examine complaints and, if appropriate, refer them to the proper authorities.

Anyone with information about suspected fraud can call the toll-free hotline at 1-855-303-9470, or contact the committee through its website, located at http://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline.

“Ensuring that seniors are as equipped as possible to avoid becoming victims of fraud and other scams is among our committee’s top priorities,” said Collins.  “This new hotline offered by the Senate Special Committee on Aging will help to identify and put a stop to the cruel scams that hurt seniors and their families.”

March is colon cancer prevention month

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.  If everyone 50 years or older had regular screening tests, at least 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.  Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

Colon cancer is most often found in both men and women ages 50 and older.  Your risk also might be higher than average if:

  • you or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • you have inflammatory bowel disease
  • you have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or heredity nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.

If you are 50 or older,talk with your doctor about getting screened and the type of screening recommended. Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially in the early stages.  That is why having a screening test is so important.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/screenforlife  or call 1-800-cdc-info (1-800-232-4636).

Prescription drug lockbox at Farmington Police Department

There are serious health risks related to the abuse of prescription drugs and can even result in death if mixed with other substances.A prescription drug lockbox is now available for unused medications.  The box is a safe,effective way to dispose of unwanted or expired prescription, over-the-counter or other unused medications.  The only restrictions are no hypodermic needles or liquids.

Franklin county residents can leave their drugs in the lockbox at the Farmington Police Dept located at 116 Franklin Ave. from 8 am to 5 pm. Monday through Friday.  If an officer is there in the evening, they can let someone into the lobby.


“Medical Alert” scam

Medical alert scammers are making phone calls that do not start with a sales pitch but rather as a follow up call to a placed order.  They may start with saying “your order for the Medic Alert is now ready for shipping.  Press 1 now.  Since you were referred by a medical professional, you are eligible for……”

You can tell that this is a call from a telemarketer because they use a computer “dialer”.  The computer makes the call, then when the phone is answered the computer routes the call to the next available employee.  This creates a delay of a few seconds.  Instead of saying “hello” repeatedly, just hang up.

Medicare and Social Security do not call people: they write letters.  The same with contests and seepstakes, the IRS or Maine Revenue.  Legitimate callers will gladly contact you by mail.  Scammers use the phone because they give you less time to think.

Do not give money over the phone.  If the caller claims to be a relative, verify it.

Scammers take advantage of hearing loss, loneliness and pride.  If a call upsets or confuses you, ask for help.  If you don’t have family to ask, call your Area Agency on Aging ( 1-877-353-3771) or ask your local library or town office.  There is always someone who will help you figure out what action, if any, needs to be taken.

DAV Voluntary Transportation Network

DAV Voluntary Transportation Network 

Gerry Baril is now the Kingfield area volunteer driver for DAV VTN which 
Links veterans throughout Maine to Togus VA Medical Center. 

The Disabled American Veterans Volunteer Transportation Network 
Has based a 10 passenger van in the valley to pick up and transport 
Area Veterans to Togus VAMC every Monday. 

The veteran(s) must have a scheduled appointment to be authorized 
To ride the DAV van. Appointments and rides are coordinated through 
The VA. The rides are free and tipping is prohibited! Call a week 
The scheduled appointment. 

The DAV is not able to accommodate wheelchair patients or those on 
Oxygen except for shoulder carried oxygen canisters. 

Contact the DAV Transportation Network Office at 623-5790 or toll 
Free at 877-421-8263 Extension 5790 for more information.

Maine Attorney General warns of scams

Maine Attorney General recently spoke at the Auburn Public Library warning of the many scams trying to seduce people out of their money,

Here are some of the common scams in Maine according to the Maine Attorney General’s office.

Common Consumer Scams

Credit Card Interest Rate Scam

This scam usually begins with an automated phone call. A message will state that the call is coming from a company with a name like “card services”, “card holder services” or “credit card services.” You’ll be told that you can lower your interest rate. The caller then requests your credit card number, social security number or other personal information. Never give out your credit card or bank account information based on an automated phone call.

Medicare scam

Many Maine seniors have received phone calls claiming to be from Medicare or from the ‘health office.’ The callers ask for the Mainer by name and appear to be offering seniors some sort of supplemental health insurance or prescription coverage. Never give any personal information to anyone over the phone.

Consumers with questions about Medicare can get more information from the Medicare offices at 1-800-MEDICARE.

Grandparent scam

An increasingly common scam involves a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild. The scammer will claim that there has been a mishap and money is needed immediately. Never wire money or give out bank info based on a telephone call.

Fake Check Scams


Fake check scams often originate through email. Whatever the set-up, the bottom line is if someone you don’t know sends you a check but wants you to wire money back, it’s a scam. Be skeptical. There is no legitimate reason for you to wire money back to someone who has paid with a check. If you think you are a victim of a scam you should:

  1. Contact the FTC 1-877-FTC-HELP
  2. Contact your local post office
  3. Contact the Maine Attorney General’s Office: 800-436-2131



You receive a letter in the mail saying you have won thousands of dollars in a lottery or sweepstakes. They send you a check to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. You deposit the check in your bank account and then wire the required fee, probably to Canada. Your bank contacts you days later to alert you that the check is fraudulent and you now have to pay the bank back.

Government Grants

Someone calls you on the phone indicating that they are from the government and that the government wants to give you a government grant. They just need your bank account numbers to deposit the check. Don’t be fooled. The government doesn’t call people to give money away.

Advance Fee Loan

The scammers claim they can obtain a loan for you but you have to pay in advance. They may give an address in the U.S. but the address is bogus. They often want you to wire the advance fee to Canada. They tell you that once they receive the fee, they will deposit the loan proceeds into your bank account. You keep looking for the promised loan to show up in your bank account. The scammers then may tell you they need more money to insure the loan. You may end up sending more money. Again, the loan proceeds do not show up in your account. They promise you a refund within a couple of weeks once you tell them you want to cancel. Eventually, they will not accept any calls and the phone number may no longer be in use. You have been taken for hundreds of dollars. Remember, once you get on a scam list, they will call you again and again.

Nigerian scheme

You receive a letter, email or fax asking you to deposit checks or money orders, or asking for your bank account information. You may be asked to deposit money and then wire a percentage back to the scammer. The checks and money orders are counterfeit. You will end up paying back thousands to the bank. This scam often originates out of Nigeria. The scammers will have a seemingly good reason for asking your help. Do not believe them.

Internet Phishing

Phishing is a term that means getting your personal information by deception and using the information to steal your identity. A common phishing scheme comes through your email and disguises itself as a bank that needs to update your personal information. No matter how legitimate the message looks, never send personal information over the internet unless you initiate the contact.

Where to complain

Avoid Financial
Check It Out

Before you agree to home repairs…

Before you give your credit card number to a telemarketer…

Before you sign a contract for a major purchase…

Check It Out!

Call the Elders 1 Hotline, toll-free


For more information and links to other agencies visit the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.

Hypothermia and the Elderly

Hypothermia is a special danger for elders in Maine.  Hyporthermia happens when the core body temperature is below 95 F. It occurs if the body loses heat faster than it can be produced.  Severe hypothermia can be fatal.

The elderly are at more risk for hypothermia for the following reasons

  • hypothermia strikes elders quickly•Lower metabolic rate, which makes it more difficult to maintain a normal body temperature when the room temperature drops below about 65 °F.

    •Decreased ability to detect changes in the temperature.

    •Decreased shivering and constricting of the blood vessels, which ordinarily helps maintain core body heat by diverting blood away from the arms and legs.

    •Chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, underactive thyroid, and Parkinson’s disease.

    •Medications, such as antidepressants and sedatives, which may change how the body regulates temperature.

    What is especially important to know is that what might seem too warm for a younger person may not be warm enough for an older person. Ideally, the thermostat should be set between 68 °F and 70°F. Even just slightly lower can trigger hypothermia in a frail, elderly person.

    Preventing hypothermia in an elderly person

    •Wear several layers of clothing.

    •Wear long underwear, socks and slippers.

    •Wear a hat or a cap.

    •Keep the thermostat at 68 °F – 70 °F.

    •Drink warm beverages, but be cautious with alcoholic beverages because they can increase risk.

    •Check with doctor about medication risks.

    If you are caring for elderly people, be mindful that they may not be able to tell you they feel cold, may not be able to simply reach for a sweater for blanket, or may be concerned about the cost of turning up the heat. Also remember that they may not even realize it when they’re cold.

    The signs of hypothermia in elderly people are easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention. Here are some warning signs of hypothermia in adults (Courtesy National Institute on Aging)

    How do you know if someone has hypothermia? Look for the “umbles”— stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles — these show that the cold is a problem.

    Check for:

    •Confusion or sleepiness

    •Slowed, slurred speech, or shallow breathing

    •Weak pulse

    •Change in behavior or in the way a person looks

    •A lot of shivering or no shivering; stiffness in the arms or legs

    •Poor control over body movements or slow reactions

    What to do if you suspect hypothermia

    If you suspect someone has hypothermia, take his or her temperature. If it’s 96 °F or below, the person needs medical attention right away. The best thing to do while you’re waiting is to keep him/her warm and dry. Warm drinks are fine, but no alcohol or anything with caffeine.

    The increased cost of energy make it especially  important to check in on the elderly who live alone, are on fixed incomes, lack medical care, have poor nutrition, or reside in poor living conditions.

    Reprinted with permission from Maine Senior Guide.


Holiday Blues- Dealing with Depression

Holiday blues. We all know someone, or someone whose loved one, is dealing with depression. Severe depression is debilitating, but there are levels of depression, and even a mild case such as being down in the dumps can take its toll. This was the focus of To Your Health’s latest offering, “How to Keep the Holidays Happy – Managing the Holiday Blues.” Torrey Harrison, LCSW, and Stephanie LeBlanc, LCSW, both from Tri-County Mental Health, were the presenters at a recent Senior College talk. The symptoms of depression, whether minor or severe, include: feelings of sadness or unhappiness; changes in appetite (eating too much or not enough); loss of interest or pleasure; lack of energy, oversleeping or insomnia; and irritability, frustration, agitation. Harrison and LeBlanc said that one in ten Americans are impacted by depression, either personally or through a loved one, but that 80% of people struggling do not seek help. Harrison and LeBlanc also made the following points during their presentation:

  • As with any medical condition, if you are experiencing a major disruption to your life, talk with your doctor. Medication may be in order, but there are other avenues to explore as well. Many people find help through cognitive/behavioral therapy. Talking with a non-judgmental third party can be beneficial. Improve your general wellness level through physical and social activity. Exercise and eat a healthy diet to improve your sleep patterns. All of these can help you become more aware of what triggers your depression, and help you to cope.
  • The holiday season – from Halloween to Valentine’s Day – just happens to coincide with the darkest 100 days in the northern climates. Many people suffer from a mild depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during this time. It is more common in women 20 – 55 years old, less common for men. If you did not suffer from SAD when you were younger, it is less likely you will experience it as you get older.
  • The symptoms of SAD are not at the level of intensity as those of depression, but they are the same: loss of energy and interest, feeling moody or irritable, change in appetite (often an increased craving for carbohydrates), difficulty concentrating and accomplishing tasks. All are brought on by short days and decrease in light.
  • With SAD there is no one thing that will help everyone. It is important to find things that work for you. Many people find that using full-spectrum lights at home or at work greatly improves their well-being. Known as “happy lights,” these are readily available. (Ask for one for Christmas, to help you beat the holiday blues!) Taking extra vitamin D or St. John’s wort is of benefit to some. If you know you experience a mood dip in October, plan things to look forward to during the dark season. Try to stay in the moment of what’s happening now. Be realistic – do you really need to make four pies for Thanksgiving? Reach out and connect to others. Do something for someone else – it really does help you feel better! And don’t forget to take time out for yourself, even just a few minutes. Avoid getting too busy.
  • With family, decide what the holidays mean to you, and keep that in mind. Buy into what you want to do, not what others expect of you. Identify points of possible tension, and work to avoid them. Laugh! Have a favorite joke at the ready. And if you can’t laugh, force yourself to smile. Smiling will make you feel better. Beat those holiday blues!
  • Reprinted with permission from MaineSeniorguide.  Check out their website for other timely topics.