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Attorney Lisa L. HalbertAttorney Lisa L. Halbert, Northampton, 413-584-1287As I sit to write this article, I am considering: what would I, as a reader, want to know that might not seem terribly obvious...but can be useful if considered?

Typically, most spouses automatically name the other spouse as a beneficiary, whether on life insurance, individual retirement accounts, and/or annuities, and never revisit the designations. Most people want to know that the surviving spouse will be provided for upon the death of the first to die. But consider this: If, upon serious reflection, you knew that your spouse was no longer going to be able to safely reside in the marital home or marital apartment alone and without you present, would you still leave the surviving spouse those same monies?

For example, spouses Alex and Pat have lived in the community for decades, and appear to be happy and healthy. The reality, however, is that 60 years into their marriage, where Alex is healthy as a horse, Alex has also become a caretaker to Pat. Pat cannot safely cook, might be very confused if there was a fire, and might not really know how to call emergency services should the issue arise. We all know someone like Pat. You know, that person who when a question is asked provides a very friendly response, but upon second or third thought the response is quite non-committal and vacant. Alex, having lived with Pat for decades and done some soul-searching, is absolutely confident that if something were to happen to Alex, Pat would likely need to move into a long term care facility or nursing home. And in fact, this same conversation has occurred between Alex and Pat’s doctor.

If, upon serious reflection, you knew that your spouse was no longer going to be able to safely reside in the marital home or marital apartment alone and without you present, would you still leave the surviving spouse those same monies?

If Alex keeps Pat as the designated beneficiary on all accounts (such as life insurance, individual retirement, and/or annuities) and Alex unexpectedly dies first, then all of these same monies would be paid to Pat. If Pat then requires nursing home care, it is quite possible that much of these same monies might be paid for care in a nursing home, and not really available to Pat to spend as desired. Under these circumstances, perhaps instead of leaving funds to Pat, Alex might want to consider changing the designated beneficiary and leave the same funds to other family or friends, or perhaps even a non-profit such as LifePath, or other similar organization. (Or split the designation with some percentage left to Pat and the balance left to other/s.) Maybe if other family members are named, those individuals might decide to make some monies available for Pat to have a few indulgences without risking all of the monies. (There is no guarantee that family members will do this, so please think about your own situation and evaluate it.)

Is this appropriate in every case of a beneficiary designation? Absolutely not! But trust your instincts and periodically consider the consequences of your beneficiary designations.

Attorney Lisa L. Halbert practices law with the regional firm of Bacon Wilson, P.C. Lisa focuses her practice on all aspects of asset protection, including estate, tax, and long-term care planning, together with matters related to trusts and estates, probate, guardianship, and conservatorship. Lisa works primarily from Bacon Wilson’s Northampton location, and may be reached at 413-584-1287, or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs, consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits, as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting

Lorraine York-EdbergLorraine York-Edberg, Western Mass. Regional Program Director

If you have Medicare, sometime during the month of August or September you will be receiving important information known as an Annual Notice of Change from your Prescription Drug Plan or your Medicare Advantage Plan HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) or PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). The mailing will explain any changes to your plan in the coming year regarding premiums, drug coverage changes (formulary), providers, and restrictions. It is very important to review the information to make sure the plan still works for you.

Starting October 15 through December 7, you can join, drop, or change your insurance, and the new coverage will begin on January 1, 2020. I like to call this time of year “Your Annual Insurance Checkup,” because it is a time when you can evaluate your current plan and decide if you want to make changes. If your current plan continues to meet your needs, then you may want to keep it. It is also a time when you may want to shop around for a new plan to help you save money, decrease or increase coverage.

Important things to consider when reviewing your plan changes are:

  • Does it still cover all your medications?

  • Are there any restrictions on your medication like quantity limits, prior authorization, or step therapy that would make it difficult to access your medications?

  • Did you get a letter from your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that your plan is changing or no longer available in Massachusetts?

  • Have you been reassigned to a new plan? If so, contact the new plan to assure it will cover your current medications. If not, you should join a new plan before December 7, 2019, to access the medications you need without any problems.

  • Would you like to join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or Medicare Advantage Prescription Plan (HMO/PPO-Managed Care Plan)? Because you’ve never joined previously, you can do it during this time.

Starting October 15 through December 7, you can join, drop, or change your insurance, and the new coverage will begin on January 1, 2020.

Review and save all letters from your plan!

During the Medicare Open Enrollment (October 15 - December 7), you will have an opportunity to change your coverage for next year. You can decide to stay in Original Medicare or join a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you are already in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can use the Open Enrollment to switch back to Original Medicare with a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. State-certified SHINE (Medicare) counselors can help you understand your plan changes, as well as other options you may have. Call early to get a SHINE appointment (1-800-498-4232) during Open Enrollment!

Ways to get the help you need:

  • Visit to use the Medicare Plan Finder.
  • Look at your most recent “Medicare and You” handbook to see plans in your area; 2020 books will be mailed late September.
  • Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) and say, “Agent.” Help is available 24 hours a day, including weekends.
  • Contact your local SHINE Program.
  • Attend a local presentation regarding the annual Open Enrollment period.

The SHINE program, Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone, provides confidential, and unbiased health insurance counseling for Medicare beneficiaries. This is a free service, though contributions are welcome and will go a long way to help support this vital program. For further assistance with any Medicare issue, you can make a SHINE appointment. To reach a trained and certified counselor in your area, contact the regional office at 1-800-498-4232 or 413-773-5555, or contact your local council on aging.

NQCC Executive Director Heather Bialecki-CanningNQCC Executive Director Heather Bialecki-Canning“We are a community-wide alliance that is aimed at improving quality of life, and that can mean many different things to many different people. How someone has interacted with us is typically how they think of us.”

This is how Heather Bialecki-Canning, North Quabbin Community Coalition Executive Director, describes the organization.

“We have been in existence since 1984. We really started as an entity of folks who were coming together to provide information and referral, specifically around health and human services needs. In time we grew and we learned that the best way to tackle many of the issues that came up was to bring together the experts and help facilitate conversations to ensure advocacy for unique regions, and provide home-based solutions for people.”

The North Quabbin Community Coalition (NQCC) runs a series of task forces. Every year they evaluate these task forces, which are totally driven by community input, the board of directors, a parent advisory committee, and a youth advisory committee, along with a community coalition monthly forum which helps to identify what the current issues are. They also rely on health needs assessments.

“We really help this area to get the best of what services are available on either side of us.”

“We really help this area to get the best of what services are available on either side of us,” says Bialecki-Canning, who explains that because the North Quabbin area is on the outskirts of both Worcester and Franklin counties, it is important to have an entity that provides advocacy and can find the best resources from both counties to help people who make one of the nine towns in the North Quabbin area their home. Those nine towns are Athol, Erving, New Salem, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston, Warwick, and Wendell.

One issue the coalition has been focusing on is substance abuse prevention, recovery, and treatment. According to Bialecki-Canning, “One of the things we really want to emphasize is that no matter how you look at substance abuse, it is a cradle to the grave issue.” The coalition has found that the feedback from their youth group regarding preventing and treating substance abuse is the same as the feedback from their elder group, including the suggestion of measures such as preventing isolation, making sure people feel useful, and making sure people have access to things that make life meaningful, rich, and robust. Access to wellness and behavioral health services are also important factors mentioned by both groups. Bialecki-Canning points out substance abuse is a generational issue and “not new to us in North Quabbin, especially alcohol abuse.”

One project of the North Quabbin Community Coalition is the North Quabbin Recovery Center, located on the first floor of the Pequoig Building at 416 Main Street in Athol. Bialecki-Canning states the recovery center has “helped the community remove the stigma around recovery” and offers multiple paths of recovery. Peers and allies visit the center for “mediocre” coffee or to attend a recovery meeting. The center is open three days a week to visitors (Tuesday at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and in the last year they’ve had 300 new individuals visit, with many coming back regularly.

“Our focus on substance abuse has definitely been a large part of our work over the last few years, but it has not taken away from the other work that we’ve done around quality of life, access to services, and regional advocacy,” states Bialecki-Canning. One example of this is a coalition program which delivers Thanksgiving meals to home-bound individuals. The coalition had to turn volunteers away because so many people offered to help. “Programs like that are the heart of what the coalition is all about,” she says.

The North Quabbin Community Coalition also organizes local block parties for National Night Out Against Violence on August 6 with fire departments and EMTs. Athol’s party had over 300 visitors, with a rivalry growing between the towns of Athol, Orange, Petersham, and Royalston as to who could offer the best event. About the rivalry, Bialecki-Canning states, “Even though Petersham is smaller, nobody beats Petersham Police Chief Cooley.” The coalition also hosts a “Munch and Move Family Night Out” in February which includes nutritious meals, desserts, and games.

Heather Bialecki-Canning’s mother was the previous coalition director for 14 years. During that time Heather was “voluntold” to participate in activities supporting the coalition, so she got involved early on, and was “incredibly in awe of the work they did” when she worked for partners of the coalition including Community Action and Valuing Our Children. When she had the opportunity to apply for the Executive Director position in November 2014 she was happy to take the leap.

“We’re a crack filler,” explains Bialecki-Canning, “Every so often individuals come in who can’t be helped in the short term by a referral. Someone came in looking for rides but when we met with them their needs were more complex and some were emergent. NQCC could help with immediate needs dealing with unstable housing, a foot injury, lack of transportation to a food pantry, and an inability to carry the food due to another injury. We were able to get a box of food back to her home and help her get to the ER for care. NQCC could then refer out for longer term needs.”

NQCC and LifePath often work together on client-related issues and programs. For example, LifePath provides the food delivery trays for the Thanksgiving meals and is a financial sponsor, and LifePath staff serve on NQCC’s task forces and Board of Directors. LifePath also collaborates with NQCC to assist individuals in the community in need of help.

To communicate with the North Quabbin Community Coalition, feel free to contact their main office number at 978-249-3703, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit their Facebook page. For more information about NQCC, visit their website.

Karen LentnerNutritionist Karen Lentner Have you ever thought about protein and how much you need as you age? What is protein and why does your body need it? What foods should you eat to get enough protein?

Proteins are complex molecules or amino acids that play a critical role in our body. Protein is needed to make and repair cells and muscles. We need a constant supply of protein for overall health, muscle strength, balance and preventing falls, and to help recover from illness. It is especially important to eat enough protein as we age as our bodies may not use it as efficiently to maintain muscle mass and strength, including bone strength. If you lose muscle in your legs, for example, this may lead to weakness and feeling tired when walking.

Many older adults do not eat enough protein due to impaired taste, reduced appetite, dental or swallowing problems, limited finances, or you may no longer enjoy the taste of meat. Studies have shown that if you consume an adequate amount of protein, you are more apt to maintain basic bodily functions including your ability to walk and climb stairs, or to get dressed.

How much protein do I need?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for healthy adults (age 19 and older) is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women. This translates to approximately 7 ounces of protein per day for men and approximately 6.5 ounces of protein for women. If you are malnourished, or have a chronic disease, your protein requirements may be higher (possibly 70+ grams per day). Another way to determine your protein needs is to calculate approximate .8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for healthy adults.

Studies have shown that if you consume an adequate amount of protein, you are more apt to maintain basic bodily functions including your ability to walk and climb stairs, or to get dressed.

Good protein sources and how much protein is in food

Approximately 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish contain 21 grams of protein.

  • Cheese, 1 ounce = 7 grams of protein
  • Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons = 7 grams
  • Tofu, ½ cup = 10 grams
  • Yogurt, ½ cup = 6 grams
  • Greek yogurt, ½ cup = 12 grams
  • Quinoa, 1 cup cooked = 8 grams
  • Tuna, 4 ounces drained = 22 grams
  • Egg, 1 large = 6 grams
  • Almonds, 1 ounce or 23 almonds = 6 grams
  • Milk, 1 cup = 8 grams
  • Beans (e.g., kidney beans, black beans, lentils), ½ cup = 8 grams

A good way to meet your protein needs is to select a variety of foods from the list above and spread it out throughout the day. To help you get the protein you need, consider joining us for a meal at one of our dining centers (find a complete list here) or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555. Protein is essential for healing, building, and repairing your cells and body tissue. Eating enough protein every day will help you maintain your health and independence.

people in a recent M-3 classA recent M-3 class.

The Fun Way To Build The Brain

I’ve always felt that exercise should be fun and not feel so much like exercise. When you combine exercise for the body and for the brain, and add lots of fun, you have a new class called M-3 (Music, Motion and Memory). 

There is a lot of ongoing and new research into Alzheimer’s prevention or delay. As an aging baby boomer myself, I have been very interested in what is happening in this field of research. As a fitness professional, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could do to help people. There are lots of great exercise classes, but none have really addressed lowering or delaying the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s by making the brain work a little harder while you’re also working your body . . . until now.

After two years of research and some trial and error, I created a class that works for a wide variety of exercisers from the chair-bound to the very active.

Research suggests many benefits to exercise including that people who exercise have a lower risk of cognitive decline. Exercise has also been associated with lowering Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles in the brain. Mental stimulation is another pillar in the fight. Learning new things, challenging the brain, and puzzles and memory games also help cognitive function, with lasting effects. Socialization, something we don’t think about much, is also very important for brain health. We are social animals and staying socially engaged may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life. So developing and maintaining a strong network of friends is a priority.

As a fitness instructor at the Erving Senior Center, I was encouraged to develop a class that might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. After two years of research and some trial and error, I created a class that works for a wide variety of exercisers from the chair-bound to the very active. M-3 addresses almost all of the suggested actions to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s: regular exercise, social interaction, mental stimulation, and stress reduction. It’s hard to feel stressed when you’re laughing and having fun!

So, what does an M-3 class look like? 

  • Well, for starters you’ll notice this class is a bit livelier with more social interaction than many other exercise classes. Participants are encouraged to move around and talk to each other, and everyone always gets to choose what feels right to them. 

  • Although the specific content of the class changes weekly, every class includes the same core elements. We always start with cardio to get things going. While the heart rate starts to go up, movements are added that are effective in building the brain. We might have you crossing different planes of your body, like reaching across your body or raising one hand up and the other down. This is what we call “body puzzles.” Tapping your head and rubbing your belly is an example of a body puzzle you might be familiar with. Remember, there are no “wrong” movements. People have a lot of fun while working out the M-3 puzzles. Laughter is a key element!

  • We intersperse cardio with “games” that are designed to make you think or work parts of your brain you might not use a lot. For example, you might be asked to put a small paper plate on your head and draw a scene without looking at the paper. Or there might be a rollicking game of weighted balloon volleyball played with sticks and using chairs as the “net,” or pom ball hula hoop bocce. 

  • While we’re in chairs there are several “brain games” that might be added in. In our version of “Left, Right, Center,” very soft balls are tossed in a circle and participants are given directions at a faster and faster rate. This game always ends up in a group free for all and lots of laughter, but you’re exercising your brain and body the whole time while having fun. 

  • And music! I would be remiss not to mention the music. Music is one of the keys to fun movement, and a core element of every class. How long has it been since you’ve done the Stroll? How about doing some cardio to “Devil with the Blue Dress On /Good Golly Miss Molly?” Or a game to “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny and Cher? Or to Lloyd Price’s “Personality?” We play a fun variety of music you know, and it’s sure to get you moving.

The major ideas behind M-3 classes are to have fun, move your body and exercise your mind. Classes are currently available at the Erving Senior Center. Why not try a class? After all, fun never grows old or retires.

Ann Skowron is a Senior Conditioning Specialist, Flexibility and Orthopedic Exercise Specialist through The American Council on Exercise, as well as certified in Silver Sneakers, Mossa and Les Mills programs. Former owner of Maccabees Group Fitness center in New York, she now works with the Erving Senior Center and The Greenfield YMCA.  She can be reached at 315-391-2080 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..