Q: Every day I seem to have a mailbox full of invitations to free seminars on living trusts and financial planning. I’m not really sure I need to be concerned with such topics, but if I do, would these seminars provide me with the information I need?

A: This is an excellent question and one I would like more seniors to inquire about before they sign up for one of these “free” presentations. Will attending such a seminar provide you with the information and services you need? The answer may be yes — but more likely no.

These community seminars address the issue of estate planning in a general manner. The right strategies needed for an individual to make proper decisions must be based on that individual’s unique circumstances. What might be the right action for your neighbor will more likely not make sense for your particular situation.

Many times the sponsors of this type of seminar have a product or service to sell, and while they do provide some useful general information, they are also promoting the purchase of their specific product or service.

The subject of estate planning is complex, and unfortunately this provides a window of opportunity for scam artists. Not all seminars are presented by scam artists, but some are, and you need to protect yourself. You need to be very careful about what information you offer about yourself and carefully read and fully understand anything you sign.

Before you sign any papers to create a will or trust or invest money, explore all your options with an experienced attorney or financial adviser of your choice. By that I mean you initiate the contact with the provider instead of dealing with a salesperson who contacted you or offered a free lunch seminar.

Avoid high-pressure sales tactics by phone, door-to-door or seminar salespeople. If a salesperson gives the impression that a well-known organization is endorsing the product or service, make sure to check with that organization before committing yourself.

Do some homework on your own. Learn the differences between wills and trusts. Investigate how probate works. Understand the pros and cons of different types of investing.

It has taken you years of hard work to accumulate your assets — do take time in deciding how to handle your estate planning. Nothing should be done if you’re being pressured, and it is always best to discuss your options with someone you trust.

Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you do decide to attend such a meeting, do two things: Sit on your hands and keep your mouth shut. Sitting on your hands means not signing anything, and keeping your mouth shut means not revealing any personal information.

Q: Lately it seems my doctor and I aren’t communicating too well. Is there something I can do to help improve this situation?

A: Yes, there are some things you can do to help the doctor-patient relationship. Communication is a two-way street speaking and listening, and both parties have a responsibility to make sure understanding takes place.

For years, doctors have been given all the blame for not listening and for responding in medical terms not understood by the patient. But the patient must also take part of the blame for not providing clear explanations and failing to really listen to what the doctor says.

To receive a correct diagnosis, it is crucial your doctor receive detailed, not vague, descriptions of your symptoms. The doctor needs the whole picture, not just what you may think is important.

To make sure you don’t forget to provide specific information, make a list of your concerns and take it with you. Make sure you listen carefully and speak up if you don’t understand. Don’t be afraid about interrupting to have a point re-examined.

Take notes so you can review them when you get home, or better yet, have someone accompany you to the appointment. Two sets of ears are often better than one.


Wednesday — 1 p.m., “Dogs and Cats and Birds — Pets in our Lives,” learn about Ventura County Animal Services at Thousand Oaks Council on Aging Meeting, Civic Arts Plaza Board Room, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.

Feb. 17 — 1:30-3 p.m., “Will You Pass Your Next Driving Test,” Westlake Village Civic Center, 31200 E. Oak Crest Drive. For information, call the advocate’s office at 495-6250.

Feb. 22 — 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., economic checkup appointments, Goebel Adult Community Center, 1325 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. For information and appointments, call the advocate’s office at 495-5250.

Feb. 22 — 3:30-4:30 p.m., “Savvy Saving Seniors — It’s in the Cards,” learn the ins and outs of various credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards and gift cards (and there are many) and discover tips and tricks for protecting your money, Goebel Adult Community Center. For reservations, call 381-2744.

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