QUESTION: I am a widow living alone. I have a heart condition and disabling arthritis. My doctor and family have encouraged me to hire an attendant. My senior citizen's center gave me a list of people to interview for the job. I've never hired anyone before and don't know what questions to ask. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Finding a suitable attendant can be time-consuming and stressful. Health-care professionals believe it is important to decide in advance what services are needed.Andrea Artz, a medical social worker with Kaiser Permanente in southern California, offers these suggestions:

- Do not make decisions in haste. Meet the applicant personally instead of hiring over the phone.

- When possible, arrange for a family member or trusted friend to sit in on the interview.

- Write a list of specific tasks you need help with. Make a copy for both of you to discuss during the interview.

- Discuss the number of work hours and all aspects of salary including pay arrangements for sick time, holidays, overtime, if any, docking of pay for tardiness or no shows, income tax and FICA withholdings if applicable. Specify when salary will be paid and whether you'll be paying by cash or check.

- Make sure the applicant understands all details. Language and communication problems should not be ignored.

- Make sure the applicant has reliable transportation. If you are hiring a driver, take a test ride before hiring.

- Always ask for references and check them out.

- Inquire if your homeowner's insurance policy will cover the attendant for on-the-job injury.

- Agree upon a trial period for training and getting acquainted.

Another option to consider is an attendant-care or home-health agency. This may cost more as you pay an agency fee in addition to the attendant's salary. Find out what services the agency provides. Inquire how the agency screens attendants and what training has been provided. Does the agency provide liability insurance for the attendant? What guarantees does the agency make about providing an acceptable attendant? If you are not satisfied, will the agency arrange for another attendant at no additional agency fee?

Ask if the agency is certified, accredited, licensed and/or bonded. Certification indicates the agency meets basic federal and state standards. Bonded means the agency has posted a bond in the event that a consumer has a problem with the agency and sues-the court judgment can be paid from the bond.

For more information, write the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP Fulfillment, 1909 K St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049. Ask for its free pamphlet, A Handbook About Care in the Home," D955. Include the title and order number.

QUESTION: I'm a 69-year-old widower in failing health. My home is worth about $50,000. I was thinking of giving my house in equal shares to my two sons while I'm still alive. Would they have to report and pay taxes on the house?

ANSWER: Regardless of the gift's value, there is no federal income tax liability for your sons. They would not have to report the gift on their tax returns.

Since the annual limit on a gift is $10,000 per individual recipient, you would be required to file a gift-tax return. This is for informational purposes only, and you would not incur any federal tax liability either.

Federal and estate taxes are "unified." During your lifetime and at your death you can turn over a total of $600,000 before any gift or estate taxes are due. From your question, this limit should not affect you. There may be some state inheritance taxes, but the federal tax is usually the largest one.

There may be other tax implications to giving your home away now. Your home may continue to appreciate in value. Because your sons will have acquired the house as a gift, they take it over at its present value as the basis for calculating any gain at the time of a future sale.

If the house appreciates in value, they will pay a tax on the appreciation. If, on the other hand, your sons inherit the property at your death, they would receive it for its value on the date of your death and have a smaller taxable gain if they sell it.

Timing is also critical. Giving your home to your children can affect your eligibility for Medicaid benefits should you need to enter a nursing home within 30 months. Some states consider a recent transfer of assets as a device to avoid private payment for nursing home care. So since your spouse is deceased, you may be obliged to spend down your assets, including your home. If your health is very poor now, you should carefully consider the likelihood of your needing such care.

Despite these possible implications, it is not necessarily a poor idea to give away your home. But before you initiate any action, discuss all the consequences with a lawyer.