Savvy Senior — November 2019 Columns

Savvy Senior – November Columns

  1. How to Create an Ethical Will
  2. How to Choose a Walk-in Bathtub
  3. Does it Run in the Family? How to Create a Family Health Portrait
  4. How to Know When an Older Parent Has a Gambling Problem

How to Create an Ethical Will

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you write a column on ethical wills and how to make one? The attorney that made up my will recently suggested I write one as a tool to explain the intentions of my will, as well as express my thoughts and feelings, but I don’t know where to start.
Interested Senior

Dear Interested,
An ethical will – also referred to as a legacy letter – can be a valuable complement to your legal will, as well as a wonderful gift to your family or other loved ones. Here’s what you should know along with some tips to help you make one.

Ethical Wills
Unlike a last will and testament, which tells your loved ones (and the legal world) what you want them to have, an ethical will (which is not a legal document) tells them what you want them to know.

With an ethical will, you can share with your loved ones your feelings, wishes, regrets, gratitude and advice, as well as explain the elements in your legal will, give information about the money and possessions you’re passing on, and anything else you want to communicate.

Usually no more than a few pages, the process of writing an ethical will can actually be quite satisfying. But be careful that you don’t contradict any aspects of your legal will or estate plan.

And, if you’re having trouble with the writing, there are resources available to help you, or you can express yourself through an audio or video recording.

Where to Start
To craft an ethical will, start by jotting down some notes about what’s really important to you and what you want your loved ones to know. Take your time and remember that you’re not trying to write for the Pulitzer Prize. This letter is a gift of yourself written for those you love.

After you’ve gathered your thoughts you can start drafting your letter. You can also revise or rewrite it anytime you want. And for safekeeping, keep your ethical will with your other legal documents in a secure location but be sure your executor has access to it. A safe-deposit box or fireproof filing cabinet or safe in your home is a good choice.

Get Help
If you need some help, there are numerous resources available like Celebrations of Life (CelebrationsofLife.net), which offers how-to information and examples of ethical wills, along with a “Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper” book, and the Ethical Wills/Legacy Letters workbook that you can purchase for $16 and $10 respectively.

Another good resource is Personal Legacy Advisors (PersonalLegacyAdvisors.com), a company that offers ethical will writing classes and workshops, along with personalized services like coaching, editing, writing and/or audio or video recording your ethical will. Prices will vary depending on the services you choose. They also sell a do-it-yourself guidebook “The Wealth of Your Life: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will,” by Susan Turnbull for $24.

You also need to know that many people choose to share their ethical will with their family and friends while they’re still living so they can enjoy their reactions, while others think it should be read after their death. It’s up to you.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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How to Choose a Walk-in Bathtub

Dear Savvy Senior,
Because of my mobility problems, I’m thinking about getting a walk-in bathtub that’s easy to get into and out of but could use some help selecting one. What can you tell me about walk-in tubs, and can you recommend some good companies that make and install them?
Bubble Bath Betty

Dear Betty,
Walk-in tubs are a good option for mobility challenged seniors because they’re much easier to get into and out of than a standard tub, and will help prevent slips, trips and falls too. Here’s what you should know.

The Basics
Walk-in bathtubs are uniquely designed tubs that have a watertight, hinged door built into the side of the tub that provides a much lower threshold to step over (usually 2.5 to 7 inches) versus a standard tub that’s around 15 inches.

In addition to the low threshold, most walk-in tubs also have a built-in seat, grab bars, anti-slip floors, anti-scald valves and a handheld showerhead. And many higher-end models offer therapeutic spa-like features that are great for seniors with arthritis and other ailments.

The kind of tub you choose will depend on your needs, preferences and budget, and the size and layout of your bathroom. The cost of a walk-in tub today with professional installation ranges anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. Here are some other things you’ll need to consider, to help you make a good choice.

Tub size: Walk-in bathtubs vary in size. Most models have high walls between three and four feet high, and are between 28 and 32 inches wide, but will fit into the same 60-inch long space as your standard tub without having to reconfigure the room. There are also bariatric walk-in tubs that have wider door openings and larger seats to accommodate people over 300 pounds.

Wheelchair-accessible: Most walk-in tubs have an inward opening door, but if you use a wheelchair, an outward opening door may be a better option because they’re easier to access.

Tub options: The most basic and least expensive type of walk-in tub you can get is a simple soaker tub. But depending on your preferences, you have many other options like an aero therapy (air jets) tub, hydrotherapy (whirlpool water jets) tub, aromatherapy tub that mixes fragrant essential oils with the water, or a combination tub that has multiple features. Also, look for tubs that have an in-line heating system to keep your bathwater warm while you soak.

Fast fill and drain: One drawback to using a walk-in bathtub is that the bather must sit in the tub as it fills and drains, which can make for a chilly experience. To help with this, consider a tub that has fast-filling faucets and pump-assisted drainage systems, which significantly speed up the process. But these options may require some plumbing modifications to your bathroom.

Easy cleaning: Keeping the tub clean should be a priority, especially if you get a therapy tub because of the bacteria that can grow in it. So, look for tubs with self-cleaning systems.

Warranty: The best walk-in bathtubs on the market today are made in the USA. Also make sure the company you choose has a lifetime “leak-proof” door seal warranty and lengthy warranties on both the tub and the operating system.

Where to shop: While there are many companies that make, sell and install walk-in bathtubs, some of the best in the industry are American Standard (AmericanStandard-us.com), Safe Step (SafeStepTub.com) and Kohler (KohlerWalkinBath.com). Most companies offer financing with monthly payment plans.

Unfortunately, original Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs nor do Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policies, but some Medicare Advantage plans may help pay. There are also many states that offer Medicaid waivers that will help pay for the purchase and installation of a walk-in tub to those that qualify, and the VA offers some programs that provide financial aid too.

To get started, contact a few companies who will send a local dealer to your home to assess your bathroom and give you product options and estimates for free.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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Does it Run in the Family? How to Create a Family Health Portrait

Dear Savvy Senior,
How do I go about making a family health history? Most of my relatives have died before age 65, so my doctor recently suggested I create a family history to help identify my own genetic vulnerabilities.
Approaching 50

Dear Approaching,
This is a very good idea. An accurate family health history remains one of the most important tools in keeping yourself healthy as you age, and the holidays when family members come together is a great time to do it. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and tools to help you create one.

Know Your Genes
Just as you can inherit your father’s height or your mother’s eye color, you can also inherit their genetic risk for diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, for example, it is not unusual for the next generation to have it too. Therefore, tracing the illnesses suffered by your relatives can help you and your doctor predict the disorders you may be at risk for, so you can take action to keep yourself healthy.

To create a family health history, you’ll need to start by collecting some basic medical information on your first-degree relatives including your parents, siblings and children. Then move on to your grandparents, aunts, uncles and first cousins.

You need to get the specific ages of when they developed health problems like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, depression, etc. If family members are deceased, you need to know when and how they died. If possible, include lifestyle information as well, such as diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol use.

Some relatives may not want to share their medical histories, or they may not know their family history, but whatever information you discover will be helpful.

To get information on diseased relatives, get a copy of their death certificate. This will list their cause of death and the age he or she died. To get a death certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where your relative died, or go to VitalChek.com.

Or, if you were adopted, the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Search (see ChildWelfare.gov/nfcad) may be able to help you locate your birth parents so you can get their medical history.

Helpful Tools
To get help putting together your family health history, the U.S. Surgeon General created a free web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait” (see phgkb.cdc.gov/FHH/html) that can help you collect, organize and understand your genetic risks and even share the information with your family members and doctors.

Another good resource that provides similar assistance is the Genetic Alliance’s online tool called “Does It Run In the Family.” At FamilyHealthHistory.org you can create a customized guide on your family health history for free.

Handling the Results
If you uncover some serious health risks that run in your family, don’t despair. While you can’t change your genes, you can change your habits to increase your chances of a healthy future. By eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking, you can offset and sometimes even neutralize your genetic vulnerabilities. This is especially true for heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

A family medical history can also alert you to get early and frequent screening tests, which can help detect other problems (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cancers like breast, ovarian, prostrate and colon cancer) in their early stages when they’re most treatable.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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How to Know When an Older Parent Has a Gambling Problem

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m worried that my 76-year-old father has become addicted to gambling. He spends at least two days a week at an Indian casino about a half-hour’s drive from his house playing slot machines. What can I do?
Worried Daughter

Dear Worried,
Problem gambling among older adults is unfortunately on the rise. Studies suggest that more than 4 million Americans, age 65 and older, could have a gambling problem. The reasons behind this growing problem are because seniors have time and money on their hands and the influx of casinos that have cropped up around the country have made access to gambling much more convenient. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and resources that can help your dad if he does indeed have a problem.

Problem Gambling
For most older adults, gambling is simply a fun recreational activity, but for those who become addicted to it, it can be a devastating disease that can financially wipe them out.

There are a number of reasons why seniors can be vulnerable to gambling problems. For starters, seniors are often catered to by casinos with free bus transportation, free drinks, discounted meals, special rewards and other prizes as a way to entice them.

In addition, many seniors use gambling as a way to distract or escape feelings of loneliness, depression or even a chronic health condition. Some may have financial problems they are seeking to overcome. And some may have cognitive impairment that interferes with their ability to make sound decisions.

Adding to the problem is that many seniors may not understand addiction, making them less likely to identify a gambling problem. Or they may be confused or embarrassed that they can’t control their urges to gamble and reluctant to seek help because they think that at their age, they should know better. And even if they recognize that they have a problem, they may not know that help is available or where to get it.

You should also know that while there are many gambling options for people to get hooked on today, casino slot machines are far and away the most popular among seniors. Slot machines are much more addictive then the old machines of yesteryear with spinning lemons, cherries and melons. Many of today’s slot machines offer intense sensory stimulation with large video screens, music and vibrating, ergonomic chairs.

Get Help
How can you know if your dad has a gambling problem? Gamblers Anonymous offers a 20-question online test at GamblersAnonymous.org that he can take to help determine if he has a problem. In the meantime, here are some questions you can ask to help evaluate his situation.

  • Is he preoccupied with gambling, constantly talking about it, or planning to gamble versus doing his normal activities?
  • Is he gambling more and more money to get the same level of excitement?
  • Is he using his retirement funds or other savings to gamble, or is he pawning or selling personal items to get money to gamble with?
  • Has he lost control to the point that he can’t set a limit of time and money to spend in the casino, and stick to it?
  • Does he become uncomfortable, angry or lie when you ask him about his gambling activities?

If your dad answers yes to any of these questions, he may have a problem. To find help contact the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPgambling.org), a non-profit organization that operates a 24-hour national hotline at 800-522-4700. They can direct you to resources in your area, including counselors who have been trained through the National Certified Gambler Counseling Program.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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