Remember that there’s a limit to how much baggage you may carry on a plane, and the same rule should apply throughout life. Get rid of the suitcases filled with old anger and resentment. You’ll look better, feel lighter, and you’ll have much more room in your suitcase! —Loretta LaRoche, in Squeeze the Day
Life happens. We can do a lot, or do nothing, but the years fly by. However, if we can learn from history and from the mistakes of others, we have the option to take action and plan for the future. Such thoughtful planning may help the time fly by in a less frightening way.
What? Frightening? Yes. Sometimes life can be very frightening, especially as we age and lose friends, spouses and support systems. Some older adults have trouble sleeping nights because they fear that the state will take their house if they or their spouse should need nursing home care. It is frightening when your parent has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and the bank will not release funds to pay for his care because he never signed a document giving you authority to act for him. You must go to guardianship court. Not much could be more frightening.
It’s frightening when your parent dies without having executed a will, and you discover that provisions of the state intestacy law are directly opposite of what everyone in the family knows your parent wanted.
One of the most frightening things imaginable is when your elderly father does not update the planning documents he was once wise enough to execute, and he ends up in the hospital seriously ill and his ex-wife who has not been around for a decade is his healthcare agent.
What could be more frightening than knowing for sure that your parent should not be alone, and yet they become so angry at the suggestion of any type of help that you back off. And you can’t get your mind off the memory of previous falls and all the stories you’ve heard about difficult parents left alone. You think of horror stories about how Adult Protective Services has then become involved, asking questions about why the kids didn’t take better care of the parents.
Looking at the list above, it’s incredible to understand how many of those fears, and how much misery, would be completely unnecessary if we would all grow up and admit that some day, something challenging and not of our choice is likely to happen to us. If nothing like that happens during our lifetime, it’s for sure we’ll one day die. Yet too many of us just continue to pretend that bad things happen to everybody else, and they are never, no never, ever going to happen to us.
Some people who claim to love their children, and probably do, flatly refuse to take the simplest steps that will make life easier for those same children if the parent should become disabled and unable to handle their own business. In addition, they leave the children to argue among themselves based on their individual feelings and deny them the comfort of being able to say “I might not have done that myself, but by golly I did what Mom wanted!”
By not working on and executing their own wills, they adopt the will written by the State ofMarylandthrough its intestacy laws. This document rarely, if ever, distributes our assets in ways that we would choose.
By not deciding, while clothed and in our right minds, where we want to live when we can no longer live alone and/or no longer live in the house where we now live, we force our loved ones to make those choices for us. Those are nearly always choices that offend and disappoint us, and do not come close to the place we would have chosen for ourselves. Yet we insist that we will be able to die in our much-loved home, and refuse to discuss any other option. Well, I hope it’s true, but I can tell you that it, in fact, is not true for the majority of us—especially if we haven’t done any planning for how to pay for home health aides or for the equipment and support we are likely to need to stay in that house.
There are multiple ways to save your house from the cost of nursing home care. There are multiple choices to think about when deciding on a place to live if you can no longer live in your home. There are many ways to approach end of life decisions: you can choose no care, aggressive care or any option in between. There are many ways to plan for the overwhelming challenges life is likely to throw your way. And none of those ways are painful or particularly difficult. They are not even expensive, especially when you consider the costs of not doing them at all. When we do not step up to the plate to make those decisions, we are almost guaranteeing pain for those we love.
Of course, we all hope that none of these horrible things will happen to us, but statistics are not on our side. Less than 20 percent of us drop dead on the kitchen floor from a heart attack at the age of 100, with no previous cognitive difficulties. Do your family and your children a big favor. Stop whistling in the dark. Contact your favorite elder law attorney today.
Thanks for reading. Stay well. Hope to see you next week.