The Last Decade: Plan Now

By: Ardis L. Black, JD | December 11, 2020

Growing old takes a lot of courage.  It involves successive losses of physical stamina and strength, vision, motor skills, and often memory.  As our family members age, their needs can change dramatically and quickly.  Aging almost always brings with it a loss of independence that is downright humbling.  At the same time as their independence is waning, our elders lose the very companions, spouses and friends upon whom they have relied, to whom they have looked for comfort in their adult lives.  The need for assistance, love and caring from family peaks. This new level of need and reliance may come as a shock to family members if the elder has been very independent and/or family bonds have been historically weak or more currently stressed.  Resources available to meet the elder’s needs vary greatly, as does a family’s ability to identify and employ appropriate resources.  While the elder may not wish to be a burden, it’s almost inescapable that one or more family members will assume a decision-making role at some point.

A family’s ability to meet their elder’s needs will naturally depend upon resources, including both money and time, as well as proximity to their elder.  Medical and financial issues are frequently complicated, and here the family’s ability to assist their elder is heavily dependent on time, savvy, and often sheer tenacity.  While resources available to seniors and their families are growing rapidly, they are not consistent in quality and convenience, and can vary greatly by location.  Services exist to help seniors and their family find suitable providers; however, identifying the best care providers for a senior’s needs requires time too. An elder’s need for assisted living for skilled nursing care may frequently require a move to senior housing.  Unfortunately, very few families have conversations with their elders before a need arises, and many seniors are inclined to resist until a crisis occurs and placement options are limited to what’s available.

Each family has a set of skills and inabilities that they will draw upon as they attempt to meet their elder’s needs.  I define skills in this context as the ability to do something well.  In contrast, I use the term “inabilities” to refer both to the absence of one or more skills and to behaviors or personalities that complicate meeting the elder’s needs or prevent meeting them altogether. Most often, inabilities surface as multiple family members interact.  Quite simply, siblings (or others as the case may be) often disagree, or just do not get along, and interactions can become unpleasant.  In my experience, some level of disagreement almost always exists between siblings; if you think your family is alone in this, you are wrong.  Do this: Think about your own family members for a moment.  Imagine them interacting to make decisions about the housing or care for you. Think about a worse-case scenario, just for a moment.  Consider which family members may have the skills and time to help you, or how you might otherwise meet your needs. Thinking about these issues in the context of our own lives can give us compassion and insight as we help our parents and other senior family members in this process as well.

Everyone should have a will and/or trust, elect a health care agent, and create a durable power of attorney enabling someone to take care of financial matters in the event of incapacity.  These actions are an excellent start, but not enough.  It is neither brilliant nor novel to exclaim that communication is the oil that keeps the machinery of relationships from breaking down.  Why is it, then, that we forget or ignore that fact?  Why are we more apt to believe that someone can read our minds or should know what we want, than to express how we feel and what we want?  Why is that talking about money seems so taboo? Perhaps because these matters are particularly laden with emotion. Consider beginning your process by writing, then sharing your written thoughts with your family.

Providing family members with guidance for our last decade

  1. Consider writing an ethical will and sharing it with your family.  If you are not familiar with this topic, search online for the term and you will find lots of information.  You will find templates to guide you in leaving a legacy of your life’s lessons and your values.  I knew a grandfather who wrote stories about his life and the lessons he learned for his grandchildren.
  2. Start a discussion with those who you envision may be involved with your care.  Start it now while you are healthy and independent.  Don’t wait.
  3. Write your thoughts and wishes down.  Who have you chosen for certain responsibilities, such as power of attorney, and why? Create a journal of what you are experiencing and your current wishes.  What situation worries you most?  What are your wishes if you find yourself in that situation? What should your family members know?
  4. Share financial details with those likely to assist you in the last decade (and with settling your estate) so they become familiar with your resources and your filing system.  What are your assets, and where are they located? Where do you keep important documents? Where is your Social Security check deposited?  What are your computer passwords? These things are critical.
  5. There will come a time when you give up your car keys.  Some seniors do that on their own, others willingly at the family’s request or by court order if an accident occurs.  How will you know when the time is right? Will your family feel comfortable sharing their observations with you?
  6. What if your family feels that you should be in assisted living, but you don’t want to leave your home?  How will you work through that together?  Consider a decision-making framework upon which you and your family might agree.
  7. Pre-plan your funeral, creation, memorial.  What type of service, if any, do you want?  Which songs? Who would you like to speak, and about what?  Your family will appreciate a thoughtful and detailed description of your last wishes more than you can imagine.
  8. This is not a comprehensive list and taking these steps will not prevent family disagreements or avoid all problems.  Taking these steps will go a long way toward ensuring quality of life in your last decade.  You may be thinking, “How do I know when my last decade is?”  Exactly.  Early planning for these events is critical, but it is equally important to engage our family along the way to communicate our vision of our last decade, and to discuss our plans and the resources we may or may not have available to support them.  In doing so we leave a legacy of not just things, but of our values – ourselves.
This material is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.
Ardis Black JD is a financial advisor with Shamrock Wealth Management located at 991 Sibley Memorial Highway, Lilydale, MN 55118. She offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. She can be reached at 651-317-4330