The image from the storybook on aging looks like this: Grandpa sitting comfortably in his comfy chair in his tidy house, a drink of his choice close at hand, his multigenerational family gathered together as he tells another story. another folk story, but morally instructive, drawn from his long and fulfilling life.
The alternate image of aging looks like this: Grandpa, thirsty and alone, sitting in a worn out chair in his dirty house surrounded by piles of old newspapers and magazines, unable to hear the phone ringing with a frantic call from his daughter trying to find out why he missed his doctor’s appointment for the third time in a row.
You know which image you want. The trick is to get there.
Aging rarely goes the right way. Instead, it rocks right with a health crisis, then left with a driving crisis, then right with a stove-burner-left crisis all night, then left again with a financial crisis.
Aging forces crisis decisions that must be made under pressure, with incomplete knowledge, and against a backdrop of emotion and fatigue.
It doesn’t have to be like this. You can and should prepare now to minimize the impact of crises. A few simple steps, carried out gradually and adjusted over time, are the solution. These apply whether you are 25 or 95 years old.
Set up the basic planning documents: a medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney, HIPAA discharge, directive to doctors, guardian statement, and a will. minimum for each adult. Agents must be honest and ready to serve. Work through scenarios. Create checks and balances.
Organize the medical: Choose a primary care physician affiliated with a good hospital and a large network of specialists. Compile and update a history of medical conditions and surgeries. Keep a medication list and review it every six months with the doctor. Read the side effects and take the contraindications seriously.
Tackle your finances: start early. Only buy financial products that are easy to understand and manage. Ditch expensive life insurance products if there is no need to support someone else. Consolidate and simplify everything. Compare income streams to expenses and make the tough decisions now. Stay away from senior-hostile banks and investment firms. Keep a list of every account and investment. Read each policy. Create a personalized schedule to sign up for benefits and withdraw investments.
Bring family and friends closer together: spend time nurturing relationships. Consult the local senior center.
Choose a competent lawyer and CPA: meet in person at least once a year.
Walk around the residence and imagine yourself living there in a wheelchair: make changes or move out. Create scenarios for the living conditions for hip fracture, stroke or dementia. Visit the assisted living facilities and rehabilitation facilities. Investigate home care companies and geriatric care managers.
Learn about the laws and rules regarding Medicare, Hospice Care, Social Security, Medicare, Home Health Care, Elderly Fraud, Seniors Housing, and Accounts of retirement.
Decide what a “long and fulfilling life” looks like and create a plan to fill the gaps.
Wean dependents of financial and emotional support. The support will die with the senior. It is more compassionate to teach people to fend for themselves now instead of leaving them suddenly helpless and needy.
We all want to age with respect, wisdom, love and dignity. You can imagine it, can’t you?
Virginia Hammerle is a lawyer with the law firm Hammerle Finley. She is a certified estate planner and has been certified in civil trial law for 25 years. E-mail [email protected] for its monthly newsletter. This column is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.