A Cautionary Tale — How Not To Prepare For Aging

July 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Elders

 What follows is a composite of a story (really a family tragedy) that occurs again and again as people age.  It has to do with aging parents, the onset of dementia, and insufficient preparation for the future.

A husband and wife, let’s call them John and Joan, have 2 children.  They have had middle-income earnings and saved for their retirement.   They now live in the (big) house where they raised their children.  Their income comes from social security, and IRA, and a small amount of income from a securities account.  They are 85 and 86 years old.

During the past few years, they have started to progressively decline mentally and physically.  This is no surprise, since they are both older than average life expectancy.  (Most people over 85 have some sort of dementia).  John and Joan meant to have estate-planning documents (wills, health care proxies, powers of attorneys, etc.) but they never got around to it.

John and Joan cannot take care of themselves in the house.  They are barely able to pay their bills (although they have enough money to do so, and are confused about what they have and what they can afford.  They have trouble climbing the stairs.  They are both still driving (small distances, slowly), but clearly are a threat to themselves and others on the road.  (Their refusal to stop driving is a symptom of their dementia.)

John and Joan are only able to stay in their house because of the assistance of their daughter and her husband, who are driving 480 miles every week, and taking turns staying with the parents.  They are leaving their children (young adults who live with them) at home with only one parent at a time.  The daughter and her husband are at the end of their rope.

John and Joan want to stay in their home on some days, and on others, they want to move to an assisted living facility.  When a lawyer came with power of attorney and health care proxy papers, they decided they did not want to name anyone.   With proper organization, they could hire home health care workers during the day, and continue to stay in their home for a while.  The help they need to stay in their home wouldn’t cost very much.

The parents are getting very close to the point where, if they do not voluntarily accept help from their children, things will spiral down, and the parents will be in danger.   Then the children will need to ask for an involuntary guardianship/conservatorship.  The children do not want to do this, because they love their parents, and know their parents will hate them for it.  It’s not a good way to end a family history.

So, if you are in your sixties, seventies, eighties (or older), do your planning now.  See the lawyer of your choice.  Try to plan for a smooth transition between you and the ones you trust.  Make it easy for your loved ones.  Otherwise, you will sadly be leaving them as a burden, which I’m sure you don’t want to do.

© Laurie Israel.  2011.

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One Response to “A Cautionary Tale — How Not To Prepare For Aging”
  1. John FitzpatrickNo Gravatar says:

    I have heard similar stories in my North Carolina law practice. I hope they can come to a resolution before involuntary guardianship action is taken. Tough decisions for the kids lie ahead…