Plan Early But Keep Changing the Plan to Age Well

Many of the plans our office handles are what we call “crisis plans.” While crisis planning may seem a contradiction in terms the thought being that, if there had been planning there would not be a crisis, this is not necessarily so.

Stuff happens. Plans change. After thinking through a well considered plan for future care and finances, a parent or spouse might have a fall or suffer a stroke or a heart attack. When the hospital discharge planner or social worker discusses immediate placement either going home or to a rehabilitation facility or nursing home, answers need to be given quickly. Where should your mother, father, husband or wife go next? Does it matter? Is it realistic to go home? Who will be the caregiver? All these questions and more need a fast response. These are the kinds of decisions we work with all the time.

Ideally, tentative decisions involving a move would have been reached earlier. There are many reasons other than now having a plan why this might not happen.

Independence Is the Ideal. It is no surprise that an individual, especially someone living alone, would not share his or her concerns about living independently with family or friends. There is an underlying fear that to admit any weakness could lead to loss of independence. Another way of looking at it, though, is that to allow help earlier is to extend the time that person can spend independently. It depends on your point of view.

Trying to struggle on without any or without adequate support could, instead, isolate a person from the very people who could help them to remain in their homes and remain independent. Also consider that family might not be enough and whether outside help if it can be afforded makes sense.

Change Is Difficult to Discuss. Equally concerning is the dread that spouses and children feel in discussing alternatives. Any discussion of needing help makes it sound like the time is near for a serious move.

“I’m not old enough to think about moving” to a retirement community might mean I do not know if I can afford it or it could also mean “I have not reached a point of decline so severe I should think of making a move.” Some people grow in a new environment. It is worth considering. Here are some other alternatives.

Make a Life Plan. We plan for graduations, weddings, retirement, estates and vacations. Why should we not plan for change at different stages of life? Consider a “Plan B” to have in reserve if “Plan A,” the one where you go on forever as you are, does not work out. Review your finances realistically, where you would move if you needed to, how you want your affairs to be handled if you could not, and share this plan with close family and friends. Have Financial and Health Care Agents under Power of Attorney and discuss with that person or persons what you want. Consider whether you can afford a community that offers additional health care assistance if you need it. If you cannot, then consider alternatives. Saying “I do not want to go to a nursing home” is not enough.

Take Small Steps. Major transitions are unsettling at any age. You may need to let trustworthy individuals in over time. It is easier gradually and consciously to allow others to share in one’s decision making while you are able, whether family members or trusted advisors such as financial planners, lawyers, spiritual advisors, trustees or others, then to let matters go and leave decisions to be made in crisis.

Stay Involved Socially. All problems, including the problems associated with later life, are harder to face alone. Regular church attendees and others who socialize are consistently found to live longer lives and to have greater quality of life than the population generally. Some studies even suggest that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may be delayed by regular social activity.

Keep Intergenerational Friends. One of the ways to stay young and to avoid depression is to share with friends across the generations. There is no good reason why anyone’s friends should have to be of the same age group although it is true that this requires additional effort.

About the Author Janet Colliton

Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.

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