We do not realize it but, throughout life we are constantly planning and also changing plans. High schoolers plan for admission to college. Young couples lay out their wedding plans in details. Married couples decide whether and when to have children. Then, the university your child planned to attend might not accept him. COVID 19 upset multiple plans for lavish wedding ceremonies in the past year. Children may arrive unexpectedly or not.
Many of these changes include adjustments to financial plans. Later in life planning for long term care and planning for moves to a senior community or to live closer to adult children often means the priorities set early on no longer fit current reality. Loss of a spouse is a huge change and one that often cannot be planned appropriately. It does not mean the end of planning. It means the beginning of a new one. One important factor is that you can still feel you are in charge for as long as reasonably possible.
Many of the plans our office handles, both financial and for health care are what we call “crisis plans.” The same can be said of planning before or after the loss of a spouse or parent. 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 – and may change. Where should you or 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. Then, when there is loss, picking up the pieces and moving on with an estate is not easy either.
Plans need to be made and to be changed as necessary.
Change Is Difficult to Discuss. Families have a tough time talking about change. “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 “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 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.
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.
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.