“You’re trying to kill me! You just want me dead.” That is what my mother said to me when I brought up the need to create an Aging Plan with her. I think I can safely assume that I’m not the only one who gets a reaction like that from a parent or aging relative when we bring up the subject. It’s comical, in a way…up until the point when you really need it.
Unfortunately, our Greatest Generation doesn’t want to think about an Aging Plan but would rather function instead on a Crisis Plan. A Crisis Plan goes into action at that sudden point when a serious health issue occurs and a whirlwind of stressful, knee-jerk decisions have to be made. That stress is compounded by every emotion, various medical advice, conflicting demands from other relatives, your own family life, and days that already doesn’t have enough time. Basically, this is almost everything that the parent(s) didn’t want to have happen. Baby Boomers who have had to take care of their parents under a Crisis Plan are only slightly more prepared, if for no other reason that they don’t want what happened to their parents to happen to them.
It’s just something we don’t like to think about for ourselves, never mind spearhead for someone else.
It’s so ironic that, for the most part, people are practical in their approach to their lives. We plan everything. We save money for our kids’ educations. We shop health insurance to get good medical care. We get home or rental insurance to cover our home and belongings from disaster or theft. We plan and save for trips and vacations. We plan for future meals so we will know what to buy at the grocery store. We plan our days around work, exercise, meals and fun.
Planning and preparing started when we were younger. We saved toward a new car, a bigger place to live, cable tv, a new mobile phone, etc. Along the way, past our essentials, we started saving towards our future retirement. We’re planners and preparers in almost aspect of life.
Why, then, are we so afraid of creating an Aging Plan?
Let’s define an Aging Plan. An Aging Plan will enable us to have our choices heard regarding our preferences for future care when we may not be able to make those decision on our own. It could be caused by something sudden and catastrophic like a heart attack, stroke, or accident. Or it could be something silent like the gradual deterioration of dementia. The unfortunate and misunderstood risk of dementia (there are now over 100 different forms) is that it is the fastest growing health condition for people 65 and over and will eventually affect 80% of this population.
Yes, an Aging Plan will spell out your wishes after death, but candidly, that’s the easy part. The hard part is planning for your care when you can’t and helping others in your life make your decisions happen. Do you want to be placed in a nursing home? Do you want all your money spent on home health care instead? An Aging Plan is beyond a basic Advanced Care Plan. It is more thorough and inclusive of all the information of your life. An Aging Plan is a comprehensive collection of information about your current life situation. Basically, it’s a snapshot of everything important in your everyday life and beyond. It is not your Last Will and Testament but does have similar aspects since it includes your wishes should you become incapacitated and unable to fully communicate preferences for care or post-death arrangements. A solid Aging Plan will include your legal, medical, financial, insurance, and post-death arrangements information. It will also include a list of accounts and passwords, home security codes, pet information, storage units, current services in place, names of professional service individuals like priests, lawyers, hospital preference, church, property locations, club and business memberships, and a litany of other things. In other words, a good Aging Plan is super thorough so that if you are involved in an alien abduction, the government or some distant relative twice removed cannot lay claim to everything you have. Completing an Aging Plan takes time and effort; however, its use is invaluable. It’s so practical and so reasonable to have that it should be lawfully required of everyone, like car insurance or a birth certificate. If it helps, try to eliminate the emotion out of it and think of this as just one more vital planning that needs to happen in your life.
Chances are that you have heard a sad story or two of elderly not getting the care that they wanted or their wishes followed simply because they did not plan it IN WRITING. Studies have shown that approximately 80% of Americans would prefer to die at home, if possible. Despite this, 60% of Americans die in acute care hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and only 20% at home. This is attributable, in large part, to two reasons: lack of planning to save for this cost and never conveying their wishes in writing. They either said it to relatives or just assumed through an unspoken understanding that a particular relative (usually a daughter) would take care of them. Americans are busier than ever, juggling a multitude of duties for everyday living. In this avalanche-of-responsibilities-era for working adults that are raising kids and maintaining the household, it simply becomes unfair to put the assumption of care on any one person. That person’s lifestyle may not be conducive to becoming a designated caregiver for an elderly parent. Nor is it fair to assume that burden will fall to a spouse.
It’s not just planning FOR the best of times, but planning IN the best of times.
When decisions are more thoughtful, pragmatic, decisive and respectful, you can avoid having them made for you and help avoid much of the stress that comes from you or someone you love having to make reactive and emotional critical choices. Creating an Aging Plan will not kill you, but it may very well save you and allow you to age inline with your wishes.
You can do the Aging Plan on your own. Or you can opt to have a professional like a Certified Elder Planning Specialist step in to help. This professional service includes creating the plan and managing a family meeting so that all family members can hear that plan. The latter seems like such a daunting feat; however, with a professional (generally a social worker or counselor specializing in mediation), it can be done successfully—even amidst the emotions and possible upheavals with disagreeing family members. Please remember, in the end, this is YOUR plan. You make the final decisions…unless it does affect another family member. For example, you cannot choose your youngest daughter to be your caregiver unless she agrees. Your final plan with your choices will be presented at the family meeting.
Lastly, since the Aging Plan contains a full picture of your life and includes highly confidential information, it is best to leave it with a trusted professional like an attorney, financial advisor, or accountant. That way, it is easily accessed by family members or other necessary people should the need arise. Better yet is to chose an advisor that will regularly review it with you to make sure it’s still complete and accurate.
So, what’s stopping you? Too much work? Not enough time? The consequences far outweigh both if you don’t have one.
Rosalynn Harvey Heth, MPA, CEPS is president and COO of Preserve Wealth Management, a boutique registered investment advisory firm that specializes in getting families to and through retirement. PWM’s wealth management services go beyond investments to include many non-financial services including an Aging Plan. To learn more, click here.