Buy a Blanket
In spite of the fact that the Calendar says that it is winter; in Southern California we seldom feel too cold. We forget about the bite of winter experienced in other parts of the country. Last week’s cold bite was a bit of a surprise, a shock to many who scrambled to get out extra blankets, seldom used jackets and turn on the heat. For many others, since this cold wave hit San Diego between Christmas and New Year’s, it became an excuse to celebrate and take a trip up from San Diego to Julian or Idyllwild.
In San Diego it can be easy to treat aging like the seasons. We go on with our lives as if it was endless spring, summer, or autumn and just don’t think about winter. But, sometimes we have to think about it. Based on the calls to my office since Thanksgiving, more and more families are thinking about it after visiting with their parents and grandparents.
Elder Care and Estate Planning are Hard to Think About
Part of thinking about aging and thinking about the hazards and expenses of aging is thinking about hiring an elder law attorney. For Seniors and their families living in San Diego, the choice about whether or not to hire a lawyer for estate and elder law planning is not one to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, going to an attorney for a will or trust, for Veteran’s in home care benefits planning, or to protect a family’s nest-egg against possible future nursing home expenses, is a topic that can cause a lot of anxiety both for the senior and for his or her adult children. There are a number of reasons that it’s an uncomfortable topic.
Of course, the most obvious is that the need for an elder lawyer brings up the topic of the senior’s mortality. An attorney can be brought in for many reasons, one of which is estate planning. And with estate planning comes the reality that each of our lives will come to an end. This can be especially distressing to an elderly person, but can be even more disturbing for their family members and friends.
Facing a Change in Seasons
Another reason that seniors and their families in San Diego find themselves wanting to work with an elder lawyer is because the senior is beginning to make decisions that are not in his or her best interest. No one wants to tell Mom or Dad that it might be time to stop driving, that they shouldn’t have control over their finances, or that it’s time to consider moving to a nursing home. When an elder lawyer comes into play, it’s often to address these exact topics.
We all need to Prepare for Winter
The conversation can be softened a bit with different approaches. One common one is for the adult child to talk about others who have had a hard time because they, their spouse or their parents didn’t have proper powers of attorney or healthcare advance directives in place. The best way for anyone to make certain that their wishes are followed if they are incapacitated is to take control ahead of time. Each of us can take control ahead of time only by choosing who will be our voice and what they will say for us, by giving them specific written instructions.
One of the things that often brings people to an elder law lawyer is the realization that a senior is starting to decline in health. This could be physically, mentally, or both. Sometimes this realization comes about when family members see that one of their parents is exhausted from taking care of the other. This often opens the door to talking about getting help and paying for help. Elder law attorneys are experienced in helping families find and afford care while protecting their assets.
Of course, it is always better to work on a long-term plan before ill health becomes an issue, but if your family has waited, there are still a lot of options available. Most Seniors want to make plans and not merely have plans made for them. Once the issue of planning has been brought up, many Seniors can be motivated to move forward and plan - so that the plan for them, is their own plan, – not their children’s plan or anything else. The better a senior’s health, the more say that he or she can have in devising a plan. Planning earlier, while in better health, makes available more options.
Plan to Prevent Conflict
Planning to protect against the challenges of aging is often a full family affair. It is usually, but not always, a good idea for adult children and sometimes siblings to be included in the planning process. Seniors who have included their families in their attorney client planning meetings are more likely to follow through. Follow through usually gives the best results. More importantly, keeping family members in the loop can help to reduce friction later because everyone is aware of the plan and knows how it will be enacted. If there are concerned parties that aren’t available, I strongly recommend that they are communicated with for the same reason.
If there is disagreement among a senior’s adult children, it may be in everyone’s best interest to bring in a third party. In addition to using a San Diego elder law attorney to address these issues, there are geriatric care managers and mediators who are trained in how to refocus everyone on the true goals of the plan, rather than letting things break down and become a grudge match rehashing wrongs and perceived wrongs which may be decades old.
Just as we talk about spring as the time for cleaning, January is a time for putting things in order and making plans.
New Year's Resolution
Like northerners clearing snow in winter, as long as it falls, you keep shoveling until the driveway is cleared and stays cleared. Spending a little time with a San Diego elder law lawyer now, making a plan, and putting your affairs in order, can make a world of difference down the road.