As we approach the anniversary of the beginning of my story:
3 Things You Need to Do Now
My family turns to me when things get bumpy. Not just the insurance person in the family but long considered “the financial person,” too, I think they turn to me because I have exposure to the stuff no one wants to talk about.
Many years ago, three of my mother’s first cousins approached me over the Passover brisket. They had clearly strategized and talked about it together when suddenly one of them asked, “Would I like to be their Power of Attorneys and Health Care Proxies?” (Actually, I was thinking I’d like another glass of Manischewitz but…) The reality was none of them had children to help them so they were choosing me, the cousin who understood insurance and could read financial numbers. I was flattered. But while I saw them for the major holiday celebrations, what was going on in their day-to-day lives was not something I knew a great deal about. Regardless, family is family. I agreed and we signed the documents not long after.
Several years later, and almost uniformly, it was clear that my cousins’ physical and mental statuses were deteriorating. By then, they were all in their late 70’s and it was obvious they needed help. Within two months time, all three needed to be removed from their homes and admitted to local hospitals.
This was no easy feat. I spoke with numerous health care providers, social workers and facility intake staff. With the help of the attorney who had drafted the initial documents, I activated both the Powers of Attorney as well as the Health care Proxies for all three. As their caregivers, I arranged for their transition to the hospitals, their care, and negotiated with the health insurance companies to ensure bills were paid. While they were in the hospital, I was the person whom the doctors spoke to, deciding on and if to treat their various ailments. It was a full time job.
In spite of my efforts and work, within two years all three of my cousins passed away. I missed them dearly and I wish I could say that my role was completed, but as so many of you know when a loved one dies, there is another whole circuit of issues that must be attended to. It consumed my time: I arranged for the funeral services and burial arrangements. I resolved their outstanding bills. I cleaned out their homes. I got rid of their cars. I accessed and investigated all their available work related benefits. I sold their homes and I distributed the monies according to their wishes. I filed tax returns and did everything else that one needs to do to help give closure to a life. For a time, it was my life.
Part of the anxiety the entire time I was caring for my cousins was that I didn’t know what was coming next. I’ve since learned that most folks in caregiver roles feel that way. Here’s what I’ve learned: It’s important to gather information about what is in front of you to help you make decisions and alleviate the fear of not knowing. You don’t want to make decisions when you don’t have the information to evaluate the consequences of your choices. So how can you be prepared?
Here are 3 steps to take:
1. Have the conversation. In order to honor the wishes of your aging loved one, you must have an open discussion as to the way he/she wants this life transition to go. This conversation should be ongoing and include everyone involved. It should include practical information such as how much or which medical interventions are desired. The only way to support someone’s right to age in their own way is to know what their thoughts are. The process of aging and end of life can be eased by empowering yourself and your family to do it the way your loved one intends.
2. Find resources and become informed. Start reading, googling and asking around. To prevent you from going down a rabbit hole, start here.
3. Make it happen. Once you are clear on what your loved one’s wishes are – take steps to make sure they happen. Two legally binding forms, Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy will support you and your families’ wishes and help ensure that things go the way they wish. (A word of caution – when getting these documents prepared, work with a skilled attorney licensed to practice in your state.)
Regardless of how educated we are, we never really know what to do when life changes suddenly, unless we are prepared. We don’t realize how much changes in the lives of loved ones can significantly impact our own. There are decisions that need to be made and wishes to be respected. It is important to put measures in place that allow for life transitions to be made gracefully and respectfully with all parties having a voice and being heard.
Lisa Horowitz, CLU ChFC, owner and founder of Lifecycles, offers personal, holistic guidance to individuals, caregivers, and family members on the complex systems behind major-life transition issues. By providing extensive medical, legal and institutional insights and resources, Lisa can help answer questions on the most simple and cost-effective solutions to situations that include Medicare, Medicaid, long term care, health insurance, social security benefits, after life benefits, life insurance, survivor benefits, annuities, transitions to assisted living , benefits analysis, estate liquidation, and more.