November 20, 2009
A Few Simple Questions
Will you leave chaos behind? Will your family or loved ones face an incredible burden after you die or become incapacitated? Most of us who are living feel we have tomorrow. With all the responsibilities and distractions in our daily lives, we may not even think about things like estate planning, life insurance, organizing important documents, estate taxes, or who will take care of our children and pets after we are gone. If these concerns do enter our minds, we may tell ourselves we intend to do something about it soon, but statistics show the majority of Americans die without even a will, much less any other type of estate plan.
When you think about making a will, trust, or health care directive, do you think itís about you and what you want to do? If so, think about whether you really know what estate planning is about. Itís really about those we leave behind. It is a very thoughtful and generous act to have your affairs in order, to research what steps should be taken, to make decisions about how things should be handled, and to then put in the effort to legally formalize those decisions. In short, itís not about you Ė itís about everyone that matters to you.
Ask yourself a few simple questions. If you die tomorrow, who would take care of your minor children and pets? Would there be enough liquid assets or life insurance to provide for your family? Have you made a will or trust that outlines how your property should be distributed? Have you told anyone your last wishes, such as life-sustaining measures, and burial and memorial preferences, and written them down? Are your important legal documents organized and would anyone know where to find them? If you are a senior, have you made living arrangements that are consistent with your current physical abilities, or are you living in a house much larger or older than you can maintain on your own? Are you placing an unfair burden on your children and friends because you refuse to downsize or pay for help?
What legacy will you leave those you love? Will it be one that makes their lives better or worse? Today, you have the chance to change that. Tomorrow, you may not.
November 30, 2009
When All You Want Is To Be At Home
Many seniors dread the day they will have to move to an assisted living facility or nursing home. Some swear they will not go. Others fear their children will move them against their will. Yet millions of Americans are moved into these institutions every year. Often, they are given little or no opportunity to sort through their possessions, their belongings are auctioned off or thrown away, and they spend their final days in a non-private room surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Of course, in many of these situations, the type of health care required by the individual makes such a move unavoidable. However, in many cases, advance planning on the part of the senior would have allowed him to stay in the comfort and privacy of his own home.
If you feel strongly about staying in your own home throughout your life and avoiding a long-term care facility, there are many steps you can take now to make that happen. To do so, you have to take your own mortality seriously, realize the day will come when you cannot do everything on your own, and acknowledge that your physical abilities will change dramatically in old age. Once you accept this reality, you have to make a home for yourself that will accommodate these limitations. This may require moving to an entirely new residence now or making substantial changes to your existing home.
Donít underestimate how difficult it is to accept what you will be like in old age. The majority of seniors are unable to admit they need help or canít maintain their property until itís too late. If you are able to overcome this by facing the reality now, you have a much better chance of spending your final days at home.
First, choose the location where you plan to live out your senior years. You should choose a location near health care facilities that will meet your needs in old age. Also, it should be near any family members, friends, or caregivers upon whom you intend to rely. Donít expect family and friends to drive long distances to help you. They may do it for a short time, but ultimately, they will resent you and want you to go into an institution rather than make long trips to your house on a regular basis. If you intend to rely on family members that live far away, you may need to move near them or commit to paying out-of-pocket for in-home care rather than placing an unfair burden on your family.
The residence you choose should also be near any activities you want to enjoy as well as a senior center, place of worship, shopping, and other facilities. If you choose a residence near all of the social, religious, and cultural facilities you plan to enjoy, you are more likely to develop relationships with people that can look in on you from time to time and help you as you become more reliant on others. There are many communities designed for those over 55. An over 55 community should have more facilities tailored to meet your needs as you age.
Next, choose the property. It should be small and very easy to maintain. A two bedroom, two bath, single level condominium or house is ideal for a senior couple. If you are a senior living alone, you may want the same size residence or something smaller depending on how frequently you entertain and the size of your family. A first floor bedroom and full bathroom is a must. While you may insist you donít mind the stairs, if you live to an advanced age, it is simply unreasonable to set yourself up in a home without a first floor bedroom and bathroom. Donít put your family through the burden of worrying about your safety. Donít be stubborn and refuse to admit the physical limitations we all face as we age.
If you choose a house rather than a condominium, it must be set up for low maintenance on the outside. When you are in your 90ís and beyond, it is unlikely you will be able to mow a lawn, weed plant beds, prune trees, clean the pool, etc. A single level condominium works best, but a single level patio home also works well if the outside consists of only a tile or concrete patio. Choose a residence that doesnít involve the stress and expense of maintaining a large yard.
After you choose the property you plan to live in throughout your senior years, you should begin making the property safe for the time when you may be handicapped or have other disabilities. This includes installing handrails next to the toilet and bathtub/shower, ensuring the doorways throughout the home accommodate a wheelchair, and installing a ramp to the entrance if necessary to make it wheelchair accessible. If you make the home senior-friendly in advance, it will be much easier to stay there when your health declines.
Next, gather information on in home health services in your area. You may reach a point when you need a home health aide to assist you with bathing, taking medications, laundry, and performing other daily functions. Look for services such as meals-on-wheels, home cleaning, and buses or shuttles that can transport you to shopping, doctor appointments, banking, and other errands. Make a list of reputable home maintenance contractors and handyman services that can maintain your home when issues such as plumbing, heating/cooling, roofing, gutter cleaning, and other home repair and maintenance issues arise. Try to establish relationships with these service providers now so you will have a higher level of trust in them at a later date when you may be in ill health and more vulnerable.
If you sit down and visualize yourself living alone at an advanced age, you will likely come up with a list of many other things you can do to create a home and an environment that will give you a greater opportunity to avoid being moved to a nursing home. This is an important exercise to engage in now, while you are still able to think clearly and devote the necessary time to this process.
Itís essential you start implementing your plan to stay at home while you are still relatively young and healthy. If you wait until you are in your 70ís or until you start experiencing health problems, it is highly likely you wonít take the necessary actions and your family will have to step in. If you donít want someone else making the decision for you, do it now! The ideal time to start implementing a plan to age in your own home is when you are in your 50ís and 60ís. At this age, you still have time to downsize into a smaller home and take the other steps mentioned above to get your home ready.
If staying in your own home and living independently really matters to you and you donít want to spend your last days in an unfamiliar institution, possibly even sharing a tiny room with a stranger, take action now and make it happen.
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