First off, I apologize for missing a post this past week. I finally managed to get up north to see my father, who is in hospital, and more importantly, to have a good talk with my mother about what comes next. Since I had to grab whatever two days came in between the snowstorms, I really didn’t have much warning or choice about the trip. I just went, and was grateful that I was able to do it safely.
My talks with my mother centered around plans for her future. She’s in a position that she and my dad never planned for. In fact, I have a feeling that many people avoid planning for the situation my parents now find themselves in.
We’re all aware that at some point, we’re going to die. That’s a given. Anyone who is currently breathing in and out will one day stop doing so. Planning for something that will certainly happen is a lot easier than planning for the “what ifs.”
As in, “What if you live?”
My father’s body is still breathing in and out, and he’s had seven to ten more years than I ever thought he would have. Most of those years have actually been not bad, and I’ve been grateful. But the past two years have seen him slowly descend into senility. He can no longer speak coherently, or even feed himself. He is certainly unable to pay the bills, drive a car, or do any of the more advanced tasks required for daily living. And so, for the past two years, my mother, brother, and sister-in-law (who are at times barely able to care for themselves), have been caring for him. That arrangement lasted up until a week ago, when he tried to choke my brother. He’d previously attacked both my mother and my sister-in-law, but they brushed the first attack off, and did not act swiftly enough on the second.
My brother (not the one living with my parents) and I found out about the second attack, however, and we impressed upon my mother and brother that the next time dad attacked anyone, they were to call 911. In the meantime, they were to put into motion the process to have him admitted to a care home.
Two nights later, they had to call 911.
We’re all thankful that my father never reached for a knife–the results of this story could have been much more tragic. He’s now safe in hospital, where he is being treated for dehydration and is under some restraint and sedation so he doesn’t wander. My mother and brother and sister-in-law are much more coherent than they’ve been for the past two years, probably because they’ve been getting enough sleep. And we’re all beginning to plan for the next steps.
As I journey on this new path, I’ve recognized that there are things we all need to do in order to be prepared for whatever comes our way.
1) Do you have a will?
Even if you have nothing, you should have a basic will, because if you’re serious about improving your financial well-being, one day you WILL have something, and you’ll want to have a say in who gets what when you die.
2) Does your executor know where your will is? Does he or she have a certified copy?
One of the problems I’ve had in the past few years is knowing that my parents had new wills made, but not having a copy or even knowing where my mother kept them. They’re on my desk now, waiting to be copied and sent back. My mother wanted me to keep the originals, but my own feeling is that there should be at least two sets (one original, one certified copy) and that they should be in different places as insurance against fire and theft. I’m going to look in to having them on file with my lawyer.
3) Is your will up to date?
My parents had their wills redone in 1999 (that’s how long I’ve been pestering them for a copy!) because their previous wills (dated 1983) had me as the back-up executrix (they named each other as executors), and my sister as MY back-up. My sister died in 1993, and it took them SIX YEARS to change the wills! My mother will be changing her will again soon–with my dad unable to do the duty of executor, I’ll be named as the primary, with my son as back-up.
4) Do you have a power of attorney for personal care, and a power of attorney for property?
Because you might NOT die, but end up like my dad in a hospital bed. Once again, these two documents should be updated regularly to reflect changing conditions, and the persons named in the documents should know where the originals are and have a copy themselves.
Also, take the time to have a conversation with the person(s) named in your power of attorney. Tell them what you desire–do you prefer to be cared for at home if possible, or do you want them to find a nursing home for you? Do you want the doctors to do everything possible to save your life, or do you want them not to take extraordinary measures? Write it all down, sign it, and put it with your legal papers.
The document won’t be legally binding, and situations may change which might mean that you won’t get what you want. But at least those acting on your behalf will know what you want, and if you’ve chosen well, they’ll be happy to have that information to guide them.
3) What do you want to happen when you’re gone?
Do you want a memorial service? Where, and who do you want to conduct it? Cremation or burial? Religious or not?
Talk about these things with your family, and again, write them down and place them in the file with your wills.
As someone who has been very involved in church over the years, I’ve seen the kind of comfort preparing your memorial ahead of time can bring to loved ones. One particular man I know had a “red file.” When the time came, all the office administrator had to do was plug in the readings and hymns and scriptures he’d chosen, and put his picture on the bulletin. Another lady I know pre-recorded a message to be played for mourners at her funeral, which comforted them.
4) Do everything in your power to get out of debt and stay there by the time you hit retirement.
My parents could have paid off their mortgage instead of spending like there was no tomorrow. But tomorrow came, and instead of having a mortgage-free property, my mother had to re-mortgage just to pay the bills. If my father goes into a nursing home, she’ll have to sell-there is no other option any more. And half of what’s left after paying off the mortgage will go to support my father. If my cousin can’t come up with the money to buy it, my brother and sister-in-law will be homeless. I’ve reassured my family that my mother will never be homeless while I have a roof over my head, but I can’t take the others in, and neither can my other brother.
5) Consider having at least a part-time job as long as possible.
A part-time job will not only help stretch your nest egg, but will give you opportunities for socialization that earn you money instead of costing you money. You’ll have a reason to get out of bed and get dressed at least some days. A good job will also give meaning and purpose to your days, so you won’t end up being a plague on your kids or spouse. And it might help you live longer–depression is a major problem of retirees, and activity is one of the main ways to stave off that illness.
6) Choose your leisure activities carefully.
“I’m going to travel and play a lot of golf.”
Two words for that plan: Expensive. Boring.
Though travel isn’t necessarily boring, many retirees seem to travel to the same destinations as every other retiree–I sometimes think that during the winter months Florida has more Canadians over 65 than Canada does! Now I know that folks have friends down there, that the weather’s better than it is up here, that prices aren’t as bad down there.
But to me, it’s the “same old, same old” kind of thing. Use your imagination! There is so much more to life than travel and golf, and a lot of it is right in your hometown and doesn’t cost a dime. You don’t have to stay at home watching television if you don’t like golf and don’t have the money to travel.
7) Spend time, LOTS of time, with your children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and friends.
Even if they’re grown up. ESPECIALLY if they’re grown up. A friend of mine was estranged from her family for years, and has only reconnected with them over the past five years or so. But over the past two years, she’s amassed a lifetime of memories, and spend more time with them than she had in the previous twenty. The reason? Her sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer just over two years ago. The love, the laughter, the experiences shared over the past two years will be with my friend for the rest of her life, as they will be with her sister’s children and husband. That’s worth more than any money could ever buy.