DO’S AND DON’TS FOR ELDERLY FAMILIES IN TRANSITION
- DO keep lines of communication open between senior parents and adult children. You need to have uncomfortable conversations to understand their wishes as they age. What are their funeral wishes? Do they want to be buried or cremated? Is there already a family burial plot they wish to use? Have these things been paid for already?
- DO be sure you consult with an Elder Law Attorney. Find a specialist who is trained and sensitive to seniors’ financial and medical needs. Planning ahead is critical! It’s possible a loved one may have early stages of dementia, or is otherwise cognitively impaired. In that case, a Power Of Attorney should already be designated to make decisions in their stead. There are a variety of options on how these documents are crafted, so you need to be sure they’re done correctly.
- DO know who will handle day-to-day financial affairs in the event you are hospitalized. Mortgage, heat, electric bills all keep coming even though you may not be there to receive them. Again, an attorney should be consulted to be sure a son or daughter has the legal right to write out checks.
- DO have a health care proxy, and be sure they know what your wishes are should your health become dire. Do they wish to have artificial means of life support? They may prefer a “do not resuscitate” order. You do NOT want to have to make these decisions on the fly. Second guessing your decision after someone passes away is an awful thing to grapple with later.
- DO consider purchasing a home with a single level. Many life-changing crisis events occur because of a fall. Stairs can prove to be treacherous as joints and muscles degenerate. Remove that scare from the equation, and you can live independently, longer. Independent living is everyone’s goal, and just because your health is good today, does not necessarily mean it will stay that way. If you are hospitalized for any reason, you’ll want to come home to finish recuperating. If you live alone and have to tackle stairs to get to bed, you may be released to a nursing home, instead.
- DON’T assume that your assets will automatically transfer to your children once you die. Without the proper legal documentation, this could be a long and drawn out mess. Your estate could be held up in probate court. Many families are torn apart due to disagreements surrounding inheritances. Be sure you spell out exactly who gets what.
- DON’T wait to think about your day-to-day living needs. If you have a washer and dryer in the basement, consider moving them to the first floor. It’s altogether too common for seniors to fall while trying to carry laundry baskets upstairs. If you are having trouble with your vision, perhaps driving is something best left to a relative. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. There are agencies to help with errands, rides and light housekeeping.
- DON’T keep your head in the sand and assume you will live forever. No one has figured that one out yet, so until they do, you need to take action. Have that uncomfortable conversation.
- DON’T think that a nursing home is your only option as you age. There are lots of housing options that can enable seniors to live safely, and independently. Explore those options now, and you’ll be better able to find the right fit. There are shared living arrangements, independent living communities, assisted living communities…Do your research and visit some facilities to see what they’re like.
- DON’T be crisis driven. Once emotions kick in, logic can go out the window. Educate yourself NOW about what services are available to seniors. Visit senior centers and become friendly with the staff. They are often on the front lines of knowing what you’ll need to know to plan ahead.