Preparing the path for your own long-term care
Question: My mom just passed. Her final years were so hard. Even though she was getting sicker and sicker, she fought us every step along the way as we had to make difficult decisions about her care. I don’t want to make things that hard for my kids. What can I do now to prevent that?
Answer: It sounds like you’re off to a good start by simply acknowledging the difficulty of the situation and seeking to deal with it before it reaches crisis time.
Here are some things you can do to prepare the path for your own (possible) long-term care.
Anticipation. Let’s just be honest – it’s hard to think about aging to the point where you need someone else to take care of you, even if only a little bit. But if you don’t think about it today, someone else is going to be forced to think about it one day down the road. And by then, you may have little or no say in what decisions are being made on your behalf.
At present, you are clear-headed. You may have more physical and emotional capacity to deal with hard decisions now than you will when you are much older.
Anticipating the possibility that your health (as well as your mental and emotional capacities) may decline as you age can motivate you to prepare for those changes and communicate your wishes to those who matter.
Preparation. Anticipation does little but provide fodder for worry if you don’t do something about. And that something is preparation – preparation of your financial and physical resources.
Long-term care comes in many forms. It may start with hiring someone to come in to help you cook and clean a few hours a week, but there may come a time when your health makes it impractical for you to stay in your home and you need to move into a retirement living facility or even an assisted living facility.
All of this requires money – a little at first, but potentially a lot if you require round-the-clock help at home or full-time residence in a facility.
You can lessen the burden on yourself and your children by dealing with the financial realities of long-term care ahead of time. You may be able to obtain insurance to cover the cost of a nursing home. Or you may simply wish to buy life insurance to reimburse your estate for those costs once you are gone (it has the same result on your heirs and may be easier to obtain than long-term care insurance).
Consolidation. Too many people wait far too long to downsize. That two-story house in which you raised a family will one day be way too big. If you wait until you are forced to move you will have waited too long.
Think now about the steps you might take to downsize.
I know a lovely couple who raised their family in a big house with lots of acreage to care for. While still healthy and in their 70s, they chose to move to a smaller garden-sized house with very little home or lawn care required. As they moved into their 80s and various ailments required more attention, they moved into an independent living retirement facility. The facility has progressive care (assisted living apartments to traditional nursing home rooms) should they ever need that. They made smart, wise moves before they were forced to do so. It has worked out very well for them.
Communication. If it’s hard for you to think about getting older, it’s even harder to openly discuss with your adult children. But you must discuss it.
Let me say it this way – the topic of your aging and requiring potentially progressive amounts of care will be had at some time by your adult children. Do you want to be a part of that conversation? If so, have it now before you have to.
I have found very few older adults who have had a candid discussion with their adult children about their own wishes concerning long-term care.
I know you don’t want to repeat the experience you had with your mother with your own adult children. You want their experience to be different than yours.
That difference will begin as you actually talk to your children about your experience with your mother. Discuss what the path might look like as you age and tell them what your wishes are. Give them permission to express to you their own fears and concerns.
But most importantly, invite them into the process of making a plan.
It will make all the difference.
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