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Navigating the maze of family aging
My mother has dementia. It’s heartbreaking to see her this way and while my Dad struggles to cope. Her illness could not have been prevented but the financial strain it is causing could have—and that hurts, too.
“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”
--H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author of “Life’s Little Instruction Book”
As I look back, our lives are divided into two parts: What could not have been prevented and what could have been prevented. My parents’ health issues, and the difficult caregiving decisions we are making now as a result, were something we couldn’t prevent; they came with aging. The U.S. stock market swings are a given, and also something no one family can prevent. But what could have been prevented then is their current financial limitations. These limitations are part of my parents’ reality today, and unfortunately, it means they have less choice in how to manage their current and future wellbeing. (IGO Account Executive Noelle Nowak’s blog gives you a good checklist of the questions to ask about your future.)
What I want to describe for you is how, over 15 years ago it seemed completely impossible that my parents would be where they are today, and why you shouldn’t be complacent like they were.
“The country club life”
My parents were once the epitome of a middle-class, small business owner’s success story. In 1998, when he was ready to retire, my Dad sold his business for a significant seven-figure deal. They built a brand new home in Myrtle Beach and furnished it with everything new, too. They lived the country club life: lots of golf, lots of bridge, lots of good food and wine at their favorite restaurants. As their children, we weren’t concerned. They were in their 50s and generally in good health. My Dad was a good pharmacist, a smart small business man, and surely he knew how to plan ahead, right? They deserved this life they were living, so we didn’t question how they had planned for their retirement years. Then the stock market crashed in 2008 and we kids learned the truth about how much they left out of their planning: Their investments were not diversified and they lost about two-thirds of their money.
Your future health changes your future means
Soon after their finances took a turn for the worse, they were both diagnosed with cancer. While they survived that, other health problems came about: Mom needed a knee replaced; Dad experienced macular denegation; Mom now has colitis; dad needed his epilepsy meds re-evaluated; Mom got COPD. Her doctor believes the COPD—and the lack of enough oxygen to her brain—was responsible in part for the onset of her dementia. With her dementia, we’re at the point where she needs assistance doing everything. What we know now but they did not consider then: Someday they would become, “old people in need.”
Lack of planning = perpetual crisis mode
Here is something we all should keep in mind about our future: We are human. Our health will not be the same 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now. My advice: Know now what we learned the hard way. When you plan to retire, a significant portion of your income needs to be dedicated to future healthcare.
Here are just a few of the additional issues we are trying to work though as a family. Mind you, none were discussed in advance, and now were are operating in perpetual crisis mode:
- My Dad, viewing life insurance as “something for the kids when I die,” cancelled his policy to have more money for their health needs. What he didn’t realize is that certain life insurance products can be used as a safety net for financial support.
- Long term care issues need to be considered. Would a parent live with a child? If one or more parent becomes incapacitated, how will housing, skilled care, food, transportation, etc. be managed?
- How will responsibilities be managed in the family? Are the children and other family members aware of their parents’ wishes and are they in writing?
- Is the family in agreement before the crisis hits on how to put plans into action? In my family, I have two siblings. One is a “worrier” and the other is still in denial about Mom’s condition. The arguments are adding to the stress.
With better planning and with a willingness to face the difficult subject matter involved with advanced planning, they could have had more choices and less family strife.
In the next issue of Sherry’s Journey, Sherry outlines the help and resources she found for her parents. She also will discuss some of the unexpected results that came about from her search.
Sherry Robertson is HR Director & Vice President of IGO Insurance Agency, Inc. Read more about Sherry.
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