Seniors & Aging

February 9, 2014

Real Life | Be a hero by planning for the worst and sharing your plans

Editor’s note: This is a new column that runs occasionally in Coasting that deals with a variety of topics related to end-of-life issues. View previous columns online at

Editor’s note: This is a new column that runs occasionally in Coasting that deals with a variety of topics related to end-of-life issues. View previous columns online at

Here’s a true story (names changed) from my experience. If it doesn’t apply to you, please stay with me, anyway. That’s because you could be a huge help to someone who still needs to fix theirs.

Pete and Alice have been an ideal harmonious couple, admired for six decades, Alice the perfect homemaker and Pete the consummate family business manager. Alice thrives on her freedom from the “messy and mysterious ” mechanical and financial chores of life’s business, and Pete revels in prideful self-esteem for protecting her from them, finessing them so well himself. He’s her hero.

Terminal cancer is extinguishing Pete’s life, and Alice is awakening to her imminent helplessness. Besides losing Pete’s loving and protective companionship, she’s unequipped to manage the ordinary daily business of life.

By pampering and protecting her, Pete unintentionally undermined her. Sure, she loved it, but the price to pay will be grievous. It has deprived her of the ability to function with the dignity, self-reliance and independence that she needs. Now, in painful necessity, she’ll have to sacrifice her lifelong goal never to be dependent on the children. She’ll have to burden them with the tasks of shepherding her through the management details of life.

If you’re one of those “in-charge” men who think you’re doing your Alice a favor and sheltering her by excluding her from the daily business of life, please understand that you are in fact setting her up for disaster.

In many couples, the roles are reversed, but the inevitable disaster is the same. Many divide the chores and management functions between the partners. Each does what he or she likes best to do, or is better at, and some things are partnered or shared. The problem happens when one beloved for whatever reason doesn’t keep the other informed, or the other isn’t interested and just doesn’t want to know.

Yes, we think we’re pretty sharp about how well we steward our financial and property affairs, and we probably are. But let’s be sure to keep our beloveds in the loop and to be seriously interested in being kept in theirs.

Would you like to make the inevitable disaster worse? Just ignore the problem. Denial and its co-conspirator, procrastination, are such convenient cop-outs.

We’re talking about the business of life’s daily operations, big things and little things. Some examples:

• Reconciling the checkbook register.
• Skillfully and knowledgeably dealing and negotiating with services providers, and everyone that you buy from and sell to.
• Creating a shipping label, and figuring the charges.
• Changing the printer ink cartridge.
• Skirmishing with the auto repair, HVAC, or carpeting shop.
• Unjamming the garbage disposal.
• Mastering the attorney’s advice and the resulting documents.
• Choosing, analyzing, buying, selling and financing investments, to suit objectives and market conditions.
• Buying the right insurance and pursuing claims.
• Handling income and spending skillfully, in synch with needs.
• Tuning in to the car’s “language” and ordering the right maintenance.
• Selling, leasing or buying the home, and relating effectively to the Realtor.
• Pursuing grievances against a contractors.
• Prepping, filing and understanding tax returns.
• Planning for both of your futures and for your estates, and readying documents and assets to carry them out.

So, how to bring beloved up to self-reliance level, even if beloved doesn’t want to? Here’s your chance to be an even bigger hero or heroine than you already are.

Unless beloved already suffers incapacity and truly can’t handle it, it’s a matter of motivation, isn’t it? The barriers are want-to vs. not-want-to, can-do vs. can’t-do, confidence vs. apprehension, reality vs. denial, urgency vs. procrastination.

You’re already telling yourself that helping beloved needs your respect, patience, gentle guidance and understanding. And its time is today, if not yesterday, because you are fantastic people, but not immortal.

You might start with the typical “heart-to-heart” hand-holding conversation, but on the intellectual level. If, for whatever reason, it’s difficult to relate to each other on this level successfully, maybe a respected confidant friend or relative of beloved can deliver the needed motivation.

If beloved can see and feel the stark misery of a dear one who now is suffering an Alice life, that perhaps would be a harsh approach, but a strong eye-opener and motivator.

All of that might work, but it surely is negative and unpleasant, isn’t it? Let’s instead do something that’s positive, comfortable and even pleasant, a desirable togetherness activity. Both of you really are quite capable and have good ideas to contribute. How about joining together in a project, such as creating the core working guide, the “Operators Manual?”

I’ve noted how this project generates introspection, thinking and decision-making, and encourages hands-on managing of the business of living and dying. The “Manual” can turn intimidating chaos into a calm, smooth, pleasant experience.

Doing such a project can chip away subtlety at the barriers, and maybe soon beloved will embrace your effort.

Now, though, let’s be realistic. What if the efforts don’t succeed, and beloved will indeed need heavy-duty help?

“Plan B”:

It’s time to prepare the other family members and whoever else will be needed to become your surrogates, and should be informed, positive, willing, available and compassionate. Logically, they might well be those whom you’ve selected to perform various roles in the estate plan that you’re building or updating.

When you are updating your plan, check to be sure that they’re still the right choices, available and willing. But, instead of merely keeping them in reserve until they’re needed, keep them posted periodically with insights briefings, and awareness of the “Manual,” the key enabler. If you’re just beginning to build your estate plan, you might look for tips on choosing helpers in my future columns.

If your unique scene is favorable, you and beloved together might consider bringing them into your operation now, to become comfortable and get hands-on knowledge of everything. But do that only after considering the possible downsides, such as intrusion on privacy, family conflict, information and identification security, and pride.

Let’s also note that if part of your world of the business of living is complex or intricate enough to suggest professional and specialized skills, everyone is best served by professional firms, despite the cost. But, as with individual family members and friends serving in management roles, have them selected, contracted, briefed and periodically re-briefed, for the same reasons.

Now, all of this is how really to be beloved’s – and the family’s – hero or heroine, isn’t it? Those grateful, smart partners in life, whom we take such good care of and who likely will be our survivors, will really admire us and thank us for our wisdom and our magnificence. So might everyone else who knows us.

I look forward to your feedback, ideas, question and comments.

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