Seniors & Aging

“The Kids Must Support Us!” And More Myths

Last time we started to explore “facts of life” that no longer are, and therefore have become myths. Ready for a few more?

Apparently the mention of American filial responsibility laws raised some eyebrows: “Hey, Gary, if we live in one of those states, do our kids have to pay the living costs that we can’t afford?”

Like statutes prohibiting and punishing wife-beating on the courthouse steps on Sundays, expectorating chewing tobacco juice on the floors in public buildings, and the consumption of alcohol after church worship services, the thirty remaining (fifteen already repealed) such laws are being relegated to the “quaint-antiquated” archive. They’re relics of 17th-century English “poor laws”, long obsoleted by modern society’s creation of retirement plans, social insurance, public assistance, voluntary contractual personal guarantees, and the decline of family-oriented mores.

Like the laws prosecuting and incarcerating adulterers, rarely do we hear of a remaining filial responsibility law even being invoked or enforced, any more. Surely, potential enforcers realize that they, themselves, would become vulnerable enforcees. The laws’ cop-out exceptions, limitations, behavioral criteria, family factors and financial thresholds exonerate almost everyone’s children, anyway. It would be hard to find non-exempt people to prosecute; and even if successful, the offense is a mere misdemeanor, like jaywalking.

The whole issue arose from obscurity not long ago only because a nursing home attempted to invoke Pennsylvania’s statute against a resident’s children, but they were liable anyway, because of their own actions. So, now statutory filial responsibility is virtually a myth, and we just can chuckle and muse about it.

It doesn’t even exist in South Carolina. And you can tell the realtor to cancel the house-sale listing, because you won’t be nailing the kids by moving across the state line into North Carolina, after all.

< How about a myth that does affect all of us: “Probate is such a hassle. It’d be a good thing if my estate won’t have to be probated”.

Wrong, and wrong!

Wrong No. 1, “Hassle”: Like all of life’s chores, it’s a hassle only if we don’t prepare properly for it. You know my sermon: Insightful thinking, realistic planning, appropriate arrangements, effective documentation, adequate and appropriate funding and liquidity, the right fiduciaries and advisors, thorough “discovery” detective work, and your individualized hassle-preventing info-instructions-documents-resource, the “Estate Operators’ Manual.”

Probate’s mission is to assist and protect the beneficiaries’ and creditors’ interests, not at all to invoke bureaucratic hardship. Its people are neighborly good folks, professional, compassionate, and helpful -- that’s their mission and their style.

Wrong No. 2, “Avoid”: Every estate must at least cross the probate officer’s desk, no matter how simple, will or no will, beneficiaries and creditors or not, and even if all the assets are by-pass-titled. That’s its starting point. The officer and the law determine the route that it takes from there. And that’s not only when we die; probate also is there for our estates when we become legally incompetent, and when some kinds of profound family issues arise.

< “The middle Class is getting poorer!”:

Politicians, guess what! Adam Belz’s Minneapolis Star Tribune story, carried by the Sun News just four months ago, reports the analytical conclusion that the notion of a decline in the typical American middle-class family’s well-being since the 1970’s just isn’t supportable. “It’s not getting harder to be middle-class; it’s getting harder to meet middle-class expectations. Our cultural expectations have elevated; it’s because of our consumer culture”.

I think that Belz is saying that, although the political office-seekers have convinced most of us that we’re losing ground, we really aren’t. Instead, we aspire to a higher standard of living, and by that standard we just think we’re declining: Michigan State’s $ 35,000 tuition instead of CCU’s $ 16,000, the Lincoln instead of the Ford, the maxxed-out credit card instead of if-you-can’t-pay-cash-don’t-buy-it.

Feel better now, fellow middle-class folks?

But, among the American middle-class, what about our fast-growing legion of retirees whose incomes can’t adjust to meet the exploding and longer-lasting costs of health care and impairment assistance that dominate elder living? For us the decline in economic well-being isn’t a myth, Mr. Belz. We do have the problem, and it’s getting worse, not better; we wish it would become a myth for us!

< “I’ll be OK in retirement. My pension, Social Security, 401-K, and Medicare will be enough.”

Sorry, folks, that warm-fuzzy rationalization won’t cut it any more. In fact, for most of us it never did. The financial planners are dead right: For practically all of us, systematic, planned, managed, regular personal savings are essential to fund retirement adequately, no matter how rich our entitlements are. And, my rants reverberate: As the cost of taking care of our late-life and end-of life skyrockets, it’s even more vital.

Tell the kids; there’s still time for them to get with it.

<OK, here’s another surprise myth: “Married people have more sex than singles do; you’ll get more if you marry or co-hab with your favorite dating partner!”

Yep, you read that right. The Washington Post’s Tara Bahrampour, in an article published just a month ago, reports findings of the General Social Survey: Not only is that notion now a myth. The news is even more stark. The trend now is that American adults in all categories are having sex significantly less often than we did a quarter-century ago, marrieds showing the most dramatic decline of all.

We ask, “How can that be?” The gurus don’t know for sure, but they suspect a bunch of sociological factors. Among them: Marriage no longer is the everybody-does-it way to go. We embrace so many more enticing modes of entertainment. The kids keep us running, with their jam-packed activities agendas.

We’re up-tight, stressed out, fatigued, and distracted by world events and by tight schedules generated by both partners working outside the home. Women continue to blossom into the world of sophisticated and fulfilling occupations, so the bedroom romp isn’t the only highlight of the day. And, of course, we’re living longer, thus suffering more and greater inhibiting geriatric impairments.

Thought I’d share insight about this phenomenon with you, just in case you’re wondering…

More next time. Stay tuned.

Contact Gary Newman at Your ideas and comments are always welcome.