Seniors & Aging

Real Life | Readers relate planning struggles

Yes, I know. I asked for them. But your questions, suggestions and real-life dilemmas are truly engaging. I think everyone can relate to many, so let’s share some:

“Mom and Dad always have cherished their commitment to taking care of each other without burdening us kids. Of course, the inevitable is happening. Alone together, back in the family home – we kids are scattered with our own families all over the country – aging’s impairments are overwhelming both of them. No longer can they care for either each other, nor for themselves.

Out of respect for their feelings, which of course also was an excuse for procrastination, for far too long we postponed the duty and need to compassionately convince them to embrace the need for long-term care, and to help them to transition into it. Now we find ourselves urgently having to arrange for them, and to accept compromises and ineffective planning that no one, especially Mom and Dad, is happy with.

Now they are painfully separated, cast away in different nursing homes, in unfamiliar communities, surrounded by strangers, emotionally shocked by being suddenly uprooted, and attended by new and unfamiliar health-care providers. It’s all because that’s what’s available immediately, and at a cost that we can bear without the benefit of the financial preparation that should have begun years ago.

We’ve learned our lesson, also painfully. We’d like to alert others to the anguish that results from waiting too long.”

Well said! Like some info and help? Community facilities and the Internet offer guidance. Also, “Real Life” explored this last October; like to have a copy?

“My husband and I are just-retired police officers and have just moved here. We know that we should have wills, and now we’re ready to get them. But our dilemma is that we have no one to be [personal representative], no children, no really acceptable relatives and no close friends. Can the lawyer who drafts the wills be PR?”

Police officers don’t have friends, either? I’m reminded of the funeral director in New Haven, Conn., a generation ago. On the high holy days, when the congregation overflowed into the lobby and even out onto the sidewalk, there he sat in the center of the sanctuary, surrounded by a circle of empty seats.

Ethically and legally, the attorney, law firm or wealth management professional or firm can be PR, but not all are willing. The most likely are attorneys and their firms whose expertise and main daily business concentrate on estate and elder affairs. The big advantages of nominating professional firms are that they do the job efficiently and expediently, and they don’t die or retire, as individual people do. Advisers also are absolutely right in urging you to create companion powers of attorney, both durable general and health care, and advanced medical (“pull the plug”) directives. If your testamentary wishes and accumulated assets suffice, personal trusts might be advisable, too.

And welcome to the Grand Strand, where good friends abound!

“Since my mother passed years ago, my father, now in his 80s and limited by some of the usual old-age impairments, thinks that he’s a cripple and won’t even try to things for himself, even to the point of being belligerent to me, now his devoted, full-time caregiver. Seems like that’s all I do, anymore.”

Yes, and it seems like you’re both hopelessly spiraling downward, doesn’t it? But maybe not hopelessly. We know that a behavioral counselor would remind us that Dad is perfectly capable of doing many things for himself, and you can inspire him to regain some positive mental attitude by backing off and insisting that he do them, and by encouraging him. We so often feel good about being “helicopter caregivers,” and guilty if we aren’t, but we’re actually harming Loved One. You’ve heard the phrase “tough love.”

About motivation, both of you might be inspired by the story of acclaimed violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, who also is an acclaimed role-model example of overcoming physical impairments by improvising “with what we have left.” Severely limited by childhood polio, struggling to reach center stage in the huge, packed philharmonic concert hall, laboriously and slowly adjusting his lifeless legs and his support prosthetics, and finally picking up his instrument, he began to play. Almost instantly, one of the four violin strings snapped, sending the orchestra and the thousands of admirers into shocked, panicked silence.

But not Mr. Perlman! He calmly thought for a moment, then, astonishingly, resumed his performance, improvising and re-arranging every note on the three remaining strings as he went, delivering a complete, inspired and bravissimo performance. You can find this story, along with other inspiring tales of his victories over impairment, on the Internet. Just google “Itzhak Perlman.”

The Internet offers a lot of wisdom about care-receiver abuse and manipulation of caregivers, too. “Real Life” discussed them last November and December; like to have a copy? Another reader offers a very informative website and her Book of the Month Club book about her own successful struggle with a challenging daughter-parent caregiver dilemma. Go to www.ElderRage.com.

“I’m widowed now, and I’ve settled here in coastal South Carolina. Having been through the rigors of probating and administering my husband’s estate, I really appreciate the need for one’s estate affairs to be in order. So, I’m wondering what issues my move here creates about my estate-plan documents and about death taxes.”

Wisely wondered! These questions come up frequently. Fortunately, your homework won’t be overwhelming. But it will be vitally important.

First of all, your ethical will (“legacy letter”) isn’t affected at all. If your formal, legal instruments – property will, powers of attorney, advance medical directive, personal trusts and so on – were valid in your former state of residence, they are in South Carolina, too. The reason for that is interesting. It’s not because South Carolina is so estate-plan-friendly (in many ways it is), but because the U.S. Constitution requires all states to honor each others’ decrees.

However, you’re only halfway free. Each state, this one included, has its own rules and laws about how the provisions of those documents are treated. Some examples:

Here, a durable general power of attorney isn’t valid and its fiduciary(ies) legally can’t do anything unless it’s “recorded” with the state. If your spouse were still living, and your plan allows him/her to receive less than one-third of your wealth at your death, he/she could invoke “elective share,” overturning your mandates. Even though your health-care power of attorney and advance directive are legally OK, your health-care providers can be reluctant to accept them unless they’re written with the state’s model format and language.

These and more are good reasons to invest in a review of your plan by a local attorney who concentrates daily on estate-related affairs. Many offer the service pro bono or for nominal fees, as well as new-plan documents-drafting at surprisingly reasonable fee packages.

Death taxes? The Federal Estate Tax personal exemption gradually increases. This year, it’s $5,430,000 of eligible net assets, double that if spousal marital deduction can be invoked. So, lucky you – or unlucky you, depending on your point of view.

Keep the feedback coming, readers. We’ll share some more next time.

Contact GARY NEWMAN at gary@gnewman.org. Your ideas and comments are always welcome.

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