Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Scouts Were Right - Be Prepared!

In the last few days, I've been thinking a lot about preparation.  My niece will give birth to her second child on May 31st, if not sooner.  This means that Timothy will come to stay with us for awhile until she recovers from her C-section delivery and gets on her feet.  I figure he will be with us for several days, at least.  I know that this means I will get virtually nothing done while he is with us.  So I have been in "preparation mode" - stocking the pantry and planning meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry, and catching up on some writing projects... along with working out and trying to rest!

Thankfully, my grandmother's virus was short-lived, although she is still sore from her fall in the closet.  Her bruises look pretty mean, but she is up and about... taking walks outdoors, exercising and attending all of the regular activities at her retirement center -  and even shopping at Wal-Mart... so I know she is okay.  She has had quite a bit of company lately, and that has brightened her days, as well.

Our little Timothy - dirty face and all!
Aside from thinking about our own preparations for the new arrival and Timothy's visit, I've had conversations with several friends in recent days who are in some stage of caring for an elderly loved one... and each time, the focus has centered on preparation.  In a couple of cases, virtually no preparation had been done for the "what ifs"... what if Mom/Dad falls ill and has to move to an assisted living or skilled-care facility?  What if we need money for their care?  What if they refuse to cooperate?

I'm very thankful that my grandmother was at least somewhat cooperative.  My grandparents transferred ownership of their property to my parents in the 1970s, when the laws were different and there was concern that a sudden illness or disability could result in a move to a nursing home... and the loss of their homes to cover the costs.  The laws have changed now, and while I am not current on how they actually read, I do know that there are options... particularly if there is a spouse still living in the home... and the sale of the property may not have to be sold - at least not right away.

Meanwhile, I have advised my friends to start coaxing their loved ones to take some preliminary measures...
  • Encourage your loved one to designate a Durable Power of Attorney who can assist with major decisions - both medical and financial.  Believe me, virtually no one will talk to you about your loved one without proof of Power of Attorney - from medical staff to the utility companies.  Without this document, you will have a long, rough road to travel as you handle your loved one's medical/business affairs.
  • Add someone you trust to your loved one's checking account.  If you have a Durable Power of Attorney, this person is the logical choice.  Just this week, I cashed a refund check for my grandmother, and because she was not with me at the time, I had to add my signature to her endorsement on the backside of the check.  This was verified to see if I was, indeed, listed as a signee on her checking account.  You'll also need to be able to write checks on your loved one's account for everything from utility bills to the monthly payments to a skilled care facility.  This signature  authorization is vitally important!
  • Try to persuade your loved one to begin thinking about designating - and dispersing - valuable assets.  If your parent/grandparent has an heirloom pocketwatch they plan to leave to someone in the family, why not give it to them now and get it out of the drawer?!  Don't risk having these valuable family treasures come up missing - or squabbled over - if the senior has to move to a facility.  And certainly do not risk having these treasures "lifted" at the facility. 

    When my maternal grandparents moved to a nursing home, my mother substituted a very nice cubic zirconia drop necklace for my grandmother's real diamond necklace.  They looked exactly the same, and my grandmother could not tell the difference.  But the concern of having her "real" diamond lifted or misplaced was alleviated, and everyone was happy.  You may have similar valued jewelry that can be "traded out" for less-expensive look-alikes.
  • Understand that any assets your loved one has are subject to liquidation to pay for medical care, skilled care facility stays, and more.  While many seniors are stubborn or leery of suggestions to help manage their assets, there are things that must be done for their own protection.  The cost of consulting a lawyer to set up a Living Trust is well worth the investment.  This can help to protect many of your senior's assets, should a catastrophic event occur.  Long-term care insurance may also be appropriate.  It's expensive, but depending on the age and physical condition of your loved one, it may be worth the cost.
  • At best, sit down with your loved one and try to get a handle on what assets he/she has.  Make a list of these assets - important policy numbers, at least an estimate of their value, and where important paperwork associated with them is located. Is there property, such as a personal home, rentals, and/or vacant land?  Does the senior have life insurance?  What about a pre-paid funeral plan?  Is there a safety deposit box... and what sort of valuables are stored in it?  Does the senior have CDs, an IRA, and other investments?  Does he/she own a car, boat, recreational vehicle, tractor, or other motorized vehicles?
  • Make a list of "contacts" - people to notify in case of an emergency, the housekeeper, the person who cares for the yard, insurance agents, pastor, and more.  Once when my grandmother was ill, I completely forgot about a cousin who checks on her often.  Several days later, he phoned me - very upset - and wanted to know why he was not notified that my grandmother had been hospitalized.  It totally slipped my mind.  Now I have a list, and I carry it in my purse.  If/when something happens, I don't have to rely on my memory to make the appropriate calls.
I realize I am treading in delicate territory here.  Some of these questions may seem premature, at best - and downright intrusive.  But in order to do the best for your loved one... to provide the best care for him/her and to protect any assets... some plans must be made - TODAY!

Here are some links I found that might provide helpful information.  Please understand that this list does not represent my endorsement of these websites or their information.  I am merely providing you with some search results.

Don't wait until there is a crisis.  Don't wait until you are in the shoes of one of my friends... paying thousands each month for residence in a retirement facility, the money quickly running out... and a parent who won't cooperate.  Start taking measures now to protect your loved one and yourself.  Be a good Scout and be prepared!

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