Facing a Crisis or Slow Decline: Planning Can Make a Difference

By Laurie Menzes

As an elder law and estate-planning attorney, I typically see two types of families — those facing an immediate crisis, and those observing the gradual decline of a loved one. In both situations, feelings of concern and decisions regarding appropriate level of care can be overwhelming, as can the financial and legal implications that accompany these issues.

Crisis often accompanies an unexpected health event or illness that requires an immediate change in level of care. I’ve seen families scramble to determine the financial situation of their loved ones, what legal documents are in place, and how they can arrange for care. It is during these stressful times that families wish they could go back in time to make more careful plans.

When families see a gradual decline in a loved one, they typically do not see an immediate need to address it. It’s easy to put off any significant planning, especially if people don’t quite know what to do. As time goes by it can become more difficult to plan for aging in a way that a loved one might prefer. That’s why my advice to all families is to take the time as early as possible during times of health, to create a longevity plan. As our life expectancies increase from that of previous generations, it raises important questions about how we want to spend our “bonus years.” People are living as many as 10, 20, and even 30 years longer, so planning beyond immediate retirement makes it possible to live the life you envision for yourselves and your loved ones up to the very end.

A longevity plan is not a retirement plan. It goes well beyond ensuring that you have a Last Will and Testament. While longevity planning considers finances and legal documents, it also addresses the importance of protecting your assets, passing down an inheritance, and understanding available options and costs of long term care.

Important elements of the plan includes:

  • Understanding the state of your finances and whether some of your assets can be protected.
  • Understanding available programs and government benefits, and how to set up your assets to maximize those benefits.
  • Having legal documents in place, including a Will, Health Care Proxy, and Power of Attorney to ensure that someone you trust can make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
  • Determining how and where you want to live, and if it will be possible to stay there if you need care.
  • Identifying family or friends who can help you navigate some of these difficult issues.

While none of us looks forward to facing these difficult issues for ourselves or our loved ones, planning early and comprehensively can give you and your family peace of mind.

About the Author:
Laurie Menzies is a senior attorney with Pfalzgraf, Beinhauer & Menzies and is the author of Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.