August 2, 2015
According to the Pew Research Center in 2010: "On January 1, 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers will turn 65. Every day for the next 19 years, about 10,000 more will cross that threshold."
Everyday close to 10,000 Americans turn 65. That's a huge number.
If you're lucky enough to have mom and dad still alive when you reach age 65, their age range is way up there in years. In my case, my step father died in December 2010 at age 85 from stage four cancer. My mom is now 88 years old.
As my mother and her husband began to slow down, my step-father being in poor health with emphysema for 23 years, I had a serious and solemn discussion with them about legal issues. My husband and I had our wills done within weeks after getting married. At the same time we did power of attorney's and medical power of attorney's. While no one likes to think about their own death, they should think about family left behind. The loss of a loved one is so very difficult to deal with and if that person has left no legal instructions, it can create a mess.
I prepared the identical documents we have for mother and Dave, just changing the names and so forth. They knew it was necessary and so we got it done. Fast forward to now and I am thankful we did because two years ago I had to take over my mom's financial affairs. Without going into great detail, somehow mother and Dave got themselves into considerable debt. Mother's house and property is underwater and will never sell for what is owed. Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea what was going on with mother's finances. She just came out while I was visiting and told me she needed help. I almost cried.
When your parents are elderly they can have a lot of medical problems besides just "old age". My mother is one of them. She also now only operates in real time. Anything said five minutes ago she doesn't remember, but her memory for events 50 years ago is phenomenal. From doing research that seems to be quite 'normal'.
Mother does not have Alzheimers; she has advanced short term memory loss which has accelerated over the past 2-3 years. Extreme patience is required listening to her repeat herself over and over in a short conversation. The same kind of patience I have no doubt mother exercised when I was a little kid getting into trouble. My mom is a very intelligent woman; 100% Sicilian stubborn. It's difficult for her, but she manages for the most part - for now.
My brother is disabled, but is able to drive to the grocery store with mother and take care of the few errands they each have, but it's not easy. After my stepfather's death I told mother she's more than welcome to come live with us, but she said no. She's going to be buried next to my step-father and that's that; they were married 54 years. That was five years ago and I let it ride as she was grieving. Thankfully, a long time ago they purchased and paid for their plots in the local cemetery.
My mother still lives alone, does her laundry, cooks okay. She's all stooped over, uses a walker, her hands shake like leaves in the wind. Fiercely independent. Mother knows, as do elderly seniors like her, she has problems - especially with her memory. Inside they are afraid even though they will never admit it. Think how lonely it is for them - especially for a widow or widower.
Aound the same time I gently 'forced' mother into not driving any more because she is a danger to herself and anyone on the road. Every once in a while on the phone (she lives in California, I live in W. Texas) or even when I'm out there visiting, she'll take jabs at me about driving. I let her and change the subject because I know she's just venting her frustration and in five minutes she won't remember anyway.
Millions of others like my mother in this country have made no provision for late in life care. Like millions of baby boomers living on small fixed pensions and social security.
For now, mother remains in her house but is going to have to go into assisted living. A very, very difficult war when the parent doesn't want to leave their home. For the children, it becomes a night mare. Lots of talking trying to get the parent to understand why they have to move after living in the same house for 32 years because they don't want to be reminded the clock is ticking. Believe me, it's very painful watching my momma slide downhill. Each time I leave California after a visit I wonder if I will see her again.
Then you have to nose into your parents finances which makes them feel violated and to an extent taking away their dignity. Next comes the sticker shock.
For the past two decades since destructive trade treaties destroyed millions and millions of steady, good paying jobs, families began moving away from small to medium sized towns to big cities to find work. Distance makes it all the more difficult to see parents on a regular basis and check up to make sure they're doing okay. Things you just can't 'sniff out' over the phone.
My situation isn't much different than millions of others with an aging parent. Being four states away makes it even more difficult. In the "old days", an elderly parent or both, lived close to the kids who took care of them until the Lord called them home. Not so easy these days.
Earlier this year I started looking at assisted living and found out there's more than one type: Alzheimers and then for people like my mother. Some are fairly inexpensive because they're non-profit with funding from the county and state. I can't recommend highly enough, A Place for Mom. Their services are fantastic and there is no charge. Their wonderful representatives help you with things like facilities to financing. In too many cases, elderly seniors have little to nothing anymore in savings and rely on Social Security. In some cases, your family member may qualify for state subsidy, but it's difficult to qualify.
After doing a ton of research in addition to information provided by A Place for Mom, next was to go to California and personally to check out all the facilities because there's no one else to do it and I am the one with her power of attorney.
Not all assisted living facilities are alike. Out of nine I looked at in her town, six were run down and inside was so depressing. I think those were really for the poor souls with no family and no money so their stay is paid for by the state and probably some federal money.
The remaining three were outstanding. All of them have strict security because besides residents like my mother, they also have Alzheimers patients who are known to wander off and in some tragic cases, die before they are found. All the units are like small apartments; no cooking for obvious reasons, but they did have microwaves. Three highly nutritional meals a day, activities and day trips which are supervised. Shuttle service to and from your doctor, the hospital and grocery store. Cost per month: $3,010.00, $3,200.00 and $3,550.00. Those are for single occupant; husband and wife add another $500 per month.
Yep. More than $36,000 a year. That is far over what my mother will have available, so now I'm looking at places within a 50-mile radius of her town which is a small lake resort town. A county plagued by poverty and drugs. Just think of the cost if you live in a major urban city where the cost of living is through the roof.
How about your parents? What will you do when it gets to the point one or the other or both can no longer live on their own? You not only have to deal with the heartbreak of watching your mom or dad or both deteriorate mentally and physically, what if they don't have enough money to live in a decent assisted facility? Can you alone or with siblings put up the extra hundreds of dollars a month so mom and dad can live someplace decent?
Do your parents have wills? Who will speak for them when they can no longer handle things because their minds are going? How about a medical power of attorney and a power of attorney to deal with any legal issues?
If my mom has a medical emergency or becomes completely unable to make a medical decision, the hospital has the medical power of attorney on file and they will call me before any decisions are made. I will speak for my mom, for what she wants. The same as John and I have done so our kids and families don't have a big mess thrown in their laps should something happen.
These types of legal documents should not be put off because there's something else that needs to get done over the weekend. While it's no fun, really, for everyone's sake, I hope you will take the time.
How about a catastrophic situation like my husband? John is 100% disabled and became an amputee (left leg mid-thigh) March 24, 2014. On top of a bad heart and advanced lung disease, he's confined to a wheel chair full time; he turned 75 last month. Eventually he will have to go into assisted living because he won't be able to physically do certain things I cannot do because he's 6'3" while I'm 5'3". He's too tall and too heavy for me to lift or carry.
In my research, I found it pretty consistent that a person should save 7% of their income for future assisted living costs. One can also purchase insurance for this type of later in life financial obligation. How many of us give a thought to this in our 20s, 40s or even 50s? 7% of your income a year is pretty steep, but then when I started looking at assisted living for mother, it was like a bucket of cold water in the face.
How about you? Maybe you're 50 so 65 still seems a long way off. Believe me, it'll be here before you know it. Do you have enough money for assisted living for yourself and your wife if it won't be possible for you to move in with your children? Have you saved enough money for later in life expenses like assisted living?
Do your children have the financial means to supplement the costs of your assisted living? I know from my research it is humiliating for elderly parents who end up with little money after retirement to have their children literally pay for the roof over their head. It's just a terrible situation, but aging is part of life. We know what's been going on with the economy for years that's hurt seniors badly since 2008. So many are still working into their 70s because they can't afford to retire.
Tens of millions of Americans are one paycheck from financial ruin. One third of adult Americans, 72 MILLION have no emergency savings if they lose their job or a crisis. A whopping 47% only have enough savings to cover expenses for 90 days and then they're broke. Chilling numbers.
Who is going to pay for their care? I'll give you one example. A married couple. Son decided to push off the cost of his mother's care onto the taxpayers of the state the mother lived in; the couple lives in a different state. While both were working, they didn't want their lifestyle disturbed by taking in the mother who eventually developed Alzheimers. The mother simply became a ward of the state until she passed away. I thought how very sad.
Sometimes it's just not possible for an adult child to care for the parent. Someone I know was taking care of her 90 year old mother while she was getting older and in poor health. The day came when she could no longer get her mom to the toilet and so forth because she was just to frail. There was no money so that mother became a ward of the state living in one of the run down assisted living places like the ones I visited. This is one of the reasons Medicaid at the state level has ballooned - Americans who have not planned for later in life care.
With millions of young adults forced to live with their parents due to the economy, the financial burden to the parents means less they have to put aside for their own later in life care. With increasingly longer life spans for folks, a person who has to go into assisted living could mean they are there 10 or 15 years. The cost becomes astronomical. How will you pay for it?
We're all pressed for time, but time is the one thing that doesn't stand still and since no one escapes this life alive, isn't it better to take care of legal documents before it becomes a legal issue? Tragedy can happen in a split second.
May I offer a few tips?
Sit down with your parents or if you're approaching your 60s then your spouse and discuss worst case scenario and what will you all do if assisted living is the only alternative?
Sit down with your children and talk with them about any medical treatment you might need. Who is going to be your legal advocate say you have a heart attack and are no longer married or whatever the situation is?
Let me give you another real life example I've never forgotten. Decades ago when my daughter was in 4H, she and my older sister used to show the rabbits with the big long ears at fairs. One particular Saturday Brandy and my sister were headed about an hour and a half away to the fair grounds. They were going to call me when they got there. I didn't hear from them for hours and began to get very worried. Finally my sister called; no cell phones back then. They had to cross the Carquinez Bridge from the Martinez (California) area over the big river to catch the freeway on the other side. An eighteen wheeler jumped the center concrete dividers and hit a car head on. Traffic was a monstrous mess.
I read in the paper the next day a middle aged couple was going from Benecia across the bridge to look for a new car in the Martinez area. And, just like that, a husband and wife, a mom and dad, sister, brother, were dead. Burned to death in their vehicle. Did they have their wills done? I don't know, but likely not because folks just don't think it's going to be needed until they hit some ripe "old age".
If you hold a medical power of attorney for a family member, wife, parent or even a grand parent (notarized with witnesses), make sure you provide a copy to their doctor and the closest hospital or one you think they would likely be admitted. That way if something does happen, the hospital cannot make any legal decisions about their care until they notify you - unless it's something like a heart stops beating then it becomes life or death in minutes.
When my husband was transported via ambulance to the house of horrors medical center in another town because of a badly infected leg, I drove the two hours and first thing gave the medical power of attorney to the primary doctor. When I had him transported to Presbyterian/St. Luke's Limb Preservation Center in Denver at our expense (Medicare said the treatment was fine at that hospital. It was not.) I faxed the medial power of attorney to Denver. Unforutnately, in order to save his life they had to amputate the leg. Giving the go-ahead was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make in my life.
John's primary care doctor 20 miles from our home has a copy of the medical power of attorney as does the hospital even though they're in the same building. When he had unscheduled surgery in August 2014 at a different hospital, I got to hospital with a copy of the medical power of attorney and went straight to the doctor who was going to do the surgery. That way there would be no misunderstanding about who would speak for John since he was so doped up.
If you are the executor as I am for John, my mother and my disabled brother, keep the original documents in a safe, only send copies. When you take over the financial part of living for a parent you'll have to send a copy of the power of attorney to credit card companies and any other debtors so they know not to hound your loved one if making payments for obligations becomes a problem.
Americans are broke and getting poorer all the time - even though they work very hard. But, these real life serious issues do need to be addressed and sooner rather than later. The earlier a person begins setting aside money each month or purchasing later in life insurance the easier it will be when the time comes.
You might find these of interest or helpful:
Here are a few free resources on line to help you. Our legal documents were done by military JAG lawyers. It you can afford it, a good idea to at least have an attorney review your documents before you have them notarized.
One more tip because this costs seniors thousand of dollars because they don't know what happens when hospitals want to classify you as "Under Observation" instead of an inpatient:
[Just a short note about 9/11. The cost of America's undeclared "war" (invasion) in Afghanistan has now reached $1 trillion borrowed dollars - massive debt heaped on us all based on what happened on 9/11. Regular readers of my column know I continue to press for the truth about the events of 9/11. Military grade nanothermite is not a conspiracy theory. It was found and tested from the rubble at the twin towers. A new, powerful film has been released: The Anatomy of a Great Deception. For full disclosure I receive no compensation, but I want you to get a copy (or a few) and share it with others or give a copy as a present. I've purchased half a dozen copies and given them to individuals I believe seek the truth. It's very powerful simply because it's one 'ordinary' man's story who ask a simple question that led him to a not so simple journey. There is factual information in this film that many have never heard about but everyone should. Just a suggestion, order more than one and give one to a friend.]
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Devvy Kidd authored the booklets, Why A Bankrupt America and Blind Loyalty; 2 million copies sold. Devvy appears on radio shows all over the country. She left the Republican Party in 1996 and has been an independent voter ever since. Devvy isn't left, right or in the middle; she is a constitutionalist who believes in the supreme law of the land, not some political party. Devvy is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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