If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared to pivot and respond to any unexpected changes. After all, last year at this time, it would have been inconceivable to imagine a holiday season in which it was unsafe to eat in a restaurant, board an airplane, or hug our friends and family.
But here we are. And, as hard as this year has been, it’s a good, if difficult, reminder that if you have an older loved one in your life, their health and living requirements can change in an instant, too.
Indeed, as someone who has been operating this business now for 10 years and, as I wrote about last month, who helped her own father move into an assisted living just a few weeks ago, I have seen and experienced firsthand the impact that these kinds of rapid and unexpected changes can have.
The lesson? Be prepared to make decisions quickly.
Your Most Important New Year’s Resolution
We can’t prepare for all eventualities, of course. But it is in your family’s best interest to think through, preplan, and prearrange as much as possible, now — before something happens that requires immediate action.
With that in mind, here are three things I recommend doing as soon as you can…
#1. Review, update or create your estate plan.
Many people assume (incorrectly) that estate planning is only for people who have a lot of assets. It’s not. It takes into account much more than just questions of inheritance and finances.
A comprehensive estate plan also includes making decisions — in writing — about who has power of attorney should a loved one become incapacitated; who is the designated health care proxy; what steps should — or should not— be taken regarding end of life wishes, and more. The truth is, all of us, not just older adults, should have these things formalized.
Handling these details now while everyone is healthy, ensures that your loved one will be taken care of as they wish, while removing the need for the courts to get involved (as they will if these questions are left unanswered and an individual becomes unable to make decisions on their own behalf).
#2. Learn what you don’t know.
One thing the team at 2Sisters and I encounter every day as we speak with adult children about their parents, is that they don’t know what they don’t know. In many cases, they wait until “something bad” happens — a fall, a diagnosis, an unanticipated hospital stay — to begin educating themselves on the options.
That’s understandable, of course. We all have our blind spots and it’s hard to come to terms with our parents getting old. Plus, when your throw in the time constraints and craziness of COVID’s impact — home schooling, unemployment, isolation, etc. — this kind of preplanning and research naturally gets pushed to the back burner.
But believe me, it will be better for all concerned if you make a resolution in the coming year to become familiar with what your loved one might need and what they can afford. One way or another, chances are very high that they are going to require your support in some way. Maybe just a little bit, maybe a lot. But it’s coming; ignoring that fact doesn’t change it.
How much research do you need to do? It’s up to you. Some people, Hermione-Granger-style, like to read all the textbooks before school starts. Others (like me!) take a less comprehensive approach. Just know that the more you do and the sooner you do it, the better. At the very least, do some research regarding the kinds of options and resources available (or give us a quick call).
#3. Have the conversation.
A person who is losing independence due to aging or disability is going through a phase of life often referred to as “diminishing capacity” — it’s the only phase of life that we are not naturally motivated to enter.
The phase of life we are in affects the way we process information. We don’t explain something to an adolescent the same way we do to a toddler. We can’t communicate with someone in diminishing capacity the same way we would an adult in their working years.
That’s why trying to convince your parents of the need for more or different care using facts and logic alone will sometimes lead to conflict and, often, a dead end. “Pushing against” is rarely productive.
Instead, I recommend having an open conversation in which you try to understand what your loved one wants:
“Mom, this past year has been really hard and got me thinking about things that I might not have considered before. What do you want to see happen as you age and if you need some help, how would you like us to support you?”
Do your best to listen, without judgement. Try to get a sense of where they believe they are and what kind of support they may want in the future.
You don’t have to agree with them or argue, it is simply information for you to use to get a sense of the angle you might take or the tools you may need to pull from your toolbox. This kind of approach is much more likely to get them to open up and feel like you are on their side.
If the older loved ones in your life are in terrific health, that’s wonderful! I wish them many more happy and productive years.
Just keep in mind that things can change quickly. The number of people that we counsel who are caught off guard by a loved one requiring support is much, much higher than it needs to be.
With 2020 ending soon (thankfully!), let’s resolve to be as ready as possible for whatever 2021 may bring.