Are you over age 60? Many studies have found a measurable slow-down in physiological systems, both physical and mental, after age 60. Studies have also shown that seniors often believe that they are doing things as well or better than they used to. This is natural.
However, think with your mind and not your heart. Are you really as sharp physically and mentally as you were five years ago, or even last year? Be honest with yourself. You most likely do not want to tell your kids or other loved ones that you are not getting along as well as you once did.
You may think that you have not declined enough for anyone to worry about. However, this would be the best time to investigate and evaluate your home and how to make it safe and more convenient for you when you do become less able to care for yourself. It is also easier to talk to loved ones now about “someday” in the future than if you needed help today. It also gets you used to the idea of assistance, if needed.
You are the parent and you have raised and cared for your children. One thing that you may fear is your children becoming the “parent” and you, the “child. You may think that admitting you need assistance is a loss of pride. Don’t. It takes pride and strength of character to admit it.
You may not want to lose your independence, or your driver’s license. If you drive when you can hardly see, you not only put yourself at risk for an accident or injury, you put others in danger. There are local buses, Dial-a-Ride, senior transportation, taxis, Uber and Lyft. Advances in battery technology have given power chairs and scooters ranges in excess of 10 miles. I have known many seniors who were no longer able to drive, who continued to be just as active as when they could drive.
Do you get many dents and dings in the car. If so, it may be a sign that you may want to consider whether you are safe to continue driving. I represented one estate in which the kids did not realize all of the accidents Dad had until they tried to sell the car. There we so many accidents listed on the CarFax report that they could not get any more than $8,000 for a vehicle that would have been worth over $20,000 accident-free. I represented another estate which was sued by an individual allegedly injured in an accident with Mom before she died. Mom never told anyone about the accident, so it came as a complete surprise to the family.
You may be like most seniors and want to stay in your home as long as possible. Look at your situation. The more assistance you need, the more it would make sense to look at other options. I’ve known many seniors who have spent significant amounts of money to remodel bathrooms, and still weren’t happy. For example, walk-in tubs can only open and close when empty. I’ve been told more than once that even with heated seats, you can get extremely cold waiting seemingly forever for the tub to fill and empty. Maybe, grab bars by the toilet and shower, a non-skid shower mat and stool or chair would make more sense.
I am turning 60 in the next few weeks and my wife Emily is not far behind. We have lived in our house for 30 years. Thankfully, it is a one story ranch. But it had a high maintenance wood exterior that was a chore to keep up and painted. We recently had the whole exterior of the house covered in aluminum and masonry. No more painting! We plan on living in the house another 30 years, so why not make it easier to maintain.
If you are home alone, always carry your cell phone or get a fall-alert device. A healthy active client of mine in her mid-sixties recently fell off of a ladder in her garage when she was storing away some boxes. She landed on her tailbone and smacked her head on the cement floor. She did not have her cell phone on her. She was dazed, but was able to get up and after going to the doctor, she was told her injuries were not life-threatening. Had she fallen off the ladder’s fourth step instead of the third step or landed another way, it would have been a different story. It could have been days before someone missed her, and by then it may have been too late.
How many stairs do you have to negotiate to get in, out and around the house? Do you have to put in ramps? If you can’t negotiate stairs, you might have to do some remodeling such as adding a bedroom and/or a handicap accessible bathroom on the first floor, or a chair lift up to the second floor. It may make sense to look at other options now before you need them. There are a variety of independent and assisted living facilities out there that could meet your needs and that cater specifically to seniors.
There are independent senior living facilities that provide no assistance and there are assisted living facilities that offer a range of services. The line has really blurred between independent and assisted living facilities. Most independent living facilities nowadays allow for some sort of assistance that is either provided through the facilities themselves or contracted through home care agencies. Assisted living facilities and many independent living facilities offer meals and housekeeping services. There are many facilities that offer an entire range of services from independent to full assistance.
When choosing a facility, investigate the services that the facility offers or does not offer. What are the services provided and how much do they cost? Do you want housekeeping and meal service? Do you need bathing, dressing or medication assistance? Some facilities offer an all-inclusive price depending on the level of service. Other facilities have an a la carte menu from which you can pick and choose the services you want. You only pay for the services that you utilize.
If you are at an independent living unit of a facility that has both independent and assisted living units, will there be an assisted living unit available if you need it? I recently heard about a resident of one of these facilities who had a fall in her independent living unit. Her family had to scramble to find her a place to stay and move her stuff because the facility did not have any assisted living units available at the time of her fall.
Most senior living facilities have accessible apartments, but if you have any special needs make sure the facility has what you require. It is also important to consider the social activities of the facility, Many facilities offer regular activities, games, puzzles, shopping, exercising, movies, speakers, etc. Most of the facilities offer common or group areas, lounges and/or private rooms so that if you are having a birthday party or other family get together, you have a place to hold it. Some facilities have quiet reading areas.
If you want to do your own cooking, do the apartments have a full kitchen? Some apartments only have a kitchenette with a small refrigerator and microwave because the facility provides meal services. If the facility does offer meal services, do you have any special dietary needs or food allergies and can the facility accommodate those requirements?
Some facilities have licensed nurses or other medical personnel on staff or through a service 24 hours a day, while others do not. Some facilities provide emergency pull cords and/or offer emergency pendants or wristbands that you can wear so in case of a fall or an emergency, care can be summoned immediately.
If you have a long-term care policy, you should investigate which facility may be able to provide assistance and be paid through that long-term care policy. Many long-term care policies, especially the older ones, will only pay for care in licensed facilities. Assisted living facilities are generally not required to be licensed. However, some assisted living facilities have been licensed as adult foster care facilities so they can receive payments for the assistance from these long-term care policies.
Do not wait until you have that fall and you need immediate assistance. In that event, the likelihood is that you are not going to have the time to investigate all of your options as thoroughly as you can now. Do your homework now when there is no urgency. Keep a file of your contacts and investigations. When the time comes you will have a plan.
With a plan, you will be prepared to make your house safe and you will have a better chance to hire caregivers which may be a good fit for your needs. You would be able to stay longer in your own home. And you will have a plan of action if you cannot or do not want to stay at home. You do not have to stay in your big house with its taxes, insurance, utilities and all the responsibilities of upkeep, maintenance and dusting. You have many options depending upon your situation and your budget.
By Matthew M. Wallace, CPA, JD
Published edited November 11, 2018 in The Times Herald newspaper Port Huron, Michigan as: Estate Planning Legal Fees