“Complexity creates confusion, simplicity focus.”--Edward deBono
Eleven seconds. The National Council on Aging tell us that on average an elderly person suffers a fall in the United States every eleven seconds. In the four minutes you may spend reading this article, approximately 22 older Americans will have fallen, and unfortunately, almost a third of these falls will directly contribute to their eventual death.
When an older loved one falls, it often starts a chain reaction of questions, decisions and complexity that many of their adult children are unprepared to ask or address. Caregiving, bill-paying, cognitive ability, investment management, insurance coverage, having up to date legal documents in force, and future housing decisions all need to be addressed. The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has only made these decisions more difficult.
This complexity can be overwhelming and stressful—and if not managed well can be costly. The key to managing such a crisis is in taking inventory of the situation, getting all the issues on the proverbial table and building a plan to simplify as much as you can. German-American painter Hans Hoffman explains simplification as follows, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Start by making lists of the key areas of your loved one’s life: Medical, Financial, Legal, Housing, Family. Under each heading start with questions or primary concerns you may have. Include contact information for professionals who are familiar with their situation, so you know where to find it. What is his/her medical prognosis? How long will their assets last if care is needed? Is there any long term care coverage? Who has been identified as the key decision makers for medical or financial issues? If it is unsuitable to bring them back home, what housing options will be a best fit? If we need additional help, what family or friends can be counted on to be resources?
Continue to jot down questions when they come to you so that when you have the chance to speak to their doctor, attorney, financial planner, insurance agent, Realtor®, care advocate or senior housing advisor, you are ready to get the answers you need.
Separate any documentation you can find into files for financial matters, insurance, legal and housing.
For finances, consider consolidating multiple accounts with one firm. Not only does it simplify recordkeeping, but also likely saves on account fees and limits your required interactions. Also, by organizing and consolidating with a single firm, the future estate settlement after death will be much easier to process. Look into setting up direct deposit and automatic bill-pay wherever possible to simplify the day-to-day financial management.
Review insurance policies so you have awareness of what is covered. Understand the “triggers” for a long term insurance claim (if a policy exists) along with policy exclusions. Determine whether or not a life insurance policy might have an accelerated death benefit option available to access life insurance proceeds while the senior is still living to help pay for care.
Review the estate planning documents, with an attorney if necessary, to review powers delegated to whom under the medical and financial powers of attorney, as well as wishes that were noted in any advanced medical directives about desires for life sustaining measures.
Geriatric Care Managers can help with building a care plan to optimize the return to health and set expectations for rehabilitation, therapy, and assistance with the activities of daily living (ADL's).
Finally, meeting with a Senior Advisor can provide resources on bringing care into the home if necessary or vet the myriad of independent living, assisted living, memory care or continuing care retirement communities that might meet your health care needs location and budget.
The prospect of managing this unfamiliar scenario may seen daunting, but by taking an organized approach to addressing needs and concerns and involving experienced, trusted professionals that have been through similar experiences many times with other clients, you can avoid the complexity that results in increased stress and unnecessary expenses.
For more feedback and to help identify gaps in your loved one’s living transition, take this Living Transitions Assessment and receive a customized report with steps to consider.