Here are 7 helpful tips for friends, relatives and agents facing the daunting prospect of helping the elderly among us.
Seniors, however grouchy and unreasonable, are people, too. They will not appreciate what they did not request. Therefore, ask before you do. Follow their lead if they accept your offer. If they do not accept, then take no for an answer.
Bonus tip for relatives: you are permitted to accompany the “ask” with light cajoling provided it does not exceed 5 minutes.
2. Take Time
Seniors are already dealing with lost friends, hardened arteries, and bad Jello. Don’t add to their ills by making begrudging duty visits. Sit for a while. Shut off your phone and listen.
Tip 3: Know Your Role.
Unless you are their court-appointed Guardian, you don’t get to order a senior around. The senior is still an adult with all the rights appurtenant thereto. Stay in your lane. If you are a friend, just be a friend. If you are a relative, then you have a role filled with societal expectations. Meet them or face the scorn of the world. If you are an agent, then you have a role with legal duties. Meet those or get sued and go to jail.
Tip 4: Adjust Expectations.
Why is it so easy to be patient with children, and so difficult to be patient with seniors? The answer is simple: expectations. You expect a child not to know things. You do not expect a senior to forget things they knew.
Seniors can slow down cognitively due to medication, a physical condition, or an illness. They don’t do it intentionally. You will never be able to be patient with, or helpful to, a senior if you are not alert to the changes they are undergoing. One minute they are there, and the next they have a stroke and fall 50 IQ points. You will need to constantly adjust your expectations to meet their current abilities.
Don’t whisper to someone who lost their hearing aids. Don’t expect someone with a cane to quickly mount a staircase. Don’t scorn someone who tells you the same story 50 times.
Tip 5: Keep Your Hands in Your Pockets
A senior owns their property. Their money, their house, their car, their gold buried in the rusted coffee can in the backyard – that is all theirs. It is not yours.
It is tempting to forget this tip, especially if you expect to inherit when the senior passes away. Don’t give in to temptation. There is no such thing as anticipatory inheritance.
There are many ways to take from a senior. You could accidently stash the family silver in the trunk of your car. You could sign a senior up for a 25-year solar panel lease. You could “borrow” money to start your own business or buy yourself a house. You could talk the senior into marrying you or changing their will in your favor.
There are choice words that describe people who take from seniors. The nicer ones are “thief” and/or “fraudster”.
Tip 6: Hire Some Experts
Being a good helper may require skills that you do not have. There is no shame in calling in the experts (like lawyers). If done properly and with the appropriate authority, then the cost will be paid from the senior’s resources.
Tip 7: Enjoy
Learning at an arthritic knee is priceless.
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Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship and contested litigation. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.