woman and child reading a book

The storybook picture of aging looks something like this: grandfather sitting comfortably in his cozy chair in his tidy home, beverage of choice at hand, his multi-generational family gathered ‘round as he relates yet another folksy, but morally instructive, story garnered from his long and fulfilling life.

The alternative picture of aging looks something like this: grandfather, thirsty and alone, sitting in a worn chair in his dirty home surrounded by stacks of old newspapers and magazines, unable to hear the phone ringing with a call from his frantic daughter trying to find out why he missed his doctor appointment for the third straight time.
You know which picture you want. Getting there is the trick.

Aging seldom goes down a straight path. Instead, it lurches to the right with a health crisis, then to the left with a driving crisis, then to the right with a stove-burner-left-on-all-night crisis, then back to the left with a financial crisis. Aging forces crisis decisions that must be made under pressure, with incomplete knowledge, and against a backdrop of emotion and fatigue.

How To Prepare For A Potential Crisis

It does not have to be this way. You can, and should, prepare now to minimize the impact of crises. A few simple steps, done gradually and adjusted as necessary time, are the solution. These apply whether you are 25 or 95.

  • Get the basic planning documents in place. Medical Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney, HIPAA Release, Directive to Physicians, Declaration of Guardian and a will are the absolute minimum for every adult. Agents should be honest and willing to serve. Work through scenarios. Create checks and balances.
  • Organize the medical. Choose a primary care doctor who is affiliated with a good hospital and a wide network of specialists. Compile and update a history of medical conditions and surgeries. Keep a list of medications and review it every six months with the doctor. Read the side effects and take the contraindications seriously.
  • Tackle the financial. Start early. Buy only those financial products that are easy to understand and manage. Drop expensive life insurance products if there is no ongoing need to support someone else. Consolidate and simplify everything. Compare income stream to expenses, and make the hard decisions now. Move away from banks and investment companies that are hostile to seniors. Keep a list of every account and investment. Read every policy. Create a personalized timeline for signing up for benefits and pulling investments.
  • Bring family and friends closer. Spend time to cultivate relationships. Check out the local senior center.
  • Choose a knowledgeable and likable attorney and CPA. Meet in person at least once a year.
  • Walk the residence and imagine living there in a wheelchair. Make changes or move. Map out scenarios for living arrangements in the event of a broken hip, stroke or dementia. Check out local assisted living and rehab facilities. Investigate home health companies and geriatric care managers.
  • Educate yourself on the laws and rules about Medicare, hospice, social security, health insurance, home health care, elder fraud, senior housing, and retirement accounts.
    Decide what a “long and fulfilling life” looks like and create a plan to fill in the gaps.
    Wean dependents off financial and emotional support. The support will die with the senior. It is more compassionate to teach people to stand on their own now instead of suddenly leaving them bereft and needy.

We all want to age with respect, wisdom, love and dignity. You can picture it, can’t you?

Virginia Hammerle has been Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization for over 25 years. Her practice includes litigation, estate planning and trust law. To receive her monthly newsletter, email legaltalktexas@hammerle.com. Additional columns can be found at Legal Talk Texas.