“I’ve Never Done This Before!” – How to Plan for Age-related Unknowns

During a recent intake call with our firm, one of our prospective clients – a successful, intelligent, well-organized middle-aged woman – sounded as though she had reached the end of her rope.  She found herself in a caregiving role for her mother, and despite all her accumulated life experiences and wisdom, she had no idea what to do next.  What kind of care would be most appropriate for her aging mother with dementia?  How could her mother’s limited resources stretch to pay for that care?  Where would she find the information she needed to make a series of complicated decisions in a short amount of time?  How could she fulfill her responsibility – and desire – to care for her mother while also working full-time and taking care of her own kids?  “I’ve never had to do this before!” she finally exclaimed.  “Nothing in my life has prepared me for this!”

This caller was not alone.  We hear the same fear and exasperation in the voices of many people we serve.  Sometimes they are planning for a parent’s or grandparent’s care, and sometimes they are thinking of themselves or their spouse.  All of us only age once.  Our parents only grow old and need care once.  And when it comes to long-term care and end-of-life issues, the stakes can feel awfully high.  Resources are more limited for elders than younger people, and the idea of oneself or an elder loved one suffering with unmet care needs in the “twilight years” is exceptionally painful.  We do not want our final years with our loved ones to be a time of unbearable stress and burden; we want to share memories and make the most of our cherished time together.

Most of us go into these situations unprepared.  And when it happens, we can suddenly feel overwhelmed and entirely alone.

Different folks react to this dilemma in different ways.  Many start out by denying the problem until it becomes so severe they can no longer avoid it.  This tactic often results in costly care or financial crises.  Others turn to friends and family who have already crossed aging or caregiving bridges.  That’s better than denial, but it also has its risks.  Our circumstances may be too different to apply their advice to our situation.  What was a bad idea for the previous generation might be a good idea now; what was a safe strategy for another person with different medical or financial needs may be completely wrong for us.

For many, like our exasperated caller, the best approach is to turn to a multidisciplinary team of professionals who can offer comprehensive advice.  Unlike the average layperson, professionals in elder care and law have experience dealing with the challenges of aging and long-term care.  You and your family will benefit from their accumulated knowledge and avoid common missteps.  And why is a team approach important?  Because each professional – in our case, an attorney, a benefits specialist, and a care coordinator – makes recommendations based on her respective area of expertise, and all of them collaborate to form a comprehensive plan.  It’s like the proverbial three-legged stool:  you need all the legs in place and working together to hold you up.  If one leg is shorter or missing entirely, the results won’t be good.

At Elder Law of East Tennessee, we practice a comprehensive team approach called Life Care Planning. Other firms nationwide practice this innovative model, which was home-grown in Tennessee. To learn more about this approach, visit the Life Care Planning Law Firms Association website – or give us a call!  We’d love to talk with you about your legal, financial, and care goals and see if we can help you meet them.

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