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How Seniors Can Make it Easy on their Families

Last Thursday, my dear dad was in a terrible car accident. He ended up with two broken ribs and a mangled hip. But, as the doctor said, he came out much better than he should have. The entire front of the car was literally ripped off. That’s what happens when a small sporty car tangles with a semi-truck.

Miraculously the cab was mostly intact. Windows broken and all the air bags deployed — and definitely misaligned — but the passenger area of his Honda Matrix was a pretty solid cocoon.

I took him from the hospital to my house to recuperate. We’ve been planning on having him move in with us for a few years now, but his room has been sitting empty. He didn’t want to lose his independence, which I think everyone can understand. But his injuries made it more necessary. And I think he’s starting to like it.

He’s lived in his home since 1968. I spent most of my youth there. As we prepare to move his things to our house, I notice things I took for granted as a kid: a minimalist lifestyle, simple and efficient organization, the order of things, how long things last when you take good care of possessions.

Dad is 81 years old. But “managing his affairs” is about as easy as it could possibly be. He has everything organized and labeled. He has appropriate documentation. He has lists of things that need to be done. And there on the desk, was a black folder containing almost everything he needed for his tax preparation — set out days before the scheduled appointment.

Today we went to visit his CPA. Not what most of us would do four days after a serious auto accident, but you have to know my dad. He made the appointment a number of weeks ago and there was no way he was going to reschedule. So we went to his house and I gathered up the tax info — most of which was already in a folder on his desk — and took him (and his new walker) to see the accountant.

I shouldn’t really be surprised. Even when we were kids, my sister and brother and I would be called together about once a year to go through the “important papers.” Mom and Dad had a fire proof metal file box that had all the stuff we’d need if both my parents simultaneously expired. They had wills and living wills and trusts. The mortgage papers and auto deeds were there. They had all the life insurance papers and Burial Insurance polices carefully filed. Heck, they even had funeral programs written out, including scriptures to read and hymns to sing.

At the time, it seemed kind of morbid. But as I got older I realized that the point was to make absolutely sure that an untimely death (or incapacity of any kind) would cause as little pain and stress as is possible in such circumstances.

I’ve seen the reverse. I’ve seen loved ones die and leave chaos and uncertainty behind. I’ve seen the legal entanglements, discomfort, and stress that causes. But just a moderate amount of planning can alleviate that additional pain.

Have you made preparations so your family will be taken care of? Do you have a current will? Does your family know where it is? Are you finances organized in a way that your family can reasonably  find everything they need if you are hospitalized or incapacitated?

If you are older, do you know that you can get life insurance for seniors to cover not only burial costs but to pay off debt? Do you know you can purchase long-term care insurance should you need nursing care?

For years AARP was the source for this kind of information for seniors, but I do not recommend them. They have a huge financial stake in promoting a particular political agenda — instead of the needs of seniors. But there are alternatives. Check out some of the other senior advocate groups to see which offer what you need:

No matter how you go about it, please prepare for the difficulties in life — for the sake of your family. When something trying comes up, having these financial/life preparations already taken care of makes these situations so much less stressful than they would be.

Thanks, Daddy!

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Anna February 8, 2011, 3:12 am

    Nobody wants to think about death and that’s why we forget that it can come and come very suddenly.
    Once I read somewhere the following words: People live as they are not going to die, and they die as if they didn’t live.
    My granny has all the documents concerning her funerals and heritage ready and signed. She is a very wise woman and I will miss her when she dies.

  • Stephanie O February 8, 2011, 8:34 am

    Thanks for the reminder – we really should get these tasks done at our house.

    Also, I just want to make the point that debt does not get transferred to heirs, though things owned by the deceased may be sold to pay off debt. The only time an heir would need to pay off debts of a deceased relative would be to prevent the sale of an item they wanted to keep. Now, a person may feel obligated to pay their debts even in death, and in that case insurance to do may be something they want to make sure they have. But their debts will not be a burden on heirs.

  • Alison Moore Smith February 8, 2011, 9:32 am

    Wise women, your granny! Grieving the death of a loved one is always hard. Having arrangements made in advance allow us to grieve without added stress.

    Taking care of my dad and helping him transition here is so much easier because I don’t have any added worries. So glad he has taken responsibility for his affairs.

    Thanks for dropping by, Anna!

  • Alison Moore Smith February 8, 2011, 9:35 am

    Stephanie, thanks for pointing that out. My parents would never be comfortable with the idea of leaving any obligation unpaid. They have always been “my word is my bond” kind of people.

    I have seen many things — particularly homes — that had to sold in less than ideal situations due to existing debt. If you’re expecting your assets to support surviving family after you die, you need to make sure something is left to do so! If you have debt that would consume those assets, that needs to be addressed.

  • George February 9, 2011, 6:51 am

    Omg I’m so sorry to hear about your father, I hope he is well. This is an excellent article to those who do not show respect to their parents. I think this is very inspirational.

  • Alison Moore Smith February 9, 2011, 9:57 am

    Thanks for the kind words, George. He’s doing better every day. Love having him here. :)

  • Ileane February 13, 2011, 5:38 am

    Hi Alison, Please give your Dad a great big old hug just for me! He must be a very kind and caring man. I’m really happy that the injuries weren’t worse.

    I can appreciate the way he has everything so organized and I’m trying to follow in those footsteps. I need to get the fireproof box asap. Where did he get it, are they expensive?

    Thanks so much for your comment and retweet on my contest post too Alison. I really appreciate you! Chat soon.
    Ileane recently posted…Help Me Win the Credit Cards Canada Guest Post ContestMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith February 13, 2011, 9:39 am

    Ileane, thanks for the kind words for my dad. He’s a great man. It’s frustrating to him to be unable to get around as he’s accustomed to. He’s very independent. He’s made it easier on us than it could have been.

    I’ll do a bit of research for you about the boxes. We have the same one here, so I’ll get a brand and source and write a post about it. Good information to have. :)

    And if you are so inclined, click on Ileane’s CommentLuv link and give her a retweet. She’s a great blogger. If you’re new to blogging and want inspiration, Ileane’s the gal!

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