Monday, 20 May 2013

Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

photo by Shannon Woods McKenzie

I love this photo of my mom and step-dad.  My sister Shannon took it, and when she shared it she said "Young love's got nothing on old love." 

Exactly right.

My parents are in their late 70's now, and my my mom has advanced Alzheimers.  My step-dad cares for her with a degree of love, respect, and patience that is truly awe inspiring.  It's an exhausting job.

Mom is due to go into a care facility soon and, while my step-dad will be relieved to have the burden of care shared with others, he's going to miss her terribly.  The change will be a big adjustment for both of them.

Every life event brings with it its lessons, and my mom's illness is no exception.  It has me thinking a lot about preparing for the years to come.

We all hope that we will be robust in our old age, live a long and healthy life, and die peacefully in our sleep, but sadly that's not always the case.  Statistics here in Canada show that the majority of our elders spend the last ten years of their life in illness.

Illness or injury come with expenses and practicalities that can be prepared for in advance. So, while we can be proactive in maintaining our good health and hopeful about having a long and healthy life, we should also be practical and prepare for the possibility that we may some day suffer a long term illness or disability.

Here are some practical steps we can all take:

Buy accident/illness/disability insurance.  

Accident/illness/disability insurance is intended to provide income to cover things like mortgage and loan payments, medical expenses, and home assistance if you suffer an injury or long-term illness.  It can help guard against accruing debt that would otherwise have to be paid off upon your recovery or passed on to your family should you die.

Buy this insurance now, while you are in good health.  If you wait until you need the coverage, it's too late.

Make a power of attorney.  

Choose someone you trust implicitly enough to give them unlimited access to your financial and legal affairs because this is what a power of attorney does.  It allows someone to step in and make those decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so yourself, but a power of attorney does not specify when it may be used.  If you are concerned about someone having access to your power of attorney while you are still in good health, you can either keep it in a safe place in your home and advise someone other than the power of attorney holder where it is, or you can leave it in care of your lawyer with specific instructions about releasing it.

Again, this is something you need to take care of while you're well.  If you wait and become too ill to manage your affairs, application for power of attorney must be made through the courts.  The process can take months and will cost thousands of dollars.

Make your wishes known.  

These are hard subjects but you do need to discuss them with your family. 

If you had a chronic illness or disability that required daily assistance would you prefer to remain at home or to go into a care facility? What are the costs associated with the care you would prefer to have?  What provisions have you made to provide for such an eventuality?

If you were terminally ill or suffered an injury likely to cause death would you prefer that heroic measures be taken to keep you alive, or would you prefer that your family sign a "do not resuscitate" order?

When you die, what do you wish done with your remains?  Do you wish to be an organ donor? Or to donate your body for research or for use as a medical teaching cadaver?  If you are not donating your body, do you wish to be cremated or buried?

Do you have specific wishes regarding a funeral or memorial service? Have you arranged pre-payment for your funeral expenses or set money aside for that purpose?

Once you've had your discussion, put your wishes in writing.  Laws vary and your instructions may not be legally binding but most families feel morally obligated to honour their loved one's wishes regarding these matters.

Make a will.  

If probate registry is available in your area, register the location of your will so others will be able to find it.  Let your family know that you've made a will and tell them where it is stored.

Make a list.

List your bank accounts, debts, and computer passwords.  Store the list with your will.  Update it regularly.  Let your executor and the person who holds your power of attorney know it's there.

It's a lot to do, I know, and thinking about this stuff is not something any of us enjoy.  You'll be grateful for it, though, if you find yourself ill or injured.  Times like that are always stressful, and having these things in place will help to ease the stress for your loved ones.  

Make yourself and your family proud.  Look to the future with optimistic eyes, but plan for the worst so the tools are there if you need them. The time may come when you'll be very glad you did.