My father passed away this weekend after a 12 year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have encountered the disease I will give you some of my reflections and insights to give you the benefit of my experience. Over the past 10 years our family has spent over $600,000 out of pocket to take care of my father at home. We are a very close family and come from a tradition of taking very good care of our elders. Unfortunately, like most close families we never discussed what life would like if dad became disabled. This is considered to be a “taboo” or unspoken subject. Well I am here to tell you, if you don’t talk about it now with your family then you place the burden on them to talk about it at the worst possible time. You also give the family very few options and are mostly left with heartache.
My father never told me about the level of care he desired and how long he wanted this care to continue. We never discussed where the money would be coming from to pay for his care. However, we did have a legal document called an Advance Medical Directive that designated my mom and then myself as his health care agents. This document, in one form or another, is used in virtually all estate plans. The problem is that it is just that, a form. It does nothing but put the legal burden of making health care decisions on your agent. It does not provide any guidance to your agent as to what type of care and level of care you want. It does not tell you where you would like to be treated and for how long. It does not pay for the care. I think most importantly it does not tell your family how much you love them nor does it provide any of your wisdom. It is just a form document.
What things should a family be considering when dealing with disability and death planning? Well, one thing I regret every day is that I did not ever sit down with my dad before his illness to record some of his great stories and experiences that he use to tell us about. My dad came from very humble beginnings and beat significant odds to marry my mom and to become a doctor. He would tell us these stories with a smile on his face that could light up a room. Those precious stories of how he rose through the ranks will never be told by him again. Although, I will do my best to capture and put those stories in my own words, I wish I could listen to him again. I also wish I had a chance to ask him certain questions about major life choices (his thoughts on how to run a business, his experiences and lessons about money, major influences in his life, the values he tried to instill in me and why they were important. When this illness struck, I had recently graduated law school and was getting to a point in our relationship where father-son was becoming father-friend. I dearly wish that I had an opportunity to talk to him again to record his thoughts. When estate planners talk about transferring assets from point A to B, most seem to focus on the material wealth. My father’s material wealth was very small compared to the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that he kept inside of him. There is a quote I have heard that states “when an individual passes away, it is like a library burning down.” That quote makes a lot of sense to me now.
I also wish I did a lot of other things to prepare our family for my father’s disability. As an estate planning an attorney, I believe it is my duty to help families and change people’s lives for the better. I will discuss what other actions I would have taken in my next blog. . .
As always, this blog is not intended to give legal advice, tax advice or financial advice. It is simply my reflections on my own personal life events. Any other use of this information is strictly prohibited.