By Jason A. Penrod, B.C.S., CELA
A few years ago, I wrote an article advising readers to make having their estate planning documents together as part of their New Year’s resolution. However, after further reflection, I have come to realize that the message of that article wasn’t broad enough.
The purpose of the article was to encourage individuals to examine whether or not they had their affairs in order. By affairs I mean at the bare minimum, does the person have a durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney, a living will, and a last will and testament? For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume that all of you who read that article either already had your affairs in order or have taken such action since.
However, and as you and I personally know, there are many people who can not, or refuse to, believe that anything devastating could happen to them; to even give the smallest contemplation regarding their own mortality. And while I could say this about many young people, I witness just as many of our elders suffering from this stubbornness. Many of these people are in our very own families or are very close friends. Hopefully, you are thinking of those very people as you continue to read.
What I ask you to do is to somehow approach those people who come to mind who you think may need to take some action. Maybe it’s a grandmother who has never named someone as her durable power of attorney and is starting to have some health issues. Maybe it’s an elderly neighbor who has mentioned before that he has no family locally, which leads you to wonder what would happen to that neighbor were he to need medical care.
As you can imagine, these topics are not easy to discuss, and I would advise you to use caution in how you approach someone perceived to be in need. Certainly, there are those who are very private and will not respond well to your conversation. Awkwardness may be an impediment as well. I recall the art of approaching my grandmother just to ensure that she had taken some steps for her future needs. I remembered my hesitation to talk to her knowing that it would be uncomfortable for both of us; and here I was an elder law attorney giving advice on these subjects. While it may not be easy, and it may not be comfortable, it is important; it’s a necessary conversation to have.
Please do not take from my message that you should strong-arm people into telling them what to do. But what I hope you receive from this message is some compassion and courage. Keep your antenna up, plant a seed of wisdom, and be a caring person for those who may not yet have taken the time to care for themselves.
When is the appropriate time to have these necessary conversations? It could be sooner than you and I may think. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that my mother and our family were given the blessing of the alleviation of my mother’s suffering because she was able to execute a living will and a health care power of attorney before she passed away. Surely, she and I should have talked long before, but we were lucky. Unfortunately for many people, the blessing of time is not so abundant.
Other than the power of prayer and creativity, I can’t give too much advice on how or when to approach people. As you know, every situation is different. If you are able to plant the seed and lead someone to take appropriate planning steps, I would advise you to contact a knowledgeable elder law attorney to assist your loved one.