Home for the Holidays: Conversations for Every Stage of Life
It’s that time of year again when families gather to celebrate the holidays. For many, it may have been months or a year since they visited with family and a lot may have changed in the interim. Perhaps we notice that Grandpa is not as steady on his feet as he was, or that Mom seems to be having trouble remembering where she put the car keys. Perhaps we see that an illness has taken hold or has progressed further than before. Perhaps Dad just retired and he and Mom are making plans for a cruise to Alaska. Children may have been born. Friends and other relatives may have passed away. What is certain is that whatever changes have occurred since the last big get- together will be a topic of conversation.
In addition to celebrating the joy of being together, it is important to think about setting aside some quiet time to address serious issues. If it seems clear that aging parents are in need of assistance of some kind, it is important to discuss that issue with them. Assistance needs can run the gamut from needing an extra hand with house and yard work to medication management to meal preparation to 24/7 custodial care and everything in-between. It is possible that they are unaware of the challenges they are facing. But more likely, it is apparent to them what kind of assistance, if any, they need. If they in fact have a comprehensive plan which covers their financial and physical needs and goals, sharing that information with concerned children and other family members may put their minds at ease. On the other hand, if there is no comprehensive plan in place, finding ways to discuss the needs may allow the family to identify problems and develop solutions. Finally, these conversations can allow a family, who has identified problems and become overwhelmed by them, to seek help from those qualified to help, especially in terms of making financial recommendations for how to pay for and plan for long-term care and protection of assets.
It is also important to have conversations about end-of-life medical decision-making and about financial decision-making. It is vitally important that every adult over the age of 18 have in place advance medical directives and durable powers of attorney to prevent the need for going to court to obtain guardianships and conservatorships in the event that a person can no longer make decisions for himself/herself. But as important as having the documents in place is and as important as it is that those documents be prepared by an experienced elder law attorney who can help you weigh the importance of including special powers that are necessary for public benefits planning, it is just as important that your wishes about who makes decisions for you and how you wish to die be known to your family. This is your opportunity to let the family know how you feel and what you would like to see done in the event that you can no longer speak for yourself.
For parents of almost any age, having an open discussion with family about what your wishes are in the event of death is critical. Parents of young children need to consider how their young children will be cared for in the event both parents are killed. Naming a guardian in a Will ensures that your desires will be heard and will hopefully keep other well-meaning relatives from fighting over the children and your estate. Adults of all ages need to discuss who they want to administer their estates, how they want their assets distributed, what their plans are. While for some families keeping these plans a secret is desirable, for most, secrecy only means that your loved ones are guaranteed to fight among themselves and perhaps harbor resentments towards each other. While obviously not good for family relationships, such dysfunction can also lead to court battles which are never cheap.
Finally, for those who come home to older family members and notice, perhaps for the first time, that there is a change in how the older family members are acting or reacting, it may be time to have a serious conversation about whether a visit to the doctor is needed to rule out or diagnose dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association’s website lists 10 warning signs of dementia and recommends that anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should consult a physician:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life, especially recently learned information;
- Challenges in planning or solving problems, like following a familiar recipe;
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure, like how to drive to a familiar location or remembering the rules of a favorite game;
- Confusion with time or place, like losing track of seasons or the passage of time;
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, like difficulty reading or judging distance, the latter of which may manifest as trouble driving.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing, like having trouble following a conversation, stopping in the middle of a conversation and repeating themselves, or struggling with common vocabulary and calling thing by the wrong name;
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, like putting eyeglasses in the freezer;
- Decreased or poor judgment, like giving large amounts to telemarketers or losing track of cash, or like paying less attention to personal grooming;
- Withdrawal from work or social activities they used to enjoy; and
- Changes in mood and personality, like becoming confused or suspicious or anxious.
The attorneys of Hook Law Center know the importance of having these family conversations. Please make time to have them with your family and consider allowing us to join you. We are happy to meet with your whole family in person, on the phone or over the internet to assist you all in finding comprehensive solutions to the problems that may become apparent when you come home for the holidays.
ASK KIT KAT
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, who is Fiona the Hippo, and why is she so famous?
Kit Kat: Well, this is one of the cutest stories I have heard about recently. Fiona is a hippopotamus who resides at the Cincinnati Zoo. She was born there last January 24 (a bit prematurely), and has been a major sensation ever since. The zoo’s vice president of marketing says, “I feel like I represent Beyoncé. People fly across the world to just catch a glimpse.” All this attention is due to Michelle Curley, the zoo’s communications direction and her four-person team. Ms. Curley had the brilliant idea to publicize Fiona’s every move from the moment she was born on social media. There have been videos of Fiona on Facebook. Fiona has posed with couples for their engagement photos. One of these photos ended up being on “The Tonight Show.” A local ice cream company even named a summer flavor after her called “Chunky Chunky Hippo.” The list goes on and on.
It’s wonderful that Fiona has gotten this far. Her future did not always look so rosy. She was born 6 weeks early and only weighed 29 pounds. A normal hippo baby should weigh between 55 and 120 pounds at birth. However, zoo personnel made every effort to keep her alive. Fiona was placed in the equivalent of a newborn I.C.U. with round-the-clock care. Doctors from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital assisted with her care. She, at one point, had to have an IV inserted to address dehydration. There were lots of other health issues along the way until May 15 when she seemed to turn a corner and gain strength. The struggles were documented on social media, and the public fell in love with her. When the zoo said they would cut back on the daily social postings, 100,000 people responded clamoring for more. It seems as if Fiona is serving as a pleasant diversion from the stresses of life. According to Amy LaBarbara, the zoo’s coordinator for marketing and events, “People tell us all the time that Fiona is something everyone can agree on. We have heard from countless people online that Fiona has been uniting the United States. We hear from people going through chemo that tell us she is the only bright spot in their day.”
It appears that Fiona is quite a girl! She seems to bask in the attention. She floats between the animal world and human world with the greatest of ease. (Rachel Syme, “Hooray for Fiona the Hippo, Our Bundle of Social-Media Joy,” The New York Times, Nov. 25, 2017)