Monday, March 30, 2009

Always Brush Your Teeth; Always Invest Wisely; Always Have a Long Talk With Your Children; And Other Silly Advice

The Chapman family back when the world was young and no one was worried about estate planning. Faye and Ashley, Kimberly at left, and Robin, before she discovered the Neiman Marcus shoe department.

That big organization, AARP, sponsored a program on Public Television last year about facing end-of-life decisions. A friend and neighbor urged me to watch it, knowing I had parents in their late eighties, and I told my sister about it as well. In our two separate cities, we watched it with, at first, amazement and then, with some hilarity.


Because the program had all sorts of sensible advice such as: "Sit down and talk with your children about your preferences for nursing care." And: "Be sure and give more than one child in the family your Power of Attorney, your Living Will and your Power of Attorney for Health Care." This was great advice, like; "Always brush your teeth," and; "Please adjust your dress before leaving."

Trouble is, my sister and I have learned that not all people are sensible, especially when faced with end-of-life decisions. What do you do if your parents don't really think they are ever going to get sick and die?

Aye, there's the rub.

My father, the engineer, was the family's sensible planner. He invested wisely. He created a family trust to avoid probate for his heirs. But he missed out on some important aspects of estate planning: he didn't discuss with my sister and me his philosophy of investment. He didn't even tell us where he invested, and with whom. He didn't write down the names of his various banks, and, because he wanted to make sure each account was FDIC insured, there are at least half-a-dozen of those. He didn't teach anyone in the family, including our mother, how to manage the estate in case he were incapacitated prior to his death.

And now, that's exactly what we face. The worst case scenario. Dad is incapacitated. Mom, with no knowledge or experience in investing or accounting, is in charge of the finances and determined to stay in charge in spite of her lack of skill. My sister and I have had to become forensic accountants (well not quite, because no one is dead, but you get my drift) to find the money needed to care for our father who is permanently incapacitated and needs 24-hour-a-day care.

I suppose it is not as bad as if he didn't have any money at all. But it is almost as bad. In times like these, stocks in an investment account can become worthless in just a few months if not managed properly. My father's haven't been managed at all for almost a decade. My sister and I just learned about an investment account that, God forbid, actually contains some high tech stocks. I dread looking into this.

I wish AARP would have a program about these end of life issues. About how to sit down and discuss important things with parents who don't believe they will ever get sick and will never die.

I wouldn't laugh quite so hard at such a program as I did at the AARP program I did see. "Always brush your teeth" is great advice. But if fear of the dentist prevents you from keeping your regular appointments, you'll lose your teeth anyway, no matter how much you brush.

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