Your family day at the lake is interrupted by a thunderstorm. You’ve planned the perfect outdoor June wedding, but unseasonable cold will have the bridesmaids turning blue. You and your spouse have to cancel a romantic weekend getaway when the kids come down with chickenpox.
We all know that things don’t always go according to our plans. Sometimes the consequences are minor. The more important the planned event, however, the more probable that a disruption can cause significant financial, physical, or emotional damage.
For major events or possible dangers, failing to have a backup plan amounts to negligence. In my profession, for example, we are required to have a Disaster Plan to implement if a natural disaster should destroy our place of business or disable our ability to communicate with clients and staff members.
Yet far too many people fail to have a Plan B for one of life’s most significant and inevitable transitions—aging.
In a talk at the Financial Planning Association Retreat in May, Analee Kruger, founder of Care Right, contended that most people don’t have what she calls an “aging plan.” While most people “plan” to stay in their home until the day they die, very few people actually have a well-thought-out plan to accomplish that goal. Even fewer have an alternative plan in case of a health event that demands they must leave their home.
Aging is not a surprise. We have plenty of forewarning to save money and make plans that will insure we have the best experience possible at an affordable cost. And yet, the most popular “plan” for aging is, “we will deal with an unforeseen health event if and when it happens.” The big difference with aging is that such an event isn’t really unforeseen. It will happen. What isn’t foreseen is the timing, severity, and duration of the event.
If you are suddenly taken by an accident, stroke, or heart attack, you could be considered to have “won” the aging game by living in your home until the day you die. If you leave a spouse, however, they may not be as fortunate. Your death may mean they must move out of the home for a host of financial, physical, and emotional reasons.
What happens when you must leave your home and you have no plan? “You often have no choice but to go wherever there is an open bed and pray for the best,” said Kruger. “Some families have to drive for hours to find an open bed.” She continued, “Every day that you didn’t plan, someone else did,” noting that the waiting lists at many independent and assisted living and nursing home facilities are “miles long.”
Her message was very clear: don’t wait for a crisis to happen. Be proactive with aging planning.
When parents don’t have an aging plan, the brunt of the caretaking usually falls to the child who lives closest to them. Kruger said, “Family members provide 96% of non-professional care for older adults not in retirement homes.” Most are female and most are unpaid. She added that coping with aging parents without a plan rarely brings families together. The process is bumpy and stressful.
Kruger pointed out that not everyone has the emotional, physical, and financial capacity to be a chronic caregiver, which can have a negative impact on their health and well-being. She described burnout among family caregivers as an epidemic.
Aging is hard, and—if we’re lucky—it’s inevitable. Planning for it is a kind and loving act for yourself and your loved ones.