A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of having a “Plan B” for aging when life events take an unexpected turn. Among the most common of these events are sudden and unforeseen health challenges that leave you unable to fully care for yourself.
The day after that column ran, I received a call from a client. She said, “Rick, I need to come in and see you. I need a Plan B.”
She had been diagnosed with a progressive disease that would leave her unable to fully care for herself within months. The diagnosis had forced her to quit her high-profile job in which she managed a large staff and traveled extensively. Her world was about to become incredibly small.
As we visited we tried to envision life as it would soon become.
The first thing we talked about were the services she would need to keep her living as independently as possible. We determined initially she would need to hire a housekeeper and a bookkeeper. For meals she could use a mixture of Meals on Wheels and a delivery service that would bring meals from a number of local restaurants. She would use a local errand service for household supplies and shopping needs. To get to doctors’ appointments and for other transportation needs she would use Lyft or Uber.
We also determined that the cost of retrofitting her two-story home would be prohibitive. It would be preferable to purchase a new one-level home that could be further remodeled to accommodate her needs. We also decided it would be prudent for her to get on the waiting list for a local facility that provides residents a full range of options beginning with independent living apartments and progressing to assisted living and nursing home care. The current time it takes to get into the facility is about three to five years, so this is something that must be anticipated in advance.
One of her major concerns, of course, was whether she could afford the increased cost of these additional services and a new home. We estimated the increased costs. We then determined current expenses that she would no longer have, such as travel and all the costs associated with maintaining a car. She was relieved when I tallied all this up and determined that—in large part because she had invested to provide for her retirement—she would be able to afford the lifestyle changes.
Our attention then turned to the next stage of her disease, for which there was no timeline. We needed a “Plan C” for when she would need further care and oversight.
As a single woman without children living nearby, she had no one locally that she could really turn to as an advocate. We found a local elder advocacy firm—a relatively new service in our community—that could offer her a variety of services. These included:
• Oversight of her financial affairs, including bill-paying and bookkeeping.
• Serving as a medical advocate, including attending medical appointments with her, managing insurance claims, and coordinating records and services among her multiple medical providers.
• Holding her health power of attorney.
• Serving as her legal guardian if and when she should require it.
After we created this detailed “Plan B,” my client left the office with a sense of relief. Given her medical diagnosis, she was still facing a frightening, life-changing path over which she had little to no control. Knowing she had tools and resources available to help meet her needs could not remove the challenges ahead of her. Yet having a plan to use those resources would make her difficult path just a little easier.