Financial planning tips for every family caregiver

By Rebecca Holcomb

Taking care of family in the best of times can be difficult. Some estimates claim 18.2% of the US adult population, or more than 43 million Americans provide unpaid in-home care for an adult relative. The numbers go higher as the cared for get older or when Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are taken into account.

Caring for an ailing family member or one at the end of life can be daunting. Exhaustion, an endless routine, and a constant need to be ready can drain even the healthiest caregiver. There have not been a lot of studies on what many are calling ‘caregiver syndrome.’ However, a recent survey found that 70% of all caregivers in retirement age, die before the person they are caring for.

The mental, physical and spiritual strain on the body can be so critical that a caregiver’s life can drain away while trying their best to care for their loved one.

With this in mind, here are some tips to help family caregivers do the near impossible.

Routine Conversation

When a loved one gets sick and needs long-term care, dealing with the ramifications usually falls on the next of kin. If the person is married, it’s their spouse. Or, in the case of elderly parents, it might be a child. A sibling might step in with a brother or sister who gets sick.

End-of-life choices and financial decisions can significantly impact your health and the health of those you care for.

Some of the topics that need to be discussed repeatedly as circumstances change are:

What part do you want the caregiver to play in tending to your financial assets

  • ? If you don’t want them to play a role in your finances, who will facilitate those decisions?
  • Where do you keep your estate documents? Have they been updated to reflect your current last wishes?
  • If you are sick and need long-term care, how can the caregiver make you most comfortable? What resources are available to help ensure you’re well taken care of?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

If an illness runs long, the person being cared for may change their minds repeatedly on the above questions, especially if cognitive decline is a factor.

Dementia and Other Cognitive Issues

One area that can be prevalent in long-term care is the incidence of cognitive decline. This is the gradual deterioration of mental faculties due to neurological or physiological disturbances.

Dealing with these situations can be arduous as they often take years to take full effect. Getting important issues taken care of beforehand is essential to ensuring your loved ones get the care they need.

Some factors to consider if a loved one is showing signs of cognitive decline are:

1. Financial Power of Attorney (POA): Ensuring that someone can make medical and financial decisions for your loved one is crucial to their end-of-life care. In cases of cognitive decline that doesn’t respond to medication, a loved one’s ability to choose wisely for themselves may suddenly disappear. If this happens and a POA isn’t already in place, you’ll have to file a conservatorship instead.

2. Medicaid/Medicare : Medicaid is a government medical and dental insurance program for low-income families. Medicare is a government insurance program for individuals aged 65 and older. If your loved one qualifies for one or both of these programs, they can significantly impact the financial toll that long-term care can take on your loved one’s assets. Apply for them as soon as you think your loved one might qualify.

3. Alternatives to state-led programs: If your loved one doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, paying for long-term care can be expensive. Look for ways to cut those costs down.

  • Hire a part-time caregiver
  • Hire a family member
  • Ask your loved one’s doctor to prescribe a nurse
  • Take advantage of technology and community resources

Scheduled Breaks

One area that caregivers often overlook is their own mental and physical health needs. Even if your loved one has everything in order, managing it can take a toll. Scheduling routine breaks for yourself is essential to ensure you stay healthy and happy despite caring for an ill family member.

Some ways you can make sure you and your loved one are cared for are as follows:

Schedule a CNA or Nurse: Two to three times a week, allow for a medical professional to take over the job you usually tend to. A nurse or CNA ensures your loved one is cared for (if they are at home) and allows you to attend to other errands or take a break.

  • Involve a trusted family member: Enlisting help from a sibling or other family member can give you a much-needed reprieve. This once-a-week break (or more) is crucial to keeping your mental health intact.
  • Transition to Assisted Living: Despite most people not wanting to put their loved one into a facility, sometimes a transition to assisted living can help ease the pressure of constant, 24/7 care.

No matter how you handle it, scheduling time to rejuvenate can help ensure you are around during your loved one’s last years.

Dealing With Death

No matter how long your loved one is cared for, death is the great equalizer. Planning a funeral when a loved one has passed away can be overwhelming, especially considering most people only plan one or two funerals during their lifetime.

Taking time to grieve is critical to ensuring wise decisions are made concerning the funeral and aftercare for your loved one’s estate. Before making any choices about the funeral, read over your loved one’s legal documents, including their last will and testament. Doing so will give you time to understand and ensure your loved one’s final wishes are considered.

Once you have those in place and the funeral is over, the next step is dealing with their estate. This situation can be overwhelming, especially if their legal documentation isn’t complete or they have a large estate to distribute.

When partitioning your loved one’s estate, have their legal documentation handy to ensure you’re giving the right part of the estate to the right person. 35% of Americans say they’ve experienced family conflict over an estate that was mishandled or didn’t have an estate plan set up ahead of time.

Considering these situations can help family caregivers ensure they have a much easier time dealing with end-of-life care for loved ones and to deal wisely with estate planning issues that may arise after a loved one dies.

Complete Article HERE!

Can Nursing Homes Take Your Life Insurance From Your Beneficiary?

By Rebecca Lake

A lengthy nursing home stay can be expensive, and if you don’t qualify for Medicaid, you may need to draw down your assets to pay for it. You may choose to leave a life insurance policy behind to help your loved ones cover final expenses and replace some of the assets that were used to fund nursing care. But can nursing homes take your life insurance from your beneficiary? The short answer is no, a nursing home cannot lay claim to your life insurance policy if you’ve taken the necessary precautions. We explain more below but you may also want to work with a financial advisor to help set you your estate up with the right insurance for your retirement and long-term care needs.

Who Pays for Nursing Home Care?

If you or a spouse require nursing home care, there are multiple ways to pay for it, depending on how long of a stay is required. Generally, the options for paying for nursing home care include:

  • Personal savings or investments
  • Medicaid
  • VA benefits (if you’re an eligible veteran or the spouse of a veteran)
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Life insurance with a critical illness or long-term care rider
  • Annuities
  • Loans, including home equity loans

Each option has pros and cons. Using personal savings or investments to pay for nursing care, for example, can mean leaving a smaller financial legacy for your loved ones. Long-term care insurance can cover your nursing care expenses but buying a policy can be expensive.

A life insurance policy with a long-term care rider may be more appealing since you can get both a death benefit and funds to pay for long-term care if needed. Annuities can provide you with a steady income to pay for long-term care, though again, the cost is a consideration. Taking out a loan is another option, though it does mean taking on debt with interest.

Most nursing homes accept Medicaid for patients who are unable to fund their nursing costs out-of-pocket or through private insurance. Medicaid is a government program that’s administered at the state level. Eligibility is based on your income and financial resources.

Medicare can also pay for nursing care, but only if you need short-term rehabilitative care. If you require long-term nursing care, Medicare won’t cover any of those costs.

Can Nursing Homes Take Your Life Insurance From Your Beneficiary?

can nursing homes take your life insurance from your beneficiary
A nursing home cannot take your life insurance policy if you have one or more named beneficiaries. If you pass away, the nursing home that was responsible for your care cannot attempt to claim any of the death benefits from your policy as long as you named a beneficiary to receive it.

Your beneficiary would be able to decide how the money from the policy should be used. That might include paying final expenses, paying off a mortgage debt or covering day-to-day living expenses.

However, you could hit a snag if you have a life insurance policy, but your estate is the beneficiary. In that case, a nursing home might be able to make a claim against your estate for any money owed toward your cost of care.

Can You Use Life Insurance to Pay for Nursing Home Care?

It’s possible to use your life insurance policy to pay for nursing home care if you don’t qualify for Medicaid or you don’t want to use other assets to pay. There are four ways that you could use life insurance to pay for long-term care and they are:

1. Life Settlement

A life settlement simply means selling your life insurance policy for cash. This option might be available to you if you have a permanent policy that accumulates cash value and meet the insurance company’s minimum age requirements.

Choosing a life settlement could provide you with cash to cover long-term care costs. However, you might pay taxes on the proceeds of the sale. You’re also eliminating the death benefit for your beneficiaries.

2. Viatical Settlement

A viatical settlement is similar to a life settlement, in that you’re selling the policy. However, your ability to qualify for a viatical settlement hinges on being diagnosed with a terminal illness or within the final two years of your life expectancy.

Again, there’d be no death benefit left behind for your loved ones. The amount of money you’d be able to receive through a viatical settlement will depend on the cash value that’s accumulated in the policy.

3. Accelerated Death Benefit Rider

An accelerated death benefit rider is an add-on to a life insurance policy that allows you to tap into your death benefit during your lifetime. You could use the money to pay for nursing home care or other end-of-life expenses.

Depending on how much money you withdraw, you may still be able to leave some death benefits for your beneficiaries.

4. Hybrid Policy

A hybrid life insurance policy combines a death benefit with long-term care insurance. If you require long-term care, your policy could pay out benefits toward those costs.

Once you pass away, your beneficiaries would be able to collect a death benefit. While this type of life insurance may come with higher premiums, you could get the best of both worlds if you’re concerned about nursing home care creating a financial burden for your loved ones.

Does Life Insurance Affect Medicaid Eligibility for Long-Term Care?

As mentioned, Medicaid can help to pay for long-term care expenses should a nursing home stay be necessary. If you have a life insurance policy, that may affect your ability to qualify for care.

Specifically, Medicaid is interested in permanent life insurance policies that accumulate cash value. If your policy has built up cash value, it can count as an asset toward your eligibility. The amount of cash value you can have without becoming ineligible will depend on the Medicaid rules in your state, but it’s typically around $1,500.

If your policy’s cash value is above the allowed threshold, you’ll need to draw some of your assets down in order to become Medicaid-eligible. You could do that by:

  • Cashing out the policy
  • Surrendering the policy
  • Transferring the policy to a family member or trust

There is a catch if you plan to gift your policy to someone else. There’s a five-year Medicaid look-back period in which your financial situation is subject to scrutiny. During this period, you’re barred from giving away assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. If you think you’ll have to spend down your cash value life insurance to become eligible for assistance, you’ll need to pay close attention to the timing.

It’s also important to note that if you leave your life insurance policy in place, Medicaid could make a claim against it if your estate is the beneficiary. Medicaid estate recovery programs allow Medicaid to recoup costs paid toward your care from your estate assets, including life insurance policies.

The Bottom Line

can nursing homes take your life insurance from your beneficiary
Life insurance can be invaluable if you’d like to ensure that your loved ones are taken care of financially after you’re gone. If you anticipate needing end-of-life care in a nursing home, you might be worried about what will happen to your policy. The good news is that as long as you’ve taken care to name at least one beneficiary, the nursing home won’t be able to get any of the death benefits.

Insurance Planning Tips

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about long-term care planning and where life insurance or long-term care insurance might fit into the picture. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Medicare planning and Medicaid eligibility are both important parts of estate planning, as you don’t want to inadvertently do anything that could hinder you from becoming eligible for benefits. You should consider which you might need to help care for your retirement needs.

Complete Article HERE!

6 joyful steps for end-of-life planning

— It isn’t just about wills and funerals — it is a reflection of your values, your goals for healthy aging, and the hopes and dreams you have for those you love


The new year is a time of fresh starts and beginnings. But it’s also a good time to plan for the end.

Planning for a health crisis and the end of life doesn’t have to be dreary. There is a lot of joy in organizing your final days, knowing that by being prepared, your final act will be one of guidance and support for your family members and other loved ones. End-of-life planning isn’t just about wills and funerals — it’s also a reflection of your values, your goals for healthy aging, and the hopes and dreams you have for those you love.

From experience, I can tell you that death is complicated for those left behind. Advanced health directives are essential — and should be created when you are healthy, not from a hospital bed. Funeral arrangements are costly, and the details — from the type of service to your final resting place (coffin or urn? Burial plot or cremation?) — are dizzying. Your credit cards, bank accounts, utility bills, cellphone accounts and internet passwords can become a huge burden for those who survive you, if you haven’t planned ahead.

Here’s a simple checklist to help you get started.

  1. Create a crisis notebook: For me, choosing a binder where I could gather all my planning documents is what finally got me started. You will need to create additional hard and digital copies once you’ve made some progress. This AARP worksheet will get you started on compiling all the documents — medical, legal, financial and end-of-life — you need. It will take some time, but the worksheet is a great way to keep track of what you have left to do.
  2. Start by writing your advance directive: Go to the AARP website to find the right forms for your state. This step is the one that most benefits you directly and will help your family make medical decisions on your behalf. The website Five Wishes is also a popular resource, with easy-to-follow instructions for creating an advanced directive.
  3. Write a will: Gallup reports that less than half of Americans have a will. Without a will, the laws of the state will decide how your assets are distributed. Services such as Nolo, LegalZoom or Quicken Willmaker can help for a fee.
  4. Make a digital estate plan: This guide from AARP will help you manage utility accounts, credit cards and social media passwords.
  5. Plan your goodbye party: Having attended several funerals, I don’t want my survivors to incur the expense or burden of planning one. And I actually enjoyed researching the options and making goodbye plans for myself with a focus on a greener ending to my life than a traditional funeral and burial. I’ve picked a lovely black birch tree in the Berkshires through Better Place Forests to mark my final resting place.
  6. Add a last letter: VJ Periyakoil, a physician who specializes in geriatrics and palliative care at the Stanford University Medical Center, started the Stanford Letter Project, to give people the tools they need to write to their doctor, friends or family. You’ll find the template and sample letters at

Complete Article HERE!

Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?

What you should consider before you agree to be responsible for an incapacitated loved one

By Patty Blevins

What you should consider before you agree to be responsible for an incapacitated loved one

If you haven’t had any experience with guardianship for adults with dementia, it’s likely you don’t understand just how complex it is. You are not alone. Many family members of the estimated 6.5 million dementia patients in the U.S. struggle to understand if it is an option for their loved one.

Many more people will face that decision because the number of people with dementia will grow to 14 million by 2060, according to Centers for Disease Control estimates.

An adult son making food for his mother with dementia. Next Avenue
In determining whether to place someone under a guardianship and curb their legal rights, the court may call on a geriatrician or psychiatrist to assess the person’s functional behavior, cognitive function, disabling conditions and ability to meet their essential needs.

The simplest definition of guardianship is the position of being responsible for someone else. State courts appoint a guardian to make decisions for another person if the court finds the person to be incapacitated or unable to make safe, reasonable decisions for themselves, according to National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

The simplest definition of guardianship is the position of being responsible for someone else.

Guardianship is serious business. People placed under guardianship, who are called wards, may lose their independence in making decisions about their finances, legal issues and health care. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, full guardianship can control whether wards can vote, who they may marry, where they live and if they can make end-of-life decisions for themselves.

An article in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias explains that the two tasks that are regularly evaluated in determining capacity are an individual’s ability to manage personal finances and take medications as prescribed.

Choosing and Monitoring Guardians

In determining whether to place someone under a guardianship and curb their legal rights, the court may call on a geriatrician or psychiatrist to assess the person’s functional behavior, cognitive function, disabling conditions and ability to meet their essential needs. A geriatrician is a specialty doctor who treats people over 65 with a focus on diseases like dementia that primarily affect this age group.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys says guardianships offer safeguards. Guardians, for example, must periodically update the court on the ward’s finances and health status. Even then, courts have the authority to initiate unscheduled reviews of guardians’ decisions about their wards’ finances, property and health care.

Guardianship, “when properly used,” is a beneficial method to protect an incapacitated person for whom no other means are available to assist with informed decision making, the organization says.

That describes the original intent of guardianship, but it assumes the guardian is honest and accountable. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Ample examples of abuse are documented by researchers and prosecutors.

An article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society first published in April 2022, sought to make a quantitative evaluation of guardianship in the United States but the authors found little consistent standards and data collection regarding the impact on patient care and the quality of life of people subject to guardianship.

Impediments to Oversight

The inconsistencies included fundamental matters, including the following:

  • The scope of the guardian’s duties.
  • Minimum standards for guardians. As of 2020, there were two states that had yet to require a background check.
  • Determination of incapacity. In the past, this decision often defaulted to a physician based solely on a psychiatric or medical diagnosis.
  • Regular independent reviews of the ongoing necessity of guardianship.
  • Educational requirements for guardians. Guardians are often required to serve in many roles that they may have minimal or no training. The National Guardianship Association (NGF) partnered with the Center for Guardianship Certification (CGC) to standardized educational content and offer certification.
  • Other drawbacks of guardianship included:
    • Once guardianship is assigned, there is greater tendency for the person to become lost to follow up. People who have been labeled as incompetent or incapacitated have limited ability to advocate for themselves, contact an attorney or access funds for court proceedings.
    • There is a greater tendency to assign full guardianship instead of less restrictive alternatives.

    Recent Guardianship Law

    In 2017, the Uniform Law Commission, a non-profit association that provides states with model legislation to clarify and standardize laws across jurisdictions , released The Uniform Guardianship Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act to encourage the “trend toward greater independence for persons under guardianship.”

    “Over 40% of the American population has never discussed their wishes for end-of-life care with loved ones.”

    The act addresses many of the previous inconsistences and proposes solutions going forward. So far, seven states have enacted the model guardianship statute in full and many more have adopted parts of it, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

    Alternatives to Guardianship

    There are multiple alternatives to guardianship but Americans need to start talking to each other. “Over 40% of the American population has never discussed their wishes for end-of-life care with loved ones,” according to the article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. These measures should begin at the first sign of memory loss or preferably when getting ready for retirement to delay or prevent guardianship.

    • Tell your family your wishes and write them down in an advanced directive (living will and health care power of attorney).
    • Create a value history. A value history is based on values and beliefs and it provides a person’s future care choices.
    • Evaluate limited (partial) guardianship as an alternative to full guardianship. In this case, guardianship is granted only over the areas for which the person lacks the capacity for rational decision making (finances).
    • Designate a durable power of attorney and list two or three backup candidates for this important position if the first choice is not available. This agent could be responsible for financial, legal and personal matters.
    • Investigate care management services. Care managers are usually nurses or social workers that are trained to identify and provide for a client’s medical, psychosocial and financial needs.
    • Find a payee. Many organizations offer money management services which serve as a payee for vulnerable clients.
    • Enlist the help of your primary care doctor. You may have to teach them about guardianship and the role you would like them to play, but they could become your greatest asset.

    Guardianship as the Only Answer

    Appointing a family member or friend as your guardian often is the ideal solution. But sometimes a court-appointed guardian is the only answer. My own experience is an example.

    I felt a sense of relief at the appointment of a guardian outside the family. It relieved us of the possibility of having to tell him that he had to stay in a nursing home for his own safety.

    My father was diagnosed with multi-infarct dementia in 2016. The disease transfigured him from an intelligent, robust, fun-loving father into, let’s say, something different. My mother already had passed away, and my three siblings and I agreed that his guardian should be the same sibling who was listed as his Health Care Power of Attorney.

    That legal document lets you state your medical wishes and appoint another person to make sure those wishes are followed if you are incompetent or no longer able to make your own health care decisions.

    Release, Then Relief

    We all arrived at the courthouse and my father surprised all of us by saying he didn’t want my sister, who had his Health Care Power of Attorney, to be his guardian. Another court hearing was scheduled, at which he agreed to have the court appoint a lawyer to be his guardian.

    I felt a sense of relief at the appointment of a guardian outside the family. It relieved us of the possibility of having to tell him that he had to stay in a nursing home for his own safety. We would not be the ones sifting through his financial records to explain his debt and explain that his mortgage was being foreclosed on. We could preserve a few remnants of a familial relationship and focus on being supportive.

    The guardianship duties performed by the appointed attorney were far from flawless. But, overall, they served as the best answer for the situation at the time.

Complete Article HERE!

How Should Your Children Inherit?

— 4 Scenarios Where ‘Equal’ Is Not Appropriate

Equally sharing the wealth among the kids isn’t always fair, such as when one sibling is the primary caretaker, or another is already wealthy.


Every estate planner has conversations with their clients about how children should inherit. While most people assume that children should inherit equally, many clients contemplate treating children differently for various reasons.

Here are some situations where an equal inheritance might not be appropriate, and the pros and cons of treating children differently.

Scenario #1: A Caretaker Child/Child Lives With the Parent

Many times, one child primarily helps an elderly parent. This could include helping with medical appointments, coordinating care with various health care providers, being heavily involved in end-of-life care, paying bills and companion care. Oftentimes, this care is provided by a child who lives with or is close to the parent.

Similarly, a parent may wish to give the caregiver child a larger percentage of the inheritance in recognition of the additional help provided.

Scenario #2: A Special Needs Child

If a parent has been the primary caregiver for a special needs child, then the estate plan should take this into account to ensure that the child will be properly taken care of after the parent’s death. Depending upon available government aid, this can often mean a special needs trust or supplemental needs trust for the child, with more or less than an equal share of the estate being held by the trust.

In this scenario, the other children can often be more understanding. In practice, many times the siblings are involved in the plan for caring for their grown sibling when the parents are no longer able.

Scenario #3: A Child With Issues

If a child has issues, such as mental illness, substance abuse, divorce or creditors, or if the child is bad with money, it may not be appropriate to leave an outright inheritance, or any inheritance, to that child. The same is true for an estranged child. The use of trusts to provide some (protective) support for such a child may be appropriate. Occasionally, disinheriting a child is the choice some families make.

Scenario #4: Children With Wealth Disparities

Sometimes a wealthy child may tell a parent to treat them differently and give more to other siblings, or a parent may feel that a very wealthy child does not “need” the inheritance. Wealth can change over a lifetime, so this should be well thought out.

What Is Right for You?

While these can all be sensible reasons to treat children differently, these are often difficult choices for parents to make. Many parents feel that they are morally obligated to treat their children equally; otherwise, after death, the children will harbor resentment and/or sibling rivalries will resurface, irreparably damaging those relationships.

It is important to be completely open and honest with your estate planning attorney. Everyone has family issues. While these conversations can be difficult, it’s best to give your estate planner all of the family information so these choices can be considered carefully. (Also, check out the article Should You Treat Your Kids Equally in Your Will? 12 Financial Planners Weigh In, in which financial planners share stories gleaned from their years of experience. Some stories end in disaster, but others offer the reassurance of a clear path to follow.)

Complete Article HERE!

After a loved one dies, red tape adds to the grief

Bureaucratic delays and paperwork are frustrating, exhausting, emotionally crushing — and often unavoidable

by Allison Engel

In quick succession last spring, my family experienced three wrenching deaths: My brother-in-law died of a late-diagnosed cancer, my husband, Scott, died of a different late-diagnosed cancer and my mother died at age 100.

The last thing you want to deal with when you’re wrapped up in grief is red tape. It’s frustrating and exhausting and emotionally crushing. And yet it is unavoidable.

My family thought our financial affairs were organized. We had wills and beneficiaries were listed there and on all financial accounts. Many people don’t do that, which makes the post-death red tape so much worse. But even so, we’ve endured months of maddening experiences with banks, insurance companies, employers and the Social Security Administration — among others.

Here are a few of the most aggravating roadblocks:

Face recognition, voice recognition and fingerprint recognition speed up access when someone’s alive but present tremendous barriers for survivors trying to wind down accounts. When I sign in to my late husband Scott’s password manager and investment accounts, access codes are sent to his phone. Despite many tries, I find I cannot change that phone number. This means keeping Scott’s phone active, a needless expense.

Credit card mix-ups

If you think you and your spouse share a credit card, because each of you has a card with your name on it and the same account number, guess again. That card belongs only to the person who applied for the account. Credit card companies are alerted to a death quickly by the Social Security Administration, and will freeze a survivor’s ability to view the account online. Providing a paper statement seems logical, but our bank’s representative told me, “Once you’ve opted to get online statements, our policy is you cannot go back to paper statements.” It took six full months of begging to the bank’s “Deceased Management Team” (actual name) to be mailed statements for the months following Scott’s death. And it wasn’t easy to cancel some recurring charges.

At Best Buy, a customer service representative said I had to take a death certificate to a Best Buy store to cancel a Geek Squad subscription. I considered dressing in black with a veil but went dressed normally, with death certificate in hand, and got the refund.

Personal visits are discouraged

When your frustration level rises after marathon sessions on hold, you might be tempted to visit the bank or insurance office in person. Don’t. At one bank, an employee would not make an address change when I arrived, and referred me to the financial institution’s website.

I visited a Social Security office in person twice to try to change the address where Scott’s post-death Medicare bills were sent since I had moved — and was now paying those bills. An address change could not be done in person after a death, I was told; use his online account. But it is the one account not in his password manager and it has a unique username I don’t know. I hope his medical bills, arriving at a snail’s pace, all come before the Postal Service stops forwarding his mail to our old address.

Documentation overload

I bought multiple copies of Scott’s death certificate, but I was unprepared for how companies string out requests for other documents. Scott’s longtime employer clawed back his monthly pension without notification, then refused to tell me what documents it required other than the death certificate. The company needed to investigate Scott’s pension wishes, it said.

Scott had had only two choices: a higher pension that ended with his death or a lower pension that continued to me. From the dollar amount of the checks, it was obvious he had chosen the lower pension.

Two weeks after receiving the death certificate, the company rep asked for Scott’s birth certificate. Two weeks after that, our marriage license. Two weeks after that, she requested the original Social Security card I applied for at age 16. A friend, a retired district judge, pointed out that companies get only 30 days to resolve such issues. I called and told the representative that this limit had been exceeded. Amazingly, she called the next day and said everything was resolved.

Still, she insisted on sending the three months of withheld pension payments to my old address, even though I had provided proof of my new address weeks earlier.

Lengthy waits

Expedia required a death certificate and 30 days to quit sending Scott emails. I couldn’t just unsubscribe him because he once had been booked on a flight through Expedia, the online travel agency’s fine print disclosed.

At our bank, I had to make one appointment with an official to delete Scott’s name from our joint checking and savings accounts, and another to change beneficiaries on that account. I was told to plan 90 minutes for the first visit. (It took two hours.)

Most of the time was spent sitting in the banker’s cubicle, waiting while he tried to get the bank’s estate management group to answer the phone. He waited on hold for 43 minutes while I sat there. Deleting Scott’s name took a few minutes. The banker hung up without asking about the credit card linked to that account and had to call back. We waited another 18 minutes for the phone to be answered.

My return appointment for the beneficiaries took another hour sitting in that cubicle.

Many of these red-tape problems are made more galling as they often require phone calls with endless waits on hold. When representatives finally connect, they invariably start by the rote and insincere “sorry for your loss” scripts.

Grief is hard enough. Dealing with tech barriers and nonsensical policies make the months after a death into a second career of aggravating phone calls, emails and visits.

How to reduce these irritations

To minimize these frustrations, here are a few suggestions learned the hard way:

1. Keep an updated list of recurring credit card charges, organized by each card.

2. Make sure you have a credit card you applied for in your name.

3. Get a password manager to hold all your user names and passwords and make sure your executor knows your master password. If you have some accounts that are not included in a password manager, make sure your executor knows what they are (and also remember to update any list in case you change them periodically).

4. Buy at least six copies of the death certificate. Some companies allow you to email copies, but others require the physical certificate.

5. Do an inventory now and make sure you have birth and marriage certificates, adoption or divorce documents and Social Security cards. After many decades of marriage and multiple moves, some of these documents may have gotten lost. It can take weeks to get copies from the various agencies.

6. Don’t put the will or other important documents in a safe-deposit box. Getting access to it can be a lengthy process, particularly if your loved one misplaced the key. Even with a key, if family members suddenly need to get a loved one’s medical power of attorney outside of bank hours, for example, they are out of luck.

Complete Article HERE!

End-of-life Planning

— Why to Start Young

You’re too busy and alive to think about death when you’re young. “It always seems too early, until it’s too late,” declared the National Healthcare Decisions Day a few years ago. You want medical insurance for a sudden illness or injury. You ask our employer and government to offer retirement benefits to retire well. What about your hope to die well? Although you can’t control your future, you can plan for it.

By Sharleen Lucas, RN

End-of-life planning – also known as advance care planning – gives you a powerful voice if illness or injury leaves you unable to speak for yourself.

Hard to imagine, right? A day when an illness or injury steals your ability to make decisions for yourself. When you’re young and buzzing through your days of hard work and fun, death is an abstract, nebulous, and distant concern. Until a pandemic hits. Or you walk away from a nearly fatal motorcycle accident. Or your first child is born. Suddenly, death creeps closer and these moments make you think a little harder about life and death.

In 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional injury was the leading cause of death for 15 – 44-year-old Americans. No one knows what tomorrow brings, as the old saying goes.

But wait, isn’t thinking about death harmful to young people?

There’s no getting around it. When you plan for end-of-life care, you have to think about death.

I asked palliative care psychologist Dr. Dwain Fehon if it’s mentally healthy for young people to complete advance directives. As Associate Professor, Chief Psychologist, and Director of the Behavior Medicine Service for the Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Hospital, Dr. Fehon has worked with countless patients of all ages facing mental and terminal illnesses.

His answers were enlightening. “When we can talk openly about difficult topics early in life, it’s just so healthy and helpful,” he expressed in his soft, kind voice. “It allows you to formulate ideas and to take in the thoughts and opinions of others so that you’re not alone or isolated with your thoughts or fears.”

There’s certainly evidence to support his words. When it’s explained correctly, most younger people want to talk about end-of-life issues.

In 2022, the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care published a study of young people’s perspectives on end-of-life planning. The researchers talked with 30 white and Black participants. They found that 87% of them were comfortable talking about the subject and wanted to make their own end-of-life decisions. Even though the sample size was small, this research is consistent with other studies.

A study published in 2019 found that young adults welcomed the chance to discuss advanced care planning. They even wanted more information about it. Researchers found a significant improvement in their “self-perception of comfort, confidence, certainty, and knowledge” about death planning. They recommended more end-of-life talks with young people.

When you’re in your 20s and 30s, paving your path and making your own choices are top values. Planning for death empowers you to voice your opinion about the medical care you want if you can’t speak for yourself.

In 2015 researchers published findings from their end-of-life discussions with 56 young people between the ages of 18-30. They found each subject felt death planning was a valuable way to express their individuality. They also liked that advanced care plans can change and grow as they did.

Surprisingly, most young and healthy people are willing and even eager to talk about death planning.

“It’s interesting, thinking about death gets you thinking about life. There’s value in thinking about these things, and when we can think about it, it helps to reinforce a general acceptance within ourselves that death is a part of life. And it’s okay to talk about. It’s not a taboo topic that needs to be kept quiet.” — Dr. Fehon

His words reminded me of the young, healthy mortician Caitlyn Doughty, who founded the Death Positive Movement in 2011. Her goal is to help people of all ages break their silence about death. Topics kept in the dark create more confusion, robbing people of their power to understand the issue and make their own choices about it.

Death planning is actually about life

Dr. Fehon’s wisdom here continues. “In the palliative care world, we have a concept called double awareness,” he told me. “One component is life engagement, and the other component is death contemplation. The idea is to hold these two concepts in our lives. We can contemplate death and still be engaged in life.”

The lightbulb lit up in my head. Death contemplation can engage us deeper into life. This is why many young people like it. The young participants in these studies had the chance to clarify what they want from life now and in the future.

But if we think about end-of-life plans and find ourselves disengaging from life, something’s wrong. We may be overly preoccupied with dark fears or sadness about death. In these bleak moments, we’re likely isolating ourselves from loved ones or others who can help us with the process.

End-of-life planning is a process that involves your loved ones. They need to know what decisions you’d like them to make if you can no longer speak for yourself. So, no one should go through the process alone.

Alright, I’m convinced. But how do I start end-of-life planning?

We can sum up the process into three steps.

  1. Complete your advance directives and make them legal.
  2. Post them openly in your home and give them to loved ones and your doctors.
  3. Talk about them with your health proxy, your loved ones, and your medical team.

What are advance directives?

Advance directives are the documents that make your choices legal. These documents include a living will and a power of attorney for health care.

A living will describe the type of end-of-life medical care you want in certain situations. It directs and guides your chosen decision-maker and medical team to make decisions for you. Your instructions in the living will, can be as creative as you want.

These directives are kind to your family. Instead of agonizing over medical decisions without your input, they can more confidently and peacefully make the right decisions for you.

A power of attorney for health care legally names the person you want to make your healthcare decisions when you cannot. This decision-maker is also called a health proxy. They become your voice when you can’t speak for yourself.

Your advance directives are yours to define and only become active when you are suddenly, by illness or injury, unable to make your own decisions.

Where do I get the paperwork?

For a paper copy, start with your doctor’s office or the closest hospital. They often stock advance care paperwork that meets your state’s standards.

Not surprising, there are many online options to suit your needs. These sites are a great place to start because they help you think about your end-of-life wishes and answer a lot of questions. Some are free, and some cost as little as five dollars. You can get trustworthy free documents at CaringInfo, MyDirectives, and Prepare for Your Care.

But these details only scratch the surface. Planning can feel overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you. Push through for the sake of your life now. For the sake of your loved ones.

If it gets hard to talk about or feels too complicated, consider talking with a local palliative care social worker or chaplain. End-of-life doulas also help people safely talk about death and advance care plans.

Remember, death planning is about life. Let these words from Dr. Fehon guide you. “What does living well mean now [to you]? Whatever your circumstances, whether you’re healthy or not, [end-of-life planning] is a recognition of what’s important and to try to live in a way that is in alignment with your values, your priorities authentically.”

Complete Article HERE!