The Grasshopper And The Aunt
I did not misspell Aunt. As everyone in Connecticut knows, many of us pronounce “aunt”, as “ant”. So here is an elder planning version of the grasshopper and the ant. As with Aesop’s Fables, it applies to many situations we humans face, and you are free to substitute your uncle, your father or mother, your grandfather or grandmother, or even yourself, in place of aunt.
We all know the fable rewards the ant, who works throughout the summer to prepare for winter by storing up food, while the grasshopper sings away, strumming on his musical legs, without a care in the world, and without any thought or plan for the future.
Humans aren’t so different. Everyone knows that with advanced age, there is an increased probability that there will be a need for care, for help at home, for a safe living environment, for someone else to manage finances or to make medical decisions. But the summer of life is long and so the months and years roll by, and we often don’t take notice that summer will come to an end someday, and winter will then arrive. That may be in the form of a sudden stroke, or breaking a hip, or Alzheimer’s, or simply losing mobility. Regardless, the arrival of that need for help is much more difficult if certain preparations have not been made.
At a minimum, the prudent aunt (or you for that matter) should have a durable power of attorney. If you cannot sign for yourself, a trusted family member needs to have a power of attorney in place. It is too late if you suffer a sudden stroke or other debilitating injury. Those who plan ahead and have a properly drawn durable power of attorney can have their financial and legal affairs handled by a spouse or perhaps a child. It avoids the necessity of the cost, time, and burdens of a court supervised conservator. Do you prefer to have your family making decisions for you? Or are you willing to take the chance that a court will decide who can handle your finances?
If you become unconscious, or are otherwise unable to make medical decisions for yourself, do you want your closest family to make that decision or do you want to take the chance on who the court will decide to make medical decisions. The Terry Schiavo case in Florida several years ago is a prime example of what could happen if you do not have a living will. With a properly drawn living will, the person you choose will carry out your end of life decisions, in accordance with your wishes.
Likewise, if you do not have a will, or living trust, your life savings may not go to those you want to receive them. Just like the grasshopper, it is easy to ignore the fact that someday, winter will come, and when it does, it may be too late to write that will, or that living trust.
The ant did not wait until it was too late. Encourage your aunt, or uncle, or father or mother, or grandfather or grandmother, and yes, yourself, to get those critical documents prepared and signed before the winter winds blow. It’s still summer, so there still is time to do powers of attorney, living wills, HIPAA forms and wills or trusts, the basic documents everyone needs to make it through winter. Contact an attorney versed in elder law issues and get those documents done.
There is a reason that the fable of the Grasshopper and Aunt was written.