As many of my friends know, my mother passed away about two weeks ago. My father passed away just a little over a year earlier.
My brother pointed out to me several ironies in connection with their deaths:
- Both of them had lived in homes they were comfortable in, but were forced to move to assisted living facilities because of their infirmities. In my father’s case, it was because even the modest half-floor stairs in their house became too much for them. In my mother’s case, the cost of full-time at-home care was too expensive.
- Although the specifics of their conditions were different, both of them reached the point at which walking became painful, then impossible.
- For both of them, eventually their diagnoses reached the point at which they had to go into hospice care. In my father’s case, he was alert enough to make this choice for himself. In my mother’s case, she was no longer able to make this decision for herself, and I had to make it for her.
Let’s not fool ourselves: The similarity between their ends did not mean there was some sort of mystical connection. They divorced in 1964, and there was no love lost between them. The more likely correlation is that this how people generally pass away due to old age these days.
My father was able to plan and make decisions for himself up the end. The same was not true of my mother. I became responsible for her financial and care decisions about nine months before she died. The main thing I learned from that experience:
Do not wait until the last minute before doing elder-care planning. My mother avoided the conversation for years. As a result, her last few months were spent among a lot of rushed decisions. Although she was generally content with how things turned out, it would have been much easier if she’d followed my suggestions and began to prepare seven years ago, when she had the first of what turned out to be several health incidents.
In particular, the best thing I did was to hire a geriatric care manager and health-care advocate for my mother. Such people are professionals and charge professional rates, so it’s best to contact one long before the money runs out. The person to whom I was referred was excellent, but I’m sure there are many others who can help just as well.
There was one area in particular that I wish my mother had addressed. She had a Will (thank goodness!) and she had an Advanced Health-Care Directive, which made things much easier towards the end. However, in our conversations, she often mentioned that were other people to whom she wanted to leave some money apart from my brother and I. I repeatedly told her to consider revising her Will to include them, or even just write a list so I knew her wishes.
She never did either one.
I’ve had to guess, from what I remember and from other clues, to which charities my mother wished to leave money. I plan to donate to them once her last bills settle down. This may not be until April 2023, when her last tax return is filed. (They say nothing is certain except death and taxes; they rarely add that they come in that order.)
With that in mind, here are her charities. If you feel like making a donation to them, please feel free to do so.
- The Bank Street College of Education, for teaching children and for training teachers. I know my mother went to this school, but I’m not sure whether she graduated from it.
- The Fiorello H. LaGuardia of Music & Art and the Performing Arts. That web site describes the school; donations are made via another site. This school is probably best known as “the one from Fame.” My mother would have attended that school in the 1940s, long before girls in leotards would have started dancing in the streets outside.
- The Mosaic Project to promote diversity in education.
More importantly, please look around at the lives of your loved ones and your own life, and start a conversation about end-of-life planning.
One last thing both of my parents had in common:
They both went cheap when getting their Wills written. In my mother’s case, this didn’t matter too much since she had already made me co-owner of all her financial assets. In my father’s case, it created a complex situation that required letters of testamentary, probate, and all those other things that lawyers love.
I know web-based fill-in-the-blank Wills are out there at the fraction of the cost of a good lawyer. But if you can, consider an elder-care lawyer and/or a elder-care advocate to help with this planning.
It really makes a difference.