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TAAG’s Wednesday morning blog has posted each week since 2009, and many of them have been inspired by client experiences.  This week’s topic is based on a client’s specific request, and to quote him directly, ‘people need to prepare.’

We spend most of our time helping people plan to pay for college, weddings and their own retirement goals and aspirations.  And we focus an equal amount of attention on making sure there are adequate funds for loved ones and clear legal instructions for what they want to happen in the event of their death.  But there is a time in many people’s lives between striving forward and its end that can be much more difficult to think about and prepare for.

In our client’s words, he and his wife were back in Cincinnati on an ‘angel of mercy tour,’ helping to care for a friend who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and whose spouse was struggling to manage the finances, maintain their property and provide care for his wife on his own.  After a week they were headed out to visit a second friend with the same diagnosis.

Medical advances have allowed us all to live longer lives, but dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can make the final years of some people’s lives a struggle for their families and their finances.  And while not everyone may have to deal with either, having a plan in place can make life much easier for us and the people who care for us.

Probably the hardest thing about planning for our own cognitive loss is forcing ourselves to think about a subject that is unpleasant and, frankly, depressing.  One client admitted she was ‘in denial’ about ever losing her ability to do everything she does today and was planning to live well beyond 100.  While I admire her optimism and drive, our bodies have a way of humbling us sometimes.  Ask anyone who has limped into the office after a spring weekend of yardwork.

Another stumbling block in planning for our cognitive decline is perfection.  We might not be able to come up with the perfect solution for paying our bills, for example, because we don’t have a family member we feel we can rely on or don’t want to bother anyone with it.  And when we can’t come up with a perfect solution, we put the issue aside for another day.  Which leads me to the next, and probably most powerful obstacle – inertia.

It is so easy to avoid something we really don’t want to think about and aren’t certain we can solve, but as with most important but not necessarily urgent issues, what you avoid today only becomes harder to do tomorrow.  So, how do you tackle such a complex question?

With a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (your choice) and either alone or with your partner, allow yourself to think about the important things you will have trouble doing if you lose your cognitive ability, and write them down.  Paying your bills, getting to the grocery store and back alone, cooking and cleaning and other activities of daily living should be considered.  Then think about ways these tasks can be shared with other friends and family members, provided by service firms, or mitigated with technology.

Maybe the bulk of your bills can be set up to pay automatically, reducing the amount of work someone would have to assume to help you.  Consider having groceries delivered and outside service providers assisting you with cleaning and yardwork.  Think about people you trust (or don’t) and who could be included on a resource list of family members and friends to help.

Keep these thoughts on paper and available to you so you can add to them over a week or so.  Then organize them into a coherent list of tasks, along with things you can do to simplify them now or in the future, and who might be able to help you when you need it.

If the plan includes friends or family members, have a conversation to let them know your thoughts, and ask if they’d be willing to step in when you need them.  Talking about it now and getting it all on paper will help you see any gaps that may need to be addressed.

Of course, we aren’t always aware of what is happening to us, and even with planning things can go wrong.  Many years ago, one of my clients called me from the parking lot of a Kroger store and confessed she didn’t remember how to get home.  Fortunately, we had another client that was her good friend, and we were able to work together to get her home.  We also contacted her brother, who lived a few hours away, to make him aware of what had happened.

This experience was the genesis of TAAG’s Emergency Assistance form we ask each of our clients to complete.  On it, we ask you to let us know your preferences for the steps you want us to take when we believe you are having cognitive issues.  Our goal is to prevent a problem from becoming much worse.

If you believe you or someone you love is having memory issues, you may also want to consider having a financial power of attorney put in place over any financial assets.  You can have your attorney draft it, but you may also need to complete a company specific POA as well, as many companies require that you use their custom form.  It’s better to find out before than assume they will take what you have.

If your family has a medical history of dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may also consider other possibilities such as moving to a memory care facility that can provide for your daily needs.  As we remind people in planning meetings, one of the reasons we assume you will need an inflating amount of income throughout your retirement, even though you may no longer be traveling or doing other more enjoyable things, is to give you more flexibility to meet potential medical and physical care expenses as you age.

We all want to live long, healthy lives, but we should also plan for the possibility that we won’t be able to manage things on our own forever.  It’s much easier to plan while we still have the ability to do so, and putting solutions on paper today can make it much easier for everyone to deal with down the road.