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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Current Trends - 'Tis the Season (to be around family) - Episode 119


Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another Legal Tea episode today, episode one hundred and nineteen! Today’s topic is a current trend … on this type of episode, we dive into something in the current time or that I’ve stumbled across on the news or social media, that is pertinent to my little estate and elder law world. Well, today’s episode is more of the “current times” because today, we’re going to be talking about how the holidays are approaching … and what do many of us do around the holidays? We get together with family, loved ones, and friends – and some of those we will see and visit, we may not have seen them in a bit. As I said at the end of my last episode, interestingly, my office’s phones start ringing more at the end of the year (and around holidays) because family is in town – and either it’ll be current clients’ family members wanting to come in and “meet with their estate attorney” or prospective clients want their family members in town to join them for the conversation/meetings.

But another big reason our phones ring more .. is because these family members may notice that Mom, Dad, Aunt, Grandma, whoever … has declined since they last saw them. And now, they’re concerned. So, I wanted to do this episode to possibly give you tools, resources, and tips/tricks for how to deal with this – how to deal with noticing your family member or loved one’s declining health … even if it’s not physical health, but perhaps, showing significant signs of memory loss or cognitive impairment. Some questions that pop in your head (in those moments) are:

- Do they have their legal affairs in order? If so, where are the documents? And who is appointed in those documents to help maybe be the one that needs to step in and intervene?

- Are they safe where they are living? Can they truly remain at home still? Maybe, maybe not – but if not, do we need to find someone or a company to come in an “drop by” for visits? Like, home health care?

Honestly, those are just SOME of the questions that start popping up. There are many, many more questions – and sometimes, you’re left with significantly more questions than answers. So, hopefully, this episode will help prepare you for the approaching holidays – and possibly seeing a parent, grandparent, loved one, friend, etc. that this exact episode may be super applicable to. I mean, it’s November now after all – so getting together for the holidays is RIGHT around the corner!

First and foremost, the time is NOW for someone to start the conversation with your family member or loved one about making sure their ducks are in a row – if they’re showing signs of slowing down, declining physical health, or showing memory loss. In my world, things truly can become too late, where the options on the table are NOT fun and VERY expensive. Being proactive pays off. I promise. One of the hardest things about “starting the conversation” is the WHO is going to start it – who is the most appropriate person to approach the family member or loved one? In my experience, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Some have had success with “all the kids” approaching Mom/Dad (whoever) at once and as a group (rather than say just one child). I’ve seen that work well when Mom/Dad/whoever seems to be incredibly resistant because if just ONE kid does it, Mom or Dad will usually just find another kid to say something like “Can you believe that your brother, Bob, brought this up?!” Almost gossip-y like. Honestly! They’ll start trying to find SOMEONE, ANYONE on “their side.”

Conversely, I’ve seen the group setting not work out well. Where, Mom/Dad feels … almost attacked. And that makes their walls go up even more. So, what I tell clients often is that YOU know your loved one better than I do – and specifically, how they are likely to respond to a conversation like this. Though, regardless, oftentimes, this conversation (of getting their ducks in a row) takes time. Most of the time, they don’t just jump on the phone the next day to call someone like me – heck no. They usually drag their feet – but, let’s be for real, most people drag their feet with estate planning, so are you really going to blame them? So, there’s a fine line and delicate balance between holding them accountable to “making that call” (to someone like me) and not being overbearing and annoying. If they feel you are being overbearing and annoying, that is likely to just make them dig their heels in even more. So, just don’t call them every day … it’s like a seed that has to be planted. Plant it … walk away … check on it a while later.

Now, it’s usually going to be better and easier for them to lead the charge – and when I say lead the charge, I mean be the one that actually hires someone like me to get their estate planning done or get it updated. Sure, I have their kids and loved ones in the room quite often, but at the end of the day, THEY (the Mom/Dad/whoever) is really who is my client; not the kids or loved ones. So, that’s what I mean – it’s much easier for them to be the one that is the client rather than the kids or loved ones calling someone like me to say, “HELP JENNY! We fear it’s too late now because Mom’s dementia has gotten really, really bad.”

My message to you on this front is that there is always going to be a solution 99.999% of the time – though, depending on the facts and situation, some solutions may be better than others. I also hate to say it like this – but oftentimes, the BEST solution is the most expensive one. Here’s an example of what I mean…

[Dad had dementia diagnosis/drags their feet/too late/guardianship more expensive than had they done POA story]

[Uncle had cancer diagnosis / now in hospice / dragged his feet / too late to do trust planning / will have to go through probate later]

Those last couple of stories are real-life stories that have actually both happened recently – and they happened recently because they happen ALL the time. Like I said earlier, it’s always going to be better to get their buy-in and to get them to show-up to an estate and elder law attorney’s office. But as we all know, sometimes we can lead someone to the water, but it’s up to them to drink it – and they don’t or won’t. In situations whether we have buy-in from Mom/Dad/whoever or I’m working with the kids (on behalf of Mom/Dad), an estate and elder law attorney is going to be a great central resource. I can’t tell you how many phone calls and emails we get from people thinking we can help them, but really they need someone else’s service. Like, we get calls all the time for Medicare advising (now, we do Medicaid – not Medicare – two very different programs) and we’ll refer them out to local Medicare resource. Same for Social Security Disability. We don’t do that, but it often comes up with aging adults. So, we have referrals and resources at-the-ready.

This all reminds me of something someone said once and I’m not sure who it was – but it’s stuck with me. Elder law attorneys are like social workers with a law degree. They said that signaling that most elder law attorneys have bleeding hearts and are in this warm and fuzzy field for a reason – we’re not rough-and-tough litigators! So, I say that because regardless of where you are listening to this from, if you ever need a ton of tools, resources, tips and tricks for an aging family member or loved one, an elder law attorney is going to be a fantastic starting place because we have SO many. I hope this episode proves to be helpful as we approach the holidays. I also feel a weird need to remind you that as we all dive into the holidays, remember that life is short and family and loved ones are not with us forever. Enjoy the moment, enjoy your time with your people.

Alrighty, I’m out of time, friends, so let’s wrap this episode up – next week, we’re back to the “celebrity estate planning” type of episode – and during that episode, we are going to dive into what happened estate-wise following the passing of Paul Newman, who sure had his hands in a lot of pots – he was an actor, an entrepreneur (ever heard of Newman’s Own salad dressing?!”, was even a race car driver, etc. Anyway, definitely tune in next week for an episode on his estate – it’s a good one! Talk to you then and stay well!


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