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The Starting Line

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The other day I was listening to a friend talk about her aging parents.  While neither parent is ill, they are in their 80’s.  And because neither is ill, there is no pressing need to do anything.  Except not doing anything feels like being poised on the starting line waiting for the starter’s pistol to sound.  Then, and only then, is it okay to start making practical plans for the end of their lives.

She knows it’s coming, she’s holding her breath and it’s uncomfortable. There’s a fine line between fear and anticipation.  Anticipation can sometimes feel a lot like hope and no one hopes to hear the sound of that starter’s pistol ushering in the beginning of the end.  Because we don’t want to start prematurely, we do nothing but wait and fear and anticipate.

starting line

Perhaps this is why nearly 55% of Americans do not make estate plans. They do not plan for their care financially, physically, legally, or emotionally and the resultant implications on their loved-ones is overwhelming.  They think that they’ll tackle these things when the time comes.  And when the time comes, they realize that fighting an illness and trying to live during the time they have left leaves no time to plan.

Without articulating plans for themselves, their family and care partners feel even more helpless.  Which is as awful a position to be in as waiting for the pistol.  The reality is that even with existing estate plans made when your loved-ones are healthy can only act as the guidebook for when they are not.  It’s not their “bible”, it’s a guidebook, and there is an important distinction here.  Plans made when your loved-one is healthy represent the choices and decisions they can live with.  Revisions to these plans or even the creation of them following a diagnosis represent the choices and decision they can die with.

Dying at home is something most people desire.  Unfortunately, it might fall to the family care partner to describe what that reality will look like and when faced with the knowledge that they might be in pain or they might be alone at that time, they might decide that a bed in a care facility isn’t so bad.  This is the difference between a decision they can live with and one they can die with.

It’s these choices that you can’t plan for until you’re in the throes.  It gives some merit to not making estate plans prematurely.  But not really.  The gift to your family and care partners of a guidebook to your end-of-life wishes is one they will cherish for the remainder of their days.  In fact, individuals whose loved-ones had estate plans that they were left to execute are more likely to establish their own.

Knowledge of existing estate plans combined with a confidence to discuss the difficult topic of end-of-life planning is the surest way to combat the pressure of not doing anything as you watch your loved-one age.  It won’t alleviate the apprehension of waiting but it will provide permission to raise the topic before a diagnosis.  That way you can be milling around the starting line, but don’t have to have your feet in the blocks and your eye on the pistol.

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