By Taylor McGraw, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2018
When I was a child my grandparents were my world. For years they watched and took care of me as my parents worked long hours. When I was fifteen my grandmother developed this routine storytelling and questioning, where she would ask, “What grade are you in?” more than once a day, and began telling the same story on repeat about the grocery store cashier. It all happened very quickly, as more obvious medical problems presented themselves, and when she stopped eating, my grandfather took her to the hospital. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at 77 years old.
My grandfather looked after her for years without the assistance of another. He, unlike her, was in excellent health, tending to her every need, reminding her of the daily tasks of life, and reminiscing with her as if it were 1957 again. It wasn’t until he fell off a ladder while cleaning the gutters in 2011 that serious changes affected both their lives – changes that should have been accounted for years before.
After undergoing surgery to fix his broken hip, he developed severe dementia from the anesthesia. Just like that, both my grandparents’ memories were gone. We learned neither of them had a health care directive, power of attorney, or any financial plans as to how they would spend their remaining days. The money they had spent their whole lives earning and saving disappeared in an instant when the state absorbed their assets as we scrambled to sign them up for Medicaid.
The remaining years of their lives were spent in a facility where they whittled away physically, as their minds had left them years ago. For almost 6 years, they lived in a nursing home, not knowing who they were or who we were. When they died in 2016, only 7 months apart, they were barely a fraction of the people they once were.
My dad, who eventually became their guardian, never pushed to have the hard conversation with them about what they wanted for their future, or what would happen to them and their assets should they become incapacitated. Don’t wait until a traumatic event forces the family to consider these answers. A simple consultation with an Elder Law Attorney would have prepared and given both my dad and my grandparents the peace of mind for whatever life brought.
It is never too early to prepare for yours or your loved one’s future. Death is part of life, whether it be imminent or distant. Each person deserves to have a say in their future health and financial state. Elderly people especially, from my grandparent’s generation, are often reluctant to discuss things of this nature, but their reluctance or potential disinclination is never a reason to avoid the conversation. I firmly believe if both my grandparents had all the information at the time they were fully competent, they would have chosen a different path than the one chosen for them.