When I started practicing law over thirty years ago, estate planning was all about dying – what happens when I die: where will my property go; who will manage my property until it is distributed; how do I avoid taxes; and so forth. Initially, that involved a will or a trust.
As time marched on, incidents of disabled person’s disability became a more prominent issue, particularly as it impacted the ability to conduct a disabled person’s business or manage a disabled person’s property. Powers of attorney for financial decisions were then added to the typical estate plan.
Medicine has continued to progress, and as a result, the healthcare power of attorney has become an important part of the estate plan. As dying rights became a hot topic, Living Wills have also become an essential tool.
As many of you know, I took care of my grandmother for ten years. For six of those years, she resided in Texas, alone. I would try to go see her several times each year, but it was a very unsatisfactory arrangement for her and for me.
I eventually moved her to Hays. She moved from her home into assisted living. Certainly, her cost of living increased, but the last four years of her life were of a much higher quality than the previous six years. In describing what happened to my grandmother after I moved her to Kansas, I often use the analogy that it was like putting water on a seed buried in the soil. Once she started being around people, eating properly, and getting good care, she blossomed.
I used to joke with my grandmother that she had 3-6 months to live for ten years (that was the diagnosis when she first had her heart attack in 2000. She lived ten more years after that diagnosis of 3-6 months).
Where am I going with this? It is important that you live. It is important that you take care of yourself now. It is important that you enjoy your life, now. It is important that you take steps to be sure that you can find, access and get good care.
So many times I have families come into my office and they are denying themselves the simplest of pleasures, or even the simplest of needs (such as medicine), just to save money. The result is that they do not enjoy life, they hasten their failing health, and they end up incapacitated and/or in a nursing home quicker than they needed to be.
Recently, I was meeting with one of my families. The father has a very severe disabling illness. His wife is worried about having enough money. I love this quote from the son: “You need to take care of yourself and if there is a quarter left over at the time of your funeral, we will drop it in a slot machine.” The son really wanted his parents to enjoy their life and to take care of themselves, now.
When we work with our families, we want to teach them to prepare to live. We want to teach them to be prepared to live a quality life, a life full of richness – rather than a life full of worry and pessimism.
As a result, when we are helping a family, our planning with the family is successful living, rather than dying.
One of the great pleasures of my practice is hearing the wonderful stories about the adventures of my clients and how they have wrung every ounce of life out of their living. It is my hope for all of you that when you do your planning, you prepare to live.