Aging & A Case for Personal Advocacy – 3

As we continue to learn from our own experiences, as advocates for others in all manner of care giving, in particular here, elder care, we must be a leader of own personal advocacy team by taking charge with some specific actions with our future in mind. It’s a matter of a taking proactive actions now, through conversations with others, family and or trusted friends, rather than remain blinkered in the vision of our elder selves.

Personal advocacy is a life lesson that we do not have to learn and live on our own. The team approach Mark Venning advised in the June 17th, first post in this series, and the self-education in personal financial advocacy as Marie Howes spoke of in part two July 12, can be strengthened by other actions which will help to reassure you. At the same time, this will provide vital information to your chosen advocate(s) who will be the spokesperson for you in the event that you cannot.

Before choosing your personal advocate first in line after you, there are some opening questions to ask:

  • Will the person have time to manage in a crisis?
  • Will the person be managing your affairs with their physical presence or from a distance? Managing from a distance can be done, but needs other steps to be put in place.  For example if giving instructions by phone or Skype there will have to a witness in place for those receiving the instruction and furthermore;
  • Will the person be comfortable advocating your decisions if that choice is contrary to their personal preference or choice?

The devil’s in the details – ignore & chaos will ensue

Here is some advice on how to choose a spokesperson strong enough to advocate and follow your clearly given instructions and not simply just follow their own inclination.

Ask up front if the person you choose will take on the specific responsibility of being a Power of Attorney before entering their names in a Power of Attorney documents.  There are a number of reasons why a person, understanding the honour of this role, may have a need to refuse.

Arrange for your annual taxes to be done by an “arm’s length” person, or accountant to protect you and your Power of Attorneys to be safe from allegations of impropriety. You should also review your relationships with these people on a frequent basis to make sure you are being served well.

In one of my many educational presentations called Take the Chaos out of Crisis™, I advise getting your will up-dated as often as particular life changes occur that may cause you to rethink, (such as divorce, or one of your children gets married), and having Powers of Attorney for Property and Personal care put in writing.

Attach to your Power of Attorney for Personal Care a directive instructing your preference for care.  The instructions must be – what is legally possible, what can reasonably be done, and what will lead to positive outcomes and good quality of life. I stress that information is vital and numbers rule.

Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc has an excellent on line resource to help collect information under its Consumer Information drop box.  They call this a “Virtual Shoebox”. It is 27 pages long, so read before printing it out, since not all of the 27 pages will be pertinent to your situation.  Along with other details, include the user names and passwords for on line banking, bills, subscriptions, – and not to forget social media platforms you use. These days this could be a longer list than what space there is on this shoe box document.

Congratulations. You are now the leader in your personal advocacy team. Now with this action plan in place you have a well set out record of vital information and wonderful resource for your chosen spokespersons who by the way, may include others besides your current designated Power of Attorney. As with managing your computer system, backup is recommended.

 

Mary Ellen Tomlinson

 

Aging & A Case for Personal Advocacy – 2

Personal advocacy as we age is a learned life skill. In these times, when our potential for greater longevity is increasing, this learning should not happen only when we are standing at a moment of crisis at a later stage of life. Perhaps we are learning the lesson in real time, if we are the ones operating as advocates for those older than we are. So how do we best become more proactive about our own protection?

To continue from our last post on this subject by Mark Venning, I want to comment as a now-retired Certified Financial Planner (C.F.P.), and a Professional Retirement Planner (R.F.P.) holder, focusing here on protection within the financial component. My concern is about the individual being self-sufficient. As Mark suggested, it is a good idea, as you find your life stage situation changing, to assess your relationship with your financial planner to make sure you are getting the best advice.

In my view, a good financial planner should be educating their clients as to the various options, appropriate to meet their client goals. The planner who offers only one solution needs to think more about what they are suggesting to clients. The options can vary.

Yet it is you, the client, who must keep your financial planner up to date with changes in your life – such as divorce, death of spouse, new grandchild.  This is the only way your planner can come up with possible scenarios for your well-being.

Just as you the individual is ultimately responsible for whatever is reported to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on a tax return, (even if a tax preparer/accountant prepared it); so too, you are ultimately responsible for your own financial realities. No one knows what you need or want better than YOU!

Personal financial advocacy, beyond self-education

The more you are self-educated, the better you will be able to evaluate the worth of the advice your financial planner is giving you. You need to know how your planner is being compensated.  If their method of compensation causes concern as you evaluate your planner’s advice, then you may need to consider finding a planner more compatible with your values. For example, know if your planner is “fee-only”, OR  “fee-based” in which case they may be licensed to sell securities such as mutual funds, life insurance, stocks and bonds, OR they may be “commission only” OR “fee and commission-based”.

Surprisingly, not everyone who works with a financial planner, whether the planner is a CFP or not, understands the differences in compensation methods.  Knowing the differences allows the client to ask important questions.  There is no fiduciary standard for “financial planners” in Canada, just a looser “best interests of the client” requirement.

However, beyond self-education you must keep your designated advocates informed of your relationships with a financial planner and other professionals such as the lawyer who drew up your will and powers of attorney. You need to let your Power of Attorney (POA), know what your general attitudes are toward various financial issues such as investment priorities and prohibitions against investing in certain businesses.

Personal advocacy, carried with trust through a POA

Your POA needs to know who your current financial planner is, so that individual can be consulted in the management of your affairs, should you be unable to speak for yourself. The same is true for Executors of your will. Your POA and Executor should also know about the family dynamics, if they are non-family members for example. There are significant numbers of people that have a non-family POA, let alone the fact that, according to a number of reports, about 50 % or more of adult Canadians do not even have a POA.

Personal advocacy is carried with trust through a POA is a huge responsibility. Here is the Government of Canada link to information on the roles and responsibilities of a Power of Attorney. While the document addresses the “older Canadian”, that is an oversight – this is a life learning of increasing importance for people in their younger years, as they will, some day, be asked to be advocates for their parents as well as for themselves down the road.

 

Marie Howes

Priceless, Free Gifts: Our Directives for Family Advocates

More thoughts based on our May 22nd Planet Longevity post – summer as the perfect time where our family advocates have more time to be together to have open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics.
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Directives for family advocates

As we go through the normal stages of life, two of the biggest gifts we can give those we love, are to document, and then to communicate key personal information to important people in our life. This allows them to act on our behalf quickly in an emergency, to prevent disagreement among family members and to enable our wishes to be carried out. It makes things easier for others, but it is also respectful of ourselves.

Three areas of key information – basic things to keep up-to-date and communicate on are: the location of documents/financial information, a record of our health issues, and our views on death and dying.

Timely access matters

Documents include such things as – our powers of attorney for care, and finances, our will, deeds, and a list of important advisors along with a list of financial investments and accounts. Timely access to these means that if we can’t act for ourselves, our designated person can. In the digital age even though we keep our information up-to-date it does no good if the files can’t be accessed. Keeping a hard copy of information in an accessible, perhaps locked and fireproof document case is wise.

The record of health issues includes having a list of medications and contact information for doctors. This is especially important in an emergency, as our health system is not seamlessly connected and the information and timeliness can mean life or death. A family member may need to advocate for us or be asked questions about our health at a time when we are unable to provide the information.

Views on end-of-life care and the degree of intervention desired are personal choices. Legal and medical options available and, our own preferences, may change over time. It’s important to communicate our wishes to those who may be making decisions if we are not capable.

Increase comfort levels for family discussion

The challenge is that in a family there are often differing values and views on such a personal issue. It can be especially helpful to have a family discussion ahead of time where everyone hears the same message regarding your wishes. It can decrease family strife and increase their comfort with difficult decisions if they know our view.

Documenting and communicating is a critical piece of this on-going process. Advisors, health issues and our views on end-of-life care may change over time. It takes discipline to make this a priority, but our loved ones will thank us for it, and they will have the means to carry out our wishes.

 

Lorraine Clemes

Talk About Death in the Summer Sunshine?

Mention “Estate Planning”, (a.k.a. “Death Planning”) in mid-winter, and everyone retreats into a blue funk. Mention it when the sun is shining in mid-summer and it seems…well, less of a downer.

As was suggested in our May 22nd Planet Longevity post, summer is a the perfect time when all generations have more time to be together and, in a less pressured way, can open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics, such as estate planning.

During our lifetimes, we all collect “stuff” – financial, material and sentimental goods. These are our “toys”. Estate planning is all about distributing the toys in a way that makes sense to us, and hopefully, is understood by our beneficiaries, the people to whom we are giving our toys.

What is to happen to these toys, our assets, when the older generation dies? What role will adult children play in the aftermath?

Opening the Talk.

We all die at some point. It’s a necessary conversation often avoided in family discussions. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation is started by the parents or the adult children.

As the parent it might start with:

• “(We/I/Father/Mother), won’t live forever. We’ve put together an estate plan which we want to explain to you (and your siblings). Let’s talk about it now.”

Setting Beneficiary Expectations

Step One. Let beneficiaries know the location of key documents: Is the Will in a bank safe, at home, In the lawyer’s office? Is there a list of all credit cards, insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, service contracts, passports and so on? Everyone should have this information documented in a “Just in Case” file, easily accessible in case of accident or death.

Step Two. What are the expectations of family members regarding the distribution of assets at death? Will there be equal or unequal distributions depending upon the needs of beneficiaries?

• How will “sentimental objects” be distributed? More family quarrels arise over family treasures (often of little monetary value), than most people realize. Have a plan in place – find out who would really like the old mantel clock, the painting in the hallway, and who wants Dad’s pocket watch or Mom’s pearl earrings.

• Will some objects, or money be distributed to family or friends before death as gifts? If yes, make sure that the surviving spouse/partner will have enough to live on and feel comfortable after the things or funds have been doled out.

• What arrangements have been made for the comfort and security of the remaining parent? There are Family Laws in all provinces which dictate certain levels of support. Make sure that the Estate Plan observes these rules.

• Are there charitable bequests to be made? Have other tax efficient strategies been explored?

Avoiding Intestacy

Of course, all this assumes that there IS an estate plan worked out with professional assistance. If not, the question becomes one of understanding the consequences of NOT having an Estate Plan. Namely, that the province of residence has an estate plan already drawn up – it’s called Intestacy; and the rules may surprise and disappoint many families. Having a Will is key, if people have assets to pass on to the next generation.

 

Marie Howes

Empowered end of life care, to die with dignity.

One of the many opportunities of longevity is that we now have a more extended lifetime to make incremental life-stage decisions, including the choice to make our individual end of life plans. Despite this opportunity, most of us are reluctant to, or do not like to think about the eventuality of own death. If we do think about dying, we just cross our fingers and hope we will die asleep in own bed; or maybe somewhere else, comfortable, pain free, with dignity surrounded by loving family members.

Baby Boomers who have re-framed most cultural aspect of their lives from birth to retirement and everything in between are surprisingly slow to take the steps which would empower them to have more control of their preferred end of life care. Making personal care decisions and putting them in writing is a loving act of kindness to ourselves and for our appointed decision makers, but that planning takes time and thought.

At a very basic level of thoughtful concern – in Canada, a Power of Attorney for Property (both limited and general), Power of Attorney for Personal Care which are legal documents, and an Advance Directive (sometimes called a Living Will) which is a statement of preferred wishes, are tools to help people stay in control when they cannot speak for themselves. Each of the provinces and territories have their own style for these documents.

Advice from a lawyer and discussing decisions with your chosen executor make these directives more effective. The Ontario government has a booklet on-line A Guide to Advances Care Planning. Another source for information is Dying with Dignity, an organization founded in 1982. They offer an on line Advances Care Planning kit. Their web site has information on Canada’s right to die laws and information on assisted dying sometimes called End of Life Choices. This organization may not represent everyone’s idea of an end of life philosophy; but it does at least bring the term “dying with dignity” to public attention.
Take time to stay in charge, empowering end of life care and dying with dignity. Longevity is a gift – use it well.

Mary Ellen Tomlinson

Will or Not to Will?

“An oral contract is as good as the paper it is written on.” So said Samuel Goldwyn.

And with all things as we age – a good precaution is never wasted. 

To Will or not to Will? Avoidance seems the norm for a third or more of adult Canadians. Death, Wills & Powers of Attorney and all that paperwork. This is a sensitive topic that some people find very hard to address. Some think if you make a Will you’ll die.  Well surprise, surprise – not making a Will won’t keep you alive. 

Everyone needs a Will. Lawyers suggest reviewing your Will every few years to keep it current with tax laws and inheritance rules.  Everyone also needs Powers of Attorney – one for Property and one for Personal Care.  These are legally binding documents so it’s a good idea to seek legal advice. 

An additional document is an Advanced Directive (sometimes called a Living Will). It’s not a legally binding document, but is an influential expression of the care you want and can help guide decisions for the person who is your POA for Personal Care. In it there are written guidelines to help, in the face of sophisticated medical science complicated by our living longer with complex health conditions. It gives you a chance to direct care when you can’t speak for yourself.

Choose the trusted person(s) you want and ask “are they are comfortable or willing to accept your authorization?”Make sure the language is fair, clear and concise. Check that your instructions are legal and medically possible. Also consider the state of your health.  A frail person with severe osteoporosis would be wise to check out the repercussions of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) since it is vigorous and damaging to chest and rib cage bones.  You may say you don’t want this type of intervention; but comfort, care and pain management are other types of interventions you may welcome.

Guiding others and forestalling family fights and misunderstandings where ever possible are important objectives accomplished through these documents discussed here.  Let’s face it we all want to be in charge of our lives. Good documentation goes a long way towards making this happen.

Mary Ellen Tomlinson