|Oregon State Bar Bulletin MAY 2011|
Of course we all intend to ensure that our aging parents’ changing needs are addressed. Just as soon as we’ve done whatever it is that we do at work that occupies us full time — or more than full time.
To which elder law lawyers and specialists would say: don’t delay. Or, since we are always working, anyway, at least check in with elderly clients.
“I’ve noticed that people are waiting until they’re really sick (to investigate options),” says Oregon State Bar member Meredith Williamson, who went to law school to work with children and instead ended up happily partnering with her mother’s senior housing and care referral agency, Choice Senior Services, LLC.
“There’s a place where their attorneys could get involved,” she says. “People may have a difficult time taking advice from their children, but they do listen to people outside the family that they see as knowledgeable: doctors and lawyers. Attorneys are likely to have ongoing relationships with their clients, which may allow them to notice declines in a client’s memory, hygiene, weight and physical appearance — all signs that a person may need care or support services.”
“If you’re really, truly advocating for that person, and see that he or she is not in a good position, don’t press the issue, but bring it up. If a client trusts his or her attorney and is confident that the attorney is speaking from a place of genuine concern, the conversation likely will be well received. If the client is in the attorney’s office for a matter involving planning for his or her future, the topic should be a natural part of the conversation. It is better to be prepared and not need services than to need them and not know where to begin.”
Williamson, whose company serves most of Oregon and Vancouver, says its elder care specialists have the following suggestions for how to initiate this conversation:
I notice you are not getting around as well as you used to. How are you managing at home?
If the client looks thinner, ask, “Are you still cooking for yourself?”
Are you getting out of the house and having fun?
Have you looked into care options for the future? (“Educate people that senior housing is not such a scary thing,” says Williamson. “It includes more than ‘nursing facilities.’”)
As we age, we will need some type of assistance. Have you considered what you would prefer — staying home, a community, shared housing?
Have you thought about what will happen in the future if you someday are unable to stay in your own home?
You may not want your family making decisions for you about where you are going to live. Have you looked at any places?
Williamson says that attorneys also should have resources or contact information available to provide if clients indicate that they need help.
“A great book, Retire Right: 8 Scientifically Proven Traits You Need for a Happy, Fulfilling Retirement, by Oregon doctors Frederick Fraunfelder and James Gilbaugh Jr., claims that one of the keys to a happy retirement is the ability to plan ahead,” she says. “It is great when people come to us with years to plan, but often we see people with only days to make arrangements. Thirty percent of our clients have needed to move within two weeks, 60 percent within one month. The shortest was 48 hours. I mostly see people who have not planned ahead and are faced with an immediate decision.”