With Sheri L. Samotin, President of LifeBridge Solutions, Author of Facing the Finish: A Road Map for Aging Parents and Adult Children
Taking care of aging parents is not a topic that people like to discuss, however, avoidance is not a solution. If you have aging parents or you are one yourself, it’s important to get these issues out in the open sooner rather than later. As Bette Davis once said, “Old age isn’t for sissies,” and she was probably right. So martial your courage and work these issues through.
If you’re unsure or uneasy about addressing the issue or don’t know how to frame it correctly, there’s a book that can help you. It’s titled Facing the Finish: A Road Map for Aging Parents and Adult Children by Sheri Samotin, Steve’s guest for this segment.
Aging And Elder Care
Sheri notes that most of us are afraid of change because change means displacement, doing something different, or things being different from how they’ve been in the past. But what she has found is that when you plan ahead and think about transitions before they happen, you actually feel like you are in control, even when things happen in unexpected ways later.
Prepare Your Loved Ones For What’s To Come
Your most important action in this regard is making the decision that you’re going to have the conversation on aging with your loved ones. It’s important that older adults do what they’ve been doing all their lives—taking the lead as parents or heads of family—and initiate a conversation about aging, medical illness and death with younger companions who’re likely to intimately watch them age, such as their kids, younger siblings, etc. As Sheri says, typically adults and children are wary of initiating this conversation about aging even when everyone knows it’s inevitable. So have an owner’s manual for your life and make sure it includes a chapter on aging and death, amongst other important topics such as retirement planning, estate planning, etc.
Watch Your Parents For Telltale Signs Of Aging
Well-meaning adult children, too, should look for signs that their parents may be in denial and need help. Most parents don’t want to burden their children with aging but this barrier must be broken by having a framework and a plan, an owner’s manual for your life, where you discuss your retirement plans and needs with your loved ones and get all your paperwork in order.
Owner’s Manual For Life
In Facing the Finish, breaking the mental barrier starts with what Sheri Samotin, calls a life transition plan, which is like an owner’s manual for your life. Just as we have owner’s manuals for our cars and for every gadget and gizmo in our homes, we need an owner’s manual for our lives. The plan goes far beyond simply listing out what you have and where it is and gets into addressing some really tough questions, like where you want to age, what you plan to do if you can’t take care of yourself, whether you have a spouse or someone else who can take care of you, etc. For your wishes to happen, talk to people who may be making decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
Seek Professional Geriatric Care
In addition, enlist a team of helpers that specialize in geriatric care, people who coordinate your healthcare, manage your bills and payments, who execute legal and financial decisions on your behalf, etc. A good team can significantly help you navigate the challenges that come with aging.
Hire A Professional Fiduciary
Retirement is expensive and debilitating, so it’s important to have your finances and decision-making in order. In Facing the Finish, Sheri Samotin recommends hiring a professional fiduciary, someone who will step into your shoes in a legal way and become your power of attorney, your health care surrogate, your successor trustee, or your executor or personal representative for hire. Depending on the state you live in, fiduciaries may or may not be licensed and may also be called professional guardians or conservators.
In wrapping, Sheri says her book, Facing the Finish has a workbook that aging adults can use to develop a safe, secure, and personalized plan for aging to make the most of their golden years.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: Taking care of your aging parents is not a topic that people like to discuss. However, avoidance is not a solution. If you have aging parents or you are one, it’s important to get these issues out in the open sooner rather than later. You know, Bette Davis once said, “Old age isn’t for sissies,” and she was probably right. Let’s martial our courage and work these issues through. The problem is that one needs a framework for the discussion, and there’s a book which can help you. I’ve asked the author to join me today. She is Sheri Samotin, and the book is Facing the Finish: A Road Map for Aging Parents and Adult Children. Welcome to the show, Sheri.
Sheri Samotin: Hi there. Thanks so much for having me.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, there’s a direct quote from your book which was very meaningful to me. I’m going to read it. “A loss of control is always frightening, but acknowledging that your own or your parents’ situation is changing is not about loss of control. It’s actually about taking control of how things will go from now on.” Can you take us through that, please?
Sheri Samotin: Absolutely. All of us, or most of us anyway, are afraid of change because change means displacement, doing something different, or things being different than how they’ve been in the past. What I’ve found in my own life and for my clients, is that when you plan ahead and think about transitions before they happen, you actually feel like you are in control, even when things happen in kind of a crisis or unexpected way later.
Steve Pomeranz: Planning is definitely important, and I want to get into some of the details of planning. You know, I had talked earlier about setting the framework for discussion. How do you begin to even do that, especially when one party maybe just doesn’t want to talk about it?
Sheri Samotin: The most important thing is making the decision that you’re going to have the conversation. If you’re the older adult, I strongly encourage that you take the lead. After all, this is your life, and it’s really up to you how you live, how you age, and ultimately how and where you die. If you’re an adult child whose parent doesn’t seem to want to go there, then it’s incumbent upon you to do so and do it quickly and make sure that communication channels are open.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, you said something in your book or you wrote that the adult parent has spent all their lives being responsible, saving and managing their lives and their businesses or their work. All their life they’ve done this and they’ve gotten to this point. Now there’s a sense that because these issues are sensitive, they’re abdicating their role here. You’re really basically saying continue this role of responsibility, but now help your adult children help you.
Sheri Samotin: That’s exactly right. So often it’s almost like when I’m sitting with a client’s family, it’s like the cartoon bubbles over the heads. I can see what they’re thinking, but both sides are saying something entirely different. Let me give you an example. Mom is sitting there thinking, “I don’t want to burden my son or daughter with talking about this. I don’t want to worry them. They’re busy. They’ve got their own problems, their own lives to live.” That’s what mom or dad is thinking. Sitting right across from them, the son or daughter is thinking, “Mom’s in denial. She doesn’t realize that she’s starting to need help with things. She’s mad at me for trying to get involved.” You can just see the wheels turning because the two sides don’t want to talk about it.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. Wow. That is such a true representation of what happens. How do you break that barrier?
Sheri Samotin: Breaking the barrier starts with having a plan. What I call it is a life transition plan, kind of like an owner’s manual for your life.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay.
Sheri Samotin: We have owner’s manuals for our cars and for every gadget and gizmo in our homes, but we don’t have one for our life. The first thing is to have an owner’s manual for your life. That goes far beyond simply listing out what you have and where it is, but gets into addressing, thinking about and addressing, some really tough questions, like where do I want to age, and what am I going to do if I can’t take care of myself? Am I expecting my spouse is going to take of me? Do I not have a spouse? Really thinking these things through before it’s an immediate concern is the place to start.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay. That sounds good. When I hear the word plan, I kind of shut down a little bit because I don’t really know what it means and it sounds like this daunting task. It’s really just thinking about what you want out of your life. You have your whole life, but now you’re thinking about this particular part of your life and trying to take care of all the loose ends and also help the people that you love that are around you, help them support you and the like.
I want to read another quote from your book. It’s actually a quote from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Do not go softly into that good night.” Sheri, you think he’s wrong about that? Why is that?
Sheri Samotin: I do. I do. I think each and every one of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to decide how to go into that good night. Some of us may want to go softly and others may want to go kicking and screaming. The most important thing is for those wishes to happen, we have to talk about them with our loved ones and with the people who may be making decisions for us if we become incapacitated.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Sheri Samotin, and the book is Facing the Finish: A Road Map for Aging Parents and Adult Children. There are a number of helpers who specialize in these kinds of questions and problems. What kind of helpers can aid someone in navigating this transition?
Sheri Samotin: I think it’s important to have a team. Again, since you know I like to plan, I think it’s important to select and identify your team before you need them. That team, depending on your situation, might include, for example, a geriatric care manager, someone who is specially trained to coordinate care, go to doctor’s appointments, and navigate with all the doctors and all the medications and so on. Maybe you need a daily money manager. I happen to be one of those. We help people manage the day to day business of life, managing the mail, paying the bills, dealing with health insurance claims, disability, or long-term care claims, all those businessy things. There’s all kinds of helpers and all kinds of professions out there that didn’t even exist 30 or 40 years ago.
Steve Pomeranz: One of those professions is called a professional fiduciary. What is that?
Sheri Samotin: A professional fiduciary is someone who will step into your shoes in a legal way, meaning become your power of attorney, your health care surrogate, your successor trustee, or your executor or personal representative for hire. This is somebody that is paid to do these jobs. In some states, they’re licensed. In California, we have licensed professional fiduciaries. In other states, there might be licensed professional guardians or conservators. In still other states, there’s no license required at all.
Steve Pomeranz: Wouldn’t this be a role, oftentimes, played by the adult children?
Sheri Samotin: Often it is. That’s probably the very best scenario of all. How many of us know a family either where there are no kids or mom or dad don’t trust or like their kids, or they might like their kids but they don’t like their kid’s spouse that they think they’re going to get a divorce and come and take all the money. Or it’s a second or third marriage and they don’t know whose kids to pick. Those are all scenarios where a professional fiduciary may be helpful.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay. It can get complicated and you can bring in an outsider to help. In your book, you describe two types of aging parents. You alluded to it some minutes ago, but I want to repeat it. The type of parents, and by the way, I see this all the time, that say they never want to be a burden to their family. That’s type number one. I can just hear that statement so often made. Then those that are in denial about the reality of their health issues or what’s actually going on in their life. How can adult children do best for their parents in each one of these categories?
Sheri Samotin: My recommendation is when you have a parent who doesn’t want to be a burden, what they tend to do is withdraw and not tell you what’s going on. If you’re the adult child in that case, you need to be a bit of a detective. You need to make sure when you go to visit mom or dad that you’re opening the fridge and looking to see whether either there’s nothing in there or everything in there is out of date and has hair growing on it.
Steve Pomeranz: Good point.
Sheri Samotin: Those kinds of things, or whether the garden, which was always perfect, is now overgrown. These are clues that mom or dad may need some help. They don’t want to be a burden. They’re not going to tell you.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. Then you see them physically and maybe they’ve lost some weight. It means they’re not eating. Look for telltale signs like that.
Sheri Samotin: That’s right. That’s with the “I don’t want to be a burden”. They keep secrets. The ones who are in denial generally are the ones that you get the calls in the middle of the night about the fall that led to a visit to the ER, or the fact that they lost their car and the law enforcement has picked them up wandering around because they can’t find their car or somebody stole it, which is what often they say. These are people who have been in denial about noticeable signs about their own inability to manage their day to day affairs. We adult children hear about those usually from other people.
Steve Pomeranz: Adult children have their own set of issues as well. Perhaps a nagging guilt that they should be taking care of all the responsibilities because they feel their parents have done so much for them over the years, but they need to take full responsibility. How can adult children get a handle on this and other issues that block a good outcome?
Sheri Samotin: The most important thing for adult children to be is realistic. Realistic about what they can and cannot do, in terms of money, in terms of time, in terms of proximity, and in terms of relationships. When they can’t do it all themselves, that’s okay. They need to ask for help.
Steve Pomeranz: There’s no shame in asking for help because the bottom line is it’s the outcome that’s important.
Sheri Samotin: That’s exactly right. In fact, I have a companion workbook that’s now come out with the book. One of the exercises in there is “12 soul-searching questions you must answer to prepare to help your aging parents.”
Steve Pomeranz: That’s great. I know that people can find more information about the book at facingthefinish.com. Am I correct about that?
Sheri Samotin: That’s right.
Steve Pomeranz: Will they find that workbook there as well?
Sheri Samotin: They will. In fact, that’s the only place they’ll find the workbook.
Steve Pomeranz: All right. The book is Facing the Finish. The author is Sheri Samotin, and as I said, more can be found at facingthefinish.com. Hey, Sheri. Thanks for enlightening us on this very very important issue. Thank you very much.
Sheri Samotin: You’re so welcome. Thank you.