Agatha, 60, had married a man 25 years her senior. He had one son who lived outside the US and was not close to his father. Agatha and her husband had a lot of good times until he began to show signs of dementia. Before long, Agatha was a full-time caregiver. She lost her husband within two years of the emergence of his symptoms.
Now, Agatha finds herself in charge of everything her husband had handled before: investing, management of retirement funds, household repairs, maintenance, and decisions she had never made in her life. She was not financially literate when she got married and she feels extremely vulnerable now. There is no adult child to step in and help. Her husband’s son did not come to the funeral. She is a client at AgingParents.com where we fill in the gap and get her in the hands of honest professionals who can assist with all the daunting tasks before her. When there are adult children in a situation like this, they can generally figure out what to do, but here guidance from professionals can be extremely helpful and reassuring.
What Not To Do
The first piece of advice she receives is to avoid any important decisions while she is still in the throes of grieving and trying to set priorities. Newly widowed people make perfect targets for scammers and manipulators. We warn her to be very cautious about anyone who approaches her and to seek legal advice. Agatha needs to inform all the entities connected with the estate that her husband has passed, sending them the death certificate. These include Social Security, the bank, the financial institution where her late husband’s IRA is held, the insurers and others. Together, we make a list. If the son were capable or interested he would be doing this work with her, but he is not going to help. I refer her to a competent attorney colleague and a tax preparer who will assist her in administering the estate, which means paying the taxes and any debts of the trust, other matters and ultimately getting inherited funds to the named heirs.
Access To Financial Support
In our discussion, it is clear that Agatha has no income. She does inherit the house, which has considerable value and there are funds on hand that will support her for a time. At 60 she is not eligible for taking Social Security for herself yet, but she is eligible for survivor’s benefits from her husband’s Social Security. She hadn’t thought of that. She is advised how to apply. She makes appointments with the lawyer and the accountant so she can get her bearings. She also gets referred to a competent financial advisor, an expert on Social Security and whose fees are less than what advisors usually charge. She expresses her relief.
Agatha is like so many widows who have never handled finances by themselves before. She needs help not only to navigate through her responsibilities now but to become well educated about her money going forward. At AgingParents.com we are essentially taking the role of what an adult child would be doing for a newly widowed aging parent: giving guidance and direction, step by step, keeping a watchful eye. There is a great deal of work, there are legal and financial consequences for not knowing what to do, and while grieving, a person has to learn new things. It is daunting.
Adult children with aging parents who are heading predictably toward the end of their days is to prepare yourselves to be of help to the parent who is going lose the spouse or partner. Review the family trust to see who is named as the administrator. Find the location of funds that will need to be distributed as inheritances. Line up the reliable lawyer, accountant or tax preparer in advance. If you are not clear about how the surviving spouse will be supported or cared for if care is needed, explore your options ahead of time. It is much harder to competently take care of this business when you, yourself are grieving a loss. When your aging parent loses a spouse or partner, you may be feeling the sadness and loss too.
The Underutilized Resource: Hospice
We advise everyone who has the opportunity to do so to educate yourself about hospice, in case it becomes appropriate. It is a service paid for by Medicare that offers care, support and help when end of life is predicted within six months and after loss of a loved one. Besides comfort care for those reaching their end, hospices offer services for family as well: post-death checklists, comfort and bereavement groups.
These are hard subjects for all of us. Facing our own mortality and that of our loved ones is challenging. Yet, we see the most conscientious, forward thinking adult kids in families doing admirably in the aftermath of a parent’s passing. We hold them up as examples of managing as painlessly as possible. Preparation makes a great deal of difference.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com
Are you worried about a loved one in failing health? No sibling cooperation? Get relief from your distress from our nurse-lawyer, psychologist team at AgingParents.com. Call today for an appointment, 866-962-4464.