“It’s not going to happen to me, so don’t talk about it!” exclaimed my dad indignantly. It was a typical day after college classes had ended, when our conversation turned from completing my degree overseas to saving money for my dad’s retirement. Specifically, preparing for situations where care is needed. Tragically, it met a brick wall of denial.
A couple of years later, dad was diagnosed with 4th stage liver cancer. Many discussions were held amongst family and relatives in the days leading up to the surgery. Topics ranged from; what post-surgery treatments should be administered? Where should dad stay for recovery? Who should be his caregiver? How are we going to pay for it?
Decisions were made and carried out, most of it without consulting dad. Almost everyone thought it better if he was kept in the dark, thinking awareness of his condition and situation would sap his will to live. It was decided he would move into the hospital’s private ward for recovery, where doctors could come in to monitor him and administer treatments. Dad chafed against most of the decisions, but couldn’t object when they were already implemented.
“Death and illness are never easy subjects to talk about, so it’s no wonder why avoidance is the planning default for most of us.”
In the Face of Illness, How Do You Want to Live?
One night as I stayed with him, he confessed his thoughts on the situation, that his lack of response to any treatment was a hint of what was to come and the doctors were going through the motion – a show for our peace of mind, with him as a specimen to further the studies of junior doctors. One night, dad quietly whispered “I don’t know what to expect, but this isn’t how I want to spend what time I’ve got left. This isn’t how I want to live”.
Arguments ensued between the whole family. Some wanted to try alternative medical treatments even as conventional methods failed, while others wanted to transfer dad into palliative care. Eventually, dad had enough. He told us he wanted to go home, read his books and see his garden.
Dad only got what he wanted much later and passed on at age 64. Then came the legal nightmare. Ill-advised by a relative, dad wrote his Will on an A4 sheet of paper with a single sentence that willed all assets to his family. The Will couldn’t be carried out. We’ve managed to sort everything out eventually, but things could’ve been handled better if only we (dad included) had put a little forethought and planning beforehand.
Denial Isn’t a Plan
Death and illness are never easy subjects to talk about, so it’s no wonder why avoidance is the planning default for most of us. More than ever, it’s a necessity to sit down, talk about potential long-term care needs, plan ahead for yourself or family members and document those plans.
The fact is, making a financial plan for declining health is necessary because the conversation will affect your well-being, lifestyle and how well you can protect yourself. Like it or not, declining health will eventually catch up to us all as we get older. When that happens, the situation will involve money; from considering your care options, to how will the care be paid for.
Why the Urgency?
Since my dad’s battle with cancer, I’ve discovered some “fun” facts about what is known as ‘cognitive ageing’ that makes planning ahead for care all the more important and urgent – older adults develop problems managing finances as they age. Here is how it would affect you:
Alzheimer’s & Dementia
Firstly, a study showed declining financial abilities were linked to progressing from mild cognitive impairment to actual dementia. In the event you do develop Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of dementia, the ability to manage financial matters is one of the first skills to decline. My dad never thought he would have a debilitating illness, but it happened. Even if you don’t have a family history of dementia, studies have shown more people developing Alzheimer’s and dementia in recent years. Hence, one should not be inclined to test fate with any delays in planning for their healthcare.
Not Impaired, But for How Long?
Secondly, even people who don’t have dementia often experience increasing difficulties with handling money as they age. Ageing affects each person in varying degrees and you may still retain financial know-hows in your old age, but why should you risk decline in financial abilities – your lifeline to ensuring you have the means to sustain your lifestyle in health or in sickness – by delaying to plan for it?
In the Interest of Whom?
Last but not least, decline in financial ability would open the door to being easily exploited by family, friends, and strangers. While scams by strangers are one thing, family is a more sensitive subject. We would like to think our family and friends are dependable, but as I’ve experienced, even well-intentioned family members can spend your money on options you don’t want and aggravate the situation further. Not to mention that cases of abuse are usually perpetrated by someone you know.
No Such Thing as Too Much Security
Personally, I don’t doubt my sibling would want the best for me if I were stricken with illness. Nevertheless, I would research options and take steps to ensure my choices towards my healthcare would be accounted for and carried out whenever possible.
I’ve come to find that it’s not always easy to plan ahead for future financial problems related to care. It takes time, diligent effort and constant communication to maintain, but it does bring me some level of assurance that I wouldn’t be caught off-guard if the worst happens. The question is, do you want same?
First Published: Smart Investor, April 2019
Written By: ACG Concept