In my line of work I am daily reminded that there is but one end to all living thing, and that aging began at birth (if not before). In one sense I may be classified as either paranoid or prepared, but to quote my husband, Chris Van Vechten, to be paranoid IS to be prepared. I admit to worrying about my ability to pay for my long-term care when I become disabled or elderly, but I am also becoming more prepared. And I am only 29 years old.
Last year I established my healthcare power of attorney, determining who would be in charge of my final days should I be unable to make my own decisions. I explicitly wrote a detailed report that I did not want to be permanently a vegetable and would prefer to pass away, keeping in mind the Terri Schiavo case. I spoke with all family members and found discord as to my wishes: my mother would have me stay alive in the off-chance a miracle or scientific breakthrough occur. My brothers, on the other hand, would respect my wishes and “do me in”, so to speak. My ROTH-IRA is already going to my neices and nephew for their education.
I have been following the instability of Washington State’s medicaid and long-term care programs, and worry about the families I help if they are one of the unlucky 12,000 potentials who might be stricken from state funding. Will it be a developmentally disabled child or an elderly person who no longer has family to help? I have also been following the debate on Social Security and seen the uprisings of Senior Citizens across the nation, demanding the continuance of it despite the bleak outlook of bankruptcy, or, just as bad, a huge burden upon my generation of unemployed young people. Many more families are falling into the “sandwich” category, encased between children still living at home and elderly parents moving in to be cared for. Those families that become caregivers to parents are beaten down, exhausted, depressed, more prone to high blood pressure, weight gain, stroke, cardiac arrest, and are likelier to have more of a decline in health than the ones they care for.
I went to a seminar at a local cemetery (work-related, no less) and pondered my mortality. I was surrounded by the super elderly and their baby-boomer kids, and there sat me, not quite 30. I’m not sure if I made anyone uncomfortable by being there, but I was certainly impressed by all the options and types of cremations, burials, choices of urns and package prices and military send-offs and financial plannings with Medicaid and even their famous pet cemetery. Chris and I occasionally go to local cemeteries where we know historical figures lie to read their gravestones – habits of historians and nerds, I imagine – and we debate on what type of burial and grave each of us wants. Chris wants cremation and the cheapest option possible and his remains kept in a vase or dumped unceremoniously. I want to be cremated but placed in a burial plot with a headstone - and, as I found out, I can be buried in one plot with 4 other cremated persons. I’ve decided I want to convince my family to buy 3 plots and all of us vow to be buried together.
I’ve thought about this. And then I’ve wondered how am I going to pay for my life. First I need to buy a new car (mine has almost 200,000 miles on it now and is expected to give up the ghost any day), then a house, maybe have one child, push him/her through school, in my 40s buy long term care insurance which will only last 3-5 years, pick my burial plot, make my child my Power of Attorney, write up my last will and testament, make sure my Twitter and Facebook passwords have been passed to the Spawn Child, in my 60s force Chris to start talking about long-term care again (which he might not be so peeved to talk about at that age), if he kicks the bucket first make sure to respect his wishes and cremate him then spread his ashes somewhere, then find an Assisted Living or Retirement community I can afford, and…
I get stressed. I might just end up as broke in my future as I was a year ago, and years of diligent labor, saving, planning, might be flushed down the drain with one bout of cancer, or one natural disaster, or one big huge lawsuit, or something else I can creatively come up with.
The facts are, our healthcare system is broken. The debate lies in how to fix it. In the meantime, while politicians bicker and campaign for next re-election and while uninformed citizens complain on all the corruption without taking any type of action, death marches on, homelessness increases, starvation becomes more pervasive, and everyone hopes that a new cream, a new food group, new technology, will quell the progression of aging and death, our inevitable nemesis. There is only so much planning and preparation one can do before Death’s Scythe takes us down a peg or two.
What can be done? I make sure my bills are paid off each month. If Chris and I are worried about cutting it close, we rely on beans and rice and his stock of beer he’s saved up. We tighten our belts. We watch what we spend. Chris makes sure he’s got health insurance. I am stubborn and stupid enough to not pay for health insurance right now because we’ve got law school bills to pay, but maybe in January or February I will begin again. Chris and I have candid conversations about our wishes for ourselves and our parents. We’ve written a contract up together spelling it out. We both save each month and he invests it for us. With my work I have begun my long term care policy.
Our Department of Health just de-funded their partnership with the U.S. Living Will Registry which hosts all pertinent documents online for you and your family in case of an emergency, but I’ve been looking at them as a potential to sign up and host my emergency documents as a “just in case”.
The Washington State Medical Association has a great FAQ page on advance directives and what our state requires to be prepared for the inevitable. They also have actual documents specific for Washington residents to print off, sign, and tuck away so your wishes are respected by the people who will have control over your future fate.
Not only a healthcare advance directive, you must have a Power of Attorney set up. It is important also thave a Will and go through an attorney, since online Wills are typically not specific for Washington State and are easily challenged and broken in court if gotten online. I recommend Tacoma’s Darol Tuttle, elder law attorney or Jim Bush, also specializing in wills and estates.
At the end of it all, Iam on the side of senior citizens for both selfish and non-selfish reasons. I see my future when I look into my grandmother’s eyes. I want the best for her and for my parents, and when I become elderly I want someone watching out for me. We must become prepared and take ownership of our financial present and future as best we can. My last suggestion is to endorse Governor Gregoire’s half-cent sales tax increase which will, in part, not cut Medicaid further.