BURGER COLUMN: Caring for our aging parents
If you're a Baby Boomer with aging parents, you're either struggling with the problem already or have no idea what you're about to get into.
The simple reality that people are living longer than ever before places this generation in a precarious position of having to take care of the people who took care of them.
That's because the world of nursing homes, Medicaid, long-term care insurance, veterans' benefits, powers of attorney, guardianship, dementia and living wills is something we've tried to avoid, hoping things would just take care of themselves.
Problem is, they don't.
"Very rarely does someone come into our office to plan for their parents' last years," said Alyson Fudge, an attorney with the Lowcountry Law Office on Aging Mental Health and Disabilities in Mount Pleasant (416-1102).
"Unfortunately, they wait until there's a crisis, dump a box of paper work on the table and ask if we can fix it."
The answer is, it's fixable. Maybe. But, it's a lot easier and much less expensive if you plan in advance.
"What people don't understand is that this is a solar system of different planets," Fudge said. "There's the estate planning planet, the tax planet, the mental health planet, the Medicaid planet, the VA planet, the Social Security planet and many other planets that are not anything alike and don't speak the same language."
Another issue, she said, is that people often take advice from each other.
"Our clients all talk to each other and tell each other different stories about their experiences," she said. "The problem is no two cases are the same.
"People live under the illusion that Medicare will take care of all this stuff. So most of the time they wait until all the money is gone."
And long gone are the days when family took care of family. That's why there are waiting lists to get into nursing homes today.
"The World War II-Depression- era folks grew up with that mentality of taking care of family," Fudge said.
"After that, we changed from being a generation of responsibility to a generation of entitlement," she said.
Marie McGuirk, an associate with Fudge, added another reason for the change was women's liberation.
"Women's lib was a big factor," McGuirk said. "We got the pill, we got jobs, we got liberated and we weren't going to take care of granny anymore."
For those wanting to learn more, a good place to start is the S.C. Aging In Place Coalition (www.SCAIPC.org). This nonprofit resource could at least help you understand the many issues you could face.
Key among them is that when it comes time to decide what to do with mom and pop, the siblings often squabble over money.
"You can have one brother who's out with the fairies and a sister who's out of state running with the herd, and nobody can agree on anything," McGuirk said. "If people would just think about it and ask questions about their options earlier, it would all be a lot easier to handle when the time comes."
And it's coming.
Sooner than you think.
Reach Ken Burger at 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at @Ken_Burger.