Most people I know are fiercely independent. It seems that the desire to be independent is hard wired into the American experience. Most of our clients express in their estate planning documents this desire to be and to remain independent for as long as possible. Many wish never to leave their homes for some type of institutional living and are willing to devote their life savings to remain “independent”. But what we are seeing as a result is that people are either totally independent or totally dependent. There rarely is an in-between. I strongly believe that if more people would include in their planning a recognition that there can be a transitional period–a period of interdependence– which can meaningfully delay the onset of total dependence—more people would be able to age in place and be able to stay in their homes for a longer period of time.
What do we mean by interdependence? We are talking about utilizing both the personal and technological helpers that have been developed to assist seniors facing the challenges brought on by physical or mental decline. Last newsletter discussed support groups like the Elder Orphans Facebook group. For people facing aging alone, there are apps like http://eyeonapp.com/, which allows you to set up to 3 contacts, establish a check-in schedule, and have those contacts notified if you don’t respond within 30 minutes of a check-in. So, even without helpers being physically present in the home, you can increase your safety with technology. There are others, beginning with the “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” medical alert system. The point is that technology is evolving and new, and less intrusive, ways of increasing safety are being provided.
Of course, having personal help can preserve true independence. The earlier you bring someone to help with bill paying, the longer you can stay in your home. If you wait to seek help after you forget to pay your light bill and the electricity is turned off, you are more likely than not headed into a guardianship, with no second chance at establishing a less intrusive means of addressing the problem. If someone is around to help you to the bathroom in the event of physical decline, you are less likely to fall and break a hip, effectively ending your independence. Perhaps moving into a smaller, more manageable home, centrally located to grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and entertainment can lead to prolonged independence.
So, being open to planning for a period of interdependence—and following through if and when the time comes—can actually prolong your independence, and prevent you from becoming totally dependent on the expensive and oppressive guardianship system, losing your rights and perhaps having strangers telling you what to do. The choice is yours. I implore you to consider making it.