My grandfather (we called him Pappy-O) passed away recently, after almost two years of entrapment in his body and his mind. He was the father of three children, grandfather of six, and married to my grandmother (Mammy-O) for 65 years. For most of those years, he drank a cup of coffee with her every morning. After she passed away in January 2020, we all realized that he never liked coffee, he just drank it because she did, and because it was part of their ritual of spending time together. They raised three children, born between 1955 and 1960, in their home purchased in 1954. Their neighbors were their family, literally - my grandma's brothers and sisters, and adjacent to their backyard was the Baptist church where everyone went. My dad and his siblings ran outside each morning to go play with their cousins, and lived, at least nostalgic memory, a very Norman Rockwell-esque life.
Even before my grandma passed on, Pappy-O was showing signs of dementia. He didn't even recognize me when I sat by her hospital bed on her last day of life. There are no words to describe the feelings, but if you've had a loved one with memory loss, you know what it's like. Devastating doesn't even capture it. In the two years between then and now, their once idyllic family fell apart. My grandfather needed almost constant care, and there were significant disagreements on what that should look like.
My parents, square in the sandwich generation, were also helping me and my husband care for my now 4-&5-year-old daughters. My aunt was in a similar situation. Around the clock care given by only family was not only unsustainable, but insufficient, and frankly traumatizing. Over time, I wish I could say the siblings simply drifted apart, but instead the situation became untenable. Attorneys were called, police summoned, Powers of Attorney changed hands due to threats and untimely despair.
At the end of his life, we were told that my grandpa passed away "as he wished, with no pain medication." Whether or not that was true, I honestly cannot say. But what I know for sure is that he never wished there to be conflict between his children. I know for sure that my grandparents intended decisions to be made together by the three of them, and assets to be split the same way. These intentions were shared - but not documented well enough. Without documentation, everything is subject to interpretation of others, and even those who are the most well intentioned can misunderstand or misinterpret, leaving room for the focus to be pulled toward debate instead of care taking and supporting each other.
Which brings me to the family meeting, and why it is one of the absolute best things you can do for your children, grown or almost grown, and your grandchildren. It's not just about your financial picture - in fact, there are arguably far more important things to discuss. One way or another, your family become your future caregivers and they need to clearly hear the full picture, defining and documenting their roles in your end-of-life care.
Unless you have a phenomenally well-adjusted and open family, these conversations can be difficult. That's why it is helpful to have a third party there, such as your Plancorp Wealth Manager, to help raise questions that might otherwise go unasked, witness your wishes, and ensure that your estate documents accurately reflect those wishes. Here are a few things that might include:
- This is a great time to review your Powers of Attorney, particularly if your financial POA and medical POA are two separate parties. Both should be in the room and come to a mutual understanding to avoid future conflict over assigning recommended care and figuring out how to pay for it.
- If you were need to a guardian, who should that be, and how would like them to make decisions for you? Will it be in tandem with others, or alone based on their best judgement and knowledge of your wishes?
- If you intend to age in place, discuss what that looks like: can your current home accommodate that wish, or be modified to do so? What type of in-home care will be feasible with the finances available? If you have a Long-Term Care policy, ensure your children are aware and familiar with how the policy benefits are triggered, and what benefits are available.
- What facilities would be acceptable to you should you need either physical care or memory care? Life insurance benefits, if applicable, can also be part of the conversation.
Your Wealth Manager is a great resource to assist in this conversation. They may record the meeting or have detailed notes taken and reviewed by a third-party witness who can also be available to assist your family in making decisions in the future.
At Plancorp, we care for our clients not only for their lifetimes, but after they're gone. It's part of what sets us apart from simple investment management or basic financial advice, we consider ourselves a more integral partner to helping you make it through every stage, even the difficult ones, with as little stress as possible. We hope to care for families for generations.
Facilitating family meetings is one of the things we do best. We would love to schedule yours.