Write a letter to the future, for your family and yourself – here’s how

By Barbara DeBerry

We need to talk and plan how we are going to deal with aging

If there was one message I wish I had received from my father, it would be his wishes for life as he grew older.

My father and I often talked about everyday life. When he first got sick, he told me exactly who and what was important to him in life, and why. But, during our discussions, we never dug into the specifics of his aging hopes. When he was no longer able to answer these questions on his own, I had to make several difficult decisions on my own.

As his daughter and as a long-term care specialist, I did my best to make sure he got the care I thought he wanted and that I paid for the care with the resources I had. he would have chosen. However, to be frank, to say that every choice was difficult is a huge understatement. This role was one of the most difficult and emotionally draining things I’ve ever had to do.

Seven years after my father passed away, I found myself struggling with these unresolved feelings. Did I choose what he wanted? Did I act in accordance with his wishes? These are some of the impossible questions that have been ringing in my mind.

To give myself a sense of clarity and closure, I wrote myself a letter from my father’s perspective – the letter I wish he had written me detailing where and how he would like to receive care and how he would pay for it. It was the letter that would have instilled in me the guidance and confidence that comes from knowing whatever decision I made, my father supported me and loved me. Writing this letter was cathartic for me, but to my surprise, it was transformational for others.

Weeks later, at a conference, I casually spoke with a man in his 60s, and we exchanged the typical niceties people share about what they do in their careers. During our conversation, I mentioned that I had written a letter from my father’s perspective and he asked if he could see it. I obliged and he quietly read what I had written.

When he finished, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “Now I know what I’m going to do on my flight back to New Jersey. I am going to write a letter to my family.

Writing a letter in the future is powerful. Over the past few years, I have helped hundreds of clients write their own deeply personal letters to their families, outlining their care preferences in the context of their own family circumstances. Most importantly, these letters provide an invaluable guide to managing care decisions when the time comes.

Childcare is a family affair

In recent years, caregiving has moved to the forefront of national consciousness. The pandemic has highlighted the challenges – physical, practical, emotional and financial – that lie at the intersection of age and health.

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2021 Planning & Progress Study, more than half of Americans (53%) say the pandemic has changed their views on long-term care. As a result, many are taking specific steps to prepare for their time of need, including increasing their savings, building long-term care into their financial plan, and talking to their financial advisor.

Research also highlights the impact of long-term care on caregivers. One in five Americans (21%) said they are currently providing care to someone. Among them, six in 10 (59%) say they have had to take on new or expanded caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic. The impacts go well beyond the emotional and physical demands of caregivers: on average, almost a third (31%) of current caregivers’ monthly budget is spent on caregiving.

We are a country of planners in many ways: education, careers, family life, homes, travel, retirement…the list goes on. However, we are still not talking and planning meaningfully about how we will deal with aging. According to the US Treasury, half of Americans who live to age 65 will need long-term care services at some point in their lives – and the costs can be significant. That’s why planning for the cost of long-term care is often an important part of retirement planning.

Grab a pen today

Creating a long-term care plan is one of the most loving things a person can do for their family, and anyone can get started today by writing their own letter. Yes, a real letter. Handwriting has real power in a digital world.

My dad and I didn’t have a conversation about his wishes until he was sick, and we certainly never wrote anything down. I wish it was a plan on paper. I would have referred to it hundreds of times during the time he needed care – not because he had all the answers, but because it would have given me more confidence in the decisions I was making in his life. name.

This letter is not a legal document, it is a love letter.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

Share your family history of parents or grandparents who needed care.

When you imagine yourself needing care, detail what matters to you.

Share your vision of the role with your family and friends.

Help your family understand how your care will be funded.

Finally, the plan should say thank you. Whether your loved ones are the caregivers or manage the delivery of care, it’s hard work. Let your family know that the best-laid plans change. Tell them you know you can be argumentative and difficult when it comes to getting care. Above all, let them know that you trust them to do the right thing and that you love them.

None of this is easy, but the process can be beautiful, and I feel so blessed to be able to guide my own clients through it.

If the day comes when I need long-term care, I know it will still be difficult for me and my family, as it was for my father and me. But the letter I wrote and the conversations I had will make what can be an emotionally charged and scary time a little easier.

Write this letter. Have this conversation. And do it now, before it’s too late.

Barbara De Berry has been a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual for more than 26 years, specializing in helping individuals and families prepare for the future.

-Barbara De Berry


(END) Dow Jones Newswire

08-27-22 1336ET

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