An End-of-Life Conversation at 29


by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

2020 was supposed to be a banner year. My son was getting married at the end of May; the logistics of planning a destination wedding in Sedona, Arizona had been an all-consuming adventure for his fiance and their friends. As the mother of the groom, I had little to do, and yet he found ways for just the two of us to share this journey together. First, came a call 18 months ago and two trips in secret to our favorite jewelers to pick out a diamond so he could surprise her with a proposal and an engagement party at their favorite restaurant. More recently, he arranged a meetup to select material for the custom suit in which he’ll be married. By February, the planning was finished, with celebrations ahead in three states with his large extended family.

Then, the coronavirus struck. Plans were cancelled, celebrations postponed and, one Sunday, I found myself having a conversation with him that would have been unthinkable a few months ago.

The topic? My end-of-life game plan.

Five years ago, my husband and I updated our estate plan and, more recently, we shifted the responsibilities for handling our finances and health care decisions, if we both are incapacitated, to our two children. It seemed the right time to make the change; they’re in their twenties and we’re about 25-35 years away from our statistical expiration dates.

As viral infections spread, I allowed myself to consider what would happen if both my husband and I were ill, intubated in the hospital, unable to communicate our healthcare wishes or pay our bills. I then did three things:

1. Find Health Care Proxy, HIPAA Authorization and Durable Power of Attorney. I printed copies of our medical and financial powers of attorney and inserted them into a plastic sleeve, like one finds at Staples. I transferred copies of those documents onto a flash drive.
2. Provide Explicit Guidance for the Healthcare Agent and Financial Power of Attorney. I wrote a one page cover letter with specific instructions on how to manage our healthcare issues that included the cell numbers of physicians in the family and contacts at the hospital where we’ll likely be situated. I included how to pay our bills along with the names and contact information for our financial advisor, tax accountant and attorney, and the password to access my computer.
3. Cue up Relevant Advisors to Handle the Situation. I called our financial advisor (who knows all about our financial matters) and gave him our children’s emails and cell information along with specific instructions (in writing) to proactively reach out to them should we become ill.

Then, I invited my son and his fiance over for dinner. Over dessert and coffee, I pulled out a manila file folder. “Although this is unlikely to happen,” I began, I handed him the folder that contained the instructions, our healthy care proxies, HIPAA authorization forms and financial powers of attorney. His fiance sat silently at the table as I talked, later acknowledging that she recently had had a similar conversation with her parents.

After dinner, as my son prepared to leave, manila folder and flash drive in hand, we stood alone in the garage waiting for his dog to run her final laps before their car ride home. “Thanks for having our backs,” I said quietly, out of earshot of his father and fiance. “No problem,” he replied. I nodded and continued, “By the way, there’s a second plastic sleeve in that folder that holds your healthcare proxy. If you go to the hospital, just grab it. I’m your healthcare agent and the admitting physicians will want to see that. I’ll handle your bills, too. Don’t worry.” He nodded silently and reached out to gently rub my back.

The unthinkable is not that his father or I might become infected with the coronavirus and die, although we have no known underlying health conditions that put us at risk. The unthinkable is that he might, too, and in a year that was supposed to be one of joy and a new beginning, this was the last conversation I expected to be having with him.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic, not the flu. Don’t live in denial. Play the “what if” scenarios and tell your family what they need to know.

Since that evening, I’ve slept well, knowing that I’ve done all I can to anticipate the future, whatever may happen. My family and I can now just focus on helping others navigate this challenging time and get back to planning a wedding.

Keep well.

Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Phone Scams: Social Security, Grandchildren & Donations

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

While we’re all distracted by the coronavirus, here’s a gentle warning to remind your now housebound parents and grandparents about telephone scams. Recently the National Council on Aging reported the top three telephone scams for elders:

Social Security Spoofing Calls. In this scam, the caller may spoof the SSI hotline so caller ID looks legitimate, and then either threaten the listener or ask for help activating a suspended social security number. During the pandemic, Social Security is continuing to issue checks despite scammers indicating otherwise. Here’s the link from the SSI and guidance from Consumer Reports about what to do if you receive one of these calls.

The Grandparent Scam. In this scam, the caller indicates they’re a grandchild in an accident or legal trouble and ask for cash or gift cards.

Donations following Natural Disasters. This scam takes advantage of donations that follow a natural disaster – or a pandemic – with the caller impersonating charities asking for money or, if the listener is in the area impacted, offering help.

If your family wants to donate to organizations during this time of crisis, use a site like Charity Navigator to check on their validity.

Another scam reported recently is one offering a free coronavirus test kit for Tricare and Medicare beneficiaries. Concerned families should check with their physician for testing.

Many elders already avoid answering their telephones from unknown callers. I asked a class full of tech-savvy business leaders for guidance on how best to block access from telemarketers and spammers. Two companies were mentioned: Ooma, a home phone service that provides multiple ways to block spam calls and Nomorobo although online reviews have been mixed. I’ve attached a useful video from The Verge about robocalls and how to stop them.

Share what works for you and your family.

Family Caregiver Resources Regarding the Coronavirus

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

The recent outbreak of the coronavirus reminds us how interconnected we are globally and the importance of protecting our most vulnerable family members and friends. We encourage you to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control about hand washing and preventative actions and listen to the news for updates in your local community.

If you are able, reach out to your older neighbors and offer to grocery shop for them. Many elders do not use delivery services like Instacart and may be uncomfortable risking exposure to the virus by shopping.

For updates about the coronavirus globally, healthcare and other professionals find the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security trustworthy. You can register for their daily updates here.

Listen to geriatrician Dr. Leslie Kernisan’s podcast about the coronavirus and how best to protect our aging parents and ourselves.

Read the AARP’s guidance about limiting access to assisted living and skilled nursing homes.

Join the private Facebook group Working Daughter where you’ll find emotional support from thousands of women and men who are supporting their aging parents.

Together, we’ll navigate this journey. You’re not alone.

The Guide to Long-Term Care Insurance

by Tobe Gerard, CLTC, MBA, MLS, LIA

We believe that the best all around consumer guide for long-term care insurance that is not state specific is A Shopper’s Guide to Long-Term Care Insurance. Unfortunately, it is not updated every year so we are extremely excited that it has just been updated for 2019 and is now available. This consumer-friendly guide was written and published by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. We hope that you will find it valuable. Use it as a starting point for the conversation about long-term care and long-term care insurance with your financial planner or insurance agent.

For context, a study of 200,000 claims by PricewaterhouseCoopers found the current average cost of long-term care services is $172,000 for a person who needs assistance with at least two activities of daily living or has some cognitive impairment.

Since 2000, Tobe has committed her professional life to helping people manage the risk of needing long-term care.

Reprinted with permission.

Are you a Working Daughter?


by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Recently I met for lunch with Liz O’Donnell to discuss her latest book entitled Working Daughter, A Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parents While Making a Living. Liz is a marketing executive who suddenly found herself caring for two parents who were diagnosed with terminal illnesses on the same day. Juggling the demands of a full time job and two young children, Liz turned her experience into a poignant story full of humor, encouragement and practical guidance. Intent to help the readers overcome “insomnia-induced, middle-of-the-night Google searches,” Liz weaves her personal story with clear advice that will help working daughters and sons navigate the practical challenges of supporting aging parents while acknowledging the emotional, and potentially negative, impact on relationships, health, and careers. Among the pages you’ll discover,
1. How to identify the warning signs that there is a problem;
2. Fifty things family caregivers can do to practice self care;
3. Strategies for setting boundaries & communicating with parents, siblings & spouses;
4. Senior living options and how to transition parents to a new home;
5. The Working Daughter Bill of Rights.

To better support women balancing eldercare and career, Liz founded WorkingDaughter.com and oversees a private Facebook group of women and men supporting their aging parents. Order the book and if you, or anyone you know, is juggling work and parents, invite them to join the Facebook group; it’s like being online with 2,500 non-judgmental sisters. You’ll laugh, cry, vent, and get advice on topics ranging from the best underwear for incontinence to how to find decent home care or assisted living communities. You may also enjoy the Working Daughter podcasts.

Author Virginia Morris sums up Working Daughter best. “Women might be able to shoulder both work and motherhood, but throw an elderly parent’s care into the mix, and these mighty women can collapse into a heap of wine, cheese dip, and tissues. Liz gives them guidance on how to accept their fates, manage the mess, and find some joy in the moment.”

Enjoy. And thanks, Liz, for enabling us all to learn from your experience.