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Estate Stewardship: Carving Out Dignity, Be the Difference Maker

By: Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published August 27, 2015 – Culpeper Times

Elder Law : Powers of Attorney : Advanced Medical Directives

During the passing of the peace on that Sunday morning, while worshippers welcomed newcomers and said hello� to friends, extended to me was a priceless gift presented by a very special couple. Into my hands was placed a three inch hand-carved cross made of olive wood, and on the back of that cross are the engravings, faith, hope, and love. Passed along with the gift was the encouragement, we want you to hold onto this cross when you pray, especially during times of trial.

Knowing that in the midst of this older adult couple facing their own struggles, they had thought to extend such a kind gesture caused a softening of my heart and brought tears to my eyes throughout the service.

As I sat near the back of the sanctuary, I reflected on the wisdom found within the pews that seated many an older adult and I wondered if they, too, took comfort in the customs of the traditional service. Prompted to open the hymnals, and join in the singing of Katharine L. Bates “America the Beautiful” my thoughts went deeper as we sang the familiar patriotic stanzas. What gave me cause to pause were the ends of the second and third stanzas “America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control. Thy liberty in law! . . . Till all success be nobleness And every gain divine!”

I first sang that song when I was in grade school. It was a beautiful song then; however, the meaning is a difference maker now. How tempted I am to interpret the issues that have been recently addressed by our Supreme Court through the lines of “O Beautiful” for this writing, I will take another tact, one that invokes a pursuit that would bring dignity to so many – across all races, genders, and persuasions.

I begin with questions. Do you anticipate growing older? What will your senior years look like for you? Will family or friends surround you? Will you have your health? Will you have the means to provide for your needs, or for the needs of your spouse?

Perhaps you too, will find yourself in the position of the older adult, a dignified war hero, who wept across from me at my conference room table heart wrenching as he spoke of his bride and how he is a good husband, and gave examples of how the ravages of dementia have robbed them both of so much.

I wonder if the world is even aware of the emotional toll borne by so many older adults. Not only is an older adult facing the challenges of his or her own aging body, but may be witness to a life dwindling before his or her eyes.

And, if the communication and life style shift is not debilitating enough, the questions exist of how does one care for a spouse who is in such need? Is there a safe and warm roof over their head? Can they afford to remain in their house? Can they afford in-home care, even if for a little while? If they need financial help, where can they turn for assistance? What does health insurance cover? Do they have a long-term care insurance policy in place and/or do they have investments that will help cover the costs? What if the spouse needs 24/7 care and truly needs to be admitted to an assisted living facility? How will they afford the monthly costs? What if they need public assistance? Will they be precluded because of a current asset?

And, who can make decisions for the health care and welfare of the spouse minus having a power of attorney and advance medical directive in place before the spouse lost mental capacity to give agency?

How devastatingly sad, that as so many in our older adult population face the above, they must also work their way through mazes of questions, telephone calls, paperwork, and decisions, when the focus should really be on the love language questions and capturing the remaining time together.

It is my hope, that America will find a means to mend such a flaw of stripping those who kept this great nation together for years upon years as a beacon to the rest of the world, of a dignity of peace and time that should be present in their golden years.

May we find the self-control to stay focused on keeping our eyes on the prize, to make sure that there is liberty in law.

As the candles on the cake become more numerous, so many find themselves newcomers to the older adult years. They should be welcomed into that stage of life and celebrated. Their needs cannot be ignored. As a nation, we should address their trials before they arise. That is the difference maker needed. The nobleness of such a success can only be a divine gain.