Today’s guest blog comes from Marguerite Lorenz, a friend and great partner with LivHOME.
I work every day as a California Licensed Professional Fiduciary (www.Fiduciary.CA.gov) – I get named in estate planning documents and when there is incapacity, resignation or death, I am involved in virtually every level of decision making for my clients; tax, legal, financial and medical. I worry about their day to day quality of life experience, their property and assets, their families and even their pets. I am certainly capable, trained, and supported in my work. However, even with this high level of experience, I was not prepared for the feelings and conflicts I had when my own beloved Dad became so ill, that I had to work for him, as I have done for so many clients.
My Dad, Jim, was a very independent systems analyst/engineer man. He had designed his living space and routines around his personal interests – His recliner chair was attached to a platform (Dad was quite tall), under which he installed a subwoofer and this was attached to an elaborate sound system including the speakers on either side of his head, suspended using black socks and attached with safety pins to the top of his recliner. His laptop desk swung easily, adjusted to the perfect height, and within easy reach of his six remote controls (I figured out only four of them) so he could research investments online and watch the financial channels, while listening to his music (very loudly), all at the same time.
For years, Dad and I talked every day. He managed his own medications, doctor schedule, shopping, gardening, house cleaning, car maintenance, social calendar, and so much more, as each of us does, every day. He had survived the cancer death of his wife and had been diagnosed with the same cancer himself, two years after she died. 11 chemotherapy treatments and 16 years later, my Dad decided he should not drive anymore. He was very brave and very determined. When he handed me his keys, I asked him what his plan was for when he wasn’t driving anymore. He looked up from his recliner and said, “You, daughter. You are my plan!”
At that moment, I had a growing, full-time business as a Fiduciary, two teenage sons, a new romance, and was still in recovery from having lost everything I owned in the Rice Canyon wildfires (a story for another time). My life was very full, even without having to take care of my father. When his health took a turn for the worst, and after lots of back and forth to hospital emergency rooms, Dad went into a convalescent home to get stronger. I, then, added visiting him 3 or 4 times a week, doing his laundry, taking care of his yard, and managing his bills to my “to do” list. I was tired, but managing, when the decision was made to bring on hospice care and take him home.
The day I came to get Jim from the convalescent place, he had put on his own work boots himself and was fully dressed and ready when I arrived. He walked out of that place on his own power, refusing the wheelchair he had been offered (we used it to transport his clothes and laptop to the car). He took in all the changes in the neighborhoods along the way from the convalescent place to his own home. A gorgeous San Diego January day; sun shining, a few clouds and a warm breeze.
When we arrived at his house, the care team was already there. We got him inside, back into his beloved chair, and I went outside to talk with the care agency owner. I’m so grateful to the care team, without whom Dad could not have come home. The professionalism, the way that each care giver allowed my Dad his pride and dignity, will never be forgotten.
The agency owner and I were in the middle of discussing scheduling and costs when I asked, “How much is this going to cost me?” I immediately froze. This was not my money we are talking about. It’s my Dad’s. Yet, as a beneficiary, serving as his Trustee, the conflict of interest hit me and I realized it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, or how much you love your parent. I’m a professional who serves in this situation all the time, and has similar conversations all the time, but for the first time, it was for my own parent. I experienced so much emotion in that moment, understanding deeply how easy it is for anyone to fall into their own self concern instead of standing for the needs of the elder. I could see into the hearts of so many of the family members of my clients at that moment. I was grateful to know that my Dad was still capable and my duty was to inform him of all the details, so he could participate in the decision.
I went in and showed Dad all of the numbers and explained that at this rate, with full-time care, he will probably be out of money in six months or less. Then, I suggested that we should sell his place and he would move in with me. He touched my face, looked into my eyes and told me not to worry, saying “Everything will be okay”. I cried. We hugged and told each other how much we loved each other. I spent time with him every day, holding hands, telling him I loved him each chance I could, and just three weeks later, surrounded by his family, my Dad passed peacefully into his next adventure.
I know how lucky I am that Dad and I took the opportunity to talk about everything. We forgave each other for any of life’s hurts or mistakes along the way. We supported each other’s dreams and possibilities. We comforted each other as much as we could. He was my best friend and I’m honored to have made his last days comfortable. Following his death, the emotions, the grief of my loss, and having to deal with his personal property in his house, where I could still sense his presence, were an agony for me. I knew that I would miss him. I knew I would grieve. I didn’t know how much the grief would affect me and slow me down, both in his case and in my life.
Knowing what I know now, I would have selected a few things to remember him by and let someone else deal with the sale of his house, the disposal of his remaining personal property, remaining tax and debt issues, and much more. I would have taken a couple of weeks off work to just cry. I would have given my boys and myself much more loving attention while the wounds were so fresh and painful. In February, it will be four years that he’s gone and I still think of him every day.
My hope in sharing this story is that you won’t just assume that your kids will do this big job for you without preparing them or considering hiring a professional. I was Jim’s only child. If I had to fight with any siblings, or get any other family members to do things for Jim, he and I might not have had such a wonderful last few weeks. In my experience, it’s a rare family where everyone gets along, keeps all of their commitments and are consistently thoughtful of others. Since Jim’s death and my experience, my business partner, Jane Lorenz (also my stepmom) wrote a book on “Ethics for Trustees – A Guide to All Those Who Serve as Trustee” to help families understand what is being asked of the adult children who are expected to handle these issues and to allow some possibility of alternatives so that family harmony is sustained through the crisis.
I hope this is helpful. I welcome your comments and questions at TrusteeandExecutor@gmail.com
Marguerite Lorenz, CTFA, CLPF #319 – www.MyTrustee.net – 877-630-8448