When Lucille’s family got the phone call from the hospital they were not expecting it. The sudden crisis threw everyone’s life into a spin. Many plans had to be hurriedly cancelled or changed. All of them had busy, stressed-out lives and this added one more load to carry, not that anyone blamed Lucille. It was just that when they learned that she would not be returning to her home the enormity of it hit everyone at the same time. There was the house, full to the gills with her stuff, and no one living in it. So now they were faced with making decisions without much information and everyone was on a tight schedule. Should they just lock the place up and agree to meet there again at some future, more convenient time? Oh, what about the cat? Did anyone recall if the cat was still alive and where it would hide if strangers entered the house? Who takes orphaned cats these days? What about Lucille’s car? Should it be left in the garage? Where are the keys? When did it have any maintenance? Who did she get to take care of it? What about keeping the grass mowed? They certainly didn’t want the place to look unoccupied and attract thieves or squatters. Did Lucille pay her own bills? Who will take over her finances? Can they be trusted? Does anyone know if she left a will?
Or, if she isn’t dead, but needs continual nursing care, what will finance it? Can her assets be liquidated? What are they worth? Who did she want to have her things? How long will it take to clear up her estate? Does her home need a lot of repairs in order to be saleable?
Eric is not feeling fond of his
father right now. Ike refused to deal with things when he was healthy, but now
he needs to be in an assisted care facility
and his assets need to be liquidated to pay for his care. In his prime,
Ike was sure he could do anything. His house is one he built by himself in the
1970’s. The problem is, he never quite finished it. He never quite finished a
lot of other projects as well. His yard reflects this. He lives on a back road
in a rural area so there is no home-owners’ association to hold him
accountable. So now his son, wanting to be kind, is faced with emptying a house
and out-buildings, doing what repairs seem feasible, and making the property
appeal to a potential buyer.
Ike never liked to make decisions but now that
his son is dealing with his property he wants to have a say about everything in
order to have a sense of control.
In order to get his father to deal with reality, Eric is asking him how likely he is to want particular items with him in his new living arrangements. Ike has a small apartment unit within a larger building so space is severely limited. He is likely to want some items from his home with him but now the time has come when he must really make decisions. Items from inside the home are more likely to fit into his apartment. These include furniture, clothing, personal care items, and sentimental items such a photos. Ike gets hung up on the things he can’t take. There are so many of them. The problem it brings up for him is the sense of regret and loss that he is not now and never will be the guy who could do everything and would get around to it all eventually.
Situations like this are cropping up all over Maine and other rural areas as the Baby Boomers of the back-to-the-land movement are advancing into old age and the generation that would never grow old has done exactly that.
Would it surprise you to learn that my husband and I do not give each other gifts at Christmas? Or birthdays? Instead, we give ourselves the gift of living debt-free. We made this decision when we semi retired. We give gifts to family members and donate generously to charities. We decorate and bake Christmas goodies and swap them with neighbors. Some years we buy something for the house that we both would enjoy such as a small appliance or furniture, but in general we are content with what we have. The important thing for us is that we pay as we go.
Many seniors will never have a comfortable retirement because they carry more debt than they can handle. While the media drives everyone’s attention to what we should be outraged about, I pay attention to financial newsletters. The pensions promised to retirees are in a precarious situation. This is the time for wise seniors to reduce their debt-load or get out of debt completely. A good way to start is to reduce the family’s expectations around Christmas. No more striving for “the Wow! factor” in gift-giving or at least limit the number of them. Almost every senior I know is nostalgic for the Christmases of their childhood when times were tougher and gifts were more meaningful.