When DIY personal finances don’t work – press enterprise
The “do it yourself” movement is nothing new in our country. The American Dream is built on the concept of a self-taught immigrant or farmer who manufactures clothing, buildings, inventions, or industries with limited resources. The only difference recently is that with YouTube, Pinterest and other platforms, instructions for everything from haircuts to repairing a hairdryer to investing in real estate are all easily accessible. to everyone and appear to be NBD (“not much”).
We feel smart and accomplished when we learn new skills and manage everything on our own. Sometimes this DIY aspect of our culture prevents us from asking for help. We don’t want to appear incapable of taking care of ourselves, and we certainly don’t want to appear worthless. We value our freedom. If we cannot do things for ourselves, our freedom could be taken away.
Imagine if you found yourself in a situation where you didn’t just need one person’s help, but now needed help in multiple areas of your life, at the same time? What if you needed a team to fix almost everything after managing everything yourself for many years?
My 94-year-old neighbor, Mrs. Wilson, was the epitome of American courage, determination and self-reliance.
I watched her one morning from my porch as she seemed to lift and tie up bushels of brush that she had pruned with a machete from the side of her house that looked almost as tall as her 5 foot frame.
Worried, I went to see if there was anything I could do. “The doctor said I was depressed,” she said. “Do you have any idea what he meant by that?” she asked. After feeling surprised by his openness, it appeared that she felt, rightly so, overwhelmed and isolated.
Ms Wilson had been living on her own since her much older husband passed away several years ago. His son followed him a few years later. She had an 88-year-old daughter-in-law and in a nursing home. She had no other family. She was well liked in the block and at the church, and we tried to watch her, but she didn’t like asking people for help or walks, so she rarely asked.
She had financial issues, including a reverse mortgage that concerned her, and some taxes needed to be filed. She was having trouble keeping up with the bills. She was not eating well and had no transportation to get to her physiotherapy appointments. She had given up most of the housework and cooking when it got overwhelming. She feared losing the house she had lived in since she was 18 to the mortgage company if she broke her hip and had to go to a nursing home.
Getting Ms. Wilson’s help, let alone the help of several different people, was going to be a challenge. Many people who have lived alone for some time are suspicious of others. Bringing strangers to her home and sharing her finances with them would mean a significant loss of privacy. Particularly in the United States, we value the privacy of our cars, homes, and yards. The need for privacy drives our desire to do things on our own and doesn’t go away just because we’re older.
A 2019 CNBC poll found that only 1% of Americans use the services of a financial advisor. Ms Wilson couldn’t remember the last time she had seen a lawyer, an accountant, or if she had ever seen a financial planner.
Usually, if I didn’t know of professionals to refer her to, I would contact a local branch of the National Association of Estate Planning Advice. Professionals would likely have experience working with someone like Ms. Wilson. They might allay some of his worries. They would probably know each other and could coordinate their services.
However, before providing her with the professional references, I suggested that Ms. Wilson ask a qualified geriatric or case manager (usually a registered nurse) to do an assessment of her at her home. A geriatric assessment is designed to assess the functional abilities, physical health, cognition and mental health of an elderly person as well as socio-environmental circumstances. He would provide recommendations to help with Ms. Wilson’s daily care. (For more information on assessments and caregiver assistance, visit the AARP or your regional aging websites.)
Once Ms. Wilson had completed the assessment, I suggested that she invite her “people”, as she liked to call those of us that she preferred, to review the report with the case manager. We had a little party (with tea and cookies) at her place and we divided the calls we would make and the services we would organize. A neighbor acted as “secretary” and wrote everything down on a calendar.
Arrangements have been made for food delivery from Meals on Wheels and for a home health worker to come daily. A gardener was hired, repairs were made, and the phone number for door-to-door transport services to the church and for shopping was visibly displayed. She changed her medical care to become a doctor in a comprehensive geriatric care clinic. Their office scheduled a physiotherapist to come to her home three times a week. Ms. Wilson had not realized that all of this assistance was available to her at little or no cost.
To make her feel more comfortable, friends accompanied her to meet with the lawyer and the reverse mortgage specialist. They were able to refinance her reverse mortgage, which made her life more comfortable. His bills were paid by a longtime friend of the church.
Some funds were invested with a financial advisor, who also kept an eye on his balances. The lawyer wrote a comprehensive set of estate planning and health care documents. The tax preparer informed the IRS and the state that she was no longer required to file due to her reduced income and asked that they stop bothering her. We had a few follow-up ‘teas’ at her house to see how things were going.
Even if Ms Wilson had a healthy family member, it would have been too difficult for one person to care for her. We must remember that just because seniors are older doesn’t make it easier for them to give up their privacy or the freedom to do things on their own. In that case, referrals to a finance team would not have solved his problems. It really took a village.
Ms Wilson was grinning from ear to ear as her petite figure sat in her oversized chair, with all of her friends buzzing around her, making plans to help her. She touched my arm and said, “Wow, a lot of people care about me.” By accepting help from others and not trying to do everything on her own, Ms. Wilson was able to preserve her freedom and independence for a few more years.
Michelle C. Herting, CPA, ABV, AEP, specializes in most areas related to trusts and estate taxes, giving and succession planning.