Change is rarely easy.
I confess that I was a bit devastated when Dr. Look retired. My fear of dentists goes way back to when I was a helpless kid in that dentist chair back in the earlier days of dentistry. The drill they used was loud, my teeth vibrated like a jackhammer, and I still have nightmares about the pain. Dr. Look helped me get past that trauma.
As my trusted dentist for more than 25 years, I learned to trust him through many unpleasant procedures. His reassuring manner and over-the-top service endeared me to him—and him to me. Even now that he’s stopped working, we email each other periodically to catch up. I’ve reluctantly settled in to having a new dentist. It’s definitely not the same, but the change was necessary. Even though it wasn’t my own choice, it was time to move on.
In the big picture, of course, switching to a new dentist is pretty minor. The unexpected changes that have the greatest impact on our lives and wellbeing include everything from a sudden change in health—such as a cancer diagnosis or a car accident with lasting health effects—to the death of a spouse.
When these things happen, many people find themselves adding stress to an already stressful situation by having to scramble madly to reorganize their lives. And while no amount of planning can eliminate the hardship of the situation, it’s times like these when having a long-term game plan in place can make all the difference in the world.
I’ve been helping clients manage life’s inevitable changes—financial and otherwise—for more 35 years. Every situation is different, but by taking just a few simple steps now, you can proactively manage the changes that will most certainly come your way in the future. Here are my tips to help you take action to keep stress to a minimum when “life happens”:
Create a Power of Attorney (POA) for your healthcare and your finances. The time may come when you aren’t able to manage your own affairs or make good decisions. When that happens, it’s vital that you have both a Durable Power of Attorney that gives someone else the power to manage your finances if you are unable to act for yourself due to mental or physical disability, as well as a Healthcare Power of Attorney that empowers someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf. You may select anyone you trust for this role (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member), and you may choose separate people for each type of POA. The Durable POA is critical to avoid the complications of having the court appoint someone to manage your affairs, while the Healthcare POA is critical to ensure your care is delivered according to your own wishes.
Designate a POA successor. It’s also important to assign someone as a backup if your primary go-to person is unavailable. This is called a “successor” or “contingent.” Ask this person if they are willing to serve in this capacity for you, and put them in touch with your primary person to help coordinate their efforts. Even with the backup in place, it’s important to stay in touch with both people to determine if they’re still competent to help you. Case in point: When Charlene had a stroke, her daughter was listed as her POA agent, but she had died a year earlier; and although Charlene had assigned her sister as the backup, her sister now had advanced dementia. Charlene had no other children and her niece, Millie, had no legal footing to step in. Don’t “set and forget.” Review your POA agent and successor as you (and they) age to be certain you have a capable person in place.
Simplify and organize your life. As we age, it’s easy to let tasks and possessions pile up. Dedicate time to get rid of life’s “stuff” and organize what’s left. I recently hired a professional to help me purge our basement, redesign our storage, and organize everything we decided to keep. I just couldn’t get myself motivated to do it on my own. But since I’m paying Carly to help me, the project is now moving along. If, like me, you need some help, there are many individual service organizations that help seniors downsize, organize, move, and more.
Create a clear paper trail. No amount of planning can help if your agent and your family don’t know where to find your records, including POAs. Create a clear paper trail for your finances, insurance, properties, etc., and tell the key players in your life where the trail begins. Personally, mine starts with two file drawers and a lock box in our bedroom closet. Come to think of it, I need to tell some people where the keys are!
Life is unpredictable, but how we handle small changes in life helps us handle the bigger things. By taking these simple (though not always easy) steps, you can be much better prepared for whatever life throws your way. Put your long-term plan in place for tomorrow. In the mean time, create healthy patterns to help you better manage the smaller things in life. For me, that means meditating, practicing yoga, working out, and spending quiet time with Rhoda every morning. They’re small steps, but they make my life easier and happier every day.