Alan D. Feller, Esq.
Every decision that you make has a life of its own. On the surface, some decisions, like choosing a driving route to work in the morning usually carry a limited risk. Other decisions involving marriage, children, or selecting a town to buy a home have long term implications that may impact lives for decades. As we age, the cumulative effect of even the simplest of decisions can steer one’s life in many directions. The stress of a traffic-filled commute or the effects of a poor diet build-up over many years. Understanding decision-making is a goal that estate and elder care planners should seek in order to attain the best long-term results for a family or for an individual client.
“Does this decision strengthen the family and my support system or weaken it?” Asking this question before deciding on a course of action may seem simplistic, burdensome or even calculating, but successful families have a knack of getting it right more often than not. A “successful” family is able to sustain multiple generations with positive communication and utilization of resources – both financial and personal. Consistent communication, regularly shared meals or family trips together will strengthen family bonds just as much if not more than a singular lavish gift or over-the top commitment. Successful families get the majority of the little decisions as well as the big decisions right over a long period of time. A lifetime of these “strengthening” decisions add up to a closeness than can be drawn upon when long term care planning or estate planning has to be put in place. Families that are not on solid footing may feature more gaps in communication or obligatory correspondences which ring hollow and offer little comfort. It should come as no surprise that a person’s estate and elder care planning tends to showcase the strengths or weaknesses of their families and support systems.
This type of decision making is really tested following a loss or a break-up. The search for personal happiness and companionship following a loss may impact the fundamental family and friend relationships that have defined one’s support system. It may not be realistic to tell someone how to order their personal life, but many times a family’s breakdown can be traced to a commitment to the “wrong” person at the “wrong time.”
There is no exact template. A brother or sister seeking independence and grabbing onto a career opportunity in a different state may yield unexpected benefits for that person and the family. Another person moving home to handle caregiving responsibilities may also be making the right decision. One does not have to be a prisoner to a family ideal. Simply incorporating thoughts about your family and support system into your decision making has value.
How do we make decisions? It feels good or necessary in the moment. You have had enough. It seems like an opportunity to make more money or obtain more control. It is “addition by subtraction.” Your life will improve greatly adding this person or removing this person. This offers less resistance. This is more exciting and you are currently bored. There are many other internal dialogues that can lead to a decision, but this is a fair list. Thinking about the people in your life - your family and friends who bring you joy and support you, when you are about to make a decision will have lasting benefits. As we age the people in our lives can either provide us with comfort and caring, indifference or silence. Many things are out of our direct control, but what we can try to accomplish is strengthening the bonds of family and friendship that are in front of us.