Other seasons begin with subtlety. Winter arrives with a hammer. Winter is the only season that requires serious planning. The big summer transition is moving my jeans six inches to the left in my dresser to make room for shorts. Winter shows up with a set of instructions. We must shut off outdoor water valves, insulate laundry areas, service the HVAC system, and store outdoor equipment to avoid the ravages of ice, snow, and cold. Hats, gloves, coats, boots, shovels, salt, and scrapers populate our winter checklists.
As you probably guessed, the previous paragraph is a metaphor that relates to estate planning. From a seasonal perspective, Winter is a difficult time for aging adults. According to a recent Columbia University study, “in individuals aged 84 or older, a 1°C decrease in temperature (1.8°F) was associated with 35 percent increased odds of cognitive impairment.” Long stretches remaining indoors coupled with the dangers of slipping on ice increase the odds of a decline. In one sense, winterizing your estate planning means reviewing your advance directives and Will to ensure that everything is in order should a difficult Winter immediately present itself.
Pushing the metaphor one more step, the act of winterizing means that you are taking tangible steps to avoid mechanical breakdown and higher energy costs due to the cold. We know what happens when no winterization is performed: pipes freeze, cold air overwhelms uninsulated spaces, and energy bills are astronomical. The knowledge of Winter’s effects removes any hesitancy to winterize. Winter is a fact. So is aging. Aging carries a whole set of new realities. Physical limitations may interrupt familiar patterns. Driving at night becomes more difficult. Home maintenance and bill paying are more burdensome than usual. Estate planning for an aging adult means being ready. The core documents – Powers of Attorney and Health Care Proxies, Wills, and Trusts are created to protect loved ones from an aging-related storm.
Aging adults spend more time in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Recovering from a serious illness or fall is difficult enough. If physically compromised, daily management of responsibilities becomes a bridge too far. Bills have to be paid and healthcare decisions have to be made. A well-insulated pipe should not freeze. An aging adult with the right agent under a Power of Attorney should not be financially harmed.
When HBO said that “Winter is coming,” we knew that fictional lives would be at stake. Aging is not fiction. Estate planning for an aging adult is the recognition that loss is a part of life. Ensuring that life’s financial gains remain tethered to one’s loved ones is an elemental wish. Wills and Trusts are specifically tailored to the individual and their situation. While Wills provide a basic roadmap to direct assets to their destination, Trusts knit together complicated families, diverse assets, and real property to bring order out of complexity. Wills flow through the courts. Trusts are created to avoid courts.
We spend so much time looking around at our homes and our things, figuring out ways to protect them or better them. Protecting ourselves is too often neglected. This Winter, besides worrying about the usual drafts, begins contemplating other drafts – advance directive drafts, Will drafts, and Trust drafts.