Depending on who you ask, growing older is either a privilege or not for the faint-hearted. No matter how you look at it, though, it is a chapter with its own potential for joy and hurdles, just like every other phase of life.
And while many reach retirement age with the wisdom that comes with learning a lifetime of lessons, a little bit of tried-and-true advice always goes a long way in making the most of one’s golden years.
Estate and Trust Planning
Renee C. Vidal, a shareholder in Capehart Scatchard’s Business and Trusts & Estate departments, knows how reluctant many are to discuss things like wills, but says it’s a crucial consideration that must be addressed with a qualified legal professional.
“It’s not just peace of mind for the person who is doing the planning, it’s peace of mind for everybody around that person who loves them to say, ‘I love all of you and I want you to know that I put time into this so that if something happens to me, I can take that stress away from you,’” she explains.
There’s no one “best” way to approach one’s estate, with family dynamics, special-needs dependents, second marriages, children, business ownerships, Shore houses, high-net-worth inheritances and more influencing how a legal document specifies the “peaceful transfer” of what the deceased left behind—and what their wishes are, both for themselves and their loved ones.
“It really is sitting down with the individual and saying, ‘What is it that you would like to have happen?’” says Vidal. “We try to create documents that have a good shelf life. … You want to look at your plan every three to five years to just check in and see if it’s still accurate, and see if anybody died, have there been any births and if there have been any significant life changes.”
Choosing the Right Community
From getting to know new residents’ interests, tastes and personal histories to offering them on-site entertainment, medical treatments and services like fitness classes and beauty salons, today’s senior care facilities look more like thoughtfully appointed, fully contained neighborhoods.
“It’s very much a family atmosphere here,” says Farryn Harte, senior manager of community sales and marketing at The Evergreens, a nonprofit continuing care retirement community guided by “loving care” where retired educators, pilots and more add their splashes of colors to the residence’s collective tapestry. “That’s really what life is about: being able to bring all of your experiences together and share them with one another.”
Whether you’re looking for a senior-living facility for yourself or for aging loved ones, Harte says research and on-site visits are two of the best ways to ensure that you’re finding the community that’s right for you, both now and as your needs evolve. She advises asking about safety measures and Medicare health care ratings—but also getting one’s family involved and advocating for what you expect from your new home.
“We understand that the decision of being uprooted from a home you may have lived in for years and years is not an easy one,” Harte says. “We go at the individual’s pace. … When someone new is moving in, it’s really our residents who take ahold of them, who welcome them by inviting them to dinner, who’ll shadow them for about a month and make sure they get to the events that interest them.”
Facing the Future with Dignity
No matter how much planning you do, unexpected medical emergencies and goodbyes that come too soon may become sudden realities. Organizations like the not-for-profit Samaritan offer compassionate, home-based hospice and palliative services adapted to individual circumstances.
“I encourage prospective patients to ask for help in understanding exactly what their healthcare options are,” says Sara Pagliaro, DO, director of inpatient palliative medicine. “Samaritan’s expert team coordinates every facet of care a patient might need.”
And while it’s a hard topic to broach, it’s easier to do when you’re not scrambling to find care while you and your loved ones are already emotionally maxed out.
“We plan for births, graduations and weddings, but most of us do not plan for the one thing we will each navigate in life: the moment when aging or illness affects the quality of our days,” Dr. Pagliaro says. “I encourage individuals not to wait until they face an emergency or a new diagnosis. Have the conversations that matter now, and put your health care plan in place. You will be giving a gift to yourself and to all those who love you.”
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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 20, Issue 2 (May 2023)