You only get old once, so you can’t learn from your mistakes. It’s actually better to learn from other people’s mistakes anyway, no matter what the subject!
As we explore the many areas of aging that need planning, there are nine principles to keep in mind:
You Will Diminish
You can’t ignore the fact that you will age, and that as you age your capabilities — physical, mental, emotional and social — will diminish. “It won’t happen to me” is not true. It happens to everyone.
Something Will Happen
If you don’t plan and prepare, something will certainly happen — it just won’t be what you want it to be. Your neighbors, friends, relatives, and children will then wind up trying do to those things for you that you should have planned for.
Aging is a Job
In order to age as well as possible, you have to do research and prepare, and then actually do some — indeed probably many — things. This takes time and effort; once you are near retirement (and certainly afterwards), it’s a good idea to regard this as a part-time job.
If You wait Until you Have to Do Something, You Can’t
Sooner is better than later. It’s easy to say that things will take care of themselves, or that you’ll deal with an issue when it comes up. But things always come up — predictably in fact. And if you wait to deal with them when they occur, it’s often too late to do much about them, and in many cases it’s impossible, because you don’t have the physical energy, mental acuity, or emotional resilience required. Not recognizing this reality is called life stage denial, and it’s a real thing.
Everything is More Expensive That You Think
Almost no project comes in under budget, and your aging-related expenses are no exception. From in-home care, to housing, to help with things…everything is more expensive than you think it will be, especially since most older people’s ideas of costs are decades out of date. But things are usually doable if you plan.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
There are things that you’ll have to deal with that you would never imagine. Stuff comes up that you didn’t even realize could come up. There’s also no way you can know all the options available to you, and their tradeoffs. You have to assume that you’ll need more help than you think you will, and build a network of expertise to help you.
Don’t Bet Against the House
Planning for old age is like playing the stock market: a very few people beat the odds, but most don’t. The smart thing to do is to plan on being average, and then allow some margin for being worse than average. Not planning, and betting on being lucky, is gambling indeed.
You Need a Team
You can’t know everything at any age, and even in your areas of expertise your capabilities will diminish. You need to find trusted people to advise you, to do those things you can’t, and to act as a more competent set of eyes and ears when dealing with complicated subjects. This includes at a minimum: a lawyer, doctors, a financial planner, trades people, a care manager who knows the system in your state, and an able-bodied person you can call on short notice to assist you with simple tasks. Remember that you already have a similar team that you rely on now — you have a doctor, a lawyer, a network of trades people and hopefully a financial planner. Assembling the team you need to deal with your aging issues shouldn’t be a foreign project.
It is also essential to remember that someone who is “nice” isn’t the same as someone who is competent and has your best interests at heart. If you wait too late to assemble your team you’ll do what so many of the elderly do: trust someone who’s “nice” because you are no longer capable of judging competence and determining who best serves your interests.
You Alone are Responsible
It’s your life; you are the responsible person to do the planning and preparation for old age and diminished capability. If you don’t do it, something will happen and it won’t be what you want it to be.