Getting Your Ducks in Order

Why is getting your ducks in order and analyzing your onion so important in the face of long term care? Getting your “ducks in a row”. Getting your “ducks in order”. These are fairly common phrases that can apply to a plethora of different scenarios. It’s one of my very favorite phrases. I love to use the phrase when I’m coaching my kids on how to manage their young adult lives as they are entering “the real world”. I love to use it when brainstorming with my siblings about how they are helping their adult children get ready for a wedding, med school or navigating their first real estate transaction. It’s a phrase that works. But when referencing “getting your ducks in order” as it relates to aging on the second part of one’s life, it takes on a meaning all its own. Stakes can be high as there is less wiggle room, and in many cases less time for error. It’s important not only to get it right, but to keep it right.

We know that the odds are pretty high for every year we grow older the likelihood of disability and death increases. It pains me to see people who are nearing end of life and are plagued with uncertainty that they didn’t take care of “business” and time is running out. It’s actually even more difficult to witness those who are dealing with a debilitating disability, which in itself is stressful, only for the first time to consider what “getting your ducks in order” really means to them. It need not be this way. I’m not sure why people put it off. I’ve been a planner since birth. My mom was forever cautioning me, “Jule, life doesn’t always go as you plan and then how are you going to handle it?” It has taken me a lifetime to fully grasp the wisdom of those words.

I often liken what we do at GolderCare to peeling back the layers on an onion. We have a familial layer that encompasses our relationships. We have a financial layer, meaning what we have in the bank, investments, real estate, and debt. We have insurance – all kinds of different insurance: life, death, disability, umbrella policies, long term care insurance…it can go on and on. Finally, we have a health layer; the layer that reveals our medical story. As we age each of these layers gets thicker and more complex. It is often the health layer, in the case of a major medical event, that blows up our plan.

One layer impacts the other. Let’s consider the case of Mrs. Jones (my fictional character) a 60 year old married woman, CPA, mother of two college age children, primary wage earner. One Monday AM she suffers a major stroke rendering her incapable of speech, mobility and questionable comprehension of what’s going on around her. She has no legal documents in place, she has invested heavily in life insurance with large cash values, a nice 401(k), has a mortgage and the doctors are talking life support. Stop.

These are the questions that pop up: Who has authority to make medical decisions…did she ever talk about how she would feel about a feeding tube? Does she know I love her? A little later, once the shock wears off, how is all this going to be paid? Who has access to her bank and 401(k) to pay her mounting medical bills and eventual long term care cost? To answer these questions and more, each layer on the onion comes into play.

This is the good news. The fact that you are reading this article means that you have the opportunity to evaluate your layers now. Each of us has a different life story with unique needs based on our pattern of living.

Getting Your Ducks in Order is one of my favorite educational segments that we offer. We discuss in practical terms what you need to consider when getting your “stuff” (or your “onion”) in order as you age (legal documents, financial assets, insurance, healthcare and family). We explore what this means and why it’s so important. We will be covering this topic at our April 11th Empowerment Series; 10-11:30 AM at GolderCare’s Bettendorf Office - 1900 State Street, Bettendorf.

Julie Arndt is a licensed social worker working in the field of geriatrics for over thirty years with expertise in medical case management and community based services.