Dear Dr. Respler,
My friends and I are getting older and dealing with the aging problems of our parents, our children, and ourselves. It is an overwhelming task. I have personally experienced the problems of caring for elderly parents. My parents did not want to face the task of putting their affairs in order. As a result, I had to take over the responsibility of making decisions for them – it was very painful. Though I have an older brother, he was too busy to help me. He said, “I trust you to do the right thing for them.” This was an even heavier burden. When I spoke to friends, they said, “That’s the way it usually is. The daughter does everything,” or “There is always one in the family who takes the responsibility.” I should not have been put in this situation. If my parents had only made plans the whole situation could have been prevented.
I also have observed the following:
- Brothers and sisters fighting over the best way to take care of their parents.
- A mother telling an only child that she is too incompetent to take care of her and that she has told the doctors not to share information with her.
- A son who doesn’t want to face the fact that his parents are aging, but realizes he should do something.
- A son whose father has cancer and has become a burden to his daughter-in-law.
- Parents who are aging but don’t want to confront the difficult issues, and thus relinquish control of their own lives and do not protect their children from having to deal with the above-noted scenarios.
My hope is that people will see this letter as a wake-up call and do something now when they are able. Save your children the pain of coping with your aging. You are in control of your future; don’t make it their responsibility.
Thank you for addressing this important issue. So many people have a hard time dealing with the reality that we all age and will not live forever – and so they don’t make adequate plans. In addition to the problem you mention, there is the simple fact that many people do not protect their families by having a will drawn up so that they can say who should inherit their money. Some people do not even buy life insurance, even though a life insurance policy can protect a family from devastation.
Another area of concern is eldercare. In America one has to either be very rich or impoverished to receive care – the middle class seems to get taken advantage of. There are insurance policies that people can buy to insure proper elder care. If parents trust their children, they can create a trust to safeguard their personal assets, but at the same time allow them to apply for governmental assistance.
However, all these ideas entail proper legal planning and a discussion with one’s family. People think that writing a will means they are going to die. But while we will leave this world one day, writing a will is something we do for the living. Many a family has been destroyed because there wasn’t a will delineating exactly who will inherit.
In addition, one must be careful to write a halachically-valid will as well. I have seen many families torn apart because the sons decided that they are the only ones who can inherit. It is important that the division of property be done in a way that ensures shalom between those left behind.