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Sad, tender and necessary advice

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Laura’s and my parents died between 1998 and 2017. I just got off the phone with a friend who is going through the process of transitioning his parents and his wife’s parents from their own homes to assisted living. I shared a number of experiences with him and thought these would make a good column, too.

First off, way before this time comes (say, 10 years), the older folks need to sit down with a financial planner and have their situation reviewed and examined against the laws that may be applicable at the time of the transition. Properly prepared far enough in advance (hence the 10-year exam), affairs can be arranged to shield much of the estate from taxes and so forth.

Each case is different, and each state is different, so don’t depend on hearsay, get some solid, current advice where the elderly members of the family live now.

While we are on finances, if your parents (I am going to call them parents from now on, they may be a dear aunt or uncle, but I’ll use parents as a shortcut) grew up during the Depression, certain conditions may exist. We are tending to age out of folks of that era now, but some habits from then still exist.

One is to have money in many different financial institutions. If the parents are fearful of bank failures, expect this to be the case. They also may have money or other valuables squirreled in all sorts of places around the house. (My mother kept her sterling silverware wrapped in butcher paper in the freezer.)

A friend of mine had to travel quite a distance to clean out his in-laws’ home. As would be typical in situations like this, there were piles of paper around the house. As they started going through these, they found old newspaper clippings from things long past as well as $100, $50 and $20 bills. There were so many stacks and such little time that they were sure they threw out valuable items (money, photographs and so forth) as they used the limited time available to clean out the house.

My mother-in-law, due to ambulatory problems, had to move into assisted living at age 71. The family kept her house intact for another two years before they got her to give up on the idea of ever going home. She was convinced she was going to get better and go back to her own home. Never happened. By the way, she lived to nearly 85 – the last 14 years in assisted living.

If there are unresolved issues, perhaps scandals, in your family, expect elderly family members to bring them up in their twilight years. It makes no difference if it happened 50 years ago. You may or may not know about it. The elderly tend to want to close the door on these open wounds by talking about them. Be prepared. I saw this happen with my dad and with other elderly people that I have been around. There is no warning for this.

Then, crazy things happen, too. My mother passed away and my dad, within three months, moved back to where he was raised. That was not the crazy thing – by my count, he lived in at least 11 different houses before this move (he couldn’t stand to stay in one place).

What was crazy was that within a year, he had traveled down the old graveled road a bit and married his dead brother’s widow (we called her Aunt Mom). Her kids didn’t like this marriage. Dad was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, they got divorced to clean up their estates and dad died within a few months. My mother and dad died within 2 ½ years of each other, so these were some hoppin’ times.

So, a word to the wise if you are dealing with older parents: Strap on your seat belts, the ride could get wild. Of course, Laura looks at me every once in a while and suggests that sooner rather than later, she’ll be taking away my car keys. My retort? I bought a car that has all this anti-collision, anti-lane drifting stuff. That ought to give me another few months, at least.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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