Mark Harvey — Figuring this “stuff” out

Editor’s note: Mark Harvey’s columns, which he submits in sequence ahead of the time that they run, were printed out of order by The Daily World. Last week’s column was orininally intended to follow this one. For the continuation of this column, refer to the March 22 edition of The Daily World, or online at

Good morning! Ready? OK, here’s the smart question that was put to us by a smart reader:

“Responsible sons or daughters do many good things for their aging parents:

1. Support in daily functions (either directly or by supervising hired personnel, emergency intervention);

2. Financial management (bill-paying, investments, prevention of elderly fraud, etc);

3. Living will executor (instruction regarding what medical intervention, when unable to act).

If a person or couple does not have any children (or the children cannot do it), who can take over those functions? Take the extreme case of the couple in a car accident and both unresponsive in a hospital, who will take care of their financial management (paying bills, etc)? Same case: One person outlives the other, and that survivor is unable to handle his/her own affairs?”

And here’s how I tried to simplify the question for my simple mind:

“Who will do all the stuff that needs to be done, if/when I can’t do it?”

And the parenthetical statement that follows is: “(when there’s no ‘family’ who can do it?)”

I think most of us – And certainly most of us in my business! – Just knee-jerk to “family:” The family (often the “kids,” but not always, by any means) will take care of it — and often, they do; now, that’s not to say that “family” isn’t fraught with difficulties and, in extreme cases, abuse and/or exploitation. It’s true, it happens.

And there are no guarantees that “family” will, in fact, do exactly what you want done, in exactly the WAY you might want it done, but that is usually where these stories conclude: With family.

In point of fact, family-as-safety-net is so ingrained into our culture that even the laws and the courts institutionalize it, granting rather sweeping legal sway to “family” when we can no longer call our own shots — and for most people, most of the time, that’s OK – mostly, more-or-less.

So, as I re-read the reader’s original question and I see “… or the children cannot do it …” I hit a mental wall — BOOM! Why can’t they do it? They live somewhere else? They’re busy? You don’t trust them? You don’t think they’re smart enough? They’re druggies? They have “issues” of their own, rendering them incapable of taking care of YOUR business?

Am I just being nosey?

No. The reason I ask is because here’s something I’ve seen over and over: You can concoct and put into place all manner of sophisticated and legal plans and arrangements designed to compensate for a situation in which you stop being the captain of your own ship, but if family (often the kids, but not always) comes along and starts raising Hell about this-or-that (think “money,” but it often happens regarding “heroic measure” medical care), the odds are pretty darned good that they’re going to prevail — at least, to a substantial agree.

So what? Well, if there are children, then I’d suggest that you think through — VERY carefully! How that might actually play out. If the “problem” is simply that they live somewhere else, or they’re crazy-busy with their own lives and families and you just can’t imagine how they could possibly take on the additional responsibility of being responsible for you, then start by having these conversations with them.

You might find out that they can and would take it on; in fact, you might find out that they wouldn’t have it any other way! (HINT: Long-distance caregiving has become common); failing that, you might find out that they have some rather strong opinions about this-or-that, so might want to take those “strong opinions” into account before you erect impressive legal barriers that will disintegrate in the face of an incensed daughter (trust me on this).

In other words, HAVE THE CONVERSATIONS! Listen to them, and make sure that they listen to you! Talk this stuff through, then begin again, because you’re going to be a whole lot smarter than you were when you e-mailed some local guy who writes a column.

And, as a sidebar, the most creative answers to long-term care issues that I’ve ever seen didn’t come from social workers and agencies — they came from families.

Families who cared.

OK, so now we’ll assume that there is no “family” and there are no kids and the two of you (I just prefer the couples-scenario) are on your own — now what?

And, by now, you’ve convinced yourselves that I’ve forgotten last week’s homework assignment, because you know that short-term memory is the second thing to go, right? WRONG! (Well, meaning that I haven’t forgotten …) If the questions is, “Who will do all the stuff that needs to be done, if/when I can’t do it?” The assignment was to make a list of what that “stuff” is.

It seems to me that the “stuff” comes down to three things:

1. Medical decisions, in case you can’t make your own;

2. Long-term care/help at home, and…

3. … Money!

One crisis at a time.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.


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