I attended a client’s funeral earlier this week. About a month ago, I was at her home, where she signed some documents to adjust ownership of her assets and change her estate plan, so that her husband would be protected if he later needed nursing home care. The new estate plan would also protect one of her sons, who has financial problems, so that he would not lose his future inheritance to creditors. She signed the new documents and then said “Thanks, I feel better now”. She then got up and went back to bed. She knew that the cancer would take her soon.
Late in the funeral ceremony, my client’s husband began to present the eulogy. But he couldn’t do it; he was sobbing quietly. The priest stood up and spoke in the awkward silence. “We often mistake the tears we shed at these moments as tears of sorrow for the beloved whose passing has left such a hole in our hearts. Actually, though, they are tears of joy for the love that the person gave us.”
When I give elder law presentations (usually at senior centers or parish halls), I talk about “Frank and Mary”, my fictional elder couple, and their children, Peter, Paul and Mary, Jr. I often change the facts in these presentations, such as their ages, their health, how much property they own, how their children are doing, etc. But what never changes is what they want. Frank and Mary love each other and they love their kids. They are older and accept the fact that they are going to die someday. They fear frailty; they fear losing control; they fear poverty; and they hope they can avoid all of these problems. But most of all, Frank and Mary want to know that when one of them dies, the other will be protected. When they are both gone, they want the best for their children.
“So you do elder law,” a prospective client will say. “What does that mean?” It means helping Frank and Mary deal with the specter of frailty and death that haunts every older person. It means helping loving couples, parents, and children assure that their loved ones are protected and will be well cared for. It means helping them avoid the poverty and destitution that are the occasional unfortunate by-products of our current healthcare system. It means helping Frank and Mary sleep a more peaceful sleep at night and, ultimately, die a more peaceful death.