Fidelity Viewpoint – Managing Cognitive Decline

This is a helpful reminder for those who are helping family members with cognitive challenges and for those of us who might start to struggle at some point in the future. I am thankful that my wife’s mother recognized that she needed help and then accepted help. Her financial “advisors” were not doing a good job and they were charging her for the work they were doing. We made changes together while she was still able to make decisions regarding her future. Now she is no longer able to do that. She was wise to act when she could and set in place the right legal documents with her attorney’s help.

Read this article for more helpful information:

Managing cognitive decline

Stuff Exchange Blessings

I will probably run out of friends and family before I run out of things to give away. But, in this process, I’m learning much about the value of things in comparison with the value of being a blessing to others.

IMG_0670I’ve been working my way through some of mom’s possessions which followed her from her apartment to her new abode in our home. I’ve been trying to put as many of her decorative objects into use here as I have room, so as to make her feel more comfy and at home. Though she has already been through two other downsizing events in the past two years, we are still left with way more items than she needs (or can appreciate in this stage of Alzheimer’s). As much as possible has been given to family members who have expressed an interest in her belongings. My daughter took on the responsibility of selling or giving away the furniture that was no longer needed (and I am SO grateful for her help). Each day the invasion of moving boxes on my 3-season porch gets smaller as I carve out time to go through their contents. For this, I am grateful. Continue reading “Stuff Exchange Blessings”

Legal Matters Matter

Wayne and I recently checked one more thing off of Momma’s to-do list mentioned in the following story posted on Facebook in 2016. We met with our local funeral director and pre-paid Mom’s funeral. It’s nice to have that one out of the way. There are so many financial planning and legal matters to attend to when it comes to caring for a loved one who can no longer care for themselves. I hope by sharing this information, light is shed on someone else’s journey.

Facebook journal entry – February 4, 2016

As far back as I can remember, Momma was always a list maker; life just rolled better once her thoughts and plans were written down on paper. I know the feeling. I enjoy the physical act of checking things off of my to-do lists too. Some may think me crazy, but, when I accomplish an unexpected task, I add the job to my to-do list just so I can experience the euphoric mini-rush of being able to check it off as “DONE!”
Two summers ago, Momma’s memory loss was beginning to advance. I had been noticing changes since 2010, but Mom had been able to disguise her forgetfulness and few people knew she was struggling. In the summer of 2014, she was still having more good memory days than bad, but her memory loss was making its ugly presence known – and others were noticing the changes too. Her friends at church would patiently listen to her tell the same story several times in a conversation or ask the same question repeatedly.
That summer Wayne and I began to make more frequent trips to see Mom. While Wayne would help her with household handyman projects and matters related to finances, I would work with Mom puttering in her garden or working indoors with her on various decluttering projects.
As we spent more time with Mom, I believe that God helped us see that stress – real or perceived – adversely affected Momma’s memory. I began spending more time at Mom’s house helping her tackle the paperwork that was threatening to overwhelm her. The bed in my old bedroom was hard to find beneath the sea of junk mail, bank statements, file folders, binders and clipboards. Scattered throughout this paper jungle were various legal pads, notebooks and miscellaneous pads of papers where mom was obviously trying to jot down tasks on her to-do lists. Mom had boxes and boxes of files, but didn’t have a system for filing that was working for her. I started taking home a box at a time and, with Wayne’s help, weeded out the stuff she didn’t need to keep, condensed the duplicate files, and then created a much smaller A-Z file system for her. Our son Matt got involved in this project too, helping create a more streamlined household filing system for her.
That summer, Wayne and I chose to spend time reading her various lists and couldn’t help but notice one theme showing up quite often: Momma wanted to take care of end-of-life legal and financial matters. We decided that this needed to be a stress-relieving priority, given the relative clarity of thought she was having now versus the unknown path her thought process might take in the future.
Gathering up her legal documents and financial statements, Wayne and I started to wade through and organize them making our own lists of things that needed to be updated, questions that needed to be asked, and people we needed to meet. Then, with mom’s blessing, our first stop was to meet with Mom’s lawyer. Now that Dad had gone to his heavenly home, Mom wanted to make sure that everything was updated. We made an appointment and were so glad we did. We worked with Mom’s lawyer to update her will and, while we were at it, updated both her financial and healthcare power of attorney (POA) legal documents (Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Durable Power of Attorney). This step alone came in handy for many of the tasks we would want to accomplish over the next few months.
Wayne’s review of Mom’s retirement accounts caused him to raise his eyebrows. The funds were being managed by two different advisors; one doing a respectable job, the other – not so much. Numerous unreasonable fees were eating away at any gains her accounts were making. Together with Mom, we decided to move one of her two accounts into a Fidelity account and allow Wayne to oversee and manage them. With her Durable Power of Attorney paperwork in hand, we were able to handle these financial decisions and changes on mom’s behalf. Receiving all of the investment related documents in the mail was very confusing for Mom, so we changed the mailing address to our own. Wayne then condenses the information into a single page summary document listing her current balances in her various financial and investment accounts.
The next stop on our “Momma’s to-do-list journey” was to take her to the cemetery where Dad is buried. Several years ago, Mom and Dad had purchased two plots from a friend who had a few plots she had inherited that she wanted to sell. Based upon the paperwork I had in hand and a few phone calls I had made, I was confident that everything was in order. Mom just wanted to double-check that everything was pre-paid and in order for her own future interment. We stopped at the cemetery’s office to speak with the attendant and were assured that all of the necessary prepayment was in order.
We then drove to the section where Dad was buried and set out to find Dad’s grave marker. As we slowly moved through row upon row of tombstones and markers, I was reminded that there is more to getting ready for the inevitableness of death than taking care of financial matters. I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving that both of my parents had taken care of the most important thing. Well, actually, Christ had taken care of that on the cross for them…Mom and Dad just accepted His gift of salvation by faith.
We found the marker. As Momma and I stood arm in arm reading the grave marker together, it seemed odd seeing her name on the marker too. Glancing at Momma to see how she was doing, I saw a peaceful smile.
Over lunch following our visit to the cemetery, we talked with Mom about what her wishes were concerning her future burial plans. An incredibly tough discussion, but I am quite sure her concerns over the future were visibly replaced by a gentle peace of mind.
At the end of our summer of checking many things off mom’s to-do lists, I created a special binder to house all of the important documents related to end-of-life matters. This binder includes:
  • Power of attorney documents
  • Original copy of her will (along with a copy)
  • Cemetery and burial plot titles and documentation
  • Mom’s wishes related to her funeral service – including the hymns and scriptures she would like to include
  • A list of people mom would like me to notify concerning her home-going
  • A list of legal tasks I will need to complete.

Admittedly, this reference binder is more for me, than for mom. When God chooses to call my mother home to heaven, my job of honoring her final wishes will be much easier. On this side of Glory, we will enjoy our time with mom and rejoice in knowing our summer of checking things off her to-do lists brought her great peace of mind.

Spreadsheets (and other scary things)

Math has never been my strong suit. My earliest memory of my aversion to mathematics goes back to grade school. Details are fuzzy, but flash cards and standing with chalk in hand at a blackboard with snickering classmates behind me were involved in the torture. No amount of remedial help or after supper tutoring from my dad could erase the ill feeling of dread and fear whenever our teacher would stand in front of the class with a stack of paper and ask us to put our books away and take a pencil out of our desks. I can still picture her walking up and down each row of evenly spaced desks, placing a sheet of paper face-down on our desks, instructing us not to turn it over until she gave us permission. The only thing pleasant about the dreaded math quiz experience was the strangely pleasing pungent aroma of the alcohol (spirits) on the fresh, purple-inked quiz paper freshly printed on a “spirit-processed” Ditto machine (now I’m really dating myself).

“Ditto” ad and resulting sample of the purple-inked math quiz…obviously not my paper.

I dreaded getting my paper back after my teacher graded it too. That purple ink on the page would more often than not be accompanied by numerous red check-marks next to each wrong answer. Oftentimes, right next to the grade at the top of the paper, there would be a little note from the teacher that said “See Me” or something like that. It was embarrassing to never quite “get it” when everyone else around me (so it seemed) was catching on just fine.

In marriage, opposites often attract. My husband enjoys math. It’s probably not an exaggeration of facts to say that

playing with numbers brings him great satisfaction. On a related note, he truly enjoys spreadsheets. Creating them. Updating them. Analyzing them. Sharing them. He’s the type of guy that looks at pieces of information and says with a smile, “Hey, let’s build a spreadsheet for that!”

While I struggle with remembering which credit card to use in each purchasing situation, drag my feet at keeping spreadsheets updated, struggle with understanding investment principles, and chafe at always being asked for receipts for updating those spreadsheets, I can be thankful my husband is strong in those areas. His love of managing details means we can pull up a piece of needed information with a moment’s notice when caring for my mom and brother. It means he is a natural choice to be their financial power of attorney (a job I very willingly relinquish). It means our own budget is always balanced. Our retirement investments always well-tended and growing. Our bank account never lacking. Our vehicle and home maintenance always scheduled at appropriate times. Our emergency fund always available. Our taxes always done on time and without error. Our giving always done wisely and with generosity.
For this man, I give thanks to God.