When I'm 64… or more

25th April 2014

Ask not what your children can do for you, but what you can do for your children, says Alex Gray

Recently, my sister and I were tucking into Sunday lunch with our parents when Dad piped up “Neither of us wants to be cremated.” While he sliced into his roast potato and poured some extra gravy, we nearly dropped our cutlery. “What your father means,” stated my mother, “is that we were reading an article in the paper about some children who were left with funeral arrangements and no idea what their parents wanted, so we thought we’d let you know.”

It was with my sisters’ and my interests in mind, of course, that they dropped this particular bombshell. Their intention was to save us from one difficult decision, at what would be, of course, an extremely upsetting time. Thankfully, they are still fit and healthy (I checked), but it may not always be that way. UK society is ageing. By 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicts that people over 50 will constitute almost one-third of the workforce, and almost half the adult population. Not only are we generally getting older, we’re also living longer; the ONS projects that around one in three babies born in 2013 will live to celebrate their 100th birthday. This isn’t without associated problems, because as we live longer, so we are more likely to need help in our crepuscular days. According to the Dilnot Report, 75% of the over 65 age group can expect to pay some sort of care. Most of us will expect our children to help us later in life, but what can we do in the meantime, to make everyone’s lives easier in the future?

make a will…

It seems an obvious, grown-up and responsible thing to do, but a staggering one third of people aged between 60 and 69 don’t have a will, according to research undertaken last year. “Without a will in place, intended beneficiaries could receive nothing,” says Karen Barrett, Chief Executive of unbiased.co.uk who were responsible for the research and who, in conjunction with the National Will Register, run a ‘Write and Register a Will Week’ each October to promote the importance of doing this. “Nearly one in ten of those without a will believe their estate will automatically go to the right people, but dying without a will means assets will be divided according to the rules of intestacy, potentially leaving unmarried partners or stepchildren financially vulnerable.” Not to mention the added stress at an already emotional time for those left behind.

do some financial planning…

How best to protect your inheritance has long been in the minds of those getting older. But these days, financial planning goes well beyond inheritance tax. Getting advice on how to fund care has becoming increasingly important. Over the last decade, a new breed of investment products has evolved that deal with investments for exactly this reason – to directly cover care costs. “Inheritance tax is increasingly not the issue. It’s how to pay for care,” says Kathy Lawrence, co-founder of website WhenTheyGetOlder.co.uk, which offers help and advice to the children of ageing parents. “Nowadays, it’s up to individuals to fund the sort of care they want and to plan for it,” says Kathy.

Hannah Johnson’s mother Rose, now 72, spent over a decade caring for her own mother who suffered from dementia at the end of her life. Unwilling to see their own children go through the same thing, Rose and her husband began paying into an investment fund. “It now stands at a very generous amount, certainly enough to pay for years of care,” says Hannah, 40. “On the one hand I feel sad that my mum must have felt that this was hanging over her. But at the same time I’m so grateful – and relieved.” It’s even more poignant because two years ago, Rose was also diagnosed with dementia.

set up a lasting power of attorney (LPA)…

Two thirds of the population has indeed gone to the trouble of writing a will. But if they become suddenly incapacitated – mentally unable to make decisions because of accident or illness – their carers will have to go through the Court of Protection to help them. This can take as long as a year, and is expensive.

Lesley’s father lives in Devon, while she lives in Milton Keynes, a five-hour drive away. Since her mother died, Lesley has found it increasingly difficult to look after her father, because there is no power of attorney in place. Instead, she relies on social services to tell her if something happens. “We speak on the phone a lot,” Lesley tells me, “but at one point we didn’t speak for a couple of weeks and when I rang I found out he had been in hospital. Nobody told me, because he hadn’t asked them to. But as next of kin, shouldn’t I have been told? I’m trying to keep in touch with the people involved in his care and make a fuss so people don’t forget me.” Her father has always said that he will know when the time is right for care, “but the feeling I’m getting is that he has deteriorated, and he doesn’t now know that he needs to get into a care home… but I am powerless to do anything. It makes me very angry. What I’d love to do is to bring him closer to us, so we can look after him properly, but I can’t.”

Because, in theory, a power of attorney can be used straight away, some parents can be understandably concerned about the implications of setting one up, especially when it might never be needed. “You can say that your LPA can only be used if you don’t have mental capacity,” says family lawyer Sarah Cousins, adding, “I would also always advise people to get expert legal advice, and to choose attorneys in whom they trust implicitly. You can appoint more than one person as attorney, and stipulate that they all have to agree on the course of action. You can also revoke or make changes to the LPA at any time. A solicitor will also need to decide whether you understand what it is and that no undue influence is being placed on you to set one up. After that, your attorneys are under the watchful eye of the Office of Public Guardian, who can do a spot check at any time.”

stay fit and healthy…

“Ageing is not an illness,’ points out the charity AgeUK, which wants to help everybody make the most of their later life. “At Age UK Hertfordshire we believe that there is much that people can do to ensure they have a healthy, active and enjoyable later life,” says Chief Executive Marion Birch. It’s straightforward stuff, but it can make a big difference. “Eating healthily and exercising regularly, having a hobby or interest, taking part in social activities and volunteering in the community are our key recommendations for enjoying later life,” she explains.

get organised…

Last but very defintely not least, getting papers in order with a list of where everything is can be a huge help. “My father left us a filing cabinet that noted who to contact: banks, building society, utilities, all sorts of people,” says Kathy. “If the child doesn’t know where any of that stuff is or – even what that stuff is – that just makes it so much more complicated. We were presented with a list of what was in which filing cabinet and that was just wonderful. He has been in full-time care now for two years, and is doing really well.”

Nobody knows what the future holds. My parents might still be serving up a stupendous Sunday lunch in their 90s, but for some of us, the path of later life will run anything but smooth.

“It’s so much better to have these conversations before anybody is getting ill at all,” adds Kathy. “We are living longer but it’s a great unknown – no-one knows how we will cope. I think for a lot of these things the onus is on the parents to start the conversation, whether that’s funeral arrangements or what their ideal care scenario is. Because it’s really hard for the children to do it.”

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