Contributed by: Karen L. Hurley, Estate Administration Coordinator
My cat Frank lives for routine and predictability. He doesn’t want to be fed at 7:01, he wants to be fed at 7:00 sharp. He’s not alone. Most of us learn to appreciate or maybe crave some of the repetition in life. That’s not to say that surprises can’t be fun. Most of us love an unexpected visit from a close friend, receiving a thoughtful gift, or finding a refund check in the mail! But sometimes life has a way of poking holes in our routines and presenting surprises that aren’t so welcome.
Sudden news came for my family in the form of a phone call at 2am, from a hospital nurse calling my mom from Florida. That’s where my grandmom and grandpop live. My grandmom was in the hospital, and no one at the hospital knew who she was. My grandmom had been found unconscious on the side of the road by a kind stranger, thankfully, who called an ambulance to bring my grandmom to the hospital.
My grandmom is 91 years old, and she and my 94-year-old grandpop are still very active. They certainly put me to shame! Grandmom had been out for her daily walk in the neighborhood and had a fainting spell in the Florida heat and passed out on the side of the road.
Grandmom was unconscious when she arrived at the hospital, and when she came to the next day, she was disoriented. She had no identification on her, only the cell phone, and no one at the hospital knew who she was. By looking through the call history in grandmom’s cellphone, the nurse was able to pick out a few numbers that showed up frequently. She took a chance and dialed one, and it turned out to be my mom.
I’m happy to share that my grandmom is recovered, doing well and still enjoying the Florida sunshine with my grandpop.
While there is a happy outcome to this sudden event, the road to get there was not so easy for my grandmom, my mom, my uncle or myself. We are all close, but grandmom is very independent. She insists on taking care of everything herself, so before this event she saw no need for estate planning documents.
The rest of my family all lives up north and we always worry about our ability to help from a far. During this situation, my family had no Estate Planning documents to empower us to help her. No Advanced Health Care Directive to state her wishes while in the hospital. No current Power of Attorney to give authority to help with bank accounts and bill payments while grandmom recovered. The Power of Attorney she previously had given my uncle was drafted in 1972, and it was just a copy. Same with grandmom’s Will, my uncle had just a copy, with both documents drafted when my grandmom still lived in New Jersey. No one knew where the originals were kept, and if found, would the Power of Attorney even have been honored?
Navigating this time while my grandmom was in the hospital, and during her recovery afterwards, would have been much less stressful for both her and my family had proper planning been in place. It taught a lesson that proper estate planning does not mean you are giving up your independence, but rather means you are taking charge now for a time you may not be able to in the future.
I am relieved now that grandmom has a different perspective on receiving help. Now when I visit her she lets me do more than just pick grapefruits from the tree in her yard. She lets me set up online banking for her and has learned to video chat on her new Chromebook. She’s feels better about things and so do we, and she is still as independent as ever!