Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Well, That Was A Mistake

Well, today has been hard.  I just wish things were easier.  Both yesterday and the day before when I spoke with Mom she just seemed so sad.  She wanted to go home, she felt like a prisoner, it's boring, she's all alone, etc.  The thing is I know that even if Mom were in her actual home, she'd have the same complaints.  Tuesday she couldn't remember either of my sisters' last names or either of their husbands' first names.  She's safer where she is.  But it still breaks my heart.

My niece and nephew have been selling some of Mom's stuff on  They've actually set up a pretty nice looking website advertising some of her stuff.  I checked it out just out of curiosity.  Boy, that was a mistake.  It broke my heart!  Seeing all of Mom's stuff, some of it filled with so many memories, being sold to a bunch of strangers.  Actually, I think some of her stuff is being underpriced, but I'm not in charge of all that.  And, truthfully, I am glad my niece and nephew are handling it.  I wouldn't be able to do it.  I told Jonah I would just be crying and crying over selling and giving away Mom's stuff.  It would be too hard.  It's already hard, and I'm not even there.

I saw pictures on the website of Mom's old couch that has been reupholstered once, but is still the original couch that has been in that house for years and years and years.  Going for $15 (and is probably worth just that at this point).  The old roll top desk my dad was so excited to get went for $90 (Jonah thinks they could have gotten more for that).  An old teapot we got from my grandma (Jonah thought that one had been undersold as well).  The piano Mom wanted because she wanted to learn to play piano.  In the end, she gave up, and I was the one who used it the most.  In fact, my sister-in-law asked if I would be taking it.  Jonah and I already have a piano, and Mom's is very heavy and cumbersome.  I just can't take it nor do I really want it.  But it sure makes me sad to watch it be sold.  I shouldn't have looked at the site.  I think it's better not to know.  It's too painful.

My younger sister and her husband took the really nice hutch that Mom got when she and I worked at a theatrical supply company.  I imagine the next time I go back to Utah, the house will be a shell of its former self.  That house was home to me for so long, and now it isn't.  Even last time I was there it just didn't feel like the home it once was.

Truthfully, I do get days when I feel angry.  I'm mad that Mom can't live happily in her house for the remainder of her life.  I'm upset that we will be using her savings and selling her home to pay for her to stay in a place she doesn't even want to be.

And I know rationally it's all what needs to be.  But my heart sure has trouble with it sometimes.

I was reading a journal entry my mom wrote 12 years ago where she was talking about cleaning up my two nieces' vomit while she was babysitting them.  One of those nieces is the one living in her house now, and her husband found Mom passed out in her own vomit before she was taken to the hospital shortly before she was finally moved into this assisted living facility.  It made me think of the irony.  Funny how our roles change as we get older.

I've also been frustrated and discouraged by the hunt for employment.  It really is starting to take a toll on me.  When I think of people who have been unemployed for far, far longer than I have, I just think, "Please, please let me find a job soon."  I can't even imagine what they're going through.

In spite of the challenges, I am grateful to be with Jonah.  I am grateful for what I am accomplishing with my free time.  And I am grateful I am still able to collect unemployment (although not for much longer).  I can't imagine where we'd be without it.  I just hope this joblessness doesn't last too much longer.

As I finish this post, I see a photo my younger sister posted on Facebook.  It is of Mom and my brother-in-law dancing (an activity Mom has always enjoyed) at a Valentines social at the assisted living facility.  Mom has a big smile on her face.  It is great to see her smiling in her new home.  I hope I can see more of that.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Taking Risks

I've never thought of myself as much of a risk taker.  I'm pretty practical and tend to take the safest route.  But as I thought about it, I have seen two huge risks I've taken in my life that paid off very well: my choice to become an actor and my choice to essentially leave the LDS Church to have a life with Jonah.  Both of those choices have brought me immeasurable happiness.  That isn't to say there haven't been challenges associated with either, but I certainly do not regret either one, and certainly neither one was necessarily a "safe" choice.

I am faced with a potentially risky prospect, although I feel it is the right thing to do.  As you well, know, Mom is now in an assisted living facility, and of course, that is very expensive and will eat through Mom's assets relatively quickly.

A family advocate who deals with Medicaid issues faced by families going through what mine is going through and who was recommended to us by the assisted living facility where Mom is put us in touch with an attorney who specializes in financial planning for the elderly and who also has a great knowledge about Medicaid, how it works, and its pitfalls.  He and the family advocate both said that there is a way to save some of Mom's assets from being completely spent down before Medicaid will take care of Mom's expenses.

The attorney also said that even once one qualifies for Medicaid, there are certain things that neither Medicare nor Medicaid will cover so it's good to have a safety net of assets that Medicaid can't touch.  Essentially the plan the attorney proposes is setting up a living trust of which one of Mom's kids would be the trustee and which most of Mom's assets would be put into.  This would make what were once Mom's assets technically become someone else's even though, in truth, they are still really hers.  This is kind of a legal loophole one can use to avoid losing all of Mom's assets before the state will help out.

However, when an applicant applies for Medicaid, the state will look back and see if such transactions have occurred and will penalize the applicant for doing so, preventing them for applying for Medicaid for a certain period of time.

Our rough estimate is that if we were to go forward with this plan, Mom would be unable to qualify for Medicaid for nearly four years, during which time we would still use her assets to pay for her care, but then once she qualifies for Medicaid we could still hang on to whatever assets are remaining to help pay for the things Medicaid and Medicare don't cover and could even perhaps leave some remaining for funeral and death expenses and even inheritance (although inheritance is not our goal; our goal is to help care for Mom).

The legal fees for implementing this plan run anywhere from $5000 to $8000 depending on the complexity of the plan, and of course, when you're already stressed and worried about having enough money to care for your mom, that seems like a lot; but it's also important to look at the money as an investment that you will theoretically gain back.

The big risk is what happens if we don't sell Mom's house because that is crucial, as the bulk of the money we would use to pay for Mom's care during the penalty period will come from that, and if we don't sell it, how will we pay for her care once the money we have runs out.

Now Mom's house is a pretty good house in a decent neighborhood and should be fairly simple to sell, but in real estate, who knows?

It is comforting to know that the law firm we're dealing with has a great reputation for honesty and trustworthiness.  It is also comforting to know that an independent lawyer friend who helped Mom in the past when my dad died recommended we do this.  And it is very, very comforting to know that the attorney we are dealing with has had a 100% success rate in preserving some of the assets of the elderly in similar situations as my mom except in cases where the person died during the penalty period, and I actually anticipate Mom will live a while, and even if she doesn't, we would burn through her assets anyway, so really, what do we have to lose.

I am also very comforted by the attorney himself.  In my conversations with him, he is both confident and knowledgeable, but more importantly, I genuinely think he cares about the elderly and their families and how situations like this affect them.  He got into this branch of law originally because of the struggles his own family faced when his grandmother suffered a stroke.

My brother and I hold power of attorney for Mom.  Until just recently, my brother was trustee over her trust, which theoretically protects her assets after she dies (which is different from the trust this lawyer wants to help us create, which theoretically will protect some of her assets while she's still living).  My brother chose to abdicate his duties as trustee because the financial responsibilities have caused him great stress and have been affecting his health in negative ways.  I am now the trustee and am now largely responsible for Mom's bills and financial matters.

After having a long conversation with this attorney, I am convinced that this plan can help save some of Mom's assets and will help her and us financially in the future.  I have talked to my family about this.  My brother, surprisingly (because I thought he would be the most resistant), said if I felt it was a good idea and because our family friend recommended it as well, he supports me in my endeavors (I think more than anything, he's just glad I'm in charge of this stuff and not him).

But, good idea or not, I am scared to make this decision because there are potential risks, and I certainly don't want to do anything to put Mom at even greater risk than she already is; and if things do fall apart for some reason, it will be on my head, and who wants that?

As I was stressing about whether to actually go through with this prospect, I was in a store with Jonah yesterday and there was one of those motivational signs that said simply, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"  I thought to myself, "I would save as much of what my mom worked her whole life for as I could."  Simple as that.

Of course, I do not know if this plan will succeed or not.  If everything works out the way it should, it will.  But things can go wrong.  Like I said, I think of myself as someone who doesn't take risks very often; who would rather play it safe than gamble.  So I'm scared even though I think this is the right way to go.  And I guess it's okay to be scared.  But as Jonah often says, "You have to live life by faith, not fear."

I hope this is the right decision.  I believe it is.  Nothing's ever 100% guaranteed.  I can't worry too much about "what if?"  I just have to believe that things will work out for the best.  God has always looked out for my family, and I believe he always will.  We will certainly face challenges, but I believe we can succeed.  I hope and pray so anyway.