Dad, a Demise Sentence and the Planner Who Set Us Straight

My siblings and I had always got on quite well, but we feared a collapse in the entire family dynamic if we weren’t careful, even if we really wanted to act quickly to protect our father and his wife as well as possible. The living needed at least as much help as the dying client. For the three of us at least, feelings would be as important as finances.

But at the most primal level we just fluctuated in the first few months. ALS is an unpredictable disease – a disease that can progress rapidly and remain challenging for a while, consuming assets that have taken a lifetime to accumulate. We weren’t sure which task to tackle first.

However, the first course of action a financial planner can take is often to restart and simplify investments while developing a completely new cash flow plan. This was particularly necessary in the case of my father. Years earlier I had “the conversation” with him: Don’t let a nice stranger talk you into a range of proprietary, expensive, underperforming, actively managed mutual funds. But it didn’t last, and he’d done it anyway.

That was just the beginning. As Carl Richards, former New York Times Sketch Guy columnist, likes to say, real financial planning is a process, not a collection of investment products.

Any illness that could mean a steep decline – whether it be ALS, Alzheimer’s, or certain types of cancer – brings up myriad questions when the worlds of medicine and money collide. A good financial planner can answer them straight away.

Some of these questions are immediately apparent, although some details vary. When do you start or stop a Medicare Advantage plan? When do you call the hospice, what do the staff do and who pays? In this case, there were questions about navigating the Veterans Affairs system, a bureaucracy that can be as confusing as it is generous. (Seriously, everyone who arranged the veteran perks with ALS, thank you. Maybe you stopped Dad from zeroing his total net worth.)

Then there were things that we could never have imagined. He voluntarily gave up his car keys, but would we have to ban his beloved red wine? Does it make sense for an ALS patient to undergo a colonoscopy? And what about that feeding tube?

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