The story of elderly neighbours

image of cartoon couple on a bench

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Living the good life

An elderly couple moved to our rural village a few decades ago. The property they moved in to had been the holiday home they visited every summer for many years. When the owner decided to sell the property, they jumped at the chance to buy it and to move cross country for a slower pace of life.

The property was large with a lot of beautiful grounds. They enjoyed tending to their gardens during their retirement and lived a quiet peaceful life. They did not have any children and their nearest family members lived a very long drive away. 

Ill health and death

As the years went by, both became more frail. The large property and its extensive grounds were becoming a real struggle for them. After the death of the husband, the lady was left alone in the house. Isolated in this rural location with no transport, unsurprisingly her own health deteriorated. Carers and services were needed to try and help her stay at home but this was not possible in the long term. 

There were some real practical challenges that followed. On one occasion, the carers were unable to gain entry due to the keys being left inside the internal lock in the door. Another time, emergency services were required to attend after a fall in the night left her unwell and stranded. 

Image of peaceful lake

Family visit

By coincidence that day, one of their family members was visiting to try and help with their paperwork. This family member lived many hours away and had a busy family life of their own. Concerned about such a situation, this relative had tried over the years to get the couple to put plans in place for the future – such as drafting Will’s, Power of Attorneys etc. However these attempts had never been successful and was then left unresolved to avoid any upset or conflict. 

That visit swiftly brought the reality home of what this relative would be left to unravel in the future. We talked about the practicalities that would arise such as maintaining and securing the property, dealing with its contents plus – trying to locate all of the relevant paperwork one day.  

What about the practical aspects of running the house. What utilities did they have? How were they paid for? What about insurance policies and their vehicles?

The contents of the house was a huge concern too. How could the property be cleared from such a long distance? What about specific items in the house that may have significant value? How would anyone know where they are kept and whether they were of value.

Realisation

The enormity of the situation was beginning to hit home. How would any of this be possible or feasible with living so far away and with so little information. This would be an enormous and complex task for anyone to undertake. But made much more challenging by being time poor, at a distance and with their own family life to lead.

It would not be possible to just ‘pop in and out’ to do bits and pieces here and there. This would require lots of time or money in trying to unravel their lives, process their affairs and belongings.  Looking for local services to help is also difficult of you are not familiar with the area. 

Image of trees in the fall

There had been plenty of opportunities to put paperwork and plans in place previously to avoid these difficulties. Sadly in this situation, it was a little bit too late.

This reality of what lay ahead was very overwhelming. I cannot begin to imagine how long the process will take and the additional costs involved in trying to unravel this estate, when the time does come.

How can you plan ahead?

The moral of the story is that lives are complicated and we should take steps to put plans in place to help others. We all have lots of personal and practical information that others would not be aware of. The kindest thing to do is to help other people by recording useful and relevant information, so it is available when it is needed.

This couple did not have any immediate local family who could start to process their affairs. Even if they did have children or family members, often people chose to keep this type of information very private.

When discussing these type of situations, it triggers an immediate reaction. People can relate to this and often know of a friend or family member that one day, will be in a similar situation. The conversation can provide food for thought. I encourage people to discuss their circumstances with others. Think of what complications others may face, if you do not have a clear plan in place.

If people create and have an up to date Sunset Plan in place, their future situation can be very different.  The focus at the end of someone’s life would be of happier memories of their loved ones rather than the overwhelming, lengthy and complicated practical tasks that will lie ahead of them.

Encourage people to think about their wishes and record their practical information on a regular basis and keep it somewhere safe. This is a far better option than it being a difficult task, left to a time when it is too painful to discuss – or worse, too late.

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