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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane elder services professionals lift the veil on senior planning

 (Tribune News Service illustration)

Fear. Denial. Busy lives. Confusing legal terms.

Spokane senior planners give some of these reasons for the disconnect: why people often don’t plan for elder issues and finances around the inevitable. Most of us will age. All of us will die.

“It’s great to think you’re going to live until you’re into your 90s and die in your sleep, but that’s just not realistic,” said Becky Tiller, owner of Tiller Care Strategies, which offers geriatric care management and assessments.

“There are very few fortunate souls who will do that and live out life in their home.”

Estate planning and aging issues are topics everyone should think through, said Spokane elder law attorney Lynn St. Louis.

“As a society, we have a tendency to be youth-oriented, but if we’re fortunate, we’ll age,” St. Louis said. “Many of us will become disabled and fragile and need help.”

St. Louis and Tiller are members of a professional networking group, Spokane Elder Resource Team, that aims to provide information for smoother transitions with elder planning, before serious illness or a spouse’s death forces a stressful reality.

Beginning Tuesday, SERT will present a six-part series called “Lifting the Veil on Senior Planning” through the Spokane County Library District.

The free series is a component of the library district’s “Thinking Money” financial programs this fall. Each “Lifting the Veil” series topic will run twice, with at least one held at Argonne Library. The repeat sessions are at different locations, including Airway Heights, Cheney and Medical Lake branches.

SERT workshops are designed to give an overview of planning tools and insights to navigate senior years or help aging parents. Information ranges from wills, trusts and housing changes to handling family burnout and struggles.

Sessions also will break down sometimes difficult-to-understand concepts around elder law, Medicare, Social Security, estate planning, and home, auto and long-term care insurance.

People can attend individual sessions or the entire series.

SERT founder Joel Ferris Jr. said the group has 11 elder planning professionals with expertise in different areas. They’ll work to remove some mystery, while sharing personal stories and anecdotes that help explain issues, he said.

“Because when people think of some of these issues, it’s like Greek,” said Ferris, a long-term care insurance specialist. “People aren’t quite sure where to begin looking, and the topics are mysterious, like how does a trust work?”

He said SERT first evolved in spring 2014 after he began researching other senior planning professionals as reliable referrals to his own clients. After about a year of networking, members decided they should focus on being an informational resource.

“Rather than just networking, we said it seems there is an area missing in the way of communication and information, like a clearinghouse for elder planning issues,” Ferris said.

Tiller and Gail Goeller, Spokane author of “Coming of Age with Aging Parents,” are leading the first session, titled “The Big Picture – Looking at Your Family’s Future.”

“We still don’t handle the inevitable, and that can be in handling elder parents or it can be in becoming elderly ourselves,” Goeller said. “The workshop is kind of a scaffolding for the future, however you define family, because it does impact everyone in the family.”

The series title implies the need to look beyond basics and consider a family’s emotional undertow.

“To me, the title implies you are willing to at least take a look at what you have done or haven’t done to be ready to get old, and ultimately get ready to die. We might be more comfortable with our estate planning and defining our advanced directives and call it done.”

“What people don’t know if they don’t lift the veil is this is an emotional adventure that begs for good communication with family members.”

Kathy Bryant, a senior real estate specialist, is a SERT member who will present along with St. Louis for the workshop “Wills, Trusts, Planning for Real Estate Changes, and Other Legal Mysteries.”

Bryant speaks about senior housing issues and spent 2011 staying in 12 area retirement communities for a week, to better assist clients. Bryant said SERT’s intent is to help people map out a better course.

“We’ve just been growing our idea of taking this educational platform out to the community with the hope we can help people take control of their lives, figure out where they want to go, and how they want to make all of these end-of-life choices,” Bryant said.

“So many people want to stay in their house long after their house isn’t appropriate for them,” she added. “You can live in place with a few modifications. However, there are many times that somebody needs to move, not only because of physical changes in their life, but because of emotional changes.

“Perhaps they’re completely isolated and don’t have a social connection anymore. Sometimes when they move into a community, they just blossom.”

Bryant and other SERT members said people in their 30s and 40s can benefit from the series, and people of all ages will have time to ask questions.

“Do you want to get long-term care insurance when it’s more affordable?” Bryant said. “Is it time for me to go to an elder law attorney to take care of all the paperwork, so if something happens to me, my adult children or power of attorney know what my desires are?”

St. Louis plans to share information about federal and state policies in place to keep a spouse from becoming impoverished if one of them faces major health costs or care. Steps exist for asset-protection estate planning, including long-term care benefits through Medicaid and the VA, St. Louis said.

For Goeller, time for families to reflect and communicate also are part of the aging equation, and the workshops may help people recognize grief is already happening over seeing changes in aging parents.

“Some people have children at home and are working two jobs,” she said. “This time that we are living in doesn’t create much time for conversation. When we don’t have time, it’s easier to get kind of irritated, rather than thinking, my parent is changing and I feel sad.”

“Financially, if the oldest adult hasn’t taken care of planning, then of course it falls to the kids or the government or whoever picks it up. These are critical conversations that ideally will come before a desperate need.”