The gift of friendship - asking tough questions

My friend, a fellow solo-ager (older adult without children), recently asked me some provocative questions.

They were, I think, a sign of the times that people are broadening their thinking around what’s important.

She began by sharing a recent article in the New York Times about individuals who bequeathed assets upon their death to friends rather than family. She asked me what I thought of that concept.

I explained that my best friends have ebbed and flowed through the years and have changed as my life circumstances have.  Friends from school became more distant as I began making friends in my work career. Interactions with friends from the East coast became less close as I moved to the West.

I explained that during my friendship journey, if there was a way I could help at that moment, I did. I bought weekly groceries for a friend who was living hand to mouth in grad school, paid a friend’s $600 vet bill as her dog lay dying of a rattlesnake bite, and let a friend live rent free for a year while he was a young father and could not find a job close to home.

My philosophy has been that since I have been blessed, if I care about someone and there is a need, I want to help. But when I am gone, I would rather have my legacy remain with my family and my causes.

This, of course, may not be the case for folks who have come to rely on and cherish good friends. In some instances, friends ARE family. In the case of the elderly couple my husband and I “adopted” and cared for, we became family through life circumstances. When they left something to my husband and me after their death was not expected, but not surprising either.

The concept of family for some has expanded to more than blood relatives.

She then asked me how I felt about people leaving more to one child because they acted as the primary caregiver.

I explained that my one sister provided hands-on care for my father as he struggled with Parkinson’s and now, she helps my mother with whatever she needs. 

During the years helping my father, I suggested to my mother that she pay my sister an hourly rate. My mother did.

After my father died, and my mother revised her estate plan, she still wanted to give the three girls equal amounts. So, I suggested that my mother figure out a lump sum she wanted to give my sister now, to recognize all the help she has provided. 

My mother is gifting my sister a portion of her targeted amount over five years, so as not to exceed the annual limit that triggers the gift tax. Then when my mother passes, she can feel comfortable that she showed her appreciation for my sister’s care and support while she was still around to thank her, and also treated her daughters equally in her bequests.

Lastly, my friend asked me if I have given any thought to where we plan to live in our later years.

I joked and told her that’s like asking my grade school self what I wanted to do for a career and where I wanted to live – oceanographer and California.  Well, I got one of them right.

Since our life journey is unknown at this time, we’ve created some categories.

If one of us has significant physical or cognitive disabilities, the other will act as the caregiver and bring in help to our home as needed.

If one is unable to care for the other, we will look into placement in an appropriate care facility, or we may relocate near a family member to help with our care.

If I am alone, can no longer drive and have limited personal interaction, I would like to relocate to a facility. I know socialization is important to my happiness.

But we will remain open when our life journey takes us in directions we have not predicted. Flexibility will be key.

I love that I have friends that ask these types of questions. All too often these topics only get addressed when life becomes challenging, and it is so much better to think about them now when we have time and space to make good decisions.


Categories: Elder lifestyleNumber of views: 101

Tags: tough questions

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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