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An important — and very different type of — bucket list

NIAGARA, Wis. — As we go through our lives busily building a career and caring for a family, we all have a “bucket list” of all those items we want to be sure to do before we die.

This list may flex and grow as we age, but typically it includes exotic vacations, things we want to learn to do, and a host of experiences we neither have time nor money for until we arrive at this stage of our lives. If we are fortunate to still have our health, we start ticking off the items on that list.

But there is another type of bucket list called “Putting Your Affairs in Order.” This list is not nearly as fun or glamorous, but it will definitely give you peace of mind now knowing you have had control over how your affairs are settled once you are gone from this earth. And it will most definitely be a great help to your survivors if they know your wishes in advance. Both my husband and I have recently needed this information to deal with situations in our own lives, and it really helped us to know what our loved ones wanted.

I did some research on line recently and found some easy-to-understand advice that I will share with you today. The conversations that need to happen and the plans that need to be made are not nearly as fun or sexy as planning a trip to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, but they are important. Our death is inevitable even if we do not discuss it, so we may as well have a plan while we still have some say in the matter. Charles Sabatino, director of the American Bar Association, gave the following insights.

First, give someone durable power of attorney to manage your financial affairs if you become sick and unable to do so yourself. It is important to accept that we are going to live a lot longer in general and that most of us will live under some chronic condition or disability that prevents us from attending to the financial details of our lives. Bills must continue to be paid, and if a business is involved, someone needs to continue its operation so it can continue to fund your needs. Do not wait too long to make this decision. Give yourself enough time so you can work with that individual while you are still lucid and of sound mind. And, even if the POA is not your spouse — after all, he or she is most likely as old as you are — that spouse should, at the very least, know how to manage the checkbook and where to find the financial files. To make things even easier, be sure that possessions and bank accounts are jointly owned. When both names are on the mortgage and bank accounts, life continues much more easily for a surviving spouse.

Second, write a will. For most people, this will be enough estate planning now that laws have changed. As Sabatino explained, “People tend to create a trust to reduce estate taxes and avoid probate, but taxes and probate are less of a concern now because procedures have been simplified in many states. A will and durable power of attorney usually will take care of things.” Check with an attorney who specializes in elder law to see what would be advisable for your personal situation in the state in which you live.

Third, complete an advanced-care directive or living will that gives someone you trust completely the authority to carry out your wishes about medical treatment at the end of your life. Then discuss and document your wishes. Having gone through this with both of our mothers, my husband and I found this document to be extremely helpful. As our parents age, it is not as difficult to discuss death as we think it is going to be. My husband’s parents had a very detailed living will which greatly helped him and his siblings make what would have been very difficult decisions. When my own mother’s dementia became so advanced, I was grateful to the nursing home for having a document for me to sign despite how difficult it was to agree to a “do not resuscitate” order. Staff explained to me what CPR did to someone who had lived well into their 80s, and my mother was in her 90s at the time. I asked my mother if she was afraid of death, and she very clearly answered, “not my own — only the death of someone I love.” Such a document is extremely appreciated by medical professionals as well; they know how to combine their clinical knowledge with the wishes of their patients for the best possible outcome.

The fourth consideration involves the welfare of surviving dependent children. Appoint a guardian to care for them upon your death. It goes without saying that they should be aware of your trust in them to continue your role as parents. Any other scenario is best left to the Hollywood movie makers. If the surviving child is disabled, seek the help of a professional who can guide you through the laws as they relate to the blending of inheritance and public benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid. Sabatino explains this is a growing specialty so seek out that expertise.

Item five on this bucket list is to preplan your funeral. Again, this is something for which my husband and I were profoundly grateful. Since my mother was at Maryhill Manor, it was required that all funeral arrangements had been made and prepaid. It made things so much easier when she died. And, thankfully, we had prepaid my brother’s funeral at the same time. I never thought I would have to rely on it this soon, but I do not know what I would have done without it. My husband’s parents’ funerals were not prepaid, but personal wishes were made known to him and his siblings — right down to the hymns they wanted sung and the prayers they preferred. Having to make these types of decisions and find the resources to cover them are extremely difficult and emotionally charged in the moment.

Sixth, think about, and plan for, long-term care. As we age, we all know our ability to live independently becomes compromised. Nothing is as easy to take care of as it once was. Identify those things you can hire someone to do for you, such as yard work and house cleaning. Make physical changes to your home that will help you in your old age: higher toilets, grab bars in the bathroom, removal of trip hazards, even remodeling while you can afford it so everything you need is on the main floor of your home, and assess the accessibility into your home as well. Think of it as “elder proofing” your home so you can continue to live there as long as possible. And, don’t be afraid to investigate home health care and other senior services available in your community. Start this process now rather than later. As time goes by, our physical and mental abilities begin to diminish. It becomes more difficult to make changes and preparations.

Finally, as we live our lives, we accumulate things for our “nest.” We build a home and surround ourselves with items that serve us when we are in those younger, growing years: multiple sets of dishes, a supply of pots and pans enough to prepare family dinners, a “working years” wardrobe, home improvement tools, and two or more vehicles for a busy family. It’s time to downsize to fit this final stage of our lives. My husband’s grandparents did such a neat thing about 10 years before they died. They made a list of all of their possessions and called all four of their children together around the kitchen table. Starting with the oldest, they went around the table and each sibling had the opportunity to claim, in advance, what items they wanted. Grandma and grandpa noted it next to each item on the list. When it came time to dissolve their household, there was a record of who wanted what. There were no arguments and no contentious misunderstandings because all had been decided in advance in everyone’s presence. With the entire issue of “things” out of the way, all fodder for disagreement had been removed. And when the day of each funeral arrived, it could truly be a celebration of lives well lived and memories shared … over grandma’s favorite martini.

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NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities that residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they reopen, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers that are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Pepper steak, rice, cauliflower, lettuce salad.

Wednesday: Barbecue pork on a bun, baked beans, bean salad.

Thursday: Pasty, mixed vegetables, coleslaw.

Note: All meals served with milk, bread and butter, fruit and dessert.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Call for home delivery or for a to go box. Menu for the week —

Monday: Pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, California blend vegetables.

Tuesday: Beef stew, biscuits.

Wednesday: Swedish meatballs, noodles.

Thursday: Chicken salad sandwich, chef’s choice of soup.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk or juice and fruit.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Mushroom and swiss burger, tater tots, baked beans.

Tuesday: Polish sausage and sauerkraut, buttered noodles, green beans.

Wednesday: Italian vegetable soup, spinach salad with dressing, crackers,

Thursday: Smothered pork chops, stuffing, broccoli.

Friday: Tuna salad sandwich, coleslaw, string cheese, pudding.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk, juice, or no beverage.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and gravy

Tuesday: Pork roast, potatoes, corn, pudding

Wednesday: Pasty, salad, carrots

Note: All meals served with skim milk or juice

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables Normandy, fruit

Tuesday: Waikiki meatballs over rice, candied carrots, fruit

Wednesday: Boiled dinner with ham, carrots, cabbage, rutabagas, carrots and potatoes, fruit

Thursday: Barbecue chicken, butter beans, broccoli salad, fruit, brownies

Friday: Fish sandwich, baked fries, coleslaw, fruit

Note: All meals served with whole grain bread and butter and milk

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week –

Monday: Sloppy Jos, seasoned potato wedges, carrots, fruit and milk.

Tuesday: Fish sticks, fries, corn, fruit and milk.

Wednesday: Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, green beans, fruit and milk.

Thursday: Spaghetti and meatballs, winter blend vegetables, breadsticks, fruit. and milk

Norway Center

Director: Michelle DeSimone

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick-up — those picking up must call ahead and wear a mask. Menu for the week —

Monday: Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, fruit, juice, dessert

Tuesday: Meat and cheese raviolis, winter blend vegetables, garlic bread, fruit, juice, dessert

Wednesday: Philly steak on a hoagie bun, peppers and onions, fruit, juice, dessert

Thursday: Polish sausage and sauerkraut, macaroni and cheese, peas and carrots, fruit, juice, dessert

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Chicken and sour cream enchilada and corn.

Wednesday: Sweet and sour pork, rice and stir fry vegetables.

Thursday: Barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes and corn.

All meals served with fruit and choice of skim milk or juice.

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