I recently got a call from a daughter telling me her father just had a major stroke. Why didn’t they get his documents in place before the stroke? Well, even though he’s in his 80s and had already experienced two minor strokes, they “just figured that he’d probably be okay.” Really? For how long? Forever?
A stroke is generally considered to be a “sudden disabling attack” or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to the brain. It’s a sudden event. A stroke is a medical emergency. It’s essentially a “brain attack.” Estate planning needs to be done before the stroke. There might not be a chance to do it after the stroke.
About 75% of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, but a stroke can happen at any age. I know a local man who recently died about two weeks after having a stroke, and he was only in his late 40s. It happens.
The chances of having a stroke can be greatly reduced by healthy living. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) gives stroke prevention guidelines for diet, weight, and physical activity, and you should read them and take them to heart. The guidelines for reducing the chances of a stroke are similar to other guidelines for better health. You should know them and keep them in mind.
A man came to meet with me recently to discuss the estate plan that was prepared for him and his wife a few years back. His wife is now in the memory care unit at an assisted living facility and she is doing well there despite being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The gentleman provides a lot of the companionship and care for his wife, and he also manages all of the family finances. He recently reviewed his old estate plan and was fairly certain that it wasn’t right for them, but he figured that he could manage things okay the way they were — until he had a minor stroke himself! He’s lucky that it wasn’t a major stroke, but it woke him up to the fact that if something happens to him and he can’t manage their affairs and help take care of his wife, they will both suffer tremendously, and so will their children and grandchildren.
Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, said it simply: “Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.” I apply this idea to estate planning because getting a proper estate plan put into place now to protect yourself, your spouse, and your heirs is easy. Doing anything after a stroke can be difficult or impossible, and trying to navigate through the legal system without the proper legal authority can be daunting or impossible. The lack of proper decisions today can mean that certain options are closed to you and your family in the future. Get it done. Make a plan to protect yourself and your family. Make sure that you have the right estate planning documents in place for when they might be needed.
You can take steps to help prevent a stroke, but you can’t time when a debilitating stroke might occur. Work on improving your health to prevent a stroke, and get the proper estate planning documents in place while you’re still able to do so.