Empowerment may be an overused word, but it is what got us older LGBT adults through some tough times as we courageously faced a largely homophobic and transphobic culture and creatively carved out a niche for ourselves. LGBT aging is now our new frontier and empowerment comes from being prepared for any “potholes” we may encounter as we continue our life journey, and of course from fearlessly facing our mortality and preparing for our death.
As Atul Gawande amply illustrates in his best seller Being Mortal, the downside of not being proactive in preparing for health crises and our dying can be prolonged distress and suffering both for ourselves and those we love. While we may have no control over the when or why of illnesses, accidents and death, we can begin to address the who, where, and how aspects. The planning process involves many decisions and is not something you just do once; it needs to be revisited periodically as our preferences and circumstances evolve. Of course, it also involves substantial “paperwork” as our choices need to be recorded to be legal. The Council on Aging can assist with healthcare and estate planning.
The decisions about how you wish to be treated and under what conditions are complex and it helps to explore the options with someone with whom you are comfortable. Likewise you may want to share your thoughts about death and how you might wish your assets distributed and your body and your life honored.
The other important decisions, of course, involve choosing those we trust to implement our wishes. We need someone willing to carry out our health care instructions in the event we are incapable of articulating them ourselves. We may also wish to have someone appointed to have power of attorney for our finances in the event we are incapacitated so that our bills will continue to get paid. We also need an estate executor to make sure our after-death instructions are implemented. If we can’t identify anyone to assume these roles, there are professional fiduciaries who can assume them.
Last but not least, we need to make sure all these people know our wishes and have a copy of our legal planning documents and that someone knows where we keep all of our important papers. Of course, the list of those records and their locations needs to be updated periodically. Once these decisions are made and documents are in place, we can enjoy peace of mind knowing that we have acted as empowered LGBT elders.
Buz Hermes is co-facilitator of the Sonoma Valley LGBT Seniors Group and a former staff member of Spectrum’s Senior Outreach Program. He is currently offering 8-week “Aging Together With Pride” workshops sponsored by Adult and Aging Services for LGBT seniors. He can be reached at [email protected] or (707) 227-6935