Dear Annie: My husband and I live in Minnesota. His 78-year-old stepbrother lives by himself in Florida. “Horace” has a part-time job and goes to church regularly, but otherwise sticks to himself. He has only a nodding acquaintance with the neighbors.
We are his only family. We are the ones who initiate phone calls and send cards on holidays. He never calls us. We used to email, but he stopped using his computer. Horace is healthy, but I worry so much about what will happen to him when his health declines. He has no one nearby who can help. If he became incapacitated or died suddenly, we’d be completely in the dark as to how to proceed with his financial affairs. He did give us a copy of his living will, and we know where his burial plot is, but that’s it.
My husband and his brother both think there’s no sense in worrying about things until they happen. But by then, it will be too late. I don’t know how to approach Horace about making plans for the inevitable. I once asked him to consider moving to Minnesota, but he didn’t respond, and besides, I doubt he’d actually come back to the cold after all this time. My husband won’t be retiring for another eight years, so it’s not as if we can take off and visit whenever. Where can we turn for help? — Losing Sleep in Minnesota
Dear Losing: You are kind to worry about Horace and smart to plan ahead, but there’s only so much you can do without his cooperation. Ask Horace whether he’d mind if you spoke to his neighbors to get their phone numbers and email addresses so you can contact them if he becomes unreachable. Perhaps Horace would allow you to make a copy of his house key in case of emergency. Visit his church and find out whether there is a program to check on the members who live alone. Also suggest to Horace that he leave financial information with his banker or lawyer. And should Horace become ill or require care, you could contact Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116; eldercare.gov) or ask about hiring a geriatric care manager (caremanager.org) to handle the details.
Dear Annie: Can I make a suggestion for people who are downsizing or for any other reason don’t want to keep old items around? Please tell them to consider photographing these things. That way, they still have a visual record but can discard the actual item. They also can scan these photographs and keep digital records.
This works particularly well if the items are pictures. They can simply scan them into their computer and give copies to as many people as might be interested. The photos can be printed out if you want or put into digital photo frames. I love watching pictures of my past pop up and cycle through on these frames. And getting rid of clutter was an added benefit. — Getting Organized for Retirement
Dear Organized: Folks often think they need to keep originals of everything, but unless your items are historically valuable and worth professional preservation, those family photographs will fade and old letters will disintegrate. Keeping digitized records is a good idea, although people should create a backup copy (whether on a flash drive, CD or cloud).
Dear Annie: I have a different take on “Tears in Vermont,” the couple whose son was a recovering addict and had moved away with his girlfriend and wanted no contact with his parents. “Tears” said their son lived with them until he was 30. It sounds as if the parents are enablers and may have been part of the problem.
It’s no coincidence that after moving away, he’s turned his life around. If they truly love that son and have a choice between estranged and clean, or in contact but an addict, they should be happy with estrangement. — Seen It Before
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.