seniorUnwinding a Senior

One of the most daunting tasks in the life of a Senior and their family can be the process of implementing a “Life Unwinding Plan.” “Unwinding”, or preparing a Senior for late-life transitions, can be stressful not only for the senior, but the family as well. Establishing a plan of action prior to a major transition can be a life saver when the time comes to move forward.

There are a tremendous amount of available resources to assist in the process. Attempting to navigate through the four major steps in the unwinding process without the help of professionals can often end in disastrous results. Remember, you are not alone. Use a team approach when possible. Identify one family member as the point person.  If that isn’t an option, give power of attorney (POA) to an attorney/estate planner. This allows the family to make decisions with the attorney serving as the tie breaking vote if necessary.  In addition to keeping the family sane, he/she also brings experience and an unbiased opinion and view to the table. The cost of retaining an attorney for this purpose is nominal and an invaluable investment.

Although it seems next to impossible, it is vital that emotions be left at the door during this process. Unwinding is very time consuming and much more emotionally involved than most families expect. The needs of a senior are much more involved than just moving or finding/selling a home. Unwinding is a delicate process that must be handled with a large dose of respect, humility and reason.  Everyone involved will have an opinion and it is to be expected that emotions will surface in any member of the family involved in the decision making process. One of the most personal events in the life of a senior may well be best served at the hands of professionals.

       1) Multiple ways to screen a community or in-home help

There are several ways to approach identifying community living and in-home help.  If time is on your side, you are hands-on and not under pressure to make a fast move, use the questionnaire available on  The information is laid out in a spreadsheet format identifying all the amenities, locations, contact info. and support.  The guide provides shortcuts that allow you to connect to several communities.  You can easily take your time to tour the facilities, meet the staff and then make the strategic choice.  Then, follow the monthly/seasonal events sponsored by the community to see if it fits you or your senior’s lifestyle.

For a more immediate need, there are professional screeners who assess assisted living communities, nursing homes and in-home care givers companies. You need one in your court.  After evaluating your needs they will recommend several choices that are best suited for you and your family. Some provide personal hands-on assistance and escort you to the facilities while others send you a list and notify the communities you are considering. The hands-on approach is often the most valuable service.  Even visiting as little as one or two assisted living facilities can be an overwhelming experience, and having a professional to guide you in asking the proper questions as well as explaining the different services available between communities can drastically reduce the stress in choosing. Professional screeners are typically free to the family as their fee is paid by the facilities. Because they do this day in and day out, the communities want the smoothness of working with experience and pay a commission to the screener.   If you opt for in-home assistance, the same is true.

      2)   Plan and protect with a legal strategy

This is a must! There are attorneys and then there are estate planning attorneys. Learn the difference and choose one who is experienced in elder law, trusts and estate planning, obtaining Medicaid and VA Aid & Attendance benefits, or litigating guardianship proceedings. Do not cut corners here.  This step should be put into action as soon as possible. A strong legal knowledge base is the backbone of the entire process. In addition to preventing legal battles within the family; a good attorney will walk you through all monetary issues relating to life transitions. Tax laws and consequences, along with a variety of other fiscal issues, should be the last thing a family needs to worry about during such an emotional and difficult time.  Also consider, the less money you have to work with, the more help you need to plan how it is used.  The cost is nominal and worth it, especially if an error made because legal guidance wasn’t used results in a financial crisis for the entire family. Additionally, an attorney can assist with a will, living will and medical directives to ensure that your family member’s personal wishes will be respected should the need arise.

     3)  More than just a Mover

Moving from a longtime home or downsizing to make the living environment safe for a senior takes time, planning, time, coordination, time, decision making, time, work and patience. Use a Senior Move Specialist. Why? You will benefit from their expertise and experience in assisting families with late life transitions. They provide move coordinators who assist with pre-move planning, help you or your senior determine what will fit in your new space, and offer sorting services to help you sift through your treasures to prioritize what to keep, donate or send to other family members. A professional moving team will pack, move, unpack and position furniture so your senior will feel settled in their new space sooner, which will make the transition period smoother for everyone involved.

    4) The Gate Keeper! An SRES Realtor

The SRES is a specialist with the experience to ensure the unwinding is done as smoothly as possibly through the use of professionals.  Selling the family home can be complicated due to the number of unique issues, legalities, emotions and decisions related to a life transition. An SRES (Senior Real Estate Specialist) brings experience and professional resources to the process. If not already in place, he will typically guide you to the network of people you need to facilitate the transition and will coordinate with them. He is a critical last leg of the team to a smooth unwinding.

Before putting your family’s home on the market, the SRES will ask “Who has the POA? Are financial issues outlined with a legal plan? How are you going to empty the house? Where is your senior going and who will be implementing the unwinding plan?” The SRES has experience in working within the coordination of the estate/financial planner, senior move specialist, contractors and the responsible family member.  Only when those questions can be answered will the home put on the market.

Historically speaking as an SRES, it is not a good idea to involve or even have your senior talk to the SRES about the process of selling their home. They may believe that the home is the last link to the life they are leaving behind and they may attempt to interfere with innocent sabotaging maneuvers. Play it down.  Instead, help your senior focus on the excitement of a new environment. Be positive about the benefits of the new living arrangements by discussing the prospect of a future with greater safety, less day-to-day responsibilities and more opportunities for social interaction and activities. Signing with an SRES is a must!

Planning the future of a loved one doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or stressful affair. By allowing professionals to formulate an unwinding plan, you are giving your family the security of knowing that when the time comes to make a major life transition, it will be done efficiently and with a minimum of stress. Take the time to plan now, so you have the time to spend with your family when it matters.

My support group is located in Richmond Virginia but SRES realtors are located around the country. If you email me, I will connect you to an SRES network of support.

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By: Gordon Laroussini – SRES, ABR, CDPE

Remax Commonwealth
Richmond, VA

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