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The Life Transition Blog

Sometimes There Are Unintended Consequences


Those of you who read this column regularly know that I’m a big believer in planning ahead. I advocate creating a Family Transition Plan that organizes all of your affairs in an “owner’s manual” to make it easy for your loved ones to carry on when you can no longer do so for yourself. Recently, as I’ve been working with clients to prepare their Family Transition Plans, I’ve noticed that there are often positive, but unintended consequences.

One of my clients is a long distance caregiver for her mother, and had engaged me to work with her on getting both her own and her mother’s affairs in order. As a part of the process, we document the family’s biographical details. My client wasn’t sure where one of her siblings was born so she asked her mom, who suffers from memory impairment. Mom couldn’t remember either, and hasn’t spoken with that child in many years. My client checked with another sibling who said, “Why doesn’t Mom just call (the sister in question) and ask her?” In fact, that’s what happened, and now the two are talking again for the first time in many years.

Another client took ill and was rushed to the hospital where he spent several days in the emergency room during the weeks that we were working on his Family Transition Plan. Since he doesn’t have a spouse, significant other, sibling, or children he found the entire episode to be a huge wake-up call. As a result, he and a group of friends in a similar situation have gotten together to talk about how they can support one another as they age and they’ve created a phone tree so that each of them has one person whom they are supposed to call daily. If that call doesn’t arrive, the person who was supposed to receive it calls the next person in the tree and the two of them work together to try to find out if something has happened to their friend.

Finally, a couple I’ve been working with finally completed their Family Transition Plan and decided it would be a good idea to convene a family meeting with their adult children to share it. This couple decided to make this “event” into a fun family vacation and took their kids and grandkids on a week-long cruise. Their only stipulation was that during the cruise, the adults would take a couple of hours to have a very important family discussion. Not only were the couple’s children pleased to learn of the actions their parents had taken to make things easier for the kids in the future but the extended family had a wonderful time together and they’ve decided to make it an annual tradition.

So many people would rather avoid any discussion or planning for the inevitable. I’ve seen firsthand that there can be positive consequences from grabbing the bull by the horns and acknowledging one’s mortality. If all of the usual reasons I give for creating your Family Transition Plan aren’t motivating you to get started, maybe the opportunity to create some unintended consequences of your own will!
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