She passed away penniless and unable to recognize her family. I am referring to my grandmother. My grandmother’s story is what motivated me to open the Law Office of Craig A. Andreoli, P.C., which concentrates exclusively on Estate Planning and Elder Law. Her name was Betty, and she and her husband Dan owned a small successful food distribution route in New Jersey. They started out supplying pizza parlors and restaurants with food supplies, but quickly branched out and started manufacturing some of those products. They purchased a small warehouse, and I remember going there with my grandfather and watching the workers make fresh sausage and mozzarella. To this day, the smell of cured meats and garlic salt remains within my memories. At its peak in the 1970’s, the business was worth a million dollars. Unfortunately, it was also at around that time that my grandfather passed away. Luckily, my grandmother had support from my Great Aunt Lucy. Lucy had foregone a family of her own to help with my grandmother’s family. Great Aunt Lucy was like a second grandmother to me because she lived with my grandparents Betty and Dan. Great Aunt Lucy contributed with the household responsibilities, and worked as a bookkeeper in the family business.
As my grandmother grew older, my parents moved her and my Aunt Lucy out to Long Island. Shortly after that, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She struggled with it for 12 years. The severity of the disease started out small, but rapidly affected her health and memory. At the onset of the disease, my Aunt Lucy cared for my grandmother exclusively. During the last 5 years of the disease, however, when the task of caring for my grandmother became too great for one person, a team of aides was brought in to give her “around the clock” care. Since my grandmother had never sought the advice of an Elder Law attorney before she became ill, nor did my Aunt Lucy seek such advice when my grandmother became ill, the choice was made to use my grandmother’s hard-earned savings to privately pay for her health care needs. That pretty much wiped out all my grandmother’s hard-earned savings.
During one of my last conversations with my grandmother, she asked “who are you?” before she stopped mid-sentence and pointed out the window. She saw an angel. My grandmother was upset that I did not see the angel. The angel might have actually been there, calling for my grandmother, because she passed away soon thereafter, but I don’t think an angel would have allowed my grandmother’s circumstances to cause her family such stress and pain.
My parents, who did not need my grandmother’s money, never insisted on having my grandmother pursue proper estate planning. After 12 long years, my grandmother had nothing left. It all went to her medical care. In all my life, I have never met a person, who before getting sick, was as generous as my grandmother. She always showered her children and grandchildren with gifts, and more importantly, love and affection. At the end, she had neither to give.
What if she had estate planning in place? What might have been different? First, she could have saved most, or all of her assets had she not needed to pay out of pocket for her long-term health care. Second, she could have left those remaining assets to the person who made the biggest difference in her life, my Aunt Lucy, who devoted her entire life to care for her and her family. If someone was deserving of my grandmother’s hard-earned savings, it most certainly was my Aunt Lucy. However, even if there were assets left to give, my Aunt Lucy would not have been a beneficiary because my grandmother had no Will. Without a Will, all my grandmother’s assets would have gone to her living children, even though her children were financially secure and did not need the money. Finally, my family could have suffered a lot less grief and worry had my grandmother’s wishes regarding her finances and advanced health directives been set forth in proper estate planning documents. Lesson learned….take care of your affairs while you are in good health. Don’t leave matters to chance!