Dean Nordman passed away on Saturday morning 18 November 2017 at age 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Regular readers may remember that my father first noticed his dementia symptoms in 2008 (at age 74) yet he refused all offers of help. (This is common when dementia takes over.) By 2011 he was clearly dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and could no longer live safely on his own. When Dad ended up in the hospital with a perforated ulcer, the doctor “ordered” him to move into a care facility. My brother and I petitioned the probate court to be appointed as Dad’s guardian and conservator.
Dad’s cognition steadily declined over the years, but he recovered from more health crises than I care to remember. A few months ago he reached late-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms, and last week his coordination rapidly declined. On Friday morning the memory care facility recommended hospice, although we all agreed that he could easily recover again.
On Friday evening, hospice saw his symptoms take a turn for the worse and we arranged for 24-hour nursing care. (The doctor hinted that it might be days instead of months.) Morphine helped relieve Dad’s restlessness and he slept through the night. He never woke up on Saturday morning, and then his heart stopped.
Some neuropsychologists claim that Alzheimer’s makes you more of what you already are. (Just like money.) Rather than feeling sad at Dad’s loss, I’d like to note that for the last nine years he’s been mostly happier than I’ve ever known him. His memory finally freed him of all his cares and burdens. I didn’t enjoy his journey, but I’m glad we were there to help him and to spend the time with him.
I’m particularly glad that I have the financial independence to focus on helping my brother and my Dad. It’s not about me or money– it’s about having the time and energy to help make life better for the people I care about.
In 1978 my family moved to Parker CO. (I moved in the other direction that same week, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.) My mother died of cancer in 1987, and Dad retired early (at the age of 53) with a small corporate pension. He eventually moved to Grand Junction and spent the next two decades roaming the Rocky Mountains. In between extended camping trips he regularly hiked 40 miles per week through Colorado National Monument Park. He loved the dry, cold altitude and he hated traveling to tropical Hawaii.
During one of Dad’s rare Hawaii visits in the late 1990s, I was contemplating my impending retirement from the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. I’d just completed the usual series of “interest surveys” and “assessment tools” to find a bridge career, and the results indicated that I had a bright future as a nuclear engineer or a mid-level manager.
Wow, Dept of Labor, thanks for the transition advice. Seriously?!? I already had nearly 20 years’ experience at those jobs. Anything else?
I was grousing to Dad about this epiphany when he gave me one of those looks which fathers reserve for their especially slow-witted sons:
Dad: “You’ve been in the Navy for all these years. Did you manage to save any of that money?”
Me: “Um, yeah, and it’s grown quite a bit.”
Dad: “So why would you want to keep working? Do you have enough to retire yet?”
Me: **Blinding flash of the obvious.**
I was nearly 40 years old during that conversation, yet that was the first time in my life when anyone (let alone me) had given me permission to stop working for a paycheck.
I took Dad’s advice to heart. I retired from active duty in 2002 and never looked back. I certainly figured out what I was gonna do all day.
I dedicated “The Military Guide” to him “… for asking the questions.”
Dad grew up on a 58-acre farm in 1940s Milford Ohio. You may be surprised to know that he was an electrical engineer who designed electrical grids and helped Westinghouse sell the secondary systems of nuclear reactors. (Well, if you know me or my daughter then you’re probably not surprised.) Like most farm boys and engineers, he never saw a reason to fuss over death. In one of his letters to us (copy in his file folder labeled “Death: In Case Of”) he requested cremation. He didn’t want a fancy memorial service, let alone “an extravagant funeral”. He also wrote “Ashes: You figure out what to do with them.” I may be writing this with tears in my eyes, but I can still imagine him smirking as he wrote that.
My conservator’s appointment has ended. We’re paying the final bills for his hospice, a 24-hour nursing service, and the pharmacy. I’ve notified Social Security and his pension fund manager and the other usual agencies & corporations. Those processes will all grind along slowly over the next few months.
Dad’s finances are straightforward. For nearly 25 years of retirement he spent less than half of his income. He wasn’t extraordinarily frugal, but he rented 2BR apartments in small towns and drove old 4WDs. Camping & hiking are cheap, and he mostly shopped at L.L. Bean. He owned quality outdoor gear but his furniture was garage-sale bargains. The only personal valuables he kept were Mom’s rings. He donated generously to charities.
His accounts were simple, although volatile: Fidelity mutual funds with an asset allocation of 85% equities/15% bonds. (He cashed out his IRAs in 2003.) He had more than enough cash flow from dividends and he didn’t keep an emergency fund. As Alzheimer’s took his cognition, he stopped managing his money. By 2011 his finances were in disarray and he didn’t even have a power of attorney, let alone any advanced estate planning like a revocable living trust. I had six years to clean everything up, search the Internet for abandoned accounts, and go through his storage boxes. There won’t be any financial surprises.
Luckily he chose to make his accounts “Transfer On Death”, which means that Colorado law may only require filing Dad’s will without probate. (My brother and I will send out affidavits to transfer Dad’s accounts.) We’ll file our final guardian & conservator reports with the Denver Probate Court. We’ll claim his small life insurance policy. In the next few months I’ll file his final tax return and (if required) the estate’s income tax return.
Maybe next year I’ll have more to write about Dad’s finances and his estate, but I doubt it. I sincerely hope that I never have more to write about Alzheimer’s either.
As my daughter said after she got the news of Dad’s death: “We’re a family of engineers, so everything is taken care of.” We’ll keep doing that, starting with the family revocable living trust.
As for me, these last 1100 words are “keyboard therapy” among e-mails, forms, and phone calls.
What about you? Have you taken care of your financial independence?
Would you like to have the time (and money) in your life to be there for your family? When the time comes, will your caregivers be able to take over your financial affairs?
What are you waiting for? Start here. It’s free (check your local libraries) and I’m not selling anything. I donate all of my writing revenue to military-friendly charities.
As always: your comments, questions, and advice are welcome. Ask me anything, because I sure wish I’d been able to have these conversations with Dad.
Alzheimer’s Care Financial Update (April 2016)
Why I Won’t Buy Long-Term Care Insurance (December 2014)
The Pitfalls of Your Parents’ Finances (May 2014)
How I Cost My Dad Over $2000 In Medicare Benefits (January 2014)
Geriatric financial management update (September 2012)
Forensic geriatric finances (June 2012)
Geriatric financial lessons learned (January 2012, becoming a conservator)
Geriatric financial management update (November 2011, claiming long-term care insurance)
More on caring for an elder’s finances (September 2011)
Financial lessons learned from caring for an elderly parent (August 2011)
Book report: “The 36-Hour Day”
Book review: “When The Time Comes”
23andMe genetic testing