Declare Your Independence from the Pitfalls of Aging

We just celebrated our 242nd year of independence from the tyranny of King George’s taxes, tariffs, and regulations. A brave few representatives from thirteen British colonies signed their names to a document that would have resulted in their deaths as traitors to the Crown should their cause have failed.

The document, our Declaration of Independence, begins with a sentence that reflects a level of passion and resolve that resonates deeply in our souls and indeed with all who hear it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those brave Americans won their war for independence and we have enjoyed the benefits of their sacrifice for 242 years. But our struggle for independence continues globally, regionally, locally, politically, and individually.

Among the most significant challenges to our personal independence is one that is quite natural, or more aptly, unnatural to our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. It is the process of aging. As we grow older, the little pops and creaks seem louder, the list of aches and pains following activities that used to be routine gets longer, and things that were effortless, even unconscious, require more time and some thought. These are the early signs of our loss of independence and we don’t like it. They gradually chip away at our invincibleness, our personal assertions of ‘that won’t happen to me.’

We observe and know many among the elderly who have lost their mobility, sight, and reason and it scares us. And just as our parents raised us from their own childhood experiences, they continue to guide us through the intimate details of aging as they struggle to defend their receding territory of independence.

I’ve spent the last few days at the coast working on an old boat, the preservation of which has reluctantly become a bit of a hobby: Nobody on the island works on inboard motors anymore. This latest project has been spent completely replacing everything on the motor. It’s back-breaking work because it’s the knees, heavy, and only inches of tolerance.

I tell you this story for two reasons. First, my fingers, wrist, arms, and back feel every keystroke as I happily type this Friday Brief in the cool inside and the project has reminded me of the physical impracticality of my new hobby. But the drive to see it through to completion, so far, exceeds the physical cost.

The second part of the story occurred the night of the Fourth. As I was cleaning up from the day, an old friend drove up with his family. They were headed out to watch the Morehead City and Atlantic Beach fireworks by boat. As I shook his hand and asked how long it had been, he quipped that his girls don’t let him come this way much anymore. The sadness in the eyes of that proud Marine Colonel belied his smile and happy tone.

No matter how obvious and compelling the debilitating systems of aging, many chose to ignore or appease those who wish to help them make informed and intentional choices that are best for all concerned. Whether driven by pride, independence, lack of understanding or poor communication, many of those reading this Brief know very well how difficult the struggle to help aging loved ones can be, especially when cooperation is limited.

The challenges are universal, no one is exempt. While conquering incredible odds, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the surface of the Moon is now facing his greatest challenge. A June 25th article in the Wall Street Journal tells the story of Col. Aldrin’s legal fight with two of his adult children and a former business manager, who he says are trying to grab his legacy and money. Operations of his private company, Buzz Aldrin Enterprises, and his nonprofit ShareSpace Foundation, overseen by his son and daughter, Andrew and Janice Aldrin are at the heart of it.

“Col. Aldrin said in an interview he was shocked last month when his two children asked a Florida state court to appoint them his co-guardians because he is “in cognitive decline” and experiencing paranoia and confusion. That would give them power to make decisions on his behalf, and give them control of his finances and business dealings.

In an interview last week, Col. Aldrin said: “Nobody is going to come close to thinking I should be under a guardianship.”

Col. Aldrin responded this month with a lawsuit, accusing Andrew Aldrin and his business manager of recent years, Christina Korp, of elder exploitation, unjust enrichment and of converting his property for themselves. The suit also accused his daughter Janice of conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty.

In a statement through a public-relations firm, Andrew Aldrin, 60 years old, and Janice Aldrin, 60, said they are “deeply disappointed and saddened by the unjustified lawsuit that has been brought against us individually and against the Foundation that we have built together as a family to carry on Dad’s legacy for generations to come. We love and respect our father very much and remain hopeful that we can rise above this situation and recover the strong relationship that built this foundation in the first place.”

We have all experienced, and may currently be experiencing, some of the challenges in this sad story. In 36 years of working with wealth and families, I’ve experienced far too many of them, up close and personal. The common denominators stand out just as clearly as the causes. They are pride, greed, fear and lack of planning.  The last two are essentially the same as fear is the offspring of lack of planning.

Every one of us will endure the consequences of aging in various forms and degrees. But while inevitable, we do have choices about how we age. We can fight it or ignore it as our choices slowly or rapidly dwindle through lack of planning. Or we can be intentional about it having conversations about what we want aging to look like for ourselves or for our loved ones, with our spouses, parents, children, and experts. We will discover and discuss the many options of addressing each concern. From there we can begin to shape plans that reduce uncertainties, communicate love, build trust and assuage fears.

Whether planning for your own ideals for aging or for those of your parents or loved ones, let us help. A well-considered and constructed plan can serve as your family’s declaration of independence from the manageable pitfalls of aging.