I recall distinctly the smile and the keen intellect. Mr. Nash walked into my law office one day, having found me quite by accident, I believe. He did not have an appointment. I think perhaps he was on the way home from the bank and saw Attorney on the door as he walked by.
It’s somewhat old fashioned to walk into a law office off of the street, but that is appropriate in this instance. He was born in the 1920s, so I think it’s fair to allow that he was, indeed, old fashioned. His appearance was neat and clean, if not a tad threadbare. He wore a short sleeve shirt with a tie and a pair of dress trousers. He was trim, and still had the look of one who takes time to get exercise and care for himself. His skin was very thin, as happens with aging. His eyes were blue and clear and had a sparkle when he started to talk.
He liked to talk. We talked about Prairie Dogs, farming in western Kansas and eventually estate planning. Mr. Nash shared with me that he had nobody he cared to share his wealth with and nobody who was close to him. He planned to leave all of his possessions to charity when he passed away. I met with Mr. Nash several times. It was an extended interview, to see if I was sharp enough to keep up with him and worthy of his trust. We developed a professional friendship and I gained his trust. Only then did he let me assist with his will and his trust documents.
Setting up Mr. Nash’s estate plan was only complicated in one area. He had no one to help him with healthcare or financial decisions. The financial area was fairly easy. Together we shopped around for a trustee in the Kansas City area who matched his personality and needs. Mr. Nash was most concerned with his farm. He wanted a trustee well versed in farming. We landed on a trustee who would know how to tend to the management of his farm when he was elderly (he did not then consider himself elderly) and the same trustee would take care of his financial affairs upon his passing.
That left the question of healthcare.
I am very slow to suggest myself as the decision maker for my clients’ health issues. I hope and pray that there is someone who fills that space in everyone’s life—someone who will rush to the hospital in times of crises. Mr. Nash did not have this someone. It hurt my heart. In time, Mr. Nash asked me to fill this role and I agreed. Honestly, I was charmed by him. He did not have much faith in people and yet he found that I could be trusted.
Over the next few years, Mr. Nash visited me several times, intermittently. I saw a gradual decline in his health and in his short-term memory. He had a number of significant health incidents. Visibly he declined. He lost body mass, his gait became slower, his posture more curved into the wind and, corresponding, his shirts more
threadbare. His memory declined faster than his body, though. One day he called a half dozen times, but couldn’t remember calling. He had such a strong mind and correspondingly a strong will. He fought dementia, if that’s possible. He declined assistance. My role became watchdog, hoping to prevent a major calamity while allowing Mr. Nash to age with dignity. Although I was his healthcare agent, he would have to want me to be involved or we would end up in court seeking a guardianship and conservatorship. On several occasions I was not able to convince Mr. Nash to willingly step down and allow his trustee to manage his finances. It’s a dance and a fine line between our freedom to make poor decisions and our inability to make sound decisions due to dementia.
A medical crisis sealed the deal. A major healthcare event landed Mr. Nash in the hospital and he was no longer able to return home. I received the call from St. Luke’s Hospital that Mr. Nash needed to be in a secure, 24 hour facility and I had just two days to find him a new home. I stepped in and helped transition the management of his finances over to the trustee now that it was time. I located a memory care place for him to live. All the normal decisions typically made by a spouse, daughter, sibling or dearest friend, I had to make for him. I had spent years with a minimal role. Now my role was turned on and would remain “on” until Mr. Nash died. As healthcare agent I was called for all manner of things: when there was a strange visitor, a minor fall, when oxygen companies were not cooperating, when caregivers needed to be replaced, when papers need to be signed relating to a care plan, insurance, Medicare or hospice. I had a call once because his eating habits were changing, once because of his nocturnal habits and several times because he didn’t want to cooperate with someone. Until he passed away, I directed his care.
Mr. Nash passed away peacefully, leaving me with fond memories of prairie dog stories. His estate plan was simple and complete. The revocable living trust was all he needed to make sure everything went to the charities that he picked.
Mr. Nash is what I call an unsupported elder. He had no one close to him. Our meeting was serendipitous. I am not just an estate planning attorney; I am an elder law attorney.