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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Part of an elder law attorney’s job is to turn festive and fun holidays into opportunities for serious, analytical reflection. Christmas is no exception.

I’m not saying that you should refrain from merriment or not sing along to “White Christmas” – that would brand you as a party pooper. We do not want that.

But what is important is that you take notice of your aging loved ones.

The winter holidays are rare occasions when the whole family gets together. For many of us, a text replaces a phone call. A phone call replaces a quick pop-in. A quick pop-in replaces a full visit. We have condensed the amount of time we spend with our closest relatives, and lost time equals lost understanding.

Sensing adversity through patient observation and conversation then flushing it out is preferable to waiting for the shoe to drop and reacting, and a Christmas visit is a perfect time to engage and listen.

The “Uncle Fred” you saw last year was still physically imposing. He lifted dining room chairs like they were matchsticks. He was outspoken on politics, sending delicate ears scurrying for cover. This Christmas, however, you spot Uncle Fred slumped in his kitchen chair munching on an onion roll. You try to bait him with some politically explosive banter, and he responds with a shrug. He looks older and tired.

Uncle Fred has definitely weakened a bit in the intervening 12 months. A year is enough time to process changes in appearance and disposition, and while a slight decline is not a license to place Uncle Fred in a nursing home after the Christmas cookies are served, it is a merely a wake-up call to take his planning more seriously.

Does he have a recent Power of Attorney? Did he ever create the Trust he always talked about?

Uncle Fred’s example marks a familiar trajectory. Sometimes, a visit home really jolts an adult child. Clutter, piles of papers and dirty dishes hit your eye the second you settle in your parents’ doorway. How unsettling these images are directly correspond to your loved ones’ lifelong views on cleaning. Recognizing changes that are wildly out of character should lead to fast action.

If someone is experiencing great difficulty managing their basic day-to-day activities, then practical solutions should be sought. There are home health and companion care services that can restore some order. These services can be covered by Medicaid, paid privately or through long-term care insurance.

If remaining at home involves too many logistical headaches, then assisted living residences are an intelligent alternative.

I can envision the reaction to this article: Senior family members guzzle four cups of coffee before company arrives, rushing around the house to perform extra cleaning; or seating Cousin Annette far away from grandma so she does not entertain any thoughts about putting her in a “home.”

To be clear, making sure loved ones are doing well is always a noble goal in keeping with holiday spirit. A strong, supportive family looks out for one another.

Happy holidays from everyone at The Feller Group, P.C.!

Alan D. Feller, Esq., is managing partner of The Feller Group, located at 625 Route 6, Mahopac. He can be reached at


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