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by Cynthia Cummins

Cynthia is owner and founder of Kindred SF Homes and a top San Francisco Realtor. Check out RealEstateTherapy.org for refreshing reflections on the meaning of home and for more best real estate advice (since 2013).

Reading time: 3 minutes

“I intend to live forever or die trying.” ~ Groucho Marx

“I can’t afford to die; I’d lose too much money.” ~ George Burns

“In this world, nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

There’s never a good time to talk about aging and death. But avoiding the conversation and acting like that’s never gonna happen is not such a hot idea. (And, besides, we’d all like to grow old, right?)

There’s William who is suddenly 85 and needs to sell his property in order to move into assisted living. Except his wife – who organized everything – died two years ago. Except the house is full of a lifetime of accumulations. Except his daughter is, herself, a senior citizen with a mental illness. Except he can’t use the internet. Except he is still grieving.

There’s Jeannette who is unexpectedly “widowed” at the age of 45 when her longtime partner collapses in their kitchen doorway from a brain aneurism. Jeannette was never officially added to the property title and her deceased partner April’s adult children have their own ideas about what should happen with the house they grew up in. They’ve never been on good terms with Jeannette.

There’s the couple who live on the top floor of a Pacific Heights 3-unit building with a view. Their rent-controlled flat is so relatively inexpensive that they’ve understandably remained in place for decades. Only now they can’t climb the stairs and are essentially trapped in their penthouse apartment.

We all hear these stories, and I encounter them regularly as I interface with folks who need help in such dire situations. I’m grateful they’ve wended their way to me – a compassionate and professional agent rather than an ambulance chaser or relative who passed their real estate exam last week.

We think there’s time, that we don’t need to decide, that the trust agreement can wait, that we’ll install a stair lift, that our stepson won’t sell the house underneath us. When we see other people suffering in these scenarios, we think “Not me. That won’t happen to me.”

You see the gentle reminders all the time. Make an estate plan now. Consult with your tax attorney now. Make a 5-year plan. Have a family meeting. Sit down and have that talk. Stop denying that you’re getting older.

But the truth is that, if we’re lucky, we all get older and, whether we’re lucky or not, we all die. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.

This is a note to myself, as I write this. Do some planning. Have that talk. Make that meeting. Stop ignoring those cues.

The 13th century Zen priest / poet / philosopher Dogen wrote about it eloquently:

“Life and death are of supreme importance.

Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost…

Wake up! Wake up!

This night your days are diminished by one.

Do not squander your life.” 

That’s a call to be present and awake in this moment in your life, which is something I strive to do – mostly unsuccessfully. We don’t want to stay stuck in the past and we don’t want to dwell in the future, because now is all that matters. However, some advance planning and careful, practical actions are needed if we’re going to be able to enjoy the future present.

I’m making calendar entries now – to have that talk and update that trust and work with my partner on that tenancy-in-common agreement and…

Photo Credit: Christian Bowen

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