The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Professor Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of the University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and mmyers@usd.edu during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

It May Be Later

Than You Think!

Most of us, most of the time, at least when healthy, are incurably optimistic about our probable life span. We harbor the notion that we will live longer than our parents or, most certainly, longer than our grandparents.

Most of us, most of the time, will be proven wrong. Despite angioplasty, hip replacements, insulin for diabetics, cataract surgery, dietary supplements, health club memberships, and yoga, we are not destined to walk this earth much longer than previous generations.

Here is the hard truth, as related by Ron Kennedy, M.D., in his book The Transformation of Medicine:

"Despite the fact that life expectancy has increased by about 25 years since 1900, the life expectancy of a person 50-years-old is only one year more than it was in 1900. The increase in overall life expectancy is due primarily to the conquest of transmittable diseases in children."

He adds, in what is perhaps an unduly harsh criticism of his colleagues, "Modern medicine has met with abject failure regarding the diseases which occur in adulthood. As for prevention of illness, modern medicine has abandoned that field to others � except for the perpetuation of the simple-minded idea that cholesterol is somehow responsible for vascular disease."

An equally sobering statistic was disclosed in a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. It asserts that a mere 3.3 percent of Americans live to blow out the candles on their 80th birthday cake. That is a hard number to accept, particularly for persons who wash down their $120-per-month intake of Lipitor with soymilk, subscribe to the Mayo Health Letter, and regularly monitor their blood pressure.

Nevertheless, for estate planning purposes, looking death straight in the eye is prudent. It places longevity tables in perspective. In the Himalayan culture when a person turns 60, he or she builds a coffin, which is then used as a storage bin until death, at which time it is used for its intended purpose.

By that measure I should have built mine seven years ago. Anyone going to the Home Depot this weekend?

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