Making Preparations for the Death of Elders

Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest: Stephanie Payne
Guest Bio: For thirty years Stephanie Payne has been a practicing RN with special interest in Home Health and Hospice. Her education is varied and diverse: St. Louis Community College, Webster University and Landmark Education. Stephanie has been presenting this information and advice on “Final Planning” for Senior Groups, Community Organizations, Business Forums, Attorneys and Financial Planners. She is a documentary film producer and the author of “The Sandbox Wars”, true tales of what happens to families at the very vulnerable time of grief.

Segment Overview: Stephanie Payne discusses why families fall apart after YOU die, things your children refuse to tell you, and what the “Legacy Documents” are and what they mean to your family.


Health Professional Radio

Neal: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard. So glad that you could join us today. When it comes to dealing with family members who are passing on in their later years or maybe not an elderly person but someone who has passed on and they’ve left maybe a substantial estate after their passing. Many families are broken simply because the passing of a loved one has left a rift in the family. Our guest in studio today, Stephanie Payne – a registered nurse. She has a special interest in home health hospice. Her education is quite varied and diverse, St. Louis Community College, Webster University and Landmark Education. Presenting information on dealing with final planning of our loved ones. How are you doing today Stephanie?

Stephanie: Well, I’m fine Neal. How are you?

N: Very well. Thank you for joining us today. You’re also the author of “The Sandbox Wars.” Could you talk a little bit about what “The Sandbox Wars” is about and how it deals specifically with your areas of expertise?

S: Well that, those are really good questions. Is that when, I think that a hospice nurse, I start to realize when my mother got ready to die that when after I left a family, when a loved one passed, I didn’t realize the trauma that occurred at the end of life until it occurred in the life of my family. Neal, when my mother got ready to die she was 91 years old. I was one of her personal support. She hadn’t spoken with my siblings for 10-15 years. And I notified them when she got really sick and I had to buy an airplane ticket, hire an attorney and fly to California in 48 hours to prevent them from taking over her estate. And then after speaking with lots of people, I realized this is a very common problem.

N: Is it the same situation where close relatives, cousins, uncles, nieces, are involved? Is it as intense or to lesser degree when it’s not siblings?

S: Well that all depends on the family structure. Some families have closer relationships with cousins and aunts and things like that. When my uncle died many years ago, there was huge conflict and even when my grandmother died. And it has nothing to do with social economic or anything like that. It can be people come in and steal televisions and cheap old pair of earrings and silly things like that. They just lose their sensibility at the end of life. They think that there’s some entitlement issue that they have a right to go in and do what they do.

N: And you didn’t go into nursing as a hospice or home health nurse. What was it that you noticed during your nursing career that sparked your interest in helping those who are dealing with this?

S: What sparked me was when it happened to my own family Neal. I didn’t realize how bad it was and then I started speaking with financial planners and estate planning attorneys and realized that there are tens of thousands and actually, I think I calculated in one time – there’s over 2 ½ million probates going on right now in America which means there’s millions and millions of families involved in legal battles because their parents or the loved one did not prepare their documents properly.

N: So this isn’t something that you noticed in your career and then when it happened to you, you were ill prepared for it.

S: You know, that is exactly right. I didn’t realized how I loved families, there were many wakes that I attended, where there will be either children arguing or little things like that and I would go in and I say put out a little fires but behind my back, they were already plotting and planning to start stealing things and taking over financial matters and of course it happens even before. I’ve heard throwing a mother or father in a nursing home and walking off and leaving them and just all kinds of horrendous things that happened at the end of life.

N: Now in your book “The Sandbox Wars,” when you decided to write this book – did you want to write the book with more of a focus on getting the information out there? Were you more just kind of disgusted with the whole way that people acted when their loved one passed? What was it that prompted you to write a book because it’s not an easy undertaking to write and publish a book?

S: Oh it was a tremendous undertaking, Neal. The funny thing is, I actually wrote two books. The first book was a very angry book (chuckles) and it was more of like the venting. It was about what happened and my own personal frustration and anger. And then one day, I was on my bicycle riding on one of beautiful bike trails and I just remembered how my father passed away. And then I started hearing all these other stories in my mind that had happened in my career and in my family, in neighbors and friends. And I started, “I need to write those stories.” Some are good and some are not so good but I realized that people are afraid to talk about death and they’re really afraid to talk planning death and that’s the part that has really spurred me that I have had so many patients, family members and acquaintances, friends that they just don’t realize that you have to start planning for death long before you die.

N: Your mother, you say was 91 years old. Had you and she sat down, say, at 60 or 70? Could things have made better or sometimes it doesn’t about the matter the planning? It’s more damage control with the family even with planning in place?

S: Well my mom, that was a really good story because what happened with my parents – my father passed away a long time ago and they did have a trust and a living will, and advance directives. And then as time went on, my mother develop some mental illness, and was having a real difficult time coping and she actually have a what’s called a “durable power of attorney” which will allow someone else to kind of take over her life and she actually basically tore that up and it was just this one document that allowed my siblings to come in and take over the estate and it didn’t have to happen that way. So, there was a lot of planning in my family and then in my mother and I used to talk about it and I would encourage her, “Mom what happened to the power of attorney?” And you know, and she actually had it and she tore one up and then she had another one and then she tore that one up. So, it was really ‘push me, pull you.” It’s a real scary thing. Think about you, yourself or anyone – put yourself in a place at any given time that you actually have to relinquish all of your ability to take care of yourself. Whether it’s writing a cheque, paying your bills, or taking care of your personal needs. That’s a real scary thought to have to even imagine and we don’t…

N: Almost reverting back to childhood.

S: We are. Actually, many of us do and the statistics are, I think it’s 85% of us at one point in our life will need someone to either help us physically and duty wise which would be like financial or both. And if we can just grab, put our heads around that and realize it. And sometimes it’s for a few months, sometimes it’s for several years and nobody can answer that question – but everybody, almost everybody will need somebody at some point to help them out.

N: And you talked about this one document, this “Power of Attorney” that your mom tore up, redrafted, had it torn up. Surely, there are other documents, as say, a backup or a failsafe document should that occur or is that something that once a certain document is torn up and destroyed, all bets are off? Or did these documents fall in a certain category as opposed to your financial documents, your mental documents, your final wishes or are they all in one package in categories?

S: Well that’s the 64 thousand dollar question. It is really important. When I’ve started learning about it, I have to remind of the listeners that I’m not an attorney and I recommend people to see professionals for their document. But if you have all your documents ready – a will, a trust, power attorney, a living will, advance directives, durable power of attorney – I think that’s all. You have all the document ready for when you pass but it’s a complicated matter. It’s not just getting these documents, you have to do things to your trust and get it ready to go. But if you have these, that’s great – but you also need to tell the people that are gonna take on this responsibility, probably your child – that they’re going to make medical decisions for you or they’re gonna make financial decisions for you. Because if you just spring that on somebody, then it can be kind a like, “Oh I don’t want to do that” kind on question. And in my mother’s particular case, actually in one of the hearings, the judge actually said in court that this, my mom, did not actually not need to go through the conservatorship that she went through. She actually have enough documents because she had a medical power of attorney and all those others, she just didn’t have the durable power of attorney but it still allowed my siblings to come in. It was just like a little loophole that they just want to jump through.

N: Have you noticed the same type of conflict in families of a veteran who has passed? Maybe he’s reached his old age in his 80’s or 90’s or maybe someone returning from a combat zone. The military put certain planning in place for your passing in case you’re in combat. Do you notice any differences or are the problems still the same whether the person had prior arrangements with the government or not?

S: Well I’ve had a few dealings with a lot of veterans in my career and it seems to me that the families are about the same. If there’s any assets, the family sometimes will sit and wait to collect them at end of life. There’s always struggles getting the proper benefits and things like that. I know that’s complicated.

N: We’ve been talking in studio today with Stephanie Payne, RN with 30 years or more of dealing with death in the family. A death of a loved one and having to deal with their final plans, their financial plans, their care before death as far as medical and also what documents are necessary prior to your passing. There are certain documents that you really need to have in place in order to keep your family, well, not only together but together without a lot of conflict concerning your possessions. It’s been great having you here with us today Stephanie.

S: Thanks a lot Neal. It’s great.

N: Audio and transcript of this program are available at and also at and don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.


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