“Estate” is a noun. Sigh.

No one “estates” anything to anyone. The language won’t allow it even if the tax codes would. The defining feature of an estate, in the modern sense of the word, is that it belongs to you. On the other hand, blood glucose belongs to you, too, and the two notions are treated very differently.

estate-4Everyone who knows what blood glucose is would wonder what you were planning on using it for. That is not the question that comes first to mind to people who know what an estate is. But today, I find myself wondering why that is. I think that is a really good question to ask about estates: “What are you going to use it for?”

Bette and I have found ourselves a part of quite a few conversations recently in which the basic logic of our choice of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) has been called into question. The logic isn’t different than it was when we had those conversations over the last ten years, but we have actually done it now–we begin our third week at Holladay Park Plaza today– and the conversations seem to have taken on a little more edge.

There seems to have been a shift from “why would you…” to “why did you…” You can see where that extra edge came from.

The objection is that when you buy in to a CCRC the money is gone. If that money represented your estate—money you were thinking of giving to the kids or the grandkids—it is easy to think that in spending it on yourselves, you are depriving the children of something they had every right to expect. “We are spending this money on ourselves,” this couple might say, “and we hoped we would be able to give it to the kids.”  And in some scenarios, we can imagine the kids saying the same thing.

I don’t have any trouble understanding the sentiment, but I see it from a differentestate-2 stream of stories. I see “children” in their fifties and sixties (and older) seriously encumbered by the process of caring for an aged parent. [1] This parent could have invested in his or her (“”her,” usually) own care by moving to a CCRC, but she did not. She relies, instead, on the daily services of her children to enable her to keep living the kind of life she is used to.

“I want to keep my independence,” she says. “I understand,” says the caregiver, “I would love to have some independence.

If we consider this as an economic transaction—which it is, although it is more than that as well—then the “child,” the caregiver, is trading many years of exhausting toil against the hope of eventually receiving some money. No one would say it that way, of course. Both the giver and the receiver of these services think of them, on a good day, in terms of love and duty and affiliation. [2] These are personal transactions, as they see them, not financial transactions.

But what if the caregiver would gladly give away the hope of receiving “an estate” in order to see that the parent’s needs were thoughtfully and competently taken care of. If she felt that way, and it is a very common way for caregivers to feel, she would yearn for the parent to choose to live in a CCRC and to forego entirely the dream of “passing the estate” to the child. She is not taking care of her mother in the hope of financial gain. Besides, it would be nice to have some of her own life back.  And in cases where the burden of caregiving has imperiled the marriage, it would be nice to have the marriage back as well.

This is not a wish for less contact with the parent. It is a wish that more of the the contact be with the person herself. It is crucially important that the parent be supplied with the services her or she requires: being driven to appointments, being reminder of medications, help with meals, and so on. It is not crucially important that the principal caregiver herself do all those things. It is entirely possible to go to visit the parent and just sit and chat or go out to lunch. To do together, in short, the things the two of you like to do, rather than always the things that have to get done.

estate-3Buying time like that is what you would get, in this scenario, for using the estate rather than saving it for the kids. But there needs to be a way to say that in less than a page and a half. If it were possible to say, “I would like to estate to you the freedom to use our time together as we choose,” that would do the job. No one will say that.

The notion of usufruct is not a matter of common speech. [3] If it were, the notion of the “use” of one’s retirement and the “enjoyment” of one’s retirement could guide us toward the distinction I am making. The estate is the income itself so “using it” would use it up. Still, I think the distinction is worth making since the parent’s use of the estate would make possible the enjoyment of the relationship.

We could say, “I am using the estate as a way to free you from being perpetually my caregiver and not mostly my friend.” But even there, “estate” is a solid and impenetrable noun and you have to establish a novel verb of some sort to mean anything but “give over after my death.” I like novel verbs, but it takes a lot of work to make them practical in use.

I could look my own children, all now in their 50s, in the eye and say, “I am not leaving you an inheritance; I am spending it on our relationship in these days we are now living.” And they would understand what I meant and appreciate it because of the relationship we have achieved as adults.. But a formula that requires that much background is not fit for use as a general formula.

And I end this essay by saying that I cannot think of an easy way to say this simple thing.

[1[ I know it is common to say “aging” parent, as if it were the process of getting older (I have an aging nine-year-old grandson) that needs to be highlighted, rather than just where on the aging spectrum you are. “Aged” is a place on the spectrum.
[2] On a bad day, maybe just the obligation.
[3]The gains granted by usufruct can be clearly seen in the Latin phrase from which the word developed, usus et fructus, which means “use and enjoyment.” Thank you Merrian-Webster.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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2 Responses to “Estate” is a noun. Sigh.

  1. Use and Enjoy. You’ve hit the nail on the head as the joy, as you point ou,t extends to the children in its way.

  2. hessd says:

    Extending that joy to the kids and to the relationship is exactly what I had in mind. Thank you, Caroline.

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