Remembering Decoration Day

By Stephen J. Silverberg
New York Elder Law Attorney

This post still rings true:


While anticipating the upcoming weekend, I started thinking about the trips and other activities our family planned every year at this time. I still remember my parents discussing what we should do for the Decoration Day Weekend. I clearly remember driving up to the Catskills and seeing signs for the Borscht Belt hotels, advertising the star performers during Decoration Day Weekend.

It then struck me: whatever happened to Decoration Day?

I immediately went to the source of all human knowledge, Google, and searched for Decoration Day. It turns out this date of remembrance began several years after the end of the Civil War. It was originally called Decoration Day, as it was the civic duty of all American families to decorate the graves of those who gave their lives in defense of our country.

So what happened to Decoration Day?

As many years and wars came and went, it slowly began to be referred to as Memorial Day. The purpose was the same, but the name had changed. This got me thinking a little bit more. I realized there is a language gap between me and my clients. We both use different words, but mean the same thing:

I say garbage can, they say dustbin; I say refrigerator, they say icebox;

I say Medicaid, they say welfare.

Welfare you say? Isn’t Medicaid a program to help those who require assistance in meeting their basic needs? You can sugarcoat it all you want, but the word Medicaid conjures up the words “welfare” and “relief” in many of our clients and with it, all of the negative attributes of those words. They still remember the Great Depression with people waiting on long breadlines, going to sleep hungry, and the knowledge that without any money or assets they are powerless. To these people money is independence; take away their money and they feel deprived.

That is why many of our senior clients are terrified of long-term care planning. While in their hearts they know that they must plan in order to avoid being wiped out by a catastrophic illness, on the other hand, they are equally afraid of transferring any assets to their family.

It is finding a balance between these competing interests that is critical.

As an Elder Law attorney, it is my job to find that balance that will help the family preserve assets for future needs of the seniors and family members that require special needs while allowing the clients to feel financially secure and independent.

Words don’t matter. You can call a Ford a Cadillac, but it is still a Ford. Keep that in mind the next time you discuss these issues with your family.

About the Author
Stephen J. Silverberg is nationally recognized as a leader in the areas of estate planning, estate administration, asset preservation planning, and elder law. He is a past president of the prestigious National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), and a founding member and past president of the New York State chapter of NAELA.