It is always critical to plan ahead and to have a support system in place.
Aging seniors face all sorts of uncertainties, but older, childless singles and couples are missing the fallback that many other seniors take for granted. Without adult children who can monitor an aging parent or help navigate a complex system of health care, housing, transportation and social services, who do you turn to?
As baby boomers age, the number of childless seniors, both couples and singles, is rising. Close to 19% of all women ages 80 to 84 will fall into that category in 2050, up from 16% in 2030, according to a study by the AARP Public Policy Institute. Recent research by a geriatrician at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York coined a name for these seniors: "elder orphans."
People without children "need to start thinking early about their future housing and future caregiving," says Lynn Feinberg, senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP institute and a co-author of the study. She suggests that they consider "what life will be like when they can't live without assistance."
To be sure, aging parents can't always count on their adult children to lend a hand. For those parents, and for childless seniors, it's essential to start weaving a safety net that could last for years. The support system could include a network of friends and relatives who can keep tabs on you, advocates to help negotiate the health care system, a team of legal and financial professionals, and senior-friendly housing.
One of the first steps childless seniors should take is to draft legal documents that will protect them if they become incapacitated. On the financial front, you should create a durable power of attorney and choose an agent who will manage your financial, legal and tax affairs should you become unable to handle these tasks yourself. Childless seniors often pick a niece or nephew to whom they are close -- or a trusted friend, cousin, sibling or clergy.
If you do not have someone reliable who can take on the job, you could set up a revocable trust and assign a bank or trust company as trustee. You would move your assets to the trust, and the company would eventually take on financial tasks you assign to it, including paying bills and caregivers, processing medical claims, and overseeing your home if you're hospitalized or in a nursing facility.
You can even tailor the trust's provisions to ensure that your physical and mental health is monitored. The document, for instance, could advise the trust company to hire a geriatric care manager to conduct periodic evaluations in the future, and to send a copy of the assessment to the person you choose as your health care agent.
A big plus for going this route is that the chances of elder abuse are negated. Unfortunately, the majority of elder abuse is committed by family members.
Whether you use an institution or a power of attorney, it's essential to build in checks and balances. You could direct the trustee or agent to send monthly statements to your accountant. If you create a revocable trust, you can appoint a co-trustee who may be given the power to monitor, and perhaps override, a trustee's decisions.
You will also need to draw up health care directives. One is a living will, which will define your health care wishes under certain medical conditions. You'll also need to name a health care proxy, who will make decisions on your medical care if you become incapacitated.
As you age, the proxy's role could intensify. He or she must keep an eye on your mental and physical state, hire caregivers, and arrange for you to move to new housing if necessary. Your proxy should be someone you have ultimate faith in and a strong connection with.
If you do not have someone who can pick up the role, you may be able to hire a professional. Some elder law attorneys can become a health care proxy, or you may choose to hire a professional fiduciary to oversee your affairs.
It's a good idea for a childless senior to widen the circle of potential helpers -- people and organizations that can keep an eye on you and pitch in if need be. Your network could include friends, volunteer organizations you work with, neighborhood groups and senior centers.
Turn to a Team of Experts
A cornerstone of your support system should be a professional advisory team. The team would include a certified public accountant, a financial planner, an estate-planning lawyer or elder law attorney, and perhaps a geriatric care manager.
The financial planner would develop a blueprint to pay for long-term care and other services. A care manager could look for signs of dementia and arrange for services, such as home care.
You could direct team members to exchange information, especially if your mental capacities decline. They can also watch out for financial elder abuse.
Your safety net should include an array of aging-related community services. While you may not need resources now, you can start investigating what's available.
At Tacoma Elder Care, we are always working on ways to help you! We have put together a list of local resources and contacts we highly recommend who may be able to assist.
If you are just beginning to think about your planning, we highly recommend attending one of our FREE workshops to learn more about how to start, the most important documents everyone needs to have in place, and meet some of these folks who can help you begin building that support system.
Contact us today to register, or to schedule a FREE consultation.