Last week I saw a new client who was seeking to be appointed as administrator of her friend’s estate, motivated by the fact that her friend had no family. She had died unexpectedly and my client had called the police after trying repeatedly to reach her friend.
Unfortunately, her friend could not even be buried right away because she had not designated a funeral agent and there was no known next-of-kin. Moreover, when my client was able to access her friend’s apartment, it became clear that she had not been receiving the help she desperately needed for some time.
The increasing isolation some seniors face has given rise to a new term, “elder orphan.” There is even an Elder Orphan Public Facebook Group. This phenomenon is due in part to changing demographics. A recent study found that 22% of older adults are childless or aren’t in contact with their children.
Although historically children and close relatives were the primary support for aging adults, there are many different ways to fill that gap. Whether through informal networks of friends and non-traditional families or through the guidance of professionals like our firm and the use of technology, it is important to plan ahead.
When you live alone, you need to plan for retirement differently than someone who is married or has a life-partner. Those with a partner can, in most instances, rely on their partner to help out with expenses and be a caregiver, if they should become ill. However, when you are single, especially if you do not have a close family, you need to plan in advance, and you need to plan better.
Most important of all: make sure that decisions about your health and well-being are made the way you want them to be made if there comes a time you are not able to make them for yourself. Also be sure that you designate who should receive the things you own, personal possessions, and assets.
If you rely solely on your own income, it’s necessary to have an emergency fund in place. It’s smart to have disability insurance. That way, if you need to stop working, you will have an income source. Unless you have another stream of income or significant personal assets, you’ll need the benefits of disability insurance, especially if you are disabled and can’t work for an extended time.
You may also want to consider long-term care insurance. Someone turning 65 has a nearly 70% chance of needing long-term care in their remaining years. It’s important to consider your options for care before you need it. You also should discuss these issues with your friends or family whom you have nominated to make decisions for you, so they know your wishes. No one likes to think about these issues, but studies show that individuals who have not designated anyone to step in often end up receiving care they did not want and are more likely to end up in an institutional setting.
As highlighted in the New York Times, a growing array of resources and options are available to individuals who want to ensure they do not face the grim situation my client’s friend did. Designating agents in estate planning documents is just one important step you can take to ensure the important people in your life can act on your behalf. Planning proactively will give you the peace of mind to know you do not have to face aging and illness alone.
If you have any questions about this post or any other related matters, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.