Are you an elder orphan? It’s not a term we use regularly – yet that label represents a common and growing phenomenon. Millions of American seniors – AARP estimates as many as 20 percent – are aging alone. “More than 1 in 5 Americans older than 65 are — or are at risk of becoming — elder orphans,” said the report done in 2016. And 23 percent of boomers will eventually be without family caretakers.” That doesn’t even count seniors whose family members are unavailable, or unwilling, to provide support.
We like the work of aging expert Jim Miller, whose Savvy Senior column provides a wealth of aging-related information every week. In a recent column in his flagship newspaper The Daily Oklahoman, Miller answered a note from an elder orphan concerned about finding reliable care as she ages. His advice seems sound and we offer it as food for thought – with some added insight from Rajiv.
When You Can’t Rely on Family
The woman writing to Miller asked a straightforward question. “I need to find someone honest and reliable to look after my estate, health and long-term care when I’m no longer able to do it myself,” she said. “I’m a 67-year-old recent widow with no children and one sibling I rarely talk to. Any suggestions?” This lady signed her note, “Solo Ager.”
Miller clearly empathizes with “Solo Ager’s” plight. “This is a big concern for millions of older Americans who don’t have a spouse, children or other family they can depend on to watch out for their well-being,” he responds. “While there’s no one solution to this issue, here are some tips and resources that can help you plan ahead.”
Start the Essentials – Getting Documents in Order
The essentials are the essentials no matter what your situation, so Miller begins the article by urging his readers to get all of the typical end-of-life documents prepared and updated.
Miller writes, “These essential documents include: a ‘durable power of attorney’ that allows you to designate someone to handle your financial matters if you become incapacitated; an ‘advanced health care directive’ that includes a ‘living will’ that tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a ‘health care power of attorney,’ which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to; and a ‘will’ that spells out how you’d like your property and assets distributed after you die. It also requires you to designate an ‘executor’ to ensure your wishes are carried out.”
The best way to make sure you’ve prepared these documents properly is to hire an attorney—which can cost between $500 to $2,000. There are do-it-yourself sites like Nolo.com and LegalZoom, but in our experience the cookie-cutter approach on most DIY sites can leave big gaps in your legal protection. We believe it’s far better to invest a bit up front, especially when it involves something this vital to your finances, your emotions, and those you care about.
Choose Your Trusted Decision-Makers with Care
It’s true that when people think of naming a power of attorney or executor, they normally think of a family member. “If, however, you don’t have someone to fill those roles, you may want to ask a trusted friend or associate, but be sure to choose someone that’s organized and younger than you who will likely be around after you’re gone,” Miller writes.
He adds, “Also be aware that if your choice of power of attorney or executor lives in another state, you’ll need to check your state’s law to see if it imposes any special requirements.”
But if there are no relatives or friends you feel are appropriate for the job, then you’ll need to turn to hiring someone instead. Here you do have some options.
Help in Hiring a Qualified Executor
Miller suggests that finding a qualified, professional power of attorney or executor takes a bit of research, but there are plenty of resources available. “To find a qualified power of attorney or executor for your will, contact your bank, a local trust company or an estate planning attorney,” Miller writes. “If you need help locating a pro, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) is a great resource that provides online directory to help you find someone in your area.”
An aging life care manager is another great potential resource. Miller explains, “These are trained professionals in the area of geriatric care who often have backgrounds in nursing or social work. To search for an expert near you, go to AgingLifeCare.org.”
(AgingOptions is affiliated with Life Point Law and we are always happy to offer suggestions and recommendations to suit your particular needs.)
Professional Daily Money Managers Assist with Money Chores
For bill paying, tax prep, and other financial chores, professional “daily money managers” can step in. An organization called the American Association of Daily Money Managers has a search function by zip code to help you find the perfect match in your location. “Aging life care managers typically charge between $75 and $200 per hour,” Miller writes, “while hourly rates for daily money managers range between $75 and $150.”
Getting prepared as soon as possible is always going to be to your benefit, and Miller explains why. He warns, “It’s also important to note that if you don’t complete the aforementioned legal documents and you become incapacitated, a court judge may appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. That means the care you receive may be totally different from what you would have chosen for yourself.”
Rajiv’s Advice: Be Specific with Your Instructions
We asked Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions for his advice for so-called elder orphans. In a nutshell, he tells seniors to be very specific about what you want to see happen as you age.
“You need to give step-by-step instructions for people to follow,” he urges. “If you leave a lot of issues for others to figure out, they will have an impossible time following your wishes. Don’t make the mistake of letting others make all the decisions for you.” Rajiv’s vision is straightforward. “You need to create absolute clarity about the things you want the people you’ve hired to do for you. With some clear direction and a reasonable amount of discretion, they’re far more likely to follow through and do what you want done.”
Rajiv also suggests conducting a variation on the family meeting – even though technically the ones helping you are not family. Bringing your “team” together ahead of time puts everyone on the same page regarding your care and your estate. Contact us and we’ll be happy to assist you with planning and hosting this type of gathering.
My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success
At AgingOptions we believe the key to a secure retirement is the right retirement plan – yet statistics show that 70 percent of retirement plans fail. That’s why for nearly two decades we’ve been dedicated to the proposition that a carefully-crafted, fully comprehensive retirement plan is the best answer to virtually any contingency life may throw your way as you age. Our slogan says it all: My Life, My Plan, My Way.
When it comes to retirement planning, most people focus on one fairly narrow issue: money. Financial planning is an important component of retirement planning. However, people heading towards retirement often make the mistake of thinking that a little financial planning is all that’s required, when in fact most financial plans are woefully inadequate. What about your medical coverage? What if you have to make a change in your housing status – will that knock your financial plan off course? Are you adequately prepared legally for the realities of retirement and estate planning? And is your family equipped to support your plans for the future as you age?
The best way we know of to successfully blend all these elements together – finance, medical, housing, legal and family – is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Thousands of people have discovered the power of LifePlanning and we encourage you to the same. Simply visit our website and discover a world of retirement planning resources. Make certain your retirement planning is truly comprehensive and complete with an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.oklahoman.com)