Who Will Be There for Me if I’m Aging Alone?

Fresh coffee at the morning

Q. I am currently 82 years old, and I live by myself in the home I purchased 40 years ago in Northern Virginia. Most of the people I know have grandchildren and evengreat-grandchildren. Throughout my life, I put my career first, and I never got married or had any children. I don’t have much family, and hardly keep in touch with the few family members I have left.

Sounds depressing, huh? Well, it’s really not. Honestly, I love my life as a single free-spirited person, who has traveled the world and has truly experienced life. However, now that I am an octogenarian who lives alone and has never made plans, for the first time in my life, I am a little nervous about what’s to come.

I am certain you have clients in my situation. What is some advice you give them about planning for their future, when there is no one to plan for but yourself? WouldI still need to complete estate planning documents?

A. Thanks for sharing your concerns about aging alone and planning for the future. Please know that, when it comes to such situations, you are certainly not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 7 million single person households in 1960, representing just 13% of all households. Now there are 31.2 million, a jump of 350%. Among those age 65 or older, 45% live alone.

Last year, Maria Torroella Carney, MD, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System, released a study on a newly coined term for a vulnerable population, “elder orphans.” According to Carney, “We have a sense that this will be a growing population as society ages and life expectancy increases, and our government and society need to prepare how to advocate for this population.”

Findings from Carney’s research and other research on the subject are as follows:
Older adults that are single have a higher risk of medical complications, mental illness, mobility issues, and health care access problems.
Single seniors do not have access to a second income, which helps married couples cover living expenses and finance personal retirement programs.
Single seniors may not have family assistance at home during a time when many medical procedures are done on an outpatient basis and hospital stays are short and shrinking. Carney says people need to plan ahead, and think about who they consider “family” – even if it’s not by blood.
Most single people would prefer to age in place even as their health declines, but will not be able to because of a lack of family caregivers.
Younger generations can help: According to Carney, “(w)e have to be creative. We have to see how younger generations can help support an aging population.”

Most of the issues associated with living alone can be overcome with increased watchfulness, safety precautions, and a plan for what to do when an emergency arises.

You inquired about whether or not you should do estate planning if you are single and living alone. The answer is an absolute YES (when it comes to both estate planning and incapacity planning).

Estate Planning for Seniors Who Live Alone

Did you know that there are times when it’s almost more important for single people to do estate planning? For instance, when a married person suffers a major illness, it’s usually pretty clear who will take on medical and financial responsibility. For unmarried individuals, the water could be a bit murkier.

What would happen if you were to suddenly become incapacitated, and you were an “elder orphan”? Who would make medical decisions for you? If you haven’t worked with an experienced estate planning attorney, the answer to this question becomes quite complicated. Maybe it would be your next closest family member. Most likely, it would not be your best friend or whomever you would choose. Even if your closest friend would be your first choice, your friend would have no legal power and less you have your wishes legally documented in a properly-executed Advance Medical Directive.

And what about your finances? If you are unable to pay your bills and take care of your other legal and financial affairs for a period of time, who do you think will do so? The answer to that is: whomever the courts say. And first of someone will have to go to court and have you declared legally incompetent, even if it is only for a temporary period of time.

Finally, what will become of your things if you should unexpectedly pass away? Who would have legal rights to your belongings, to your home, to your pets? You may think you know the answers, but without clearly outlining your wishes with an estate planning attorney, you have very little control over the matter.

For a single adult without children, it’s certainly a good idea to look out for yourself. Incapacity Planning Documents that all adults should have in place include an Advance Medical Directive, a Financial Power of Attorney, and a Lifestyle Care Plan. Estate Planning Documents that most people should have include a Revocable Living Trust & Pour-Over Will. These are crucial in ensuring that your wishes are met and that you have control over your future. An experienced estate planning attorney such as myself can easily get you on the path to having these affairs in order.

Don’t put off long-term care planning either

Most people will need some kind of help with the activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, or moving around, in their lifetime. The need for such help can result from a natural decline of hearing, eyesight, strength, balance, and mobility that comes naturally with aging, or can stem from a chronic illness. If you live alone, or are married, it is never too early, or too late, to start planning for long- term care. Call The Farr Law Firm to make an appointment for a no-cost introductory consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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