When a Loved One is Alone and in Danger

Last weekend, Randy was walking his dog, when he ran into his friend, Jenny. Jenny seemed really nervous and upset. She explained how her father with dementia was living in a nursing home in Florida, and how he was located in an area where Hurricane Irma was projected to be a category 4. Jenny spoke to her father’s nurses and was told he was being stubborn, and refused to leave the home, when they were evacuating. Then, they lost phone service, and Jenny was left to worry about the fate of her father. Luckily, he eventually succumbed and evacuated and everything was okay.

Randy’s aunt lives in Florida also. She has some physical ailments, but still has her wits about her, so she lives alone in a senior community. Her only living relative is Randy, who is here in Northern Virginia. She never had any children of her own, and her husband passed away ten years ago, so she has become what is called an “elder orphan.”

What happens when a catastrophic storm hits where a loved one lives, and he or she is in a nursing home with dementia or at home alone with no family close-by?

When Seniors Refused to Leave

Under state and federal law, nursing homes and assisted-living communities must maintain emergency plans, including backup generators, food and water. Yet, some seniors, such as Jenny’s father, were reluctant to go anywhere.

So, how did nursing homes and assisted living centers in Florida get seniors who were being stubborn to leave? For one nursing home, learning that they needed to evacuate from Hurricane Irma could have been traumatic for the 40 residents with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so they told residents a comforting tale: The charter buses that arrived to go north were taking them “on vacation.”

At an assisted-living community north of Fort Lauderdale, staff and residents had been tuned to the weather channel when, on Friday morning, the staff lined up all 200 residents outside on the driveway. Nurses strapped color-coded ID-wristbands onto each resident and used white packaging tape to label walkers and wheelchairs.

For Elder Orphans Living Alone at Home

Many single seniors without children are happy, independent, and living quite well. But too often, it takes only a trip to the hospital or an unexpected emergency, such as a natural disaster, to throw their lives into a tailspin. There are a lot of elder orphans like this who are hidden in plain sight but people don’t know it.

Too often, older adults who are alone may feel shut out, forgotten and like they don’t matter, and have nowhere to turn should a disaster arise.

What Elder Orphans Can Do

Hurricane Harvey and Irma have passed, but there could always be another natural disaster on the horizon, or an unexpected medical emergency, and the best way to deal with it and with anything life throws your way is to be prepared.

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. Below are some ways for elder orphans, and those who are long-distance caregivers, to prepare themselves and their loved ones:

• Plan ahead, and think about who you (or the person you care for from a distance) considers “family” – even if it’s not by blood.
• Make an emergency preparedness kit. See FEMA’s website for details on what to include.
• Talk to friends about preparing for emergencies, getting help in the event of an evacuation and dealing with the aftermath of a disaster.
• Create a network of neighbors, relatives, friends and co-workers who can help in an emergency. Discuss needs and make sure everyone knows how to operate necessary medical equipment.
• Arrange for electronic payments of federal benefits or other retirement income. A disaster can disrupt mail service for days or even weeks.

Estate Planning for Seniors Who Live Alone

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 Elder Law 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 unless 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, who do you think will do so? The answer to that is: whomever the courts say. And first off someone will have to go to court and have you declared legally incompetent.

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 Elder Law or Estate Planning attorney, you have very little control over the matter. An experienced Elder Law or Estate Planning attorney such as myself can easily get you on the path to having these affairs in order.

Don’t put off asset protection planning for long-term care

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 often comes with aging, or can stem from dementia, a stroke, or a chronic illness. If you live alone, or are married, it is never too early, or too late, to start planning to protect your assets from the devastating expenses of long- term care. Call us 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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