When You’re Navigating Retirement as a Solo Ager

Q. I’m 58 years old and am single. I would like to retire in the not so distant future, but most of the information available is for married or even divorced people, and I’m feeling lost. I’m not feeling confident about retirement and sometimes even worry I will run out of money and have no one available should I need assistance in the future. Do you have any tips you can offer single people who are hoping to retire soon? Thanks so much for your help!

A. Many Americans are preparing to age without a spouse or adult children who can help. Currently, 22% of people 65 and over are single and childless. With more Americans staying single, high divorce rates, and marriage rates declining, more people could face this scenario in the future. Only 12% of the women who were 80 to 84 years old in 2010 were childless, but that will increase to 16% for that same age range in 2030, according to a report by AARP.

Single Workers Not as Confident About Retirement

A survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) found that unmarried workers had lower levels of retirement confidence than their married counterparts and were more likely to have fewer resources and be less prepared for retirement. The research also found that over half of unmarried seniors (women, in particular) retired earlier than they expected.

The study found that 76% of married women express being very or somewhat confident they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years, with only 43% of divorced women workers and 51% of never-married women workers sharing this confidence.

This study explored the array of possible marital statuses of workers and retirees, and their perceived and actual retirement prospects, and here’s what the study found:

43% of never-married workers were very or somewhat confident in knowing how much money they need to save by retirement to live comfortably in retirement compared with 47% of divorced women workers and 69% of married women workers.
Divorced women were markedly more likely to have smaller levels of assets, as 72% had less than $25,000 in assets vs. 54% for never-married women workers and 31% for married women.
Debt was more likely to be a problem for divorced and never-married women workers, where 74% and 67%, respectively, considered debt a problem compared with 56% of married women.
While one in ten married women retirees have less than $1,000 in savings and investments, more than half of divorced women retirees and nearly a third of widowed women retirees have such minimal assets.

According to Craig Copeland, Senior Research Associate at EBRI, and author of the report: “The survey results show that women in differing situations could benefit from receiving more specialized information and assistance with retirement preparations and everyday financial issues.” A copy of the Issue Brief, “Retirement Confidence Survey: Attitudes Toward Retirement by Women of Different Marital Statuses” can be found at www.ebri.org.

How Single Seniors Can Ready Themselves for Retirement

Single seniors, particularly women, have long been at a disadvantage in retirement. Generally, they earn less than men, interrupt careers to raise children or care for parents, and live longer.

Financial advisors stress the importance of single women starting to think about retirement even earlier than other people. Their focus should be not only on saving more than their married peers, but also thinking differently about insurance, retirement housing, caregiving plans, and estate planning.

These are some strategies for single seniors:

Single seniors should build a more robust cash reserve for emergencies. Single clients should prepare to spend 70% of what a couple would spend in retirement, not 50%, to account for higher costs.
Shared housing should be seriously considered. Shared housing options, or buying homes together, can help reduce costs and also create a caregiving safety net, freeing up money to add in supportive services, if/when needed. And if you find a mutually agreeable pairing, you’ve also taken a big step in warding off one of the biggest risks for seniors: social isolation. Click here for more information about co-housing.
Conservative financial planning: Because the risk of running out of money is greater for single than married seniors, some advisors favor a more conservative approach to investing.
Establish a buddy system: 53% of solo seniors have no one to call if they’re confined to bed, according to a recent survey. Another common concern is having no one to drive them home from medical procedures. If you don’t have people to call on, it might be time to establish contacts in the community you can count on. It’s really important to establish relationships before you need them.
Connect in your community: Whether it’s a weekly worship service, a bridge game at a senior center, or volunteering at a food bank, once COVID-19 concerns aren’t as prevalent, find an activity you like and show up regularly and socialize with others, so that people will notice when you’re not there.  
Carry a laminated card in your wallet listing the name and phone number of your primary care physician, along with your blood type and allergies. We make this easy for our clients via membership in DocuBank.
Connect with a Geriatric Care Manager: Find someone to help you find resources to make your daily life easier. Geriatric Care Managers (also called Aging Life Care Specialists) can help you navigate the medical system, accompany you to doctor’s appointments, and arrange for in-home care. Please see our list of trusted referrals for some local professionals to consider.
Consider a Daily Money Manager: For day-to-day help with your finances, a daily money manager can pay your bills, balance your checkbook, organize your tax papers, and even help with your insurance claims. These professionals are also listed among our trusted referrals.
Get Snug or a similar app that checks in on you every day. When you respond, it will share one of its favorite motivational quotes. If it doesn’t hear back, it will message your emergency contacts to let them know you might need help.
Plan for long-term care: For single people who provide caregiving to other family members, they often end up without any such help themselves. Some people can pay out of pocket for long-term care, but many single seniors should consider a hybrid long-term care insurance option or other advance planning for long-term care for when help with such aid is warranted.
Estate planning is vital for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for single seniors to ensure that documents such as a will, a revocable living trust, an advance medical directive that determines who will make health care decisions on your behalf when you can no longer do so yourself, a HIPAA waiver that allows health information to be disclosed to a third party, and a financial power of attorney. For those who struggle with finding a proxy, a trusted attorney or financial institution can be hired to take on the task and act as a successor trustee and agent under power of attorney. Many people name more than one person, for checks and balances.

Are you an “Elder Orphan”? There’s a Facebook Group for You

Carol Marak, a 67-year old single woman coined the term “Elder Orphan” for people similar to herself who have never been married and don’t have children.  She started a Facebook Group, “Elder Orphans” with nearly 10,000 members. Marak requires that prospective members be age 55 and over, unmarried, and without nearby children. Members of the Elder Orphan Facebook group seek solace among one another, asking advice about everything from leaving the working world to what to cook on a weeknight when delivery pizza won’t cut it anymore. “It’s been impossible in my current life to find folks who can understand what I’m facing being 64, never married, no kids, nephews or other relatives in my life,” one poster wrote. “I foolishly counted on my ‘family of friends’ to be around in senior years, but they all have spouses, kids and grandkids, plus oodles of other relatives, and tell me they are too busy to be involved with me.”

Estate Planning and Retirement Planning for Solo Agers

As mentioned previously, estate planning is crucial for solo agers. 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 and Estate Planning attorney, you have very little control over the matter. An experienced Elder Law and Estate Planning attorney such as myself can easily get you on the path to having these affairs in order.

It is also incredibly important to protect your quality of life in your golden years with effective retirement planning and long-term care financial planning. Besides being a Certified Elder Law Attorney, I am also an experienced retirement planning advisor and long-term care financial advisor through my financial services company, Lifecare Financial Services, LLC. Also, in order to provide more complete financial services to our clients, I am pleased to announce that I have recently become affiliated with a federally registered investment advisory firm, Protection Point Advisors. Through my affiliation with Protection Point Advisors,* you may elect to receive comprehensive investment advisory services not offered by the Farr Law Firm.

Call us to make an appointment for a no-cost introductory consultation

If you would like more information about estate planning, financial planning, retirement planning, long-term care planning, or investment advisory services, please contact our office to make an appointment for a no-cost introductory consultation:

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

*Affiliation Disclosure: Evan Farr is an in-house solicitor of EWG Elevate Inc. dba Protection Point Advisors (“PPA”), a registered investment adviser. If you elect to enter into an agreement with PPA for advisory services, Evan Farr will be compensated a percentage any fees you pay to PPA (you will never pay higher fees because of Evan Farr’s relationship with PPA) and you will receive a copy of PPA’s Form CRS/Part 3A, ADV Part 2A and Form ADV Part 2B along with a copy of the Solicitor disclosure document that describes the relationship between Evan Farr and PPA. PPA does not offer legal services.

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