As a Child-Free Elder, Who Will Be On Your Team?

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” someone once asked me when I told her I had no children.

It seemed like an old-fashioned kind of question. Nevertheless, it caused a mini panic attack.

Knowing the statistics, I had made the vague assumption that I would need to make arrangements for care, but something about her question made that statistical probability more real.

About 14 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women had no children in 2018 – up from about 10 percent in 1980, U.S. Census data shows. This is and will be an issue for millions of Americans.

As anyone who has served as a caregiver knows, there are four main questions to ask from the beginning. Answering these can lead to the formation of an elder care support team. The team members may come from two areas – friends and family, professionals, or both.

  • Where will I live?
  • Who will make medical decisions for me?
  • Who will handle my finances?
  • How will I get transportation?

Team Member 1: Where will I live?

The first part of figuring out the team is to know where you will be living. The vast majority of Americans want to age in their homes. For some people that home might be the place they have lived for several decades. If so, then the team member will likely be a home health care company.

For others, home might be a place they move to – with a supportive community, but not a facility (perhaps at first). If that’s you, building a network of friends and professionals in the community can be one of the best ways to reinforce your support team.

Although it’s not in many people’s plans, sometimes aging at home isn’t an option. For people aging without children, it’s more important to get to know assisted living and continuing care facilities, and figure out how you would pay for them. (For myself, I purchased a traditional long-term care policy. But that doesn’t mean that is the right solution for everyone.)

Team Member 2: Who will make medical decisions for me if I can’t?

Preferably someone close by. Ideally this person could be available at a moment’s notice and will not have to travel far to attend appointments with you.

Having a strong primary care physician relationship is also highly beneficial. Some doctors, especially those who specialize in concierge medicine, can and will serve as your legal health care surrogate.

Team Member 3: Who will handle my financial affairs?

Many attorneys recommend having a different person named for financial matters than for health care decisions. As aging progresses, it’s a lot to ask of one person to handle bill paying, money management, and doctor appointments (as anyone who has served as a sole caregiver can attest).

Money management involves several duties. To name a few,

  • Paying bills and making renewal decisions (such as memberships, subscriptions, and/or insurance policies)
  • Making gifts
  • Making transfers between accounts, such as taking IRA withdrawals
  • Managing investments

Your financial team might involve two members – someone who does the day-to-day management, plus a professional investment manager. Most professional investment managers do not provide billpaying and cash flow management. Professional investment managers may charge a fee that is a percentage of the amount they manager, or a flat fee. If a friend or family member is taking over the day-to-day, it’s important to pay that person a fair fee, too.

Or you can find a fiduciary who will cover it all. Trust companies are one example of fiduciaries who will handle all financial duties if they are named as trustee or co-trustee on your documents.

My choice for now is an independent fiduciary. She happens to have a law degree and serves in this capacity full-time. Her services won’t begin unless I’m alone and losing the ability to handle things myself. Hopefully that’s a very long time from now, if ever.

Team Member 4: How will I get transportation?

If you move to a community with many transportation alternatives, you might not need a separate team member for transportation. This is my goal – a walkable community with good public transportation alternatives. The EPA even publishes a National Walkability Index.

But if you are staying in a home or community without many alternatives to your own car, and you don’t want to use ridesharing with strangers like Uber or Lyft, you could assemble a network of friends and acquaintances on whom to rely. So together they will be your transportation team member.

How can I make my affairs easier to manage for the team?

Consolidate and simplify with one financial institution. It will be far easier for your financial surrogate, and the institution may even show you some extra appreciation. Some people are concerned that this is not being “diversified.” Nowadays, most institutions can hold a diversity of cash and investments all under the same roof. Just make sure to keep under the FDIC limit in any bank accounts.

Use the health apps provided by your healthcare providers to give easy access to your electronic medical records.

Have all of your digital passwords in one digital password manager. Most people don’t realize they have on average over 200 accounts with passwords. See “Document Your Digital Assets.”

How do I make it all legal?

Once you have decided who you would like to name as your surrogates, have either a durable power of attorney (DPOA) or living trust drafted by a board-certified estate planning attorney. (See “Do I need a trust?” for more on the topic of trusts.) The same attorney will often also draft your living will and healthcare power of attorney, too. For qualified attorney recommendations, check for your local chapter members of the National Association of Estate Planning Councils.

For more information on planning for aging, check out the e-book, How Does Your Money Flow? A Guide to Common Saving, Spending, and Sharing Decisions (Porchview Publishing, $3.99, available in e-reader-friendly formats). Or, join the list for our free award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch.”

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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