“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” someone asked me when I told her I had no children.
I thought it was a rather antiquated question, but nevertheless, it caused a mini panic attack. I have known my whole adult life that, as an old person, statistically speaking, I would probably be widowed and need to make my own arrangements for my care, but something about her question brought it front-and-center.
That probable future is not unique to me. According to a 2012 study quoted in USA Today, about one-third of 45- to 63-year-olds are single. That’s a whopping 50 percent increase since 1980, the study found. What’s more, about 15 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women had no children in 2012 – up from about 10 percent in 1980, U.S. Census data shows.
In an article in the AARP Bulletin, “Living Solo? Build a Trusted Team To Manage Your Affairs,” Jane Bryant Quinn answers 5 questions on how to build your own elder care support system without kids:
1) Where will I live? Choose the right community – where there are plenty of activities and groups to be involved. Get to know the assisted living and continuing care facilities, and figure out how you will pay for them should you need them.
2) Who will make medical decisions for me if I can’t? Preferably someone close by, says Quinn, adding that even your doctor can serve as your health care surrogate.
3) Who will handle my financial affairs? It doesn’t have to be an immediate next of kin. My choice is an independent fiduciary – she happens to have a law degree and serves in this capacity full-time. But if I didn’t have her, and instead chose a family member, Quinn suggests choosing wisely, even if it’s a distant cousin, and then paying a fair fee.
4) How can I make my affairs easier to manage? Consolidate and simplify with one financial institution. Having been on the other side, they will appreciate your business more, and it will be far easier for your financial surrogate. (Many times I hear concerns that this is not being “diversified,” and I explain that nowadays, most institutions can hold a diversity of cash and investments all under the same roof.)
5) How do I make it all legal? Have either a durable power of attorney or living trust drafted by a board-certified estate planning attorney.
Even those with children would do well to consider the same questions – geographic distance can sometimes hinder the ability of kids to help as much as they would like.
For more information, 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).