Aging can be a challenging process. There are many decisions to be made: where will you live? how will you make use of your time? how will you pay for all this? As the process of aging continues, the concerns may shift towards health and mobility issues, and questions of who will take you to the doctor or help you fix your home or shovel the walk, will arise. As daunting as these concerns can be for any retiree, the challenges can be magnified when an individual or couple doesn’t have children to lend a hand, or their children have moved away. The good news is that there are many people in similar circumstances, and support abounds if you know where to look and you plan accordingly.
To explore this topic more deeply, it’s important to avoid thinking about retirement as a single period of life, but rather to consider aging as a series of periods, each with unique opportunities and potential challenges. Phase one is often much like your later working years, just with more free time. Health and vitality are still in abundance, leading to high levels of activity and really life doesn’t feel much different. The second phase may bring greater health challenges, lower energy levels and declining physical functions. This period often feels much different and brings unique challenges. The third phase typically brings with it the most change and the greatest challenges. In this phase, health and physical issues often come to the forefront. Illness and serious health events can disrupt and define this period as too can the loss of loved ones and friends. As we progress through these periods, our needs and requirements will naturally change. The need to rely on others is typically low in the first phase and increases as we progress. These stages aren’t driven by time, and birthdays hold no predictive value. Progression through the stages is often driven by events. A fall or a stroke can propel someone from stage one right to stage three.
Housing decisions are among the most important that retirees face. Many folks want to age in place, but for those without children, this may not be the best option. Those for whom this is important should evaluate their home’s practicality through the lens of the phases of aging. Location, accessible transportation, safety and convenience are all important factors to consider. Is your floor plan conducive to aging? Who will help you maintain your home? Aging in place may work well in the first stage, but what about the second and third? If, after a thorough assessment you decide this is the route for you, look to see if there is a “village” in your area. Villages are non-profit, grassroot, membership-driven organizations that seek to create a support system for those who wish to age in place. Villages often provide transportation, home repairs, social and educational activities. VTVnetwork.org is a great place to learn more about this model. Additionally, many daily tasks such as handyman services, laundry, furniture assembly, and more can be outsourced using a service such as Taskrabbit.com. According to their website, all “Taskers” (those assigned to complete your task) go through identity verification, criminal background check, and an information session before they can join the community. Services such as Instacart.com and Peapod.com can deliver groceries to your door. Amazon’s Alexa is also a wonderful tool to aid with aging in place. Available apps can provide medication reminders and call for help if you’re injured. Transportation solutions are available through providers such as Uber and Lyft, both of which are creating better offerings for the senior market.
Another option may be to consider an independent living community or continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Both are built specifically to address the needs of today’s seniors. Independent living communities offer a range of amenities and a variety of living arrangements, such as single-family homes and apartments. Benefits include freedom from exterior home maintenance, floor plans designed for aging, access to social activities, and a wide-ranging support network. These communities typically do not offer healthcare services. CCRCs offer the ability to stay within the community regardless of one’s needs, offering many of the same amenities as independent living communities but also services like transportation, housekeeping, and a meal plan. Residents can start in an independent living location, such as a condo or townhome and if necessary, transition to assisted living facilities or skilled nursing care within the community. If one member of a couple requires long-term care while the other doesn’t, they can each receive the appropriate level of care, while remaining within the same community.
Additional planning considerations must address who will make decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself. A healthcare power of attorney names the person who will make medical decisions on your behalf, if you cannot. But who should you name? Friends and siblings may be a natural choice, but they may be in your same phase of life and unable to provide much support when necessary. Nieces, nephews, and children of friends can be a good choice. Perhaps consider an arrangement where they agree to help you in exchange for being added to your will. Consulting an attorney to create a special agreement is wise in this case. In the absence of other choices or perhaps in support of your other choice, a Life Care Manager, often a nurse, can help navigate the complex healthcare system. According to Alice Paxton, Managing Director of Paladin Life Care (Defending Your Interests, Advocating Your Life), “A Life Care Manager can take on this role and be the voice to advocate for care and interact with the doctors and physicians, to explain difficult medical terms and be a knowledgeable sounding board for the surviving spouse.” Find more information at aginglifecare.org.
It is also important to name someone to make financial decisions on your behalf. Absent the more personal options listed above, trust companies and elder care attorneys can fill this role. Trust companies are required to act in a fiduciary capacity, meaning they must always have your best interests at heart. Trust companies are often named either the successor trustee or co-successor trustee in your trust documents and employ financial professionals such as CPAs and attorneys to work with your financial planner in fulfilling your wishes. They may also act in conjunction with someone else as a second set of eyes. Talk to your attorney or financial planner for options.
According to Dick Dezio, an estate planning attorney at Richard A, Dezio, P.C., “Generally, older clients, especially those without children, should strongly consider having a living trust in place to provide for asset management in the event of incapacitation.” A trust is an entity that holds property for the benefit of a beneficiary. You, along with your financial planner and estate planning attorney, will create the trust in which you are the initial trustee and beneficiary. You can create guidelines for how your assets are used, who should get them after your passing and who should assume management if you’re unable. With the trust, you continue using your assets exactly as you do today. If there comes a time when you’re unable to manage the assets yourself, the successor trustee steps in and manages the assets for you based upon the guidelines you established. The trust can help ensure a smooth transition from you managing your assets to someone else doing it on your behalf.
Proper long-term healthcare planning should also be considered. We have written extensively on this topic in the past, and I encourage you to visit our website at www.ebwllc.com/blog to find more information on long-term care options.
Not having children to assist you in your later years doesn’t mean you’re alone. There are more ways than ever to get support, and there are many communities of people just like you; one such community is the Elder Orphans Facebook group. It’s not an overstatement to say that planning early is critical to success. Trying to do all this once a crisis arises will assuredly result in a less favorable outcome that may be more expensive and not take your wishes into consideration. While you will face challenges some of your contemporaries with children to assist them will not, these are not insurmountable. Proper planning can help you address these challenges and allow you to focus on enjoying the years to come.