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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tiny Houses Popular but Can Have Big Issues

Many older adults are drawn to tiny houses, which can be a good way to downsize and achieve a more carefree life. However, zoning laws across the country have not kept up with the popularity of these small dwellings, which exist in a gray area between homes and RVs. Finding a place to put your tiny house can be a big challenge.

Tiny houses are big news. Several TV shows are devoted to them, and many articles and books highlight this scaled-down form of housing. Many older adults, in particular, are drawn to them, looking to downsize or simplify their lives. They also appeal to young people who are just starting out in life, because they are cheaper than buying a house or even renting an apartment. Others praise a life that frees them from big financial obligations, allowing them to work part-time or travel more.

However, living in a tiny house is not that simple. The biggest challenge is where to put it. Zoning laws across the country have not kept up with the popularity of these small dwellings, which exist in a gray area between homes and recreational vehicles. Also, depending on whether you build or buy your tiny house, costs can be higher than you might expect, ranging from $20,000 to $90,000.
Tiny-House Communities

Because of the lack of good options for tiny-house locations, communities for these dwellings, much like mobile home parks, are springing up across the country. Walsenburg, Colo., became the first city in the state, and one of the first in the nation, to change its land use codes to allow tiny homes on any residential lot. On a three-acre lot in this small rural town, a developer is creating a park for 28 tiny houses.

Other tiny house communities are being planned, built or finished across the country, including Lemon Cove Village in northern California, which transitioned from an RV park and rents lots for $450 to $595 per month. Orlando Lakefront at College Park in Florida, a year-round tiny-house community/RV park rents lots for $350 to $550 per month. Tiny House Estates, a tiny-house manufacturer, at the Traverse Bay RV Resort in Williamsburg, Mich., sells empty lots starting at $64,900, or lots with a tiny house for $229,000.

To see a list of tiny-house communities, see “Communities, USA,” Tiny House Community.

One Person’s Story

Ryan Mitchell, 30, who manages a website,The Tiny Life, and published a book about tiny homes, writes about his experience. After being laid off from his job, Mitchell knew he wanted a living situation “where I could take control of my life and its destiny.” He found the solution in tiny houses, but not before he had to clear a lot of hurdles. After a year of working nights and weekends to build his 150-square-foot home, plus a sleeping loft, he searched for land. His first choice fell through after the landowner decided to sell his land. Knowing that the zoning laws in Charlotte, N.C., his hometown, would be restrictive, he started looking in the country, but farmers weren’t willing to lease their land to him and trailer parks wouldn’t “let me in even if I got designated as a park model, RV or mobile home.”

“This is the story of tiny houses that isn’t told,” Mitchell writes. “It’s not a glamorous one, it’s frustrating, it’s stressful and it will keep you up at night.” Ultimately, he decided that he wanted to stay in town, near family and friends. He found someone who would lease him land for $1 a month in return for Mitchell’s help with his website. Next up was securing water, power and building a road. The most expensive part was getting water. While many tiny house owners want to collect rain off their roofs for water, when Mitchell crunched the numbers, he couldn’t get enough supply for showers, cooking, drinking, etc. Putting in a well was prohibitively expensive, so he ended up paying the city $2,230 to connect to his property.

However, it was all worth it in the end. “What I’ve found is that changes in my life were the real impact. . . . My financial situation has changed drastically, because my cost of living dropped so significantly. . . . Time-wise I have a lot more of it and even better, I have more control over it. I now can spend more time with my friends and family. Peace of mind and lower stress have been another outcome of this journey.”

Where to Put a Tiny House

A tiny house is generally 150 square feet but can be as “big” as 500 square feet. They are either built on wheels, which means you can transport it from site to site, much like a mobile home, or on a platform, which works if you have one place to stay. Many tiny-house owners pride themselves on building their own, using plans sold by tiny-house manufacturers, while others prefer to buy their small dwellings outright. As Mitchell found out, building the house was easy compared to finding a place to put it. Zoning laws in most cities (some are more progressive than others) don’t allow main residences smaller than 450 to 1,500 square feet. Some cities are rethinking those minimums, especially where real estate prices are high. You can apply for a variance, but that’s not a sure thing.

Other zoning laws can require minimums for emergency vehicle access; sewer or septic connections; rainwater runoff control; municipal water or well-water hookups; and minimums for lot size and restrictions on how many residences can occupy a lot or given area. In most towns, a building permit isn't required for a structure of 120 square feet or less. However, these small structures are considered sheds or workshops and therefore not considered livable.

Most cities allow accessory dwelling units, what could be called granny flats, although restrictions exist on how many people can live there. One tiny-house advocate recommended living in your tiny house in your backyard while renting out your larger home. Others have found success in parking their tiny houses behind other people’s houses or on a corner of their property in exchange for money or barter of services, like Mitchell did.

Because tiny houses don’t have their own classification, local governments see them as an RV or mobile home. As recreational or camping vehicles, they are generally banned for full-time living outside of an RV park. In addition, many RV parks require that a certified manufacturer constructed your tiny house. (With this regulation in mind, many tiny-house builders are getting certified.) Similarly, if your tiny house is registered as a mobile home you can live full time in a mobile home park. However, as with RV parks, mobile home parks sometimes require that a licensed manufacturer built the home.

As a solution, many people find a piece of property, put their tiny house on it, make all the utility connections, and then hope that no one complains to the zoning department. One city official told Ryan Mitchell, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Problems could arise if you live in a neighborhood of big, wealthy homes, where neighbors might worry that you are lowering their property values. If someone doesn’t want you there and complains, the city could fine you or condemn your land. However, many people who have settled down on a city lot with their tiny house have found that most local governments are not interested in chasing tiny-house dwellers off their property. As these small abodes become more popular, municipalities likely will start to create ordinances for their use.

Another solution is to live in communities created just for tiny houses (see sidebar, “Tiny House Communities”).

Where to Buy Tiny Houses

If you are not building your own tiny house, many manufacturers offer customizable models. Most building companies are small, often catering to local markets. For example, Sprout Homes, of La Junta, Colo., is constructing a tiny-house community in nearby Walsenburg (see sidebar). The company, which emphasizes “eco” homes that are energy efficient and include chemical-free interiors, sought a location for its tiny houses, because so many municipalities don’t allow such small dwellings.

One of the original tiny-house companies is Tumbleweed, which operates throughout Canada and the United States. It offers several models with customized floor plans and optional dormers and skylights. One of its models, the Elm, ranges in size from 117 to 161 square feet and costs between $57,000 and $66,000.

As the tiny-house movement grows, builders work to create more adaptable spaces, such as using the stairs for storage space. One tiny-home builder, Humble Homes, has a model, the Turtle Tiny House, with a first-floor bedroom that can transform into a study with a Murphy bed.


“The Best Tiny House Building Companies,” Affordable Housing Designs

“Could You Survive in 150 Square Feet? The Lowdown on Tiny Homes,” June 18, 2015, US News: Money

“Understanding Zoning and Tiny Houses,” February 20, 2015, Tiny House Community

“Tiny house, big benefits:?Freedom from a mortgage and worries — and stuff,” June 25, 2015,Washington Post

“Where Can You Park a Tiny House?,” June 25, 2014, MiniMotives

“Walsenburg Has Big Hopes for Tiny Houses,” Oct 7, 2015, Colorado Public Radio

Tiny Houses Popular but Can Have Big Issues was featured in the November 2015 Senior Spirit. 

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Protect Yourself from Financial Abuse

Most financial exploitation comes from family members, unfortunately, but there are ways to protect yourself, including choosing direct deposit for retirement checks.

While we may become wiser in many ways as we age, research shows that our financial capability decreases after age 60. It may not be as easy to balance the checkbook, add figures in your head or decide on the best car deal. Poorer financial reasoning may be one of the reasons that financial abuse of the elderly has become so prevalent.

In a survey by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, 71 percent of care managers surveyed said financial abuse and/or exploitation of the elderly is a growing problem in their communities. Roughly 1 in 5 Americans age 65 or older (about 7.3 million) have been victimized by financial fraud, according to the Investor Protection Trust. Perhaps even more worrisome is that many older adults who score low on financial literacy tests thought they did well (“Financial Literacy and Financial Decision-Making in Older Adults,” American Society on Aging).

Family Members Not Always Trustworthy

You may have read the articles about New York socialite Anthony D. Marshall’s conviction of defrauding and stealing from his elderly mother, philanthropist Brooke Astor. With help from his lawyer, Marshall changed her will to favor him, took millions of dollars without her consent and stole paintings from her home on Park Avenue.

There are many lesser-known stories about trusted family members swindling older adults. A social worker tells the story of an elderly woman who loaned her grandson most of her savings, after which he used the title to her mobile home to get a bank loan. She now needs the money to live on and faces the possibility of losing her mobile home if her grandson defaults on the loan. Yet she refuses to report her grandson to the authorities because she doesn’t want him to go to jail.

The sad truth is that over 90 percent of reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, according to the National Council on Aging . Common tactics include depleting a joint checking account, promising but not delivering care in exchange for money or property, outright theft, physical abuse, threats, intimidation and neglect of basic care.

A relative can convince an older family member to transfer assets to them, get them to change their will or lift jewelry or other valuable items from the home when the elder is not looking. If the family member is caretaking in exchange for access to the elder’s Social Security funds, they may be spending as little as possible on the elder and more on themselves.

What You Can Do

Most of us want to believe that our own kin would never betray us. But to keep temptation out of harm’s way, you can take proactive measures to protect your assets, especially at a time of life when your financial abilities may be waning and you’re not always sure about making the right financial decision.

Have your income (e.g., retirement, disability) directly deposited into your checking account.

If managing your daily finances becomes difficult, consider hiring a daily money manager. This professional can help you with bills, insurance claims, phone calls to financial institutions and troubleshooting.

Engage a CPA or certified financial planner to handle issues such as how much money you can withdraw safely from retirement funds.

Put together an estate plan. Talk with an attorney about helping you create your powers of attorney, will and advanced directives.

When you choose a power of attorney, don’t assume the person closest to you will do the best job; you might be better off giving it to someone more detached and financially secure.

Put limits on your powers of attorney, such as assigning a different person to monitor your power of attorney or assigning joint powers of attorney, which would require two signatures on every check.

Build a network of family, friends, neighbors and groups that you can interact with often. They will notice if something is amiss.

Create a buddy system with other elders, call each other daily for reassurance and friendship and visit each other if possible. Older adults with a social network are less likely to be preyed upon.

Get your financial affairs in order. Good financial housekeeping will make you less vulnerable.

Keep valuables in a safe place. If there's nothing worth stealing in your home, you're less likely to become a victim.

Consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.

Get to know officers and tellers at your local bank or credit union. They can look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.

If you think you’ve been taken advantage of, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to contact authorities, starting with your local Adult Protective Services (see sidebar for other resources).

Efforts to Fight Financial Abuse

Governments and businesses are aware of the growing problem of financial elder abuse and are starting to take steps to counteract it. The Department of Justice has created an Elder Justice website, “a resource for victims of elder abuse and financial exploitation and their families, practitioners who serve them, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, and researchers.” You can report elder abuse or find support in your area by entering your zip code on the site, which will provide the names of agencies and places to go in a 5-, 10- or 20-mile radius of your home. The Justice Department has also created training programs to help attorneys recognize and address financial exploitation of older Americans.

Growing concern in the financial industry about elder abuse has resulted in a new regulation. Brokers can delay or refuse transactions if they believe a caregiver is defrauding or exploiting a client who may be suffering from dementia. In the medical field, the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust trains doctors, medical professionals and lawyers to spot and report elder financial abuse.

Twenty-five states have laws requiring financial institutions to report suspicious withdrawals from seniors’ accounts and other uncharacteristic activity, according to the American Bankers Association. The state of Maine has a program, Senior$afe, that trains bank tellers and managers to identify and report suspected cases of financial exploitation. The program is expanding nationwide.

Businesses are seeing opportunities in this field also. EverSafe can monitor your financial activity, such as credit card statements and bank and investment accounts, on a daily basis. The company scans transactions for suspicious activity, such as financial behavior patterns that don’t fit your regular habits, and then sends a notice to you and someone that you have chosen to oversee your spending.

Another company, True Link , has a prepaid Visa debit card that lets you determine daily spending limits and the types of purchases or withdrawals that are and are not allowed on the card. If a purchase is outside of your parameters, it is rejected. The card also sends alerts of any suspicious charges.


“Why Elder Financial Abuse Is Such a Slippery Crime,” Feb 13, 2015, Forbes

“Protecting Mom & Dad's money,” January 2013, Consumer Reports

“Financial Abuse,” National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

“Protect Yourself,” University of California Irvine's Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect

“Protect Yourself,” Elder Financial Protection Network

“How Seniors Can Protect Themselves from Scams,” National Council on Aging

“How to Stop Mom or Dad From Stupid Spending,” Next Avenue

“How Aging Impacts Our Financial Decisions,” Next Avenue

Protect Yourself from Financial Abuse
 was featured in the November 2015 Senior Spirit Newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Science of Caregiving

What we expect from life’s stages is often what we read, research and hear. But there is one life stage perhaps we don’t see coming and are inadvertently not prepared to shoulder – caregiving for someone with memory loss. One in nine Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s, equating to millions of people who do their best to help care for them. Just as expectant parents devote energy to researching techniques that support child development, let’s apply the same rigor to thoughtful adult caregiving approaches. In my field, I rely on the Validation Method.

Here’s how it works. Take “Joe,” who I first met when learning about Validation. Joe was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and pounded the table while repeatedly shouting, “I’m cold!” I ran to get his sweater and asked his caregiver to serve him hot tea, but this did not ease him. Naomi Feil, developer of Validation, suggested I ask Joe where he felt cold, because he might be expressing a deeper emotion. The next time Joe shouted, I asked this very question. Joe put his hands over his heart, and through additional questioning, he responded, “I miss my wife.”

Many caregivers instinctively try to reorient those they are caring for to reality, which can potentially worsen the situation and cause anxiety. With Joe, I learned to look beyond his words and actions to focus on what he may be feeling. Validation helped me understand that Joe was communicating his basic human need for security and love.

By inquiring more about Joe and fully opening myself to his emotions, I learned he provided end of life care for his wife. This insight revealed his actions were communicating his loss of purpose. By validating what a good husband Joe was, his shouting and pounding eventually stopped.

I realize caregiving is much more complex than this one example and not every attempt to validate will result in such a dramatic change. But I’ve studied and applied the Validation Method countless times, and believe it can be an effective technique to rebuild lines of communication and reduce stress for both the caregiver and person with memory loss.

Before you communicate with a loved one, try centering yourself by taking a few deep breaths. Don’t worry about reality or trying to redirect a loved one if they are disoriented, instead ask open questions to help them freely express their emotions. These techniques will help you be more open and responsive to your loved one and address their basic human needs: to be heard, to feel loved and to have a sense of purpose. 

Many may feel that once a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they’ll lose the ability to connect with them, but through Feil’s work we know there is an art and science to effectively communicate. It is a method that restores the perceived “lost” connection, and shows us that even though memory loss may have profoundly changed our loved ones, they are still present. 

For more resources and information about caregiving, visit the Sunrise Senior Living website.

Courtesy of SCSA guest blogger, Rita Altman, SVP of Memory Care & Program Services, Sunrise Senior Living

Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, November 30, 2015

New Treatments for Preventing Alzheimer’s

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented? The jury is still out on the subject, but recent new drug studies, clinical trials, diets, lifestyle changes, mental gymnastics, ultrasounds, vitamin therapies and specialized groups and communities are paving the way for Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment, as the search for a cure continues.
The grim statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association reveal that one in three seniors dies with dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases—the general term for memory loss and deterioration of other intellectual capabilities that negatively impact daily life. By 2050, experts predict Alzheimer’s will cost the nation $1.2 trillion as the number of dementia patients increases.

New Drug Trials and Clinical Studies

A new drug shows promise in halting the progression of Alzheimer’s in the brain. Researchers at Duke University found that something goes wrong with the immune cells that normally protect the brain, and the cells start to consume an important nutrient called arginine. Scientists found that the drug difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) blocked these immune cells from consuming arginine and prevented the brain plaques and memory loss associated with Alzheimer's. The tests were done with mice, so it’s not yet known if the drug will be successful in humans.  
"If indeed arginine consumption is so important to the disease process, maybe we could block it and reverse the disease," senior study author Carol Colton, a professor of neurology and a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, said in a Duke news release and reported by America Aljazeera. Currently, the drug is being tested on patients with different types of cancers but has not yet been tested for Alzheimer’s in humans. The study was published April 15 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The MIND Diet

A combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets seems to have an effect on preventing Alzheimer’s. Scientists in the Rush Memory and Aging Project developed the so-called MIND diet and saw a 53 percent lower risk for Alzheimer's in the group tested. Even those who followed the diet only "moderately well" saw their Alzheimer's risk drop by roughly 35 percent.

The MIND diet emphasizes healthy grains, vegetables, beans, poultry and fish—stressing the importance of plant-based foods such as green leafy vegetables and blueberries—with a limited amount of less-healthy red meat, butter and sweets. Compared to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND diet puts less emphasis on consumption of fruit, fish, dairy and potatoes.

The study analyzed food questionnaires completed by more than 900 men and women between 58 and 98 years old, all enrolled in the Rush project in Chicago. Completed between 2004 and 2013, the surveys quantified respondents’ intake of 144 food items the prior year with no dietary intervention. Participants were then tracked for an average of four to five years, during which time they underwent repetitive neuropsychological testing. Out of 923 adults, 144 developed Alzheimer's during that time. Those whose food consumption conformed to the MIND diet were much less likely to develop the progressive brain disorder.

“This was the first study of how diet might affect a person’s risk of getting Alzheimer’s,” said study author Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Rush University Medical Center and the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago. Morris added that more research is needed to verify the study results.

Lifestyle—Mind and Body Exercise

P. Murali Doraiswamy, director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke University and coauthor of The Alzheimer's Action Plan, recommends exercising mind and body to ward off Alzheimer’s. Research shows that walking is as good as running, since it enhances blood supply in the memory centers. Brain stimulation works, too. Many types of brain-stimulation devices are being tested not only to treat and prevent Alzheimer's but also to improve cognition in people without dementia. Some of these devices are implanted into the brain, and some are worn externally like a headband.

Mental decline as you age appears to be largely due to altered connections among brain cells. But research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections. You could even generate new brain cells.

Scientists have found that low education levels are related to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s later in life, perhaps because of a lower level of lifelong mental stimulation, reports the Alzheimer’s Association. Put another way, higher education levels appear to protect against Alzheimer’s, possibly because brain cells and their connections are stronger. Well-educated individuals can still get Alzheimer’s, but symptoms may appear later because of this protective effect.


Researchers in Australia are testing ultrasound on mice to eliminate plaque buildup in the brain that's associated with Alzheimer's disease, reports HealthDay News. The experimental study is still in the "very preliminary" stage.

The ultrasound treatment targets amyloid plaque, a material scientists believe clogs the brain and is linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease. The study’s lead author, Gerhard Leinenga, a graduate student at the University of Queensland in Australia, says it’s uncertain if the approach is feasible for humans, but the research is promising. "The mice performed better on three tests of their memory," he said, noting their performance was similar to that of healthy mice used as controls.

"We know that amyloid interferes with the function of neurons and causes brain cells to die, but not everyone with amyloid in their brain will go on to develop Alzheimer's or another dementia," said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives for the Alzheimer's Association. The study appeared in the March 11, 2015 edition of Science Translational Medicine.

Vitamin D

We often hear that “sunshine vitamin D” is good for us, but it also may reduce Alzheimer’s risk. A new study published in the journal Neurology found that older adults who are severely deficient in Vitamin D have a 122 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The study leader, Dr. David Llewellyn at the University of Exeter Medical School, explains, “the association was twice as strong as we anticipated.” Adults who were moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia of any kind. Those who were severely deficient had 125 percent increased risk. The study observed 1,658 adults older than 65 over a six-year period, reports Next Avenue.

When exposed to sunlight, our skin converts the rays into vitamin D. Because older adults’ skin may be less efficient at this, it’s important to have your vitamin D levels tested and to perhaps take a supplement. Testing is especially important for people living in northern climates, where exposure to winter sunlight is limited. For better absorption, take vitamin D supplements with a meal containing healthy fat. Certain oily fish and mushrooms also contain vitamin D.


“Quick Study: The Latest on Vitamin D and Dementia,” Aug. 11, 2014, Next Avenue

“Ultrasound Used to Attack Alzheimer's-Linked Brain Plaque in Mice,” March 11, 2015, HealthDay News

“Study draws link between immune system and Alzheimer's,” April 15, 2015, America Aljazeera

New Treatments for Preventing Alzheimer’s
was featured in the November 2015 Senior Spirit Newsletter.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2016 Call for Conference Proposals

4th Annual CSA Conference | Washington, D.C. | August 26 - 28, 2016

The Society of Certified Senior Advisors is currently accepting proposals for the 4th Annual CSA Conference. The Building Knowledge and Empowering Networks to Benefit Seniors CSA Conference is designed to provide current information relevant to professionals working in the senior market on the health, financial, social, legal and business issues associated with older adults and how to apply practical knowledge to improve business practices. The CSA Conference is structured so that attendees gain knowledge relevant to their senior business and have opportunities to grow their professional networks by connecting with others in the senior market. The 2016 Program Committee invites proposals for conference sessions supporting the theme Building Knowledge and Empowering Networks to Benefit Seniors.

The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2016.

Proposals will only be accepted if they are submitted using the online form which can be accessed at 

Conference Session Formats

The conference includes 4 program tracks: 
  • Finance & Insurance
  • Healthcare & Home Care
  • Legal & Public Policy
  • Social Interest & Lifestyle

CSA conference sessions fit into the following formats:

- Two 90 minute general sessions (keynote and plenary addresses)
- Sixteen 60 minute breakout sessions

Interactive sessions with opportunities for facilitated discussion and Q&A, as well as sessions with a case-based approach, are preferred. Preference will be given to sessions that include proven and well-regarded speakers and sessions that focus on outcomes and learning rather than a narrative approach. Sessions should include national content and multiple perspectives on issues. A balanced view of issues and a diversity of perspectives, spanning across senior industry professions is critical. Joint submissions that span the interests of multiple program tracks are also encouraged.

Program Track Descriptions

The FINANCE and INSURANCE track will feature sessions that appeal both to professionals working in the finance/insurance industries and to all professionals seeking a broader understanding of these topics in order to understand what impact they can have on senior clients. 

The HEALTHCARE and HOME CARE program track features sessions designed to inform participants and explore new issues related to all aspects of healthcare and caregiving. Sessions can be a wide variety of topics in the healthcare/home care industries, and should be applicable to all professionals. Sessions should explore new concepts, address common and emerging issues, or identify best practices.

The LEGAL and PUBLIC POLICY program track features sessions designed to examine and explain new and pending policies that involve senior legislation. Sessions should have national appeal, but can include state specific case studies, examples, regulations, existing law and proposals.

The SOCIAL INTEREST and LIFESTYLE program track features sessions that provide information relevant to emerging technologies, trending issues, marketing, and business issues. Sessions should relate back to senior specific concepts and issues, but can have a wider scope than other tracks.

Society of Certified Senior Advisors 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Solo Aging: Take Steps Now to Create a Network

Those who are childless may lack the social networks that children and grandchildren provide. For elder orphans, experts say it's important to create a circle of support for aging.

Marcy, 66, is a single professional woman who enjoys her active life—seeing friends, playing tennis and traveling. She has been married and divorced but never had children. Recently, her independent parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she has been scrambling to find an assisted living facility, talk to their doctors and convince her parents to move from their apartment. Marcy started thinking about who would take care of her if she were similarly disabled. She is not close with her brother, who lives on the other side of the country, and she barely knows her niece and nephew.

Marcy is part of a growing population known as “solo agers” or “elder orphans”—older adults with no children to care for them as they age. Today, one in five baby boomers has no children, and one-third of adults will enter old age single (widowed, divorced or never married) (from A Place for Mom). The problem is compounded because over the past few decades, parents are having fewer children. So, even those with children may only have one child to depend on, and that adult son or daughter may be unavailable for various reasons.
Setting Down Our Final Wishes
Older adults, especially childless ones, need to have all the legal documents in place for end-of-life issues (see Money article in this issue of Senior Spirit, “Solo Aging: How to Cope with End-of-life Issues”). It’s also a good idea to write down other wishes that go beyond legal and financial matters.

Some living wills encompass more than just do-not-resuscitate requests by spelling out your thoughts about dying, which can be helpful to your doctors and friends when deciding what kind of care you want. One of the more well known is Five Wishes, which goes beyond medical issues to deal with personal, emotional and spiritual concerns. The downloadable form includes questions about how comfortable you want to be, how you want people around you to treat you and what you want your loved ones to know when you’re facing the end of your life.

Five Wishes was written by Jim Towey, who worked with Mother Teresa. His organization, Aging with Dignity, is a national nonprofit that promotes better care for those near the end of life. Today, Five Wishes, which was introduced in 1998, meets the legal requirements in 42 states, and millions have used the form to specify their desires.
Family members provide 70 to 80 percent of long-term caregiving, according to a survey by the American College of Financial Services. Without a family, solo agers must create their own ways of coping with old age, especially because 70 percent of those over 65 need long-term service, which includes everything from transportation to more serious care.

As we age, many come to depend on their children for help. It can be in small ways—replacing a light bulb in a ceiling fixture too difficult for aging bodies to reach, running errands or reminding parents of appointments. But there’s also a larger social context. Seniors with children often have bigger social networks than those who are childless, interacting not just with their adult children but with their spouses and kids. Grandparents can enjoy the web of activities that their families are involved in: birthdays, graduations, school plays and sporting events.

Those who are childless may lack these social networks that can provide assistance as well as social engagement. Although childless couples can rely on each other, eventually old age will win out, and one or both couples will need help. A social network is a vital piece of the aging puzzle. Research links physical and emotional well-being to a strong support system, whether that’s family, friends or another community. Isolation, on the other hand, can lead to depression and poor health. For elder orphans, experts say it’s important to create a circle of support for aging.

Create a Support System

If you had an emergency, who could you call for help? Start talking to friends about this and see if you can share resources.

Examine what kind of social networks you have: friends, neighbors, religious congregations, book groups, former coworkers, cousins, members of your gym, gardening clubs, etc. It’s important to think about who you would trust and then strengthen those ties. Because many older adults are in the same (childless) boat as you are, it’s a good idea to start conversations now about helping each other when the time comes. If you don’t have a good social network, you can start by reaching out to others.

One community that may be ahead of others in planning for single old age is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Because many LGBTs don’t have children and may have been estranged from their biological families, they have created their own families and communities.

Move to a Community

Many older adults, including those who are single, choose to live in a retirement residence surrounded by others seeking a community of similarly aged individuals. You get to know your fellow residents through shared meals, activities such as trips to the theater or museum, or classes such as yoga or painting. Help can be in the form of a knock on a neighbor’s apartment door (“where are the mailboxes?”) or services offered by the retirement home—such as cleaning or small repairs, or more serious issues, including checking on someone with memory issues. Although retirement communities can be expensive, many cater to lower-income seniors, such as SHAG in Seattle.

Another option for those who want more independence or a home of their own is cohousing (see "Cohousing Provides Community and Independence", Senior Spirit, March 2014). Cohousing consists of a community of people who want to live adjacent to each other and participate in activities together while also having their own place to call home. Members share communal property but own their houses or condos. Cohousing, averaging 20 to 40 units per community, comes in many forms. In multigenerational cohousing, families and residents of all ages, including seniors, inhabit the same communal space. A more recent development is cohousing solely for older adults. However, many cohousing projects are intended for independent adults and are just starting to have a conversation about what happens when one of its members needs more help than just a ride to the grocery store. Other forms of senior communities can be more informal, such as friends buying condos or homes next to each other—close enough to help each other out but still maintaining some independence. Many older adults are setting up their own communities by sharing a house together.


“Preparing for Long-Term Care Without Children,” May 29, 2014, A Place for Mom

“Who Will Provide Care for Childless Boomers?,” July 23, 2015, Next Avenue

“How to Retire Single Without Being Isolated,” Next Avenue

“Solo Aging: The Next Frontier,” May 21, 2015, Society for Certified Senior Advisors

“Aging, alone,” October 10, 2012, Chicago Tribune

Solo Aging: Take Steps Now to Create a Network was featured in the October 2015 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Solo Aging: How to Cope with End-of-Life Issues

Older adults who have no children need to set up protective legal documents for financial or health issues, plus find a trustworthy person or institution to carry out their wishes when the time comes.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office predicts that by 2020 the number of older Americans living alone with no living children or siblings will be 1.2 million. That figure for “solo agers,” or “elder orphans,” is almost double the reported figure in 1990. Because family members provide 70 to 80 percent of eldercare, those without family must cope with aging issues on their own.

Many older adults rely on their children for end-of-life issues and give them power of attorney for financial matters or health concerns. For those lacking family resources, it’s even more imperative to establish end-of-life documents such as powers of attorney, wills, living wills and advanced directives. For those who don’t leave wills, the courts will decide what to do with your assets in accordance with state laws. Because courts tend to favor blood relatives, no matter how weak the link, your life’s savings could end up with a third cousin in Brazil. 

Important Legal Methods

The most comprehensive approach to organizing end-of-life matters is an estate plan, which encompasses your assets as well as your healthcare wishes. By creating a plan, you eliminate the uncertainties of going to court and you reduce taxes and other expenses. An estate plan includes legal, financial and medical powers of attorney, a will, trusts and beneficiary designations. In the event of future incapacity, such as dementia, an estate plan outlines your wishes about health, asset disposition and medical care. An effective estate plan also provides options for determining incapacity.

To create this often complicated legal document, it is best to hire a board-certified estate planning lawyer. If you can’t afford a lawyer, local senior service or legal aid organizations often offer services at a reduced cost or at no charge. Estate plan advice is also available on the Internet, and online estate planning programs can help you organize information and help you create your plan.

Your Certified Senior Advisor is familiar with aging issues and can advise you. The Society for Certified Senior Advisors also offers an Information for Life Kit.

An estate plan can include:

Durable powers of attorney. You give these powers to someone you trust to make decisions for you, concerning both medical and financial issues. “Durable” refers to the fact that these powers endure if you become incapacitated. (Nondurable powers of attorney become legally invalid when the person is unable to make decisions or care for himself.)

Living will. This legal document indicates the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you want or don’t want, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, feeding tube and mechanical breathing (respiration and ventilation). Your power of attorney is usually the one to make sure your wishes are carried out.

Will. This sets down your wishes for distributing your non-titled assets (such as a house) after you die. Those include cash in a checking or savings account and personal possessions such as watches, jewelry and household furnishings. You name a person or company as your personal representative or executor to oversee the distribution of your assets according to the will’s instructions. The requirements for a will differ from state to state. If you move to another state, make sure your will is still valid.

Trusts. With a trust, an individual (grantor) creates a legal structure to transfer personal assets to the trust and appoints a trustee to hold and manage those assets on behalf of a beneficiary. Trusts supersede the instructions in a will, and trust assets are excluded from probate. The use of trusts can help reduce the costs and length of time to settle a person’s probate estate.

One popular form of trust is the revocable living trusts, because individuals can establish them to manage their assets during their lives and revoke or change them as their interests and needs change. They are also an excellent tool for elder orphans, because they comprehensively list what happens if the grantor is incapacitated, and the trustee takes over the management of the assets. Revocable living trusts can also be useful in asset distribution after death.

Beneficiary designations. You can name a beneficiary for financial assets such as a stock market fund or insurance policy or designate your favorite charity as the recipient of some of your wealth. Beneficiary designations take legal precedence over a will or trust. It’s a good idea to regularly review your named beneficiaries and make any necessary updates.

Another tool especially helpful for solo agers is long-term-care insurance, which covers expenses of longer-term treatment such as home healthcare, adult day care, assisted living and nursing-home care. Premiums for this kind of insurance are often thought to be expensive, but a properly designed plan can often fit into most budgets and could save you money in the long run. For those who can’t depend on children to take care of them, long-term-care insurance can offer peace of mind.

Who Can You Trust?

As a solo ager, who can you trust to carry out your wishes if you become incapacitated or die? You may first think of friends, neighbors or a fellow church member. But friends are often close to your own age and may not survive you or be in any shape to take over your affairs. Neighbors and church members can move or prove untrustworthy.

To find an impartial executor or stable institution, many turn to law firms or trust companies. Although these options can be expensive, many seniors are willing to pay the costs because they don’t have family connections or may prefer not to rely on their family members.

In many states, professionals such as geriatric care managers, adult protection workers and patient navigators can legally serve in this role and receive payment for their services.

Fiduciary Service

Another solution is a personal fiduciary service through a person or firm such as a bank, trust company or registered investment adviser (RIA). The fiduciary legally serves as a trustee, executor, personal administrator or discretionary agent responsible for managing your assets. Personal fiduciaries must follow performance standards defined generally by common law, statutes, rules and regulations, or specifically by contracts, trust agreements or wills (”Personal fiduciary services,” Wikipedia).

When a state or federally chartered bank provides personal fiduciary services, they are regulated by state and federal agencies, including the FDIC, the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. When an RIA offers these services, they are subject to a standard of care set out in the U.S. Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and related rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Private fiduciary services, such as Senior Planning Services in California, assist “vulnerable seniors” with daily care, housing and medical needs and financial management services ranging from basic bill paying to estate and investment management. State statutes govern private fiduciaries. What you pay will depend on the fiduciary service and the level of duties. Costs could involve fixed fees and/or asset-based fees as a percentage of total assets.

Another outlet for providing both financial and health assistance is chronic care advocacy, which encompasses every aspect of chronic care. A few law firms around the country offer these services.

Solo Aging: How to Cope with End-of-Life Issues was featured in the October 2015 Senior Spirit Newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors