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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Solo Seniors: Issues Affecting Elder Orphans

What legal documents do you need to have in place and how can you form a community around you if you’re single with no children nearby to help as you age? We’ve got answers for solo agers.   

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 27% of Americans 65 and older live alone. Many of these seniors have no children, are estranged, or have children who live far away. They are essentially on their own to figure out how to navigate life changes as they age. They’ve been dubbed “elder orphans” or “solo agers”. 

Forming Community

With no close relatives, community is often the key to support. Community can be achieved in many ways. You can get to know your neighbors, telling them that you live alone and could they please keep an eye out for you. Social networks can form through book clubs or gardening groups.

Your local senior center is a good place to establish friendships. Senior centers are connected to community services to provide opportunities to stay healthy and independent. Many offer classes, meals, health and transportation services and more to make connecting with others easy. 

Adding A Child or Friend to a Bank Account

Most of us think that an easy way to add a faraway child or friend to a bank account is to make them a joint owner. But there are many pitfalls to that method. For instance, that person would be on the hook to make any distributions desired, and they would count as gifts. That person can also withdraw funds without the original owner’s consent, among other problems.

What’s a better way? Your estate or elder law attorney may already have documents in place to allow for death or incapacity. If not, you can execute a springing or durable power of attorney, transfer ownership to your revocable or living trust, or add a payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designation to the account. For more information, visit Shakespeare Wealth Management.

Your local place of worship can provide opportunities to socialize. So can volunteering in your community. Even your mail carrier can serve as someone to check on your wellbeing via the Carrier Alert program that you can sign up for.

Housing for Single Seniors

Finding a shared housing situation can make all the difference for someone on their own. “Find a way to live with others,” says author Sara Zeff Geber, an expert in solo aging. “The Golden Girls model, that is home sharing, and I think that’s excellent.”

You may want to open up your home to a roommate who will also help defray costs. Or you can consider moving to a 55 and over community, where residents frequently interact. The Villages in Florida is a prime example. Another option is the Village to Village Network that helps seniors age in place with support from each other and community services. 

“Explore creative living arrangements as you age, and make plans early,” says Justin Pritchard, a certified financial planner at Approach Financial in Montrose, Colorado. “That might include looking at traditional facilities and exploring creative ideas with friends and loved ones. But even with communal living, it’s smart to have a backup plan.”

Get Your Affairs in Order

Paying an elder law or estate attorney to get your paperwork in order is a wise choice to avoid problems down the road. Part of the trick to getting it right is ensuring that you’re filling out forms that conform to the laws in your state of residence.

“It’s critical to plan for incapacity as a single person. Without a spouse or partner who might automatically step in and manage your household and financial affairs, you need to get proactive,” says Pritchard. “Draft documents with an estate planning attorney to prepare for the unexpected. In particular, exploring power of attorney (POA), and creating medical directives is smart.”

Every older adult needs to have a springing POA granting someone else the authority to handle their financial and personal affairs in the future when and if they cannot. Otherwise, you could be in the position of having a guardian appointed for you by the court, which is expensive and difficult. 

Consider a revocable trust for asset management and protection. This also avoids probate and ensures that even if you become physically or mentally disabled, someone will be able to serve as successor trustee. Check with your attorney to see if this would be a valuable option for you. 

Designating a healthcare proxy ensures that someone you trust will be able to make decisions regarding your health if you become unable to do so. For instance, do you want to be left on a ventilator when you’re in a coma? Would you prefer palliative care, or do you want EMTs to go to any length to try and save you? These decisions may change with time.

Make out a valid will that is accepted in your state. Many people don’t realize that if you’ve moved, it can be as important to make sure you are not still recognized as a resident of a state you lived in previously as to establish residency in your new state.

Preplan your funeral, and let someone you trust know about specific wishes such as burial or cremation. You can fill out a burial remains form for your state regarding your preferences. This is also a good time to donate your organs for scientific research, although it’s a good idea to notify the organization(s) you would like to benefit.

Professional Advisors

A team of professional advisors can ease your mind that everything will go smoothly no matter what happens. A financial advisor can oversee investments and tax strategy. Your elder law attorney will ensure that documents are in order and ready to execute. You may also want a tax professional to handle returns or an estate attorney to manage extensive or complicated assets.

Being a solo ager becomes much easier if you have someone you can count on to make decisions for you if you’re not able to. For many, this can mean reaching out to make new friends. Solo agers need to have paperwork in order so that they can rest easy, knowing everything will be taken care of no matter what the future brings.