As baby boomers head into retirement, many are realizing they will have no family to depend on as they age. Planning is key if you’re an ‘elder orphan’
Almost one-quarter of Americans over 65 are single and childless, or known as “elder orphans,” with no one to care for them if their health declines, according to a study from the University of Michigan. That doesn’t include people who are estranged from their children or live far away from any family members. And half of those who are married now will end up widowed.
For these baby boomers who can’t expect assistance from family, planning for old age is even more important.
“Some of the big questions that they face are the same questions other people face,” says Rodger Alan Friedman, a chartered retirement planning counselor in Bethesda, Maryland, and author of “Fire your Retirement Planner: You!” “The problem is there’s no family to fall back on in case of financial questions or emergencies.”
Older people often need help navigating the health care system, making financial decisions and even with daily living tasks such as cooking and keeping house. And while you may be able to pay people to help with some tasks, at some point you will still need assistance from people you trust.
If you don’t have family who will step up, cultivating strong friendships becomes essential.
“You’re on your own, and you don’t want to be completely on your own,” says Walter Updegrave, an author and journalist who published the website Real Deal Retirement. “You want to really work hard to have a broad social network.”
To build community while you’re still in good health, consider working part time, volunteering and being active in a religious congregation. “It’s important for all retirees to have these social connections,” Updegrave says. “If you don’t have family, it’s even more important for you to do this.”
You also want to ensure all your documents are in order, including a will, a revocable living trust and a designation of health care surrogate. An elder care attorney or your financial advisor may suggest other preparations as well, based on your financial situation.
Have someone you trust
“Even if you do everything you need to, there’s a big gap,” says Mari Adam, a financial advisor in Boca Raton, Florida. “Somebody needs to come up with a workable solution.”
You may need a close friend to make major decisions for you: Is it time to pull the plug on the ventilator? Should your pneumonia be treated? The friend you choose as your health care surrogate will need to know what you prefer. Even if you are lucid, negotiating the medical system to treat a serious illness is difficult on your own.
If you experience cognitive decline, you may need someone to manage your financial life, from paying bills to filing your tax return. That requires having someone you can trust, whether he or she is a relative, friend or paid advisor.
“You’ve got to trust the person, and they’ve got to have good financial judgment,” Adam says.
Having a trusted financial advisor, accountant, elder care attorney and even a geriatric care manager, if you can find one, can be helpful, but it’s unlikely to be enough without family and friends.
“You can pay people to do a lot of things, but they don’t always want to stand in your shoes and make those decisions for you,” Adam says.
The issue is particularly concerning for women, since more women outlive their husbands and more women are single. Women who are mostly confined to their homes due to illness or who live in rural areas can find themselves particularly isolated, says Carol Marak, a speaker, elder care advocate and author in Austin, Texas, who runs a popular Facebook group called Elder Orphans.
Among baby boomers, the idea of communal living, either sharing a home or living in a cohousing community, is a hot topic. The Village to Village Network seeks to create a community that allows elders to stay in place.
Marak, who lives in a suburban area, is planning to move to a city that has public transportation and is closer to her two older sisters. But moving will mean restarting her efforts to build a social network.
Here are nine steps to take if you’re an ‘elder orphan’:
Save money- Family caregivers provided $470 billion worth of care to loved ones in 2013, according to an AARP Public Policy Institute report. If you don’t have family to take you to doctor’s appointments, deliver groceries, cook meals, help you bathe and clean your house, you might need to hire someone to help you.
Get your documents in order- Meet with an elder care attorney to draw up a will, a health care proxy, a living trust and any other documents you will need if you need help managing your financial life. You should revisit those documents annually and make revisions as needed.
Organize your financial life- Consolidate accounts, make a list of passwords, document your assets and automate retirement account distributions and bill paying – and then write down what you’ve automated in case someone else needs to know.
Find a health care surrogate. Most people choose family members, but you can choose anyone. Once you’ve selected someone, discuss with your surrogate what you’d like to have happen in different situations. Write out as much as you can ahead of time.
Build a social network. Many people make family of their friends, and that’s especially important of people without spouses or children. Nurture your relationships, and help your friends with the tasks you may need help with someday.
Plan for your later years. Investigate communal living options or organizations that will help you age in place, such as the Village to Village Network. Decide whether you want to move closer to nieces and nephews or to a different community. The time to do the research and make changes is before you need the help.
Create a team of advisors. Find a good attorney, financial advisor, accountant and other professionals who can help you make money decisions.
Consider long-term care options. The long-term care insurance outlook is murky, with prices rising and benefits decreasing. Still, long-term care insurance might be a good option for some. Others may want to consider life insurance products with a long-term care option.
Stay active. Good health and the ability to get up and down from the floor may determine whether you’re able to care for yourself and age in place.
This article was seen on USNews
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