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Creating a Caregiving Plan When You Have No One to Take Care of You

Legal and financial planning advice for 'elder orphans'

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I live and practice law in an area with a large population of older adults. At local events about caregiving and life-care planning, I always stick around after the presentation to chat with the audience. Every time, someone will raise concerns about having no family nearby (or at all) or not feeling they have anyone they can trust in the event they need a caregiver. Others will chime in that they're in the same boat. When I ask what steps they've taken for their planning, they all usually say, “None.”

A growing number of elder orphans

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Today, there are more older adults than ever who have no close family or caregivers on whom they can rely, with many more expected as our society ages. Sometimes called “elder orphans” or “solo seniors,” there is no denying that this is a group of people who are deserving of the spotlight when we talk about caregiving in the future. For these solo seniors, an individual care plan and increased community visibility may make all the difference in long-term quality of life and positive medical outcomes.

If you are a present or future solo senior, you must take the reins now to get control of unexpected medical crises or declining health in advancing years. In addition to searching out “elder orphan” or “independent senior” groups and resources online and in your area, here are steps you can take to get your legal and financial plan in order.

Forward thinking: Planning to live to 100

There's much you can do, and do very effectively, today to make a solo senior care plan. With some honest reflection and commitment to the task, you can make decisions and take actions that will support you in your time of need, whether that comes tomorrow or at age 100.

First, prepare your own Goals and Needs Checklist and take a General Needs Assessment. Imagine that you are your own caregiver; what would you need to be successful in that role? AARP's family caregiving guide contains these tools that will help you identify further steps you need to take to cover yourself in event of a crisis.

Get your documents in order

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Start now to prepare (or update) your essential life care documents. I can't emphasize enough how much an attorney can help with this. It's not just about typing up and signing pieces of paper. It's about setting yourself up to minimize risk and to maximize that your wishes are known if you someday cannot speak for yourself. A qualified attorney in your state of residence can advise about options like advance medical directives, trusts, beneficiary designations and will substitutes, declaration of preneed guardians, and durable powers of attorney. They can explain safeguards that may be appropriate for a solo senior, like naming a trust protector, using an attorney or other corporate services as your fiduciaries, or when and how you may want to plan to become eligible for public benefits that would cover high-cost medical and long-term care. They can point you to resources in your community that are available to independent older adults. And they can become a trusted long-term adviser and counselor as your needs change.

Get resources and tips to help take the stress out of caregiving with AARP’s Care Guides

Plan for sickness ... and health

It's important to make a comprehensive financial plan that takes into account early incapacity as well as if you enjoy a long life.

If you're employed today, find out whether your employer offers retirement benefits, long-term care insurance, or provides long- and short-term disability. Learn about the full selection of benefits offered, and consider the pros and cons.

Hire a certified financial planner who can assist you with planning for unexpected events, retirement, late-life needs, and creating and sticking to a budget that progresses your goals. Aging in place? Moving to continuing care community? Escaping to an exotic tropical locale? You must plot them all out to determine what is possible. An accountant can and should be consulted, too. They can counsel you on how to maximize your assets for retirement and help navigate your finances and investments. Finally, your banker can be a valuable resource for your planning needs and keep an eye out for any unusual activity on your accounts.

Explore the insurance policies that are available to you. Based on your specific circumstances, purchasing long-term care insurance may be the best decision you make for the future. You may even have an existing policy that could be converted for life-care funding. An insurance agent can guide you through the policies that best suit your needs and finances.

Assemble your care team of the future

Without family or close friends willing to lend a hand, you must consider who will be in your circle of trust. I understand the dilemma for those reading this article who truly feel that they are without a helping hand. In this case, the folks we've talked about (employers, attorneys, financial planners, bankers, accountants) can serve as checks and balances for your care plan. Also, clergy persons, care managers, counselors, social workers and your medical providers may be helpful. Choose the members of your care team carefully. Find out their reputation in the community, whether they get referral fees or compensation for sending you to other businesses, and what their background and qualifications are. Consult with a few to get a feel for them and whether you'd be comfortable using their services. Unfortunately, exploitation happens and there are bad apples in every bunch. But I believe the good ones do outnumber the bad.

While this may seem daunting and like a lot of work, you will thank yourself for putting the time in now to consider and create a solo senior care plan. The time and expense you put in today are worthy investments in your future health, wealth and security.

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