Many elders rely on their children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews to care for them, but for those without family - or whose families predecease them - that is not an option. This set of seniors is a growing population. Often these folks are called "Elder orphans" or "solo-agers" on the internet and in the media. Whatever the moniker, this stage of life presents the same challenges - and some unique ones - for those facing their golden years on their own. Thankfully there are some splendid estate planning techniques and terrific technological ideas out there to help.
WHAT'S THE PLAN?
Estate planning is crucial for everyone, but all the more critical for those without a built-in familial support system. According to a study by the AARP Public Policy Institute, "The percentage of women who remain childless is projected to increase from 16.0 percent, among those aged 80-84 in 2030, to 18.8 percent of those of the same age in 2050, and the average number of children will decrease slightly, from 2.0 to 1.9". That means fewer caregivers per elderly person.
That doesn't mean later life has to be all doom and gloom; but it does underscore the importance of planning while you are still healthy and competent. Starting with a good estate plan drafted by an experienced professional is always the best bet. Deciding who will be your Healthcare Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney, and Trustee isn't always as clear when you don't have children. (See Attorney Dowling's blog on choosing a healthcare proxy for more). If you are lucky to have a trusted niece or nephew - great - but what about those of us who do not? Some seniors may choose a friend - others ask their attorneys to fill that role. Whomever is designated to hold that responsibility must not be simply competent, but also comfortable taking it on.
Having few or no familial relations as we age necessitates building non-blood-related family or community bonds. For many, that might include faith-based organizations or community senior centers. Often, the relationships forged in places centered around things that stir your soul, are not only deep-satisfying, but intergenerational. You might just end up meeting folks that strengthen your support community!
Many single seniors choose to get started planning their later-life lifestyle extra early - and that's a great idea. Choosing your community and your living space before you need alterations is key. Many people choose single story living or homes with first floor bedrooms well before they have any trouble navigating the stairs. Others pay close attention to their community's "walkability score", since people often need to forgo driving in later life. Having a market, house of worship, medical facility, pharmacy and other essentials in close proximity to the home can also help solo-seniors feel less isolated.
THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT
Technology should not be overlooked when setting up this plan. There are numerous apps specifically designed to help seniors stay connected and safe. Even those who are not terribly comfortable with technology can benefit. And if you don't feel confident setting them up on your own, some apps designed for seniors have live support to help with installation - otherwise -maybe a neighbor or someone at one of the aforementioned activities can help.
For those who take multiple medications or need to take medicine several times a day - there's an app for that - several in fact. A forbes.com article entitled, "8 Great Apps for Our Elders" recommends Pilboxie(Pillboxie.com). This $0.99 app for iPhone and iPad users sounds alerts when medications are to be taken, and can even work without a wireless internet connection. Another such app for both iPhone and Android is MediSafe (MediSafe.com). This app was rated number one for 2018 by the Heart Association of Australia, and has both free and premium versions. MediSafe not only reminds you when to take your medication, but can tell if one of your medications has interactions with others, track when you are due for a refill, and report when you miss a dose.
The EyeOn (eyeonapp.com) app helps seniors set up automated check-ins, and if needed, calls for help. Users select the contacts they want notified if there is a potential problem (neighbors, friends, caregivers) and then set a schedule of "check-ins". The app will sound an alarm on the user's cellphone or tablet at the selected check-in time, asking "are you ok?". If the user selects yes, nothing happens until the next scheduled check in; but if they do not reply, their selected contacts are notified and provided with the last known gps location of the user's phone or tablet and its battery level. Check-ins can be scheduled however often the user likes, and they can work out in advance what they would like their contacts to do if they do not reply to check-ins, eg: call the user, send emergency personnel, etc.
Technology can also help with mobility, for those living in areas where pubic transport is not pervasive or accessible, the Lyft and Uber apps can be good options. Both are free to set up and are "pay as you go" services. They're also uncomplicated to use. Users simply request a car to their location and enter their destination. When a driver is assigned to them the user gets a notification with the make, model, and license plate number of the driver's car, along with a photo of the driver. All of that is recorded by the company, so there is always a record of who is supposed to pick you up and where they are to take you. It's generally cheaper than traditional taxi fare. Our past blog, Aging in Place: Tips to Remain Independent at Home, details further helpful resources and things for consideration.
Though solo-seniors do have some unique considerations, Estate Planning is universally important to each of our lives. Solutions Law Group LLC hosts frequent Estate Planning Seminars that are free and open to the public. To learn more or register for our next event, visit us at www.solutionslawgroup.com/seminars.