Estate planning for the future is even more important for elder orphans (also called solo agers) than for those with a spouse or family members, according to this recent article “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan” from The Virginia Gazette. There is no one single solution, but there are steps to take to protect your estate, health and provide for long-term care.
Start with the essential estate planning documents. These documents will protect you and ensure that your wishes are followed, if you become seriously ill or when you die. These documents include:
A durable Power of Attorney to designate someone to handle financial matters in the event of incapacity.
An Advanced Health Care Directive, including a Living Will, to tell your health care provider what kind of care you want if you become incapacitated.
A Health Care Power of Attorney, naming a person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.
A Will to direct how you want your property and assets to be distributed upon your death and to name an Executor who will be in charge of your estate.
Your best option to prepare these documents is an experienced estate planning attorney. Trying to do it yourself is risky. Each state has its own laws for these documents to be valid. If the documents are not accepted, the court could declare your will invalid and your directions will not be followed.
People with families typically name a responsible adult child as their power of attorney for finances, as executor or for health care decisions. If you do not have adult children, you may ask a trusted friend or colleague. Name a person who is younger than you, organized and responsible and who will likely be available and willing to service.
If the person you name as executor lives in another state, you will need to check with your estate planning attorney to see if there are any special requirements.
If you do not have a friend or even a distant relative you feel comfortable assigning this role to, your estate planning attorney may be able to suggest alternatives, such as an aging life care manager. These professionals are trained in geriatric care and often have backgrounds in social work or nursing.
If you are reluctant to complete the legal documents mentioned above or start having them prepared and then fail to complete them, you may face some unpleasant consequences. A judge may appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. This guardian is likely to be a complete stranger to you. They will be legally empowered to make all decisions for you regarding your health care, end-of-life care and even your burial and funeral services.
Reference: The Virginia Gazette (April 1, 2022) “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan”