At a recent workshop for adult children caring for their aging parents, an audience member raised his hand: While the information was helpful for caring for his parents, he wondered what would happen to older adults like him, who don’t have children?
His is a common concern among older adults without children. And yet, this group is often overlooked. Caring for an older adult is traditionally seen as the responsibility of adult children, especially adult daughters: Even if you were concerned about an older friend or neighbor, the first person you’d likely think to call would be an adult child. But what happens when there is no adult child?
Estimates suggest that 20 to 25 percent of people over 65 do not have children (with the number even higher in the LGBT community) and that 8,000-10,000 baby boomers in the U.S. will turn 65 each day for the next 18 years. As the aging population increases, what will happen to those older adults without children (sometimes known as Child-Free Adults, or CFAs). Who will care for them?
As we contemplate end-of-life issues, most of us have three primary concerns: Who will make health care decisions for me if I am unable to do so? Who will manage my estate and finances if I can’t? What will happen to my possessions when I die?
The best way to ensure that those concerns are addressed is to make an estate plan that includes the following: a will; an advance health-care directive, which describes what type of medical decisions you want made for you and who is empowered to make them; and a durable ï¬nancial power of attorney, which names someone who can manage your finances. The website of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (www.naela.org) is a good place to find legal information, as well as tips on how to choose and find an elder care attorney to help you get your plans in order.
If you don’t have obvious heirs, making sure you thoughtfully prepare your estate plan becomes particularly important. If you don’t have a spouse or a registered domestic partner and you want to prevent your possessions from going to your closest living relative (say, Great-Aunt Sadie’s third cousin you met once at your nephew’s bar mitzvah in 1977), then you absolutely must prepare a will. In some ways, figuring out the recipients of your possessions is an opportunity to consider the kind of legacy you want to leave behind. You (or anyone, for that matter) can leave your assets to your favorite charities, to friends, or even to ensure your pets’ care. (The San Francisco SPCA can help you do the latter; see www.sfspca.org/
The next big estate-planning challenge is whom to name as the executor, trustee or agent. If there is no obvious person — a trusted younger relative or younger friend — one option that many CFAs turn to is hiring a fiduciary.
A fiduciary is trained and licensed to manage property and finances for clients. Fiduciaries can administer wills, durable financial powers of attorney, and advance health-care directives. In the same way that a family member would carry out your health care and financial wishes, a fiduciary is empowered to act on your behalf — following your previously stated instructions — in the event that you cannot make your own decisions. You can even list a friend or relative as the primary executor of your estate and a fiduciary as the secondary or alternate. A professional fiduciary can be found through the Professional Fiduciary Association of California website (www.pfac-pro.org) or by asking an elder care attorney or geriatric care manager for a recommendation.
But estate planning is only one part of your preparations for growing older. Baby boomers are taking steps to make sure they age in ways that their wishes are honored and they can continue to enjoy a high quality of life. For example, a Boston elder care lawyer developed a “care community document,” specifically geared to CFAs, that identifies which people will help make decisions for someone if they are no longer able. This isn’t a legal document, but it is a more formal way to provide a well-rounded overview of who will do what to support you as you age. The document designates four to five trusted friends, colleagues or professionals who each might have responsibility for a particular aspect of your care. One person might assume responsibility for your household; someone else for your home care services if you wish to age at home; another for coordinating with your doctors. The group can meet with you on a regular basis to check in and make changes as needed. This type of document doesn’t address all issues, but it represents one step toward making sure the needs and wishes of older adults are met as they age and offers a sense of security for the future. (A copy of the care community document is available by contacting me at JFCS/East Bay.)
Another possibility for CFAs is joining with other aging adults to support each other in a variety of ways, usually with an eye toward ensuring that any needed aging services are easily accessible. This may mean looking into co-housing options (for example, the Elder Co-Housing Network at www.abrahampaiss.com/eldercohousing and the Golden Girls Network at www.goldengirlsnetwork.org) or joining one of the neighborhood village support communities that are starting to become common throughout the country (www.vtvnetwork.org). All of these represent good options for those seeking formal ways to make sure they have assistance as they age. These networks can also provide a sense of community and companionship, helping to provide support in a way that adult children have traditionally done.
All of us want to live engaged and dignified lives in safe environments. For those without children, the challenge will be to make sure that their unique needs are addressed and considered as new aging services are developed.
Rob Tufel, MSW, MPH, is director of Adult Services at Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay. His columns appear regularly in j.’s Seniors supplements. Do you have ideas, concerns or plans for aging without children? Have questions about your aging parents? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 558-7800 ext. 352.