Widowed. Never married. Single. No children.
If you fall into any of these categories, do you often wonder what would happen when you are no longer able to take care of yourself, be it due to frailty, mental incapacity, physical limitations, or for any other reason?
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that in the U.S., 27% of adults 60 and older live alone. Pew Research Center. (March 2020). Older people are more likely to live alone in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/10/older-people-are-more-likely-to-live-alone-in-the-u-s-than-elsewhere-in-the-world/.
The same study found that almost half of Americans ages 60 and older share a home with only one spouse or partner. With more seniors aging and living alone, recent studies are seeing an increased risk of social isolation and loneliness in older adults. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25663. Furthermore, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, older adults who are socially isolated have a higher chance of experiencing elder abuse. Against this backdrop, do you have a plan for aging in place?
One of the biggest components of aging well in place in having a written estate plan. As discussed in previous articles, your estate planning portfolio should minimally include a health care proxy, power of attorney, DNI/DNR form, will, and living will. Other considerations to take into account when planning for the future include making decisions about the management of activities of daily living such as paying bills, cooking, shopping, taking medication, and cleaning; assessing whether to begin Medicaid planning to help cover long-term care costs; making and attending doctor’s appointments; coping with isolation and minimizing the risk of elder abuse; transportation, among other matters.
In devising your plan, you may want to leave someone you trust with a spare set of house keys; consider your options for in-home care and arrange for homecare services; investigate alternative housing options for when you are no longer able to live alone; establish safety precautions against wandering, falling, and driving; set up direct deposit into your bank account and automated payments for certain bills; set up food delivery services; research your eligibility for public benefits that could assist with housing expenses, transportation, etc. You should actively seek to build a strong support system consisting of trusted family members, medical professionals, friends in the community and neighbors. Keep the lines of communication open, stay connected, and share information about your condition.
To reiterate, create a plan, put it in writing, communicate it with your support system, and revise it as necessary. It will not only empower you to take control of your future, but will ensure you maintain your independence for as long as possible. Going through these steps now will be much easier than doing it later when you may no longer have the capacity or wherewithal. I leave you with this quotation from John Donne’s Devotions (1624): “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”
Isolationism often leaves older adults vulnerable, while establishing a plan, staying connected, and having a strong support system will ensure participation in your own end of life decisions, instead of leaving it up to other family members, the court, or predators.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lola Waterman, Esq. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Readers of this article should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. The views expressed in this article are those of the individual author writing in her individual capacity only.