Generally speaking, if you have kids, you have someone to watch over you beyond your golden years. Not everyone has children, though, and if you don’t, it’s up to you to prepare for your own senior care. And it’s important to plan now.
It’s not like having a child automatically guarantees you’ll be taken care of in your old age, but it’s common for adult children to take care of elderly parents. If you don’t have children, you have to be more prepared to figure it out on your own, and here are the basics of what you should have in place.
Find Someone You Trust to Oversee Your Health
More than money, you’re probably concerned with health care as you age. Who will make sure you’re taken care of? Who will make medical decisions for you when you can’t make them on your own?
Health care directives make sure you have clear answers to those questions, and they’re important to set up now, even if you’re young and healthy. They consist of two basic things: a living will and a health care proxy.
A living will establishes what kind of medical care you want to receive under certain conditions. It includes requests to withdraw life-support and any other care that’s only serving to prolong the process of your dying. FindLaw has an example of a living will that gives an idea of what it includes.
Living will guidelines vary by state, but there are online tools that can walk you through the process. For example, LegalZoom breaks it down into three simple steps here.
Your living will also includes a health care proxy, or a medical power of attorney. This is someone who will make decisions about your medical care that aren’t covered in your living will. They also have to keep tabs on your mental and physical health, and they’re the ones who decide when it’s time for you to change living arrangements and move into an eldercare home.
If you don’t have kids, you might consider a spouse or a partner, but things don’t always work out so neatly. You may be divorced in your senior years, or you may outlive your spouse. So it’s important to designate a backup just in case, and you want to update your directives accordingly.
When you don’t have children, it can be tough to find someone to fill that role. Ideally, you have a trusted friend or relative you can enlist, but if you don’t, there are options. For example, if you set up a trust with an institution for your finances, you could write it so that they monitor your physical and mental health, too. It sounds kind of iffy, but Kiplinger explains how the process works:
The document, for instance, could advise the trust company to hire a geriatric care manager to conduct periodic evaluations in the future, and to send a copy of the assessment to the person you choose as your health care agent.
A big plus for going the bank route: “The chances of elder abuse are reduced if you name an institutional trustee,” Shenkman says. “The vast majority of elder abuse is committed by family members.”
Or you might appoint an attorney to act as your health care proxy. U.S. News suggests:
If no one comes to mind, hire an attorney who specializes in elder care law by asking around for recommendations or searching online for highly rated professionals. Unlike your friends, they have a license to defend and are well-versed in elder care issues. Most of the time, Rahl’s found, “they’re trustworthy and will do a good job for you.”
Again, when you go through an institution or a lawyer, you want to make sure you find a reputable one. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys has their own database of lawyers who specialize in elder law and special needs law.
Figure Out Who Will Handle Your Finances
A power of attorney is a crucial part of estate planning. Most people think estate planning is reserved for the elderly, but as we’ve told you before, it’s never too soon to get started. A power of attorney is the person who will manage your finances, including any legal issues, bills, or taxes, once you’re unable to deal with these on your own. Obviously, this should be someone you trust. If you don’t have kids, you might appoint another close family member or friend—perhaps a spouse, niece, nephew, cousin, or sibling.