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    Elder Orphans

    Everyone needs some kind of an estate plan whether they are 25 or 95. However, there are certain situations where having a properly crafted plan takes on special importance.   A recent New York Times article titled "Single? No Kids? Don't Fret: How to Plan Care in Your Later Years" highlighted the problem facing a relatively new and quickly growing demographic.  
          According to a recent study led by Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at Northwell Health system on Long Island, 22% of people 65 and older either are childless or have children who are not in contact. These single childless elders, so-called "elder orphans," face many additional risks of aging alone. In fact, it is noted they are at a higher risk for medical problems, cognitive decline, premature death and elder abuse. Given these additional risks, it is important these elders take additional planning precautions to ensure they remain independent and safe as they age.

        Elder orphans can reduce these risks by creating their own support structures. For example life care managers, care managers are typically social workers who provide a wide range of services to assist elders as they age. The care manager visits the elder periodically - be it to bring them to medical appointments, to help them pay bills or even help them choosing where to live. Beyond coordinating care and assisting them with other tasks, the care managers provide the necessary support to enable clients to age independently.

        Clients can implement a document called a Caring Committee. Caring Committees create a team generally comprised of a professional care manager, your health care agent, attorney-in-fact, friends, family and financial or legal advisors to ensure your care needs continue to be met as you age. Committee members work with clients to understand their wishes and then work together to ensure these wishes are being followed. This can be especially important for elder orphans. Generally, the committee would meet once a year. If the client becomes incapable of fully directing their own care, the committee would meet more frequently, with the client participating as much as possible. The group develops a plan; the care manager follows up regularly to ensure that it's being followed. The committee creates a team of support for those elder orphans who may not have their own network. The committee is especially important for people without close family. The committee provides the structured support to avoid the burden of one person serving alone as health care proxy or durable power of attorney.
         Although many clients include a trust in their estate plan, elder orphans often include language in their trust directing their attorney to use funds to ensure optimal care and maintain independence even if this is the most expense care option. A client who is at risk of cognitive decline could also limit their ability to access the trust funds directly as a strategy to protect themselves from elder abuse.
         The New York Times article outlines a multi-pronged plan that includes other suggestions such as senior-friendly housing, home-delivered products and phone "Apps" that could be useful for elder orphans. One application, EyeOn App, signals the elders' chosen contacts if they do not reply within a half-hour to scheduled cellphone alerts. Similarly, EverSafe, is a financial security program, which monitors accounts for unusual spending and alerts the client or a trusted advocate of possible fraud. These tools allow the elder orphans to maintain independence, while simultaneously providing additional protections.
         Through appropriate estate planning documents, the assembly of a team of elder law attorneys and care managers as well as by advancing technology, we can help to ensure these aging elders' wishes are met and they are protected should they become incapacitated and unable to care for themselves.

        For the full New York Times article, "Single? No Kids? Don't Fret: How to Plan Care in Your Later Years," click here.

        If you have questions on how this topic may relate to you, please feel free to reach out to us at 781 864-9977.


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