Does an Elder Orphan Need an Estate Plan?

Estate planning for the future is even more important for elder orphans 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.

Unless you are comfortable with a court-appointed person making health care and other decisions for you, call an estate planning attorney and start making plans for the future.

Reference: The Virginia Gazette (April 1, 2022) “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan”

How Can Long-Distance Caregivers Help Loved Ones?

A recent article noted that long-distance caregivers have the same concerns and pressures as local caregivers, perhaps even more. They spend about twice as much on caregiving as people caring for a loved one nearby, because they’re more likely to need to hire help, take uncompensated time off work and pay for travel. A huge challenge for this group is just staying informed and assured that the person needing care is in good hands. As a result, long-distance caregivers must have good communication and a solid team on the ground.

AARP’s recent article entitled “Long-Distance Caregiving: 5 Key Steps to Providing Care From Afar” provides us with five steps to staying informed and effective as a long-distance caregiver and thoughts for implementing the measures.

  1. Be sure you have access to information. Having a means of receiving good information and possessing legal authority to make financial and health-care decisions is critical for all primary caregivers, but it’s even greater for ones caring from a distance. Arrange as much as you can during an in-person visit.
  • Start the discussion on finances and map out with your loved one how to pay for health care and everyday expenses.
  • Ask whether your parent or other senior is able to sign the forms or make the calls necessary to give doctors, hospitals and insurers permission to share information with you or another trusted family member. This should include banks and utilities.
  • Be sure the senior has designated a durable power of attorney for health care and financial decisions.
  • Know what to do in an emergency, as far as access to the home by a neighbor, if needed.
  1. Create your on-the-ground support team. Don’t try to do it all, especially if your loved one has more serious or complicated health issues. In addition to healthcare professionals, ask friends, family and community groups to join a network of caregiving helpmates. Remember to add your loved one as part of the team.
  • Assign roles and tasks, that the members of the team are willing and able to do.
  • Create a list with contact info for everyone and keep it up to date.
  1. Consider hiring a reputable caregiving professional. They’re often called a geriatric care manager, aging life care manager, or eldercare navigator or coordinator. These professionals are frequently licensed nurses or social workers who can also be valuable mediators or sounding boards, when family members disagree on care decisions.
  • Verify the person’s professional certifications, see how long the person has been in the field and request references.
  • Care managers can charge $50 to $200 an hour. Medicare doesn’t cover this service, nor do most health insurance plans. However, if you can handle it financially, an experienced manager may be able to save your family time, money and stress with even a short call.
  1. Find ways to communicate regularly with your local support group and loved one. You should leverage technology. With permission, place video monitors, wearable activity trackers, remote door locks to prevent wandering (if the care recipient has dementia) and even electronic pill dispensers that can tell you if someone has taken the prescribed medications.
  2. Leverage your visits. Nothing’s better than an in-person visit. When you can manage one, come with a list of things you need to know or discuss.
  • Interview possible home aides or house cleaners or meet with social workers or other professionals involved in your loved one’s care to discuss any concerns.
  • Look for signs of abuse, which means monitoring your senior’s checking account and see if there are any irregularities and look for red flags of physical or emotional mistreatment, like bruises, unexplained injuries, or a sudden change in personality. Note if your family member talks about a person you’ve never met who visits often and has been “very helpful.”

Although you may have several practical tasks to tick off your list, it’s important to spend quality time with your loved one. And seek the advice of a qualified elder law attorney, if you have any questions.

Reference: AARP (Oct. 30, 2019) “Long-Distance Caregiving: 5 Key Steps to Providing Care From Afar”