Longevity Planning for Childless Adults

Fall at Monet Garden, DBG

Fall at Monet Garden, DBG

Okay, I’ve written about several different scenarios in the estate and disability planning context, along with identifying some of the difficult conversations and decisions people need to make while they have the luxury of time to carefully consider things, not in the midst of crisis or catastrophe.  Many older adults, individuals as well as couples, do not have children.  Without children, there is no automatic safety net (whether you consider that accurate or not, that is the subject of another blog post!) for persons doing disability or longevity planning and no “natural bounty” for their estate planning.  Some of my clients have been childless adults who have provided care for an aging parent.  Some of them have asked themselves – who will provide this care for me?

I am going to focus on the longevity and disability planning angle here.  This topic came to me via Professor Rebecca Morgan’s post in the Elder Law Prof Blog entitled “Who Are the Caregivers for Elders Without Children?”  Her short post cites to a NY Times post of Feb. 14, 2014 entitled “The Childless Plan for Their Fading Days.”  This topic was discussed by my study group (a small group of women estate and elder law attorneys) in the context of new Colorado legislation that is focused on a subgroup within that childless segment of elders, the elders who are in frail health and have lost the capacity for decision-making and who do not have family members or others.  These are folks who have no named proxy or surrogate decision makers (like an agent under a health care power of attorney) and are “friendless.”   This is a challenge for persons receiving care in institutions as well as those residing in their own homes.  Unlike many other states, Colorado does not currently have an Office of the Public Guardian, but one is being examined through a Public Guardian Advisory Committee.  You can read a good 2005 study entitled “Wards of the State: A National Study of Public Guardianship” here.

If you are an elder without children, there are many questions that must be asked and answered in order to put together a “safety net.”  One of the questions posed in the NY Times article above is “what are those childless people doing with all that extra money?”  Those of us with children are familiar with the economics of child-rearing!  Of course many parents hope to leave an inheritance of some kind to their offspring.  Interesting though that so many baby boomers with kids, who as a class are the recipients of the largest transfer of inherited wealth, don’t plan on leaving their kids a dime – they plan on spending it before they die.

This intersection of financial planning and disability planning known as longevity planning is a tightrope walk because none of us can see into the future to determine how much money we will need, for what kind of living expenses (or global travel) – let alone how long we will live….  A growing number of Americans are opting out of the view that doctors should do everything possible to keep a patient alive. You can read the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report on this topic here.

But here’s a good place for a single person with no kids to get started:

  • Identify who will be the agent under a health care power of attorney.  This person will be the one who can give informed consent for medical care in the event the person, known as the principal for POA purposes, and should be well-informed of the principal’s health care values, end-of-life wishes and so on.
  • The health care agent would be well-informed to know of the principal’s desires about “aging in place” or staying at home and receiving care if such is needed.  In the relatively rare event that the health care POA does not work for its intended purpose (to avoid the need for initiating guardianship proceedings), the agent is typically nominated as guardian.
  • Bottom line here is to make it easy for people to be able to help – and the most important step is identifying those people and providing them with the information they need in the event they need to act as agent.
  • Financial matters can be a bit more challenging of several different levels, but there may be more options available to people now that there are more persons employed as professional fiduciaries who take care of a person’s bills, manage their investment portfolios and lots of activities in-between.

Childless persons can be creative about who they tap for these types of jobs.  Friends who are age-mates might be problematic, but most people have nieces, nephews, friends, neighbors and other community members who would be willing to serve in these roles.  It is best when a person initiates this conversation on their own, when such services are not needed, as if there is an emergency and someone “swoops in” to assist in a pinch – this may not always be for the right reasons or for reasons which serve the principal’s needs and interests.  Best to follow that Boy Scout motto and be prepared!

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, thank you, that would suffice.”

― Meister Eckhart

 ©Barbara Cashman  2014   www.DenverElderLaw.org


2 comments to “Longevity Planning for Childless Adults”
  1. I am single with no children and recently divorced. I am 57 with a hearing loss disability. My sister is 3 years younger and in good health and lives 3 hours away, She offers little moral support. Suggestions for getting support?

  2. Getting a divorce is a major life transition and afterward it can be challenging to identify and name your key people to make decisions in the event of your incapacity (life planning) as well as the estate planning end. Perhaps a conversation about this with your sister about this would be a good idea so you know whether she would be willing and able to assist you if needed. It is a place to start what is probably a process, as we often make adjustments in our plans as our lives change.

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