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A Lonely Problem

By Terry Savage on May 22, 2019

The baby boom generation is getting a new name: The Loneliest Generation. About one in 11 Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, partner or living child, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.

“That amounts to about 8 million people in the U.S. without close kin,” the Journal reported, “and their share of the population is projected to grow.

Many of them have reached out to me, especially women who live longer and are more likely to be alone. Without a close living relative, they face problems for which I have no good solutions. Here are their issues:

Healthcare power of attorney. What happens if you cannot make your own healthcare decisions? You may have trusted friends, but likely as you age, so will they! That makes it possible that they won’t be around or won’t be able to make decisions when you need them most.

When giving a person healthcare power of attorney, it’s important to choose wisely, because — let’s face it — you may create incentives for that person to make the wrong decisions. If you are close enough to give this person your healthcare power of attorney, you probably also have decided to leave some of your assets for him or her when you pass on. See the conflict of interest? Yes, this is cynical — but the thought has gone through your head so I might as well print it here. And no, I don’t know how to resolve the issue.

Living will. This is the document that gives your instructions about denying extraordinary medical procedures to save your life. You should give a copy to your physician — and if you live alone, keep a folder of important documents and phone numbers on your kitchen table in case of emergency. (Go to www.TerrySavage.com and click on the home page link to get a copy of my personal financial organizer form which you can download and fill out.)

Estate plans. This is the moment you confront your estate plan: your will and/or revocable living trust. With a will, you must name an executor, the person who will take your assets through the court-ordered process of probate, which changes title to your assets. The difficulty of this process is why it’s preferable to create a revocable living trust and rename your major assets in the name of the trust (your home and bank CDs, but not your IRA, which has a beneficiary). You will name a “successor trustee” to carry out your wishes for distribution after your death — without going through probate.

The attorney who creates your estate plan will likely be willing to serve as executor for your will — and charge a fee to the estate for the probate process. But who will serve as your successor trustee for your RLT, to distribute your property? And should it be the same person you trust with your healthcare power of attorney? No, I haven’t found the one answer to that — but it’s a question worth asking.

Assisted living. It’s painful to leave a home and neighborhood, but I urge people to move into an assisted living facility while they are still able to socialize and make new friends. A small amount of long-term care insurance can help make this transition financially feasible.

Pets and property. If you have no obvious heirs, you should make advance plans for distribution of any remaining property — perhaps to a charitable institution that will put the proceeds to good use. But pets are a vexing problem. Check with your local no-kill animal shelter to see if they have a legacy plan — and leave instructions that they are to receive your pet if you can no longer care for it.

I see these problems now through the eyes of so many who post on my blog, fearful of being alone and with no one to trust in their last years. Some are forming groups of close friends and trying to include younger members. Young women who don’t plan to marry might reserve some time to look after their senior neighbors. Does anyone have better answers? I hope so.

It must be a special hell to grow old alone. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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