What to Plan for If You’re Aging Solo
By Mary B. Young, D.B.A.
Flip through any issue of AARP Magazine and you’ll see a recommended to-do list for older adults: Choose a healthcare proxy, get an estate plan and a durable power of attorney, document your end-of-life wishes, write down your emergency contacts. In addition, it’s good to have an aging-care plan and a pre-need funeral contract.
Anyone over age 50 needs to do those things. But Solos―that is, older people without a partner, spouse, or children who could help them― need to plan for additional nuts-and-bolts issues, should they become incapacitated, even temporarily.
“It’s the practical stuff,” says Jim Ferry, an elder-care expert based in Western MA. Without any built-in family back-up, Solos―who make up about twenty percent of his clients― need coverage for nitty-gritty details, such as:
- Administrative and financial needs including bill-paying, alerting your landlord or bank that you’re hospitalized or incapacitated, or checking that your pipes don’t freeze. If you own any rental property, you’ll want someone to collect the rent, make sure the driveway is plowed, and pay the landscapers.
- Providing transportation if you can’t drive, doing your shopping, accompanying you to medical appointments.
- Pet care. This includes not just feeding and dog-walking; it could mean adopting your pet if it’s no longer safe for you to have an animal underfoot or finding it a new home.
- Plant care. For some people, a plant may have great sentimental value—it came from your mother’s garden, for example―or it may be a rare botanical specimen. But without an explicit plan for protecting personal treasures, says Ferry, they may be overlooked.
What Solos Can Do Today
With foresight, Solos can make plans for managing such things, should they become unable to do so themselves. It’s much harder to do so once you’re already in need. “The ideal time is when you’re not experiencing the pressure of a looming, or already occurring, medical condition,” says Ferry. Based on his 28 years as an eldercare advisor, he recommends Solos do the following:
- Set up autopay for as many bills as possible. It’s especially important that long-term care and other insurance policies do not lapse. Some insurance policies, such as life insurance, may not be eligible for reinstatement.
- Think through the myriad tasks that would need to be attended to immediately, were you suddenly unable to do them, even temporarily. Feed the fish. Water the African violets. Chuck the leftovers in your refrigerator. Call your niece and nephew on the West Coast.
- Identify neighbors, friends, extended family and/or professionals who are willing to handle specific tasks. Ideally, choose people who are younger than you, capable, trustworthy and nearby. (You must also ask them in advance to serve and they must also agree.)
- Review your list regularly. Friends age and develop their own medical problems. Neighbors move. Relationships change. “Fifteen years later, the people you identified at age 70 may no longer be able to pitch in,” says Ferry.
Eldercare advisors such as Ferry coach Solos through this process, as part of a broader assessment of the client’s current and future needs. Another resource Solos can use is the Personal Safety Net (PSN) website, which offers free tools for building a support network at any stage of life.