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'Solo ager' speaks up about the need for guidance in end-of-life planning

"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says it's become far more common in recent years for people who are aging to be without a competent partner or adult child.

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Carol Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
Contributed / Carol Bradley Bursack
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Dear Carol: I love your website and columns; however, I want to make a plea for information about how older adults who have no children can plan for their future. My husband and I are in our mid-60s, and he has early-onset Alzheimer’s so he’s in memory care. We have no children and no close family. How do I find someone I can trust to handle my legal decisions as my health declines with age? I don’t even know where to start. Thank you! — WR.

Dear WR: This is a good question. Currently, the term for people who are aging without a competent partner or adult children is “solo agers,” though even people who have adult children can run into complications. The reason they struggle could be due to physical distance, emotional estrangement or simply an incompatibility of opinions about how older adults’ lives should end. I see this incompatibility most often when it comes to financial issues, but it’s also a concern with if/how an older adult should be artificially kept alive beyond a certain point, or cremation versus burial. Sadly, having a spouse isn’t always enough, either, as you have found.

While drawing up the paperwork is usually easier for those who can designate an adult child as power of attorney (POA), appropriate professionals are skilled in helping people create a plan for their unique circumstances. In some cases, it’s enough to see an estate attorney, but since you’ll have questions beyond designating powers of attorney, an elder law attorney may be best. The basics, of course, are POAs for finances and health as well as a will that states how to distribute your property.

In addition to an attorney, there are other experts who can advise you. Some might even stand in as powers of attorney or find a person in your location who could serve in that role.

Read more of Carol Bradley Bursack's "Minding Our Elders" columns by clicking here, and find a new column online each Saturday.


Avenues to explore

Likely, with no family caregivers, you will want to investigate retirement living and/or assisted living to stay on top of what is available in your area.

Also, if you go to the Eldercare Locator website and type in your ZIP code, you should see an abundance of links specific to your state’s available supports and services; https://www.usa.gov/federal-agencies/eldercare-locator

In conjunction with your own doctor, of course, I’d recommend that you explore geriatrician Leslie Kernisan’s excellent (free) website Better Health While Aging . Full disclosure: I moderate a caregiving support community for Dr. Kernisan, but that is separate from her website; www.betterhealthwhileaging.net

Additionally, a geriatric care manager should be well-versed in what services may be available and some even serve as POAs; https://www.inforum.com/newsmd/geriatric-care-manager-shares-decades-of-experience-in-new-book

Solo aging is a challenge for older adults, WR, but it’s much more common than in the past. That’s because family size has dwindled and adult children have often moved to communities far from their parents. This has nothing to do with love, it’s just a reality of modern life. For this reason, I’m confident that no professionals will be surprised by your questions.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com . She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblogs.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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