Planning for Aging Alone: 4 Tips for Solo Seniors
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
January 22, 2020
Kathy L. McNair, Esq.
As a Boston area Elder Law Attorney, practicing for over twenty years, I have met quite a few seniors who were without a family to rely on. The term “Orphan Elders” has been used to describe these seniors. However, most of the seniors that I know would never want to be called this. I prefer the term “Solo Seniors” to describe anyone who is aging on their own, without the support of a family.
I have helped many solo seniors plan ahead to chart their own course for their future, planning for the day when they would need more help. I have also met solo seniors who did not do any planning. In some cases, these seniors were placed under guardianship and I was appointed by the court to make decisions in their best interest. Very important decisions about where they should live, what medical care they should receive, and end of life care, were being made by a stranger. Even though I tried to make the best decisions for these seniors, it would have been helpful if I knew them beforehand.
Planning ahead is critical for preserving dignity for aging solo seniors.
I recommend “solo seniors” consider taking the following four steps to take control of their future:
1. Meet with an Elder Law Attorney to develop a plan and execute Estate Planning documents: An Elder Law Attorney will help you execute a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, Will, and possibly a Trust.
The Durable Power of Attorney gives you the ability to designate someone to manage your financial affairs in the event that you are no longer able to do so. If something were to happen to you, who would pay the bills and manage things for you? Many solo seniors decide to appoint an attorney or another professional to act in this role.
The Health Care Proxy gives you the ability to designate someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable to communicate your own wishes? Do you have someone to make these decisions for you? Many solo seniors decide to appoint an attorney or social worker to make these decisions. It is important to discuss your wishes with the person you appoint.
The Will gives you the ability to designate who will receive your property after your death and who will manage your estate. In some cases, Trusts are beneficial to protect your privacy and avoid probate.
2. Devise a safety plan. If you are a solo senior, living alone, you need to make sure that you have a plan in place to ensure you are safe. For seniors that are comfortable using smart phones, there are several apps that require you to check in periodically to verify that you are alright. If you don’t respond, the apps will alert an emergency contact and in some cases, contact the police to request a “wellness check”. Some of these apps include: Snug Safety, EyeonApp, Chk-In Fall Alert, and IamFine.
For seniors who don’t use smartphones or apps, the traditional “Lifeline” system, which involves wearing a necklace or monitor which can detect a fall, may be a better option. Perhaps, you have a friend or neighbor that is able to check on you each day. A safety plan is critical in making sure that if you fell or were injured, while home alone, that you would get help.
3. Consider Community Housing: Many of my clients have lived in their home for a very long time and can’t imagine leaving. However, living alone can be isolating and lonely. Here are a few options for seniors that are looking for a community:
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) offer a wonderful option for seniors interested in a community where they can age in place. Many seniors in their 70s think they are too young for this. Moving into an independent living apartment while you are still active and engaged gives you a chance to make friends, enjoy an easier lifestyle with at least one meal per day, and not have to worry about maintenance. As you age if you need more care, these communities are ready to provide what you need.
Senior Housing: For some CCRCs may be too expensive. In Massachusetts, most towns offer affordable apartments for seniors who meet certain financial requirements. Usually, the rent will be one third of your income. Most senior housing apartments provide some social support and activities for the residents. If you need more care in the future, and meet the financial requirements, MassHealth offers excellent programs for seniors that wish to stay living in the community, but need more care.
Shared Housing/ Roomates: There are several websites, such as SeniorHomeshares and Silvernest, which help seniors find other seniors interested in sharing housing. This seems like a creative and affordable idea. Maybe you don’t like the idea of living in a large complex and are looking for a more intimate setting with one or two roommates. It worked out well for the “Golden Girls”, maybe it can work for you, too? If you are considering this idea, I would be very careful about screening any potential roommates. Unfortunately, I have seen too many cases of elder abuse. I am sure that this option can work well for many people, but please be careful. I recommend a background check on any potential roommate.
4. Make sure you have “Aging Allies”: “Aging Allies” are people that are ready to help you if you should need more care. They are your safety net. Who qualifies as an aging ally? An elder law attorney, friend, doctor, financial advisor, accountant, geriatric care manager, trusted neighbor, senior center staff, staff at your senior living community/apartment, relatives who may live out of town, or anyone you can trust. Ideally you would have at least two aging allies. Checks and balances help protect you from being taken advantage of. It is important to try to maintain contact with your aging allies at least every six months.
At Senior Solutions, we are aging allies and we have relationships with many professionals that are ready to help. If you don’t have anyone to count on, we can help you establish your aging allies.
Solo seniors shouldn’t wait until they need more care. Planning should happen now while you are still independent, so that your wishes will be honored and you can look forward to your future without fear. At Senior Solutions, our Aging Allies and Safety Net programs are designed to help solo seniors. Take the first step and contact us in any of the following ways: Phone: 617-489-5900 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.