How Can an “Elder Orphan” Plan for the Future?

 In Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Directives, Revocable Trusts
elder orphan

Photo by Tiago Muraro on Unsplash


I have no immediate family nor close friends. I do have some distant cousins and a biological son who was adopted at birth. I’m having a hard time knowing how to start planning for what may come in the future. I’ll soon be 74 next month. What should I do?


That’s a difficult challenge that’s becoming more common as more people live longer, outliving their friends and family. Sometimes people like you are referred to as “elder orphans,” though the older I get the less I like people in their 70s referred to as “elder” anything.

In any case, there are two sides of this, the financial and health care. The first is easier than the second. Many estate planning attorneys will serve as agents under durable powers of attorney when there’s no other alternative. In addition, you can place your assets in a revocable trust and name an attorney or financial institution either as your co-trustee or successor trustee. I prefer naming them as co-trustee because that gives you a chance to work with them and see if it’s a good fit and it allows them to get to know you, your needs and your wishes, rather than just stepping in when you can no longer handle your own affairs. The latter approach is problematic both because they won’t know you well, but also because they may not be aware of when they need to get involved. Appointing a co-trustee now means that you would have to pay them for their services for more time, but I think it’s worth the cost.

Finding someone to make health care decisions for you is more difficult because most attorneys and financial institutions are uncomfortable making such intimate decisions. If you are a member of a church or other faith-based organization, they may have volunteers who serve this role. Your local senior center may also have a service of this kind. If not, I’ve been talking with some people in a local senior organization about bringing together groups of people in situations similar to yours to help one another. These “care circles” could act as volunteer health care agents for one another and also assist each other with other needs, whether home repairs, checking on houses when members are traveling, or providing transportation to doctors’ offices. Perhaps you could work with your local senior center to create something along these lines.

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