How Can “Elder Orphan” Plan for the Future?
I need an honest answer about how someone like me (an “elder orphan”) should structure my estate planning documents. I am totally alone in my mid-50’s—with no one to serve as a fiduciary, or other key roles (on a durable power of attorney, health care proxy, etc.). What will happen to me if I become incapacitated? I don’t have the resources to pay an attorney or other professional to fill these roles (and even if I did, at $300/hour my resources would be drained quickly). Will the court appoint a conservator? And who will pay for that? And who oversees the conservator to make sure I’m not robbed? And who will look after my home and belongings if I’m hospitalized for a lengthy time?
And if something serious happens to me, will I simply end up on Medicaid and be shoved into a cramped double-room in a rundown facility and left to die in a pool of my own filth? I’ve heard horror stories about elders who didn’t have anyone looking after them not faring well. I’m assuming that this will be my fate too since I am sans-family and sans-resources. I’m tired of people offering me “thoughts & prayers,” or telling me “everything will work out.” It WON’T – not without a solid plan, and most of all, RESOURCES – which I have a limited amount of.
A good and tough question. Having enough resources is a key issue in this situation. As you said, you can hire a lawyer or trust company to serve as your agent or trustee should you become incapacitated, but they’re expensive. And most financial or legal professionals feel uncomfortable serving as health care agents, finding medical and end-of-life decision making too personal. Some churches and other faith-based organizations have volunteers who serve in these roles and some states have public guardians who do so at no charge or for a reduced fee.
If you are a member of a church, synagogue, mosque or other faith-based organization, I would recommend contacting them. If not, I would check with your local senior center. In addition, a number of independent senior organizations have been developing on the model of Beacon Hill Village to create community and support for seniors living in their homes. If such an organization exists near you, they may already provide such serves or be open to exploring doing so. Beacon Hill Village has created a manual to guide other grassroots senior organizations in getting started.
It occurs to me that it might make sense for people in your situation, of whom the number is increasing, to band together. An organization of people who would look after one another and create common ground rules could create a significant solution. There would have to be a lot of checks and balances to make sure it worked, but if a pioneering group took this on and created a template, it could be used nationally with some differences from state-to-state depending on state laws and local circumstances. Would you want to take this on?