How 'Elder Orphans' Can Plan for the Future

As we live longer and society’s structure evolves, some of us will face the challenge of aging without a family member or designated caretaker looking after our needs. This emerging group is known as “elder orphans,” and it’s only going to get bigger over time.

That’s for a couple of reasons. One is that almost a third of Americans ages 45 to 63 are single. Another is that the current generation may be the first to have parents routinely outliving their children, given that childhood obesity rates for kids born between 1966 and 1985 are much higher than in the past, which can lead to medical issues, such as diabetes and stroke, in middle age.

It may be difficult to think about being an elder orphan, but you can make it less scary by preparing in advance. Here’s what you should do now:

  • Build a network. It’s important to be surrounded by people you can count on. Most older Americans are cared for by a spouse or child, but your support system could include other relatives, neighbors and friends. Take a class or join a club to meet like-minded people.
  • Make a plan for your long-term living situation. Ask yourself: Can your current home accommodate you as you age and lose some mobility? Would you prefer to live somewhere walkable so driving isn’t an issue? Would living in a senior community provide you with more social opportunities?
  • Get your finances in order. Without children or a partner to help with things like housework, errands and home repairs, you may need to hire help for some tasks. Now is the time to save. Long-term care insurance could be a good idea—this can help pay for things like aides, medical equipment and assisted living. Meet with a financial adviser to find out if it’s right for you.
  • Create advance directives. These documents, such as a living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare, make sure that your wishes related to your health are known to others. You should designate a surrogate you trust who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so.

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