The functions adult children most often serve in the lives of their elderly parents are 1) financial management, including bill paying and investment/withdrawal decisions; 2) legal representation, generally having the power-of-attorney over any legal matters concerning the parent, if and when the parent is not able to do this for herself; 3) medication management; 4) help with the activities of daily living (ADLs); 5) residential decisions and relocation logistics, plus any real estate transactions involved in the move.

These are the areas that eventually become too much for many people as they move into their 80s, 90s, or 100s. No one knows when they will become “too much” to handle, but it happens to most people who live that long; we just don’t know exactly when it will happen. One man I have known for almost 60 years, who is now a widower, told me last year when he turned 91 that the household accounting he has been doing all his adult life (paying the utility bills, reviewing the monthly bank statement, etc.) is becoming very difficult for him. He still does it, but it takes him much longer than it used to. He is active, still plays golf twice a week, drives himself around town, and his mind is as sharp as any 91-year old I have ever met, yet he is not sure how much longer he wants to do that accounting by himself. His son will soon be helping him do this. Who will help us? This is an example of just one of the situations we must prepare for.

What We Need to Stay Safe

Everyone in their 50s and beyond should have the following documents current and accessible: a will, an advance directive for health care, a power-of-attorney for finances, and, if you are single, a fiduciary lined up to carry out your wishes. Putting these things together will take some time and a visit to an elder-law attorney (also known as an estate attorney). You can do it yourself, with documents downloaded from the Internet, but at a minimum they must be notarized, and often these do-it-yourself documents get challenged in the court or ignored by a hospital. Personally, I wouldn’t risk that.

When you fill out the advance directive for health care and powers of attorney, you will need to name the person(s) you want to make decisions for you if/when you cannot make those decisions yourself. This is where it gets tough for many solo agers. The big task here is finding the right person and preferably 2-3 back-ups for this role in your life.

Now here is the scary part and the reason you should take this seriously: If you do not make these decisions and create these documents and you become disabled to the point that you are unable to speak for yourself, the court will designate a “guardian” or “conservator” who will make these decisions for you. That person may be a relative or, in the case of a solo ager, it is very likely the court will appoint a total stranger. She or he may not share your values/religion/desires around life and death and even know what you would have wanted. That was definitely enough to spur me to action.

Finding the Right People

As solo agers, the first thing we need to do is take stock of who and what is around us. We must cultivate the kind of mutually satisfying, trusting relationships that most people eventually have with their grown children. So, look around you… do you have younger siblings? Nieces and/or nephews? Do they live close by? Are you close to them? Do you like them? Can you see yourself trusting them with your welfare? I hope the answer is yes, because blood relatives are often (but not always) your best choice when you are looking for someone on whom you can rely.

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