Studies have shown that being single in today’s society can have many advantages – more control over your life, ability to spend more time with friends and on activities that you enjoy and you may have more money than your married counterparts. Whether by choice, or as a matter of circumstance, the number of single adults is growing. In 2014, the number of unmarried American adults outnumbered those who were married for the first time – with one in 7 living alone, about 31 million capered with 4 million in 1950. However, this new demographic can face some unique challenges with respect to planning.
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with a group of local community members last week about planning for the many changes that can occur as we age. This included a discussion about drafting your Wills, appointing people to act as your representative through Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy documents. After the meeting, I was approached by a woman in her mid-50s who explained that she was single, an only child and both of her parents were no longer living. She explained that she had a lot of friends, but not someone who she would want to “burden” with the responsibility that comes with making health care decisions for another. She also was worried about planning for her own changing health care needs as she continued to age. What were her options?
Planning when you are single can bring an additional set of challenges to the process.
- Who will you name to be responsible health care decisions, if you are unable to manage them for yourself?
- Is there someone in your life who you would be comfortable asking to take over these important decisions?
- How do make sure that your changing health care needs will be met as you age?
Three are three important steps that I would suggest to all of us in planning for future health care needs and the challenges life may bring as we age:
First, know what you want. Take time to think about what is important to you. Where do you want to live? Does the community have supports you can tap in to? Does your living situation (house, apartment) lend itself to successfully aging in place (no stairs, one-floor living, easily accessible, handicap adaptability)? What is important to you with respect to health care? Do you want to receive care at home?
Next, be sure that you have written it down. It is imperative that you then make sure that you have put in to place your health care directives. In Massachusetts, we have a statute that allows you to name a person that you would want to “step into your shoes” to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. Also, there are other supporting documents you may want to complete to provide your proxy with additional information. This can include purchasing an advanced directives document, The Five Wishes, from Aging with Dignity. Additionally, you may have other important information you want to communicate concerning your specific religious beliefs. Check with your religious organization about what literature they have to assist you.
Lastly, talk about your wishes with your friends, relatives and your named decision makers. It is so important that you communicate directly with your circle of friends and advisors, including your health care professionals, to ensure that your wishes are well known and guide your decision makers should they need to speak for you.
While there are additional challenges for single adults, there are solutions. Find an estate planning attorney in your area to learn more about this article or for a consultation. Generations Law Group is located in Acton, MA.