Updated: May 29, 2020
"Orphan": a person without protective affiliation or sponsorship (Dictionary.com)
The aging of the Baby Boomer generation has led to a silver tsunami of “elder orphans.” This is an ever-increasing population of seniors who, by choice or circumstance, now find themselves without reliable family or friends to help them manage the everyday necessities of daily living. For the fortunate few seniors with at least one family member close enough to assist them, sadly, sometimes the family member feels burdened by the responsibility of providing care, rather than feeling blessed by the privilege of serving.
The primary focus of my law practice is helping seniors create a meaningful estate and life care plan. During a consultation I will ask the following questions: “Who would you name as the executor of your will?” and "Who will be the beneficiary of your earthly possessions?" Elder orphans are generally unprepared to give an answer to either of these questions.
This can be the result of surviving a spouse or having never married. Sometimes the situation is the result of a personal choice to not have children or because a child has predeceased or is estranged from the senior. The senior may have been abandoned by his/her family or friends, or may have always lived a solitary or introverted lifestyle. Whatever the reason, the senior is now completely alone and flying solo, without a safety net.
Even more important and pressing questions usually follow: "Who can help you to manage your assets and assist you now, while you are alive?" and “Who would you name as your attorney-in-fact (the person empowered to act on your behalf) in financial and health matters?” Again, the elder orphan is frequently unable to identify a person they trust enough to ask to accept these responsibilities.
Fortunately, there are organizations or institutions that can meet these needs. If a senior has told me that they have no one to name as the executor of their Will or as the attorney-in-fact on their Powers of Attorney, I will then ask if they have considered a charitable organization as the ultimate beneficiary of their estate. This question may offer a solution to the senior's dilemma because the charity can usually name an executor to manage the distribution of the senior's assets upon his/her death.
If the individual has a large estate, financial institutions or trust companies can provide safe and effective financial management as well as assistance with personal, medical and care needs.
The issue is more problematic, but not unsolvable, for individuals with liquid assets of less than a million dollars, and the solutions generally require more monitoring. Professional guardians, certified financial planners, accountants, financial fiduciaries, attorneys, and others are trained (and held to a legal fiduciary standard by license, insurance, bond or oath) to assist in all of the areas of personal or financial need. In rural areas, when dealing with professionals who are sole practitioners, the plan must be reviewed regularly to ensure that the named individuals are still in the business that they have been selected to carry out.
Finally, there are seniors who need help but have little to no assets for pay for the services they need. This is where the local community can step up. Churches, service clubs, neighborhoods, youth organizations, groups, and individuals need to see the need and rise to meet it. If each one of us would commit to doing something to assist a neighbor or relative in need, we can share in the blessings that come from helping someone who cannot help themselves.
Written by Richard C. Tizzano, Elder Law & Estate Planning Attorney
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