This is a difficult article to write, but it’s too important not to. Nothing in this article is intended as criticism – it’s merely a fact-based look at what can happen when certain choice are made or circumstances happen.
We estate planning and elder law attorneys preach preparation all the time. “Make sure you have your legal documents in order,” “Let your kids know what you want,” “Simplify and organize your life to make things easier when you’re not around.” But, more and more often, I come across people who want to do these things, but hit a roadblock because they have no one they can rely on to help them if they become incapacitated or die.
In some cases, it’s due to circumstances beyond their control. Perhaps they couldn’t have children, or their spouse and children predeceased them. Perhaps they were a childless only child and have no siblings, nieces or nephews. Or maybe they’ve outlived their siblings and friends. Maybe their only child is a homeless drug addict.
In other cases, it’s due to choices they made during their lives. Many people are choose not to marry, and/or not to have children. Sometimes people become estranged from their family members or even disown their children for a multitude of reasons.
Whatever the cause, the result is the same – you will likely end up alone, with strangers handling your money and your health care decisions, and deciding how and where you’ll live.
When you have no family willing and able (physically and financially) to take on the responsibilities of caring for you if you become ill or suffer from dementia, and no one to administer your estate when you die, the government will find someone and pay them a certain amount of money per hour with your money. If you have no money, the state government will pay that person a very minimal fee. Unfortunately, because we’re in a very senior-dense area, most of these professional guardians have many people they’re paid to look after.
If you have some assets (generally $500,000 or more), you can take some steps now to prevent guardianship over your finances and maintain some professional control over your assets. Search for “trust companies” in your area and start reaching out to them to find out how they work, what their fees are, etc. Your local bank or investment firm may also have a trust company you can look into.
Proactively finding someone to make your health care decisions is quite a bit harder. It’s such a personal thing. Trust companies, attorneys, banks, etc. won’t take on that responsibility. Search for “care manager” or “geriatric care manager” in your area and reach out to them. Some will allow you to name them or their firm in your legal documents, and others can help you find someone to name.
As you can see, none of these options are pleasant or optimal. If there’s any way to mend fences with children or other family members, please seriously consider doing so. Don’t choose to die alone and forgotten.
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