Updated: May 30
If you’re a solo ager, someone who is growing older without family support, you may be wondering who will look after you if you become incapacitated in some way.
You’re not alone. More and more solo agers are trying to figure out how life will unfold without the safety net usually provided by family.
The statistics are chilling. In the United States alone, in 2020, about 28% of community-dwelling older adults lived alone, including 21% of older men and 34% of older women. The percentage of people living alone increases with age (i.e., among women 75 years and older, about 44% live alone).
Anyone can find themselves a solo ager, but the odds are greater for certain types of people. Older adults who are estranged from family, single older adults with no children, single older adults with estranged children, and singles without social support are especially vulnerable.
One of the most glaring gaps a solo ager must face involves the Financial Power of Attorney. A Financial Power of Attorney gives an agent authority to manage the principal’s finances and property, and to transact business on behalf of the principal. If you’re the one with the Financial Power of Attorney, your agent takes care of your legal and financial affairs, making sure that you aren’t being duped as your capabilities and your cognition decline.
Traditionally, adult children have been the ones to step into the agent role. For solo agers, there is often no one to willing or able to do so.
If that’s currently (or could be) the case for you, what are your options?
At Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law, we see this every day. Here’s the advice we give to people who lack family members willing or able to step into the agent role.
First, consider asking a trusted friend or business associate to be your agent. If you know someone willing to take this on, make sure they are organized, trustworthy, and younger than you. If your choice of power of attorney or executor lives in another state, you’ll need to check that state’s law to see if it imposes any special requirements.
Once you’ve ruled out friends and associates, don’t wait to start the process of identifying a professional to serve as your agent. It’s ideal to have your plans in place while you’re healthy, long before incapacity strikes. If not, you could end up having strangers (or the courts) making decisions on your behalf.
Start your search for a professional agent with senior service organizations that provide a volunteer guardian or conservator. In a few parts of the country, including Tennessee, there are public guardians who provide this service, for free in some cases. Tennessee’s Public Guardianship Program, available to people over the age of 60, is worth exploring. Learn more at www.tn.gov/aging/our-programs/public-guardianship.html.
Next, consider your professional network. Do you already have an established relationship with a banker, attorney, or trust company that could step into the agent role when the time comes? Ask the professionals you know if they would be willing to serve in this role for you. Some attorneys are willing to take the financial Power of Attorney role, and they will charge for their time. If you’re in Middle Tennessee, Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law is a resource. We have served in the agent role for clients in the past and we are always open to designing a customized engagement to meet your needs. If you’re interested in how this type of engagement might work for you, just call the office at 615.824.2571 to set up an appointment.
If no professionals you already know and trust are able to serve, the next option is to ask for referrals to banks, trust companies, and elder law/estate planning attorneys that are trusted by people you know. If you are outside Middle Tennessee, we recommend visiting the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys website at NAELA.org to find an elder law attorney near you.
If you still come up empty handed, look for a professional guardian using the same list of providers that the local courts use. These are individuals and organizations who are repeatedly appointed as guardians by the courts, as well as non-profit guardianship providers.
If you choose a professional guardian, know that the guardian owes you, the ward, a fiduciary duty, which is the highest possible legal duty. If your guardian misuses your finances, overpays themselves, or makes other poor decisions, the logical next step would be for your family to discuss the matter with an attorney, as the fiduciary duty was likely breached. The problem for you—and for any solo ager—is that there’s no family to serve in that advocacy role.
That’s why it’s important to choose wisely. Complete your due diligence on any professional guardian candidate you’re considering. Check their references. Talk to family members of previous clients. See if they have been subject to legal action. Due diligence takes time to complete. That’s another reason to get an early start.
Being a solo ager creates a unique set of challenges, but with the right planning, you can be ready to meet them. Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law can help you put together a plan that will help you be confident in your future, no matter what happens.