[Child-free Filter) Can cats have lasting power of attorney?
April 27, 2016 3:45 AM   Subscribe

As I get a bit older and see the generation above me experience deteriorating health or even death -- and I hear my mother talk more openly about end-of-life issues -- I wonder how us child-free folks are supposed to manage old age.

Of course I am aware that not every parent can guarantee that their child(ren) will take care of them as they become elderly, but for us child-free folks, it is an absolute given that we have NO ONE: no one to investigate care homes for us, no one to trust healthcare decisions to, no one to trust to execute our wills as intended, etc.

I suppose you can hope that friends/family/partners of your own generation might be able to help out, but who knows, right? They could become ill/die before you, so then what?

So can people point me to resources for how to anticipate and plan for one's elderly years in such circumstances? And/or tell me what they've done for themselves in this regard (if you are also child-free or for some other reason can't count on your children to help out)?

I absolutely do not regret NOT having children. This question isn't about that. It is about the fact that I worry about being all alone and/or being taken advantage of by someone because I won't have anyone who is looking out for me and my welfare/interests. My pets, unfortunately, will not be well-positioned to help me out in this regard,

[Before anyone asks: We have no nieces/nephews, as siblings are also child-free.]
posted by Halo in reverse to Human Relations (24 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
oh hell, yes, this is a problem. we do have nieces / nephews (who are super sweet), but still. the only idea i have come up with is that this is going to be such an issue down the line that some solution will emerge (see, for example, japan, where they're really trying to use robotics for this).
posted by andrewcooke at 4:19 AM on April 27, 2016

In my experience, older folks without family, and those with family who are not present, usually develop friendships in the neighborhood or at their churches, and rely on those friends to help with these matters.
posted by megatherium at 4:23 AM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Plan ahead. Advance healthcare directive, will, etc., done while you're still young-ish and capable. There are people who do this stuff for a living, and you can hire them (generally they're attorneys who specialize). Do you have a financial advisor? That's someone who almost certainly will have good recommendations for a person to help you get things in order. And you presumably trust your financial advisor.

If you don't have a financial advisor, look into getting one. Whether it's through the company holding your 401k or an independent, having someone to help you with the financial issues now will make things easier later.
posted by DaveP at 4:30 AM on April 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

As a person who knew she'd be childless early on, I've developed deep friendships with contemporaries and their children. I feel perfectly comfortable naming one of these awesome kids as someone who can help me with my end-of-life issues and decisions.

Be open to friendships of all ages at all ages and good people will be happy to step in to help when it's time.

(I sure hope so at any rate.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:32 AM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

In Australia, a friend of a friend has a role in the State Legal system where she is an advocate for people who can't speak for themselves (like comatose patients). I have heard of cases where she (significantly ) influenced whether or not life support was continued. I guess that there have always been vulnerable people without relatives to make decisions, and i guess some places have processes in place to deal.
posted by b33j at 4:54 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm dealing with this now, at 40, with end stage kidney failure. It's progressive, so I had 10 years to think and fret about it. Now that I'm at end stage, I find myself worrying a lot less than I did in the ramp-up. Life is harder, but in some ways it's easier, too.

What I'm learning (very) quickly is that you have to balance being your own advocate with accepting that you also need to let things go a bit, loosen your grip. By this, I mean I'm assuming some people will take advantage of me or get in the way of my care (hello, rude social security guy!), but I'm also putting some trust in the universe that some people will do what's right, and that will all balance out. I try to follow my instincts with my doctors. I try to be respectful of their time and expertise.

So far as end-of-life stuff, I've been instructed by my doctor to set up a living will. I've decided to pre-pay for cremation (hopefully in the far future, many years from now) so no one else gets saddled with the expense. I used to have all of these very specific demands for where to put the ashes, but faced with the reality of it, it really doesn't matter to me anymore.

I have a family member who I've designated as my health care proxy. If this family member is not around when that purpose needs to be activated, I have three friends who I would literally trust with my life -- they know me well and know my values and feelings about where I draw the line with health care.
posted by mochapickle at 5:03 AM on April 27, 2016 [26 favorites]

I'm an only child who plans to stay child-free and its something I think about. My financial situation has just started changing so I know I'll need to redo my plan a little, but it comes down to planning ahead. Have a will, a living will and pre-paying for funeral expenses are a huge part of my plan. My parents are still alive, so it's on them for the time being, but I know I'll either need to rely on a cousin or one of their kids down the line and if that's not possible, I'm willing and able to pay a lawyer or trust firm. But it is difficult and its something I do actually think about. I do assume as the population ages, there will be more solutions to this problem. (Even something like uber is huge for seniors who can't drive anymore and can't rely on public transportation to get them everywhere they need to go.)

At the same time, I have an aunt and uncle who are child-free and while no one has said anything to me about it, I plan on being an active part in their lives as they age. It was never even a question, to be honest because they're family and I owe them. I'm counting on karma to come back around and take care of me the same way.
posted by GilvearSt at 6:02 AM on April 27, 2016

I asked a question a few months back on a very similar subject (although not specifically about later life) and got some really awesome and helpful answers. If you haven't already seen it, it might be worth reviewing.
posted by winterhill at 6:25 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is (part of) a conversation my local hospital & local libraries have been pursuing using Atul Gawande's book, Being Mortal as a springboard. (Here's some info about the community read they ran.)

A few things I've learned:
1. You are not the only child-free folks out there--this question came up at both a book discussion I attended and a lecture.
2. Name your health care proxy. This should be done by everyone who is over 18. If you and your spouse want to/can be each other's, that's cool. An alternate (and you can name an alternate) could be, as you say, a family member, friend, or someone in a professional role (I'm pretty sure someone suggested financial planner/lawyer), but should not (often cannot) be a doctor or nurse in the place you are being treated.
3. Build your community now. Churches/spiritual groups are commonly mentioned, probably because that community support has remained one of their functions. Be active in that community and offer support for people who are in your future position now. Build or maintain friendships & family relationships. Make inter-generational connections.
4. Check out Get Your Shit Together. It was created by folks who either lost someone or had a loved one get into a serious accident without any documents in place for what to do.

Eventually (as you age, if you have/get a serious medical condition):
- Think about what you want/don't want done medically. Gawande's book has some very good advice for considering what your goals and wishes are.
- Talk to your healthcare proxy, family, friends about those goals and wishes. (The Conversation Project can help get that started.)
- Fill out an Advanced Care Directive and a Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment from (called the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment in some places). Make sure you have a copy, your doctor & hospital have a copy, and that your healthcare proxy has a copy.
- Think about housing, whether you will be able to age in place and maybe join a local group for that, move to senior-specific place, have (afford?) in-home care
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:51 AM on April 27, 2016 [22 favorites]

It's good that you're thinking about this now, but I would also suggest you get started as soon as possible. Anyone can become physically or mentally disabled at any point in life. Definitely talk to a lawyer - and you want a lawyer who specializes in elder law (advice I got here). I cannot emphasize this enough. States have different laws, but they do have laws in place for people in your situation. You don't mention whether you have cousins with children or friends with children you are close to. Those would be other possibilities.
IANAL, but I am currently embroiled in endless legal battles trying to protect a beloved childless relative who now has dementia and did not make any plans or will or grant power of attorney to anyone. He has money, and relatives who were estranged from him for decades have come out of the woodwork and managed to manipulate him in his current mental state and take over his affairs (we initially took them at their word that they were just trying to reconnect - we were wrong). Decisions are being made that are in direct opposition to what he said when he was in his right mind. It is a nightmare. Do everything you can to protect yourself, and get started right away.
posted by FencingGal at 7:02 AM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just met with a wills-trusts-estate lawyer to work my stuff out. He said you can hire people to do all that: professional health care proxies, professional executors. A good estate attorney should be able to provide contacts.

If you're in the SF Bay Area I have a rec.
posted by purpleclover at 9:04 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have a couple sets of child-free friends who basically act as second parents to our own two girls. This came about organically, and they are some of our best friends, but I have no doubt that as they age my girls will be part of their care taking plan. Also, our next door neighbors on both sides are rather elderly and have children who are far away, and we do a lot of looking in on them. I have reached out to the kids to let them know we're happy to help.

So, pick your friends and neighbors wisely.

Short of that, if you have the resources, get yourself hooked up with a law firm that will look after your interests.

If you don't have the resources, then get in touch with your county officials to figure out what type of services are available to seniors, and if the answer is none, move.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:06 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My childless husband and I went to a lawyer to execute what is called a three point community property agreement, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc. We tweak these documents occasionally as things change. My brother knows he is our trustee. I continue to contribute to retirement assets though I will probably work until I'm dead.

The hard thing to plan for is housing. I love our house but have a feeling it really will be too much for me if I lose my husband. I am not fond of communal living and assisted living facilities cost a bomb and give me the willies. Nor do I have any interest in living with any of my widely scattered siblings. So I'll be interested to see what answers you get about that.
posted by bearwife at 10:02 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

To echo others, it seems important to find a community somewhere willing to take care of its aging members -- it's true that a healthy church community seems especially good for this kind of thing.

If you have resources as others say you can hire people to do these kinds of things, though there too you have to make sure these people won't take advantage of you as you age.

dpx.mfx: "but I have no doubt that as they age my girls will be part of their care taking plan."

This is a lot to put on your under-ten children. I certainly hope that as your children age they will willingly take on this responsibility, but I hope you won't expect them to take care of a half-dozen aging parental figures.

posted by crazy with stars at 10:27 AM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm child free and a bit shocked at how many responders are assuming they can call upon other people's children to take care of them - that seems both presumptuous and unfair. I plan to make my affairs straight using professional services. Otherwise I've pretty much accepted there'll be no one to advocate on a personal level if peer level friends and loved ones are unable to do so. I'm willing to accept the hand I'm dealt.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:14 PM on April 27, 2016 [12 favorites]

I am 63 and childless. I do have a bunch of siblings which helps. After our Mother's death I realized I lived to far away from everyone for them to help me if I became to ill to care for myself. I researched the areas that 3 of them lived and decided to move to my youngest sibling's town. In fact, I moved in with them. It is working very well. The other things I have done are:
I have a will.
A medical plan.
My siblings name is listed as the beneficiary on all of my bank accounts and IRA. All they will need is my death certificate to be given the money in those accounts. (I am poor)
They have all my passwords.
My dog came from a rescue group that will take him back and find him a new home if I die first.

Fortunately for me I was born in the middle of the pack. I will be shocked if I outlive everyone. One of our siblings has passed and we learned from that experience. He had a thing written in pencil called "The will of the Tucks". He misspelled trucks, but the DMV didn't bat an eye. I guess they have seen all kinds of things. He had told us verbally what he wanted and we honored those things.

I feel relieved that I have everything in order in case I die tomorrow. The whole dying process and who is going to help me I assume will happen with the help of hospice and other services.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:26 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

We're likely to be childless and this question haunts me. We have one IVF cycle to go but I'm not convinced it will work.

Once we're done, we're going to start planning for the future -- wills, medical powers of attorney, etc. For now, we've sorted out our insurance via our superannuation -- Australian retirement funds/plans include life and disability insurance -- but I think we'd need to look into something more proactive in future.

The topic is a hard one to discuss because my husband is not as far down the "we're going to be childless" path as I am but we are talking even though it is VERY HARD.

We have two nephews but whether they're there for us in future is entirely up to them. My brother lives overseas and may or may not have children and I am likely to be the one who looks after my parents in their old age.

We have many childless and childfree friends and I toy with the idea of us all joining forces somehow but I'm really not sure how that would work -- we have very different lifestyles and financial situations.

I can't help but wonder (possibly over-optimistically) whether something will evolve to support childfree and childless people. There are so many more people without children these days, for many different reasons and it seems logical to me that we'll all group together and help each other out -- somehow.
posted by prettypretty at 5:45 PM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

People have mostly covered all the important ground above. Just make sure if you have a lawyer appointed as your professional healthcare decision maker, that you also do complete the MOLST or somehow indicate in decent detail what your wishes are. In most cases I've seen, the lawyers I have to call (as a physician asking about end of life treatment decisions for patients) always default to "do whatever you need to do" because if you die, they stop getting paid to do the job.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:29 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am nearly 40 and I am responsible for the care of my father and my mother in law (both my mother and my father in law passed away) as well as two of my child free aunts. I saw the writing on the wall when I was younger, I'm the only family member of my generation who has stayed in our hometown and they are my family and I love them and provide care without a second thought.

There are four of us kids and my one sister has had four children so the current plan is for each of us to suck up to one kid and hope that they give a shit when we are old and decrepit.
posted by crankylex at 8:36 PM on April 27, 2016

Like freya_lamb I am a bit surprised (to put it gently and respectfully) at people suggesting that it is feasible/fair to rely on other people's children for elderly care. Or assuming that their own children will support other adults.

Having played a role in caring for my aging grandparents (and now for my aging parents), I strongly believe that unless you have spent many thousands of dollars and/or many thousands of hours supporting someone, you don't have much right to expect them to care for you in your old age.

It can be tremendously taxing to care for someone in their old age. There are the legal matters to attend to. There is the medical decision-making, and the living space/situation decision-making. There is the physical caretaking, which can be immensely time-consuming, and can be very much like taking care of a small child or infant (with all of the unpleasantness that entails). And there is the emotional labor. Dealing with someone who is aging is taxing as it is a constant reminder of our mortality. And then you have to deal with absorbing all of their sadness and frustration and anger and depression as they lose their faculties. Getting old sucks and it's hard on people, and they (naturally) dump that frustration and sadness on their caretakers, just as children dump their frustration and sadness on their parents/guardians.

And all that time and energy (emotional and physical) comes out of you being able to live your own life and accomplish what you want to accomplish.

When you put it all together, unless you have had a substantial role in someone's life (or you have played a substantial role in a group where you have supported others significantly), it seems entirely unfair and unreasonable for you to expect them to care for you in such a substantial way. They would be well within their rights to say "sorry, I have my own life to live... I really like you and want the best for you, but I can't be responsible for bringing you food. Or taking you to the doctor. Or wiping your butt."

It's why when questions come up here repeatedly on AskMe from children who were abused by parents (and who are now expected by those parents to provide old age care and support), I encourage them to cut ties if they need to.

So what to do then?

I too am childless right now and not sure if/when I will ever have children. Like you, I too do not regret my situation (nor should you regret yours). But given all the above, I am simply planning for the future by:
  • A. Making sure I have clear legal documentation prepared. As others say, get your stuff together, and do it immediately.
  • B. Investigating options and making accommodations as early as I can. For example, thinking about my old age when I am looking for a new house (as I am right now), and trying to buy a house I can age into, rather than one that just sounds good right now to 40-year-old me. For example, is this a house I can get around in using a walker? A wheelchair? Could I live here long-term? Could I handle living here as a person at age 70? 80? With a disability? Thinking about it now helps to put me in a bit of a better position, at least.
  • C. Most importantly, saving as much money as I possibly can to pay caregivers.
To be frank, I look at it this way. The monies I am not spending on my hypothetical children are monies I had better be saving to pay those who care for me.

Because someday, when someone has to change my adult diaper, or listen to my anger and frustration because I can no longer drive, or try to cheer me up when I am down, or drive me to the store, or listen to my depression because I realize I am losing my ability to care for myself... they ought to be paid for that. Unless they're someone I've cared for and provided for a great deal.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:46 PM on April 27, 2016 [17 favorites]

dpx.mfx: "but I have no doubt that as they age my girls will be part of their care taking plan."

This is a lot to put on your under-ten children. I certainly hope that as your children age they will willingly take on this responsibility, but I hope you won't expect them to take care of a half-dozen aging parental figures.

Oh, I know. And I don't, certainly not alone. That's why I said "part". But knowing how my family and my husband's family operate, I think it's a good bet. Care for elders is an important thing to us, something we have done and continue to do, and my older daughter is already expressing the empathy that reflects that. We have a group of 8 couples that spend a lot of time together, vacation together, live close together, etc. and that community has two couples who are without children. I don't doubt that the will be cared for. I think building yourself a network like that, if you're without kids, is a way to go about addressing the future. Certainly not failsafe, but neither is having kids.

Partly, I suppose, this way of addressing things makes sense to me because I worry more about loneliness in old age than I do just about anything else.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:06 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm still fairly young, but I have a will & living will that direct to my sibling. I think the advice to build a strong social network is very sound, either with extended family or not. Of course you can't count on it, but it's worth doing anyway, right? And I try to save for retirement assuming that caregivers would not be involved in contributing towards expenses, just as advocates.

Apart from that, I'm hoping that the stigma against assisted suicide will have fallen away by the time it is relevant for me, and if I were closer to retirement age now, I expect I'd be paying attention to where it is legal now. It undoubtedly sounds morbid, but I know that in many situations, a life in a group home is something that I personally would likely not want after a certain point.
posted by veery at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot of helpful answers in here, thanks. I'm thinking we all need to live together in a little village by the seaside and play this role for one another; younger people can be invited into the village as each older person passes away. Oh, and there must be cats in our village. And sloths. :)
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:03 AM on May 3, 2016

you know, you could do worse than come to chile. it's relatively warm, relatively cheap (for basics like food), wealthier people still have live-in maids, the population is relatively young, and it's politically stable (at least til people stop buying copper). i heard the other day that there are visas for retirees who can show evidence of an income of $1000 a month...
posted by andrewcooke at 5:10 AM on May 3, 2016

« Older If you could move anywhere for 6 months to a year...   |   Thanks for the lend of your dust magnet Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.