I presented early in January to a chapter of the State Retirees Association of Michigan–Lansing Chapter. (The materials I handed out can be found elsewhere on our site–like here: lhttp://SERAPresentationltcfinal )
One of the folks in attendance faced an issue that crops up more often than you might think. The issue? Who will help me when I need it. We were not talking about nursing home help or help in a hospital.
Rather we were talking “agents.” Those people who might help during a period when we are alive but not really able to help ourselves much.
Most attorneys suggest creation of a durable power of attorney to help with financial issues, contracts, bill paying, banking and property management. When your durable power of attorney document is drawn up, you are the principal. The person you entrust to help out is your agent.
A medical power of attorney is also advisable. In Michigan we have a particular name for these medical power of attorney documents–we also refer to them as a patient advocate form. So you name, effectively, a medical agent/patient advocate and possibly a successor as well.
Most naturally we urge selection of, and people tend to choose, those who know them, and in whom they can put a good deal of trust. That’s smart. Often this is family–but even then, if we are frank, we know some family members are better at such jobs, honors or duties, than others.
Back to the SERA member. She was very close to 90 years old, and had outlived most of those to whom she’d turn, and one other relative was darn close to her age and in worse physical health.
Sometimes other people come to us, and while they still have children only in their 30’s or 40’s, those children may have problems of their own–finding themselves in a messy divorce, or almost broke and near bankrupt, etc. Those folks also have a difficult time thinking of someone to name as an agent.
And more often than in the past, more clients come to us who have long been single, with no spouse nor children.
How do you find an agent under such circumstances? There is no one simple answer, but three routes come to mind:
a) explore your extended family tree—Is there a niece or even great niece or nephew who could help? Have you talked to them, and if so, do they share your values, are they up to the task?
b) go deeper into your friendship network, even make new friends (this isn’t a Dale Carnegie class, but you might be surprised what reaching out might do)—Do you belong to Rotary or a bowling club or hunting group? Would you ever be able to invite someone to discuss such an idea to dinner at your house? I am hearing more of intentional arrangements as well–a sort of adopted friend/family thing–where other single folks, maybe your age or younger, say in effect “Hey, I’ll help you out, if that time should ever come–and if you’re in a position to help me out, should the time come, you can do the same for me.” This often involves selecting a few people, of course, who talk the idea through.
c) consider professional assistance–In Michigan, a patient advocate cannot be paid for their services–talking with a doctor, considering alternative treatments, and so on. If they run into out-of-pocket costs, that can be reimbursed. So patient advocacy is something for which even a professional would make little or nothing. But if you have an agent under a durable power of attorney act on your behalf, and IF you have it in the document, an agent could charge a reasonable fee for doing the running around, making contracts, paying bills, and such other work as an agent might do. And if you have a trust and name a trustee (perhaps a bank, or an attorney or an accountant) they too can charge a reasonable fee to take care of your affairs.
This is not a “one size fits all” decision. Still, it is worth thinking about and worth discussing, before the need hits.
A recent article going a bit deeper, and perhaps with a slightly different direction, popped up in the ABA Bifocal Journal and can be found here: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_aging/publications/bifocal/vol–39/issue-3–february-2018-/agingsolo.html
And as always, if you need to chew on this, or related ideas, we are here to help.