I have written before on the topic of Elder Orphans, but today I would like to take this a step further and include anyone who is ageing alone. This spreads the net wider to include widows and widowers, divorcees as well as those growing older with their children and grandchildren living on different continents
So why is this important? I suppose, for me it feels relevant when I think back to the way I stepped in and managed the lives of my parents as they grew old and frail. For the last couple of years of my mother’s life I managed her finances, her housekeeping, and when she needed hospitalization I stepped in and took complete control.
When I am old and frail, there is not going to be anybody to do this for me as I have no children. The implication being that I have to put an alternate structure in place. That is the focus of my workshop on Elder Orphans later this week, but is also relevant here. I was also jolted a couple of years ago when a dear friend of mine’s brother died unexpectedly in his early fifties and the family struggled to gain access to computers, bank accounts and put all the pieces together to continue running the family farm that he managed. He was divorced with no children and this got me thinking about my secret hiding place for my jewellery as well as passwords for my computer, bank account, and so on.
When we are in our 60’s we don’t want to think about the time when we will be frail and perhaps dementing, unable to make decisions. Nor do we want to think about preparing to die. BUT, it is only a matter of making a few decisions, preparing the paperwork and then getting on with the more pleasurable business of living!
So apart from dealing with the loneliness that can come from ageing on your own, you need to prepare a couple of documents and ensure someone knows they exist, or where they are hidden! These documents are:
- A form outlining what you would like to happen if you are critically ill. (Call it, “In Case of Illness”) This ranges from details like the names of your general practitioner to an Advanced Directive or Living Will. When my mother was admitted to hospital, sometimes she was hallucinating on pain killers, but it was never planned and relaxed, so each time I stepped in and gave the medical personnel the background history. Who is in a position to do this for you, and where can they find the information? Who will step in if you are unconscious, to advise the medics on your behalf?
- An updated Will. I had an early lesson on that front when a single friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and the first thing to go was her speech. We sensed there was something worrying her and on finding a copy of her Will, we saw that it was not relevant to her current living circumstances. We were powerless to change anything because we could not honestly state she was of sound mind. That was what she was trying to tell us.
- A list of your wishes after your death. Where to find a copy of your Will, who should be informed of your death, what kind of funeral you would like and how you would like your body to be handled, are top of this list. Within families the topic of cremation vs. burial may come up in conversation, but these are not the things we necessarily discuss with our friends.
- A list of people who hold the information about your insurance policies, for example, brokers or account managers. If you are physically unable to institute claims against medical aids, make the journey easier for someone doing it on your behalf. These policies will also have to be cancelled on your death.
- As your health deteriorates you may want to consider giving someone power of attorney. My mother remained of sound mind but was too frail to withdraw money from the ATM, and in order to facilitate my withdrawing money and managing her account I applied for a power of attorney. I am unsure of the current legislation around this process and I am sure it will vary from country to country, so it is advisable to check with your financial advisor.
In many cases, it is simply a case of leaving all the information with a trusted Executor of your Will. An alternative is to ask a good friend, cousin or niece/nephew who will stand by you. If you have children and they are living overseas, ensure they know where the information is so they can appoint a proxy until they are able to be with you.
Now that you have put all those lists in place, have had the conversation with your appointed proxy and checked your Will is current, you can go out and get on with the business of enjoying the rest of your life!