Who Takes Care of You If You Don’t Have Kids?

When it comes to growing older, there is one great insurance plan that you simply can’t buy from an agent: your children.

Family members provide the majority of senior care in this country. They do it with little training, no pay, and in spite of their own busy lives — all out of the goodness of their hearts. The situation isn’t ideal, but given the cost of senior care (especially for those suffering with illness), it’s often the only practical option.

But what happens if you don’t have kids to care for you?

A new study shows that a growing number of people in the U.K. are choosing not to have children there. That could mean major changes to their healthcare system in less than a generation’s time. A few years ago, The New York Times told us that a similar trend is happening here in the United States.

Potentially, an increase in childless seniors could spell catastrophe for the healthcare system. But so far, that hasn’t been the case.

Studies find that childless couples do not receive less care on average than those with kids. Nor do they score any lower on the happiness index. Very few express regret over the decision not to become parents, just as those who did have kids are happy to have done so. It seems most people are more or less happy with their lot in life by the time they reach the end of it.

Still, the Times notes, older Americans do worry about who’ll help them down the road. For many, “chosen family” networks — friends, volunteers, and support groups — fill the void.

Will that continue as a viable system-wide solution as the number of childless elders grows? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, one of the best steps you can take for yourself is to begin a long-term care plan as soon as possible. Making legal and financial arrangements today could spare you a lot of hardship and anxiety in later years.

There’s no reason for anyone to fear the future, regardless of the lives they’ve chosen for themselves. If you’d like to talk about your options, feel free to give me a call. We can put together a plan that will give you peace of mind.

A Marriage to Remember: A Touching Short Film on Alzheimer’s

In a new short-film documentary entitled A Marriage to Remember, filmmaker Banker White takes a starkly intimate look into his parents’ struggle with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In her youth, Pam White was a model and an actress. Later, she devoted her entire life to her family and her kids. Now, they’re paying her back with around-the-clock in-home care.

The film visits Pam at an interesting moment in the course of her disease. For the most part, she’s still in command of her mental faculties. In one candid car ride, her son asks whether the confusion has been difficult for her. Wittingly, she replies, “I’m not confused. You think I’m confused?”

She isn’t arguing or in denial. She’s just being precise. Confusion isn’t exactly her issue just yet. Ultimately, Banker agrees. That wasn’t the right word.

It’s a telling moment that keenly illustrates the sneaky progression of Alzheimer’s. Here is a woman who still recognizes, still remembers, still engages in conversation, and is clearly still quite sharp. And yet she is also undeniably struggling.

Her husband has to pull her out of bed and help her shuffle from one room to the next and down the stairs. He tells us that the change in just one year has been “profound.” Her son says there are early mornings where he’s sure she doesn’t recognize them at first. “That is beginning,” her husband says.

But while the narrative of Alzheimer’s is often a sad one, sorrow is not the prevailing sentiment in A Marriage to Remember — and that is what makes it so impactful in its brief, eight-minute runtime.

“Initially, I was quite distressed,” Pam tells us. “…But it doesn’t really change anything… I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful.”

Blessed. What an outlook. And truly, the film is as much husband Ed’s story as it is Pam’s. It reveals the unshakeable strength of a marriage that is so strong that not even Alzheimer’s can break it. Theirs is a love for times both better and worse. It is truly inspiring.

Silver linings and love help to redeem even the darkest diagnoses. A Marriage to Remember is a testament to that. It’s a very short film, and I think you’ll be glad you watched it. You can find it streaming for free at The New York Times.

If you and your family are currently going through an Alzheimer’s experience of your own, I also recommend getting in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as they offer a number of programs and services that can be of great help.

Estate Planning for People Without Children

In talking about estate plans, much of the discussion tends to focus on children. How much should they inherit and when, what kinds of trusts do they need, who should serve as guardian in the event of tragedy, etc.

http://gty.im/180410090

What about childless couples, though? That’s a question The Wall Street Journal recently asked, and I think it’s an important point for discussion. Even for people who don’t have kids now and may never have them in the future, estate planning is too imperative to simply shrug off.

The Journal breaks it down like this. People without kids have a primary checklist with just two boxes on it:

  • Set up a distribution plan to determine who gets your property when you die.
  • Assign someone to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf should you ever become incapacitated.

That’s a rather barebones approach to nonparent estate planning, but even those two items can be trickier — and more critical — than they seem.

As an estate planning attorney, I could accomplish those two tasks for my clients by drafting a will and a healthcare directive for each spouse according to their needs, but that could still leave the door open for unintended consequences.

Without a trust, for example, assets may be subject to costly and time-consuming probate when they pass to relatives.

Whatever your approach, it’s important for childless couples to remember that even though they don’t have kids, they do have relatives, friends, and other people they care about. When they die, their assets are going to go somewhere.

Without a strategic estate plan in place, it’s possible for one whole side of the family to be shut out altogether. Often, the default statutory procedures render rather undesirable distributions. But with some careful forethought, spouses can avoid those outcomes and rest easy, knowing that their best intentions are protected.

Caring For Spouse Tougher Than Caring For Parent

This blog post is one that many of us in a certain age group will find hits close to home.

(Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

(Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

I found this article on dailyfinance.com and it talks about the difficulties we encounter when caring for an ill parent or an ill spouse.

Many of us are finding that we have responsibilities for caring for one or the other or both.

One of the key messages of the story: caring for an ill spouse is more stressful than caring for an ill parent.

Basically, life changes. It is not ever going to be the same if you are caring for an ill spouse. People who find themselves in such a caregiving position experience stress, frustration and anger.

A poll conducted by AARP and reported on in the story showed 62 percent who cared for a spouse said it caused stress in the family, compared to about half who cared for a parent.

About 20 percent said caring for a spouse has weakened their marriage.

Caregiving includes driving your spouse to doctors’ appointments, and may progress on to bathing and other hands-on care.

Most in the poll said they favor more programs to help people care for ill spouses or parents, including tax breaks to encourage people to save for long-term care or to buy long-term care insurance.

It is an issue that we will continue debating for years, I’m afraid.

There is support for caregivers. Most councils on aging have support groups that meet weekly or monthly where caregivers can speak freely about the problems they face. Below are several councils:

Arlington Council on Aging: http://www.arlingtonma.gov/departments/health-human-services/council-on-aging

Winchester Council on Aging: http://www.jenkscenter.org/aging.htm

Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Association Support Groups: http://www.alz.org/manh/in_my_community_support.asp

There are also many online support resources and forums where people can share information and seek guidance. AARP has a very informative and active website dedicated to caregivers: “Caregiving Resource Center