Estate planning must begin early for those without children

Childless elderly people face unique challenges, especially when it comes to estate and care planning.

More people are choosing not to have children, which has given rise to what is being called the "elder orphan" population. Elder orphans are those who are both childless and without a spouse. As the New York Times reports, this segment of the population is growing rapidly and faces a number of challenges. Not least among these challenges are end-of-life care and estate planning. Without children to take on the responsibility of caring for them, elder orphans need to ensure they have an estate plan in place that protects them later in life.

Elder orphans face unique challenges

The elder orphan population is large and is only getting bigger. About 22 percent of Americans over 65 are currently either childless or have lost contact with their children. The percentage of childless women aged 80 to 84 is expected to increase from 12 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2030. Finally, as U.S. News & World Report points out, the number of childless people aged 45 to 63 has increased by 50 percent since 1980 to about a third today.

While having children is, of course, no guarantee that one will be cared for later in life, childless elderly people do tend to face greater challenges than older people who have children to take care of them. Adult children tend to provide financial, emotional, and medical support for elderly parents and, more often than not, they also make health and financial decisions on their parents' behalf when their parents are no longer capable of doing so themselves.

End-of-life planning must begin early

Lacking the support system of a child or a spouse can lead to isolation and depression. Furthermore, elder orphans who suffer cognitive decline are more likely to fall prey to unscrupulous acquaintances and elder abuse.

That's why people who expect to age alone should take steps today to protect their estate and themselves as they get older. Appointing health care proxies and durable powers of attorney are important measures to take to ensure that financial and health decisions made on one's behalf are also in one's interests. These appointments should be made while one is still in full possession of one's cognitive faculties. Accountants or banks can be appointed to handle one's financial accounts, for example, if a trusted friend or relative cannot be found.

Staying social is also an important part of staying happy and healthy as one ages. Communal living facilities or simply moving to a neighborhood that is walkable and where there are many other elderly people can help combat the negative effects of isolation.

Talk to an estate planning attorney

An estate planning attorney can help with various estate planning and end-of-life care challenges that elderly childless people face. Whether it's appointing a healthcare proxy or protecting one's assets, an attorney can show clients the best way to ensure their financial and other interests are protected as they age.