As people age, they tend to worry a bit about not just how they will age, but what care will look like as they get older. The issue can be twice as fraught if you are childless and thinking about who will take care of you as you get older. However, more and more people decide not to have children, and being childless is more common than you may think.
The fact is that even people with children can’t always rely on their care as they get older, but worrying about being childless is legitimate. However, with some planning and preparation, it is possible to age with reliable and trustworthy care.
Follow these steps to take charge of your aging process and feel confident about being childless as you age.
Step 1: Identify the Important People in Your Life
Without children, you will want to identify the people in your life that can assume healthcare and financial authority when you aren’t able to. If you have a spouse or partner, that responsibility will naturally go to them. But what about when that person is gone? Who will manage your affairs or take care of you? What if your spouse becomes disabled and can’t discharge their healthcare and financial duties?
Identifying essential people should be a careful and thoughtful process. Not only do you want to find the right person or persons, but they need to understand their responsibilities and agree to help. Taking care of someone as they age is a significant responsibility.
Here are some considerations in making your decision:
- Trustworthiness. You will want to choose someone you trust completely, and you might choose a friend over a relative to carry out this type of responsibility with focus.
- Time. Choosing someone who seems to have a good handle on their life might be a good option, as the person who takes over your healthcare and finances needs to be someone who has the time to do so.
- Commitment. Make sure the person you choose understands the level of responsibility and commitment this entails. Spell out all of the details so that there are no misunderstandings later.
- Consider a professional company. If you aren’t comfortable with your available choices, consider a professional company to manage your affairs. You will need adequate funds to pay for this service, but it could be an option if you do. Some companies offer guardianship assistance (should you become incapacitated) and care management to help you when you with care decisions as you get older.
Now that you have a clearer picture of the type of person you want to be responsible for you, who do you pick? Look at your circle of friends and relatives and begin to have conversations with those that you feel might be willing. Think about nieces, nephews, or siblings as possibilities.
If you know other childless friends, perhaps the two of you could reciprocate taking care of and being responsible for one another.
Step 2: Do Your Advance Planning
Without advance planning and designation of healthcare and financial power of attorney, no one has the authority to carry out your wishes. Advance planning is the most critical piece of growing older, with or without children.
These are the components that are part of advance planning:
Advance directives. Advance directives give healthcare power of attorney to a designated person to make decisions on your behalf. The authority can be immediate or upon your incapacity. An advance directive also names a guardian in case of incapacity should that be necessary.
Financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney designates someone to manage your finances if you are unable to. You can name an institution if you choose to, and some people feel more comfortable with this option rather than naming an individual.
However, if you have named someone other than a spouse to be your healthcare power of attorney, that person needs access to your finances to support your care.
Last will and testament. You need to write a will to designate who will be the beneficiary of your property, assets, and estate. The beneficiary could be anyone, or it might even be a charity.
Long-term care planning. How is long-term care planning different from the other planning we have mentioned here? As you age, you may need assistance either in your home or in a senior living community.
Think about whether you want to age in place and what that entails. If you are willing to consider assisted living, what will it cost, and where would you like to live? Take some time to understand what your insurance covers and what you will be responsible for.
End-of-life wishes. Each state has its own forms for designating end-of-life wishes. You can get started by looking up your state’s documents. The last thing you want is for the healthcare power of attorney to not know what interventions you want while ill or when to discontinue life-extending interventions.
3. Start Financial Planning
A sound financial plan must back up any long term plan that you have. People often underestimate the cost of care as they age. Meeting with a financial planner can help you get a sense of what kind of care you can afford. Once you have identified a person as your healthcare and financial proxy, they need to know your financial situation and how your power of attorney can access funds to take care of you.
Assisted living and other senior living communities are not the only housing options available for people as they age. You might want to consider house sharing, subsidized senior housing, or other less expensive types of cooperative housing.
These options not only save money, but they also provide an opportunity to develop a community.
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4. Develop Your Circle of Friends
Being without children does not mean you have to be alone, but it takes work.
Develop your circle of friends to create a support system you can rely on. Stay connected by reaching out regularly. Be available to people when they need you. Make new friends by joining groups of people that have similar interests.
Friends are like plants--they need nourishment and attention to thrive. It really can take a village of support for people who are childless.
5. Have Goals for Healthy Aging
Once you have completed your planning and designated trusted people to assume your care, there is a critical step that many people omit. You may have heard the term, “prevention is better than the cure.”
With or without children, having healthy aging goals is one of the best ways to stay independent, healthy, and happy. The basics are not complicated, but they require dedication and commitment.
Stay active. Movement is the cornerstone of healthy aging. Walking, Tai Chi, yoga, and strength training are just a few ideas. Activity improves mood, helps with balance (and prevents falls), and gives you the strength you need to carry out your daily living activities.
Keep up on your preventative healthcare. Yearly medical exams can catch problems before they get worse. Medicare pays for many preventative tests like colonoscopies, mammograms, and prostate exams.
Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. The information about diet can be confusing but avoiding processed foods can be a good place to start. As people age, they lose their sense of thirst. Dehydration can have serious medical consequences, so stay hydrated.
Keep up your social and mental engagement. Keep your mind sharp by learning new things, reading, and playing games. Loneliness is associated with an increase in mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Stay connected with friends and other family members. Older people often have very close relationships with nieces and nephews who are usually happy to connect if you make an effort.
Have purpose. If you are retired, keep engaged by volunteering or engaging in meaningful activities that keep you interested and motivated. People who have a purpose report being happier and healthier.
Staying healthy as you age makes it less likely you will need support later. Some things are out of your control. Keeping your physical and emotional health front and center is the best way to ensure trouble-free longevity.
How to Plan for Old Age Being Childless
Being childless does not have to mean being without the care and comfort you need as you age. The keys are healthcare and financial planning, nurturing your circle of friends, and keeping yourself healthy and happy.
No matter what happens, as long as you keep yourself surrounded with loved ones and check in with yourself often, you’ll find that you can become older and perhaps worry a bit less.