Comprehensive Planning. Lifelong Solutions.

How to Navigate Life as a “Solo Senior”

By Emily Martin, Esq.

Most of us assume that our children or other family members will help take care of us when we get older. Many seniors rely on their spouse or children to help manage their finances, monitor their health, and perform everyday tasks that they are no longer able to perform themselves. However, for some seniors, this is not an option. In fact, almost 22% of seniors are “solo seniors” – those age 55 or over who are unmarried and do not have children living nearby.[1]

For this group, navigating the unique struggles of life as a senior citizen can be very difficult – especially if they do not have a plan in place.  If you feel that you may become a “solo senior,” there are steps that you should take now to prepare for what could happen if you are unable to care for yourself.

Reconsider Your Living Situation

According to a recent survey, more than half of “solo seniors” have no one to call if they are confined to bed or if they need someone to drive them home from a medical procedure. If this is a concern for you, you may want to consider changing your living situation. If you live alone in a house in the suburbs and you fall in the bedroom, for example, it could be hours or even days before someone discovers that you are in distress. However, if you live in a senior apartment or independent living community, you will be a part of a larger group of people who are also in your situation and who will be more likely to check in on each other.

Even if you decide to stay at home, it is important for you to build a network of people who will look out for you in the event that something happens. Whether you become better acquainted with your neighbors, get to know friends from church or a social club, or even hire a geriatric care manager to see to your needs, it is vital that you have a community around you who will be able to recognize that you need help and provide the help that is needed when the time comes.

Put a Strong Estate Plan in Place

Everyone over the age of eighteen needs (at a minimum) an advance medical directive and financial power of attorney. However, for “solo seniors,” this need is even more critical. An advance medical directive allows you to appoint someone who has the authority to make medical decisions for you and outlines your wishes for end-of-life care. A financial power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to manage your finances for you if you are unable to manage them on your own. Without these documents in place, if you become incapacitated, it may be necessary for someone to petition a court to become your guardian and conservator, so they can make these decisions for you – and that person might not be who you would have wanted making those decisions.

If you are a “solo senior,” you may be wondering who you can name on these documents. It is true that most clients name spouses or children, but other options include siblings, nieces and nephews, family friends, and even financial advisors and attorneys.  

Another decision to make is who will inherit your assets upon your death. Many “solo seniors” may consider leaving money to charities or nonprofit organizations. If this is the case, there may be special planning to be done and various documents to be taken into consideration. It is always a good idea to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney when having these documents prepared.

There are many difficult decisions that seniors must make, and for “solo seniors,” these decisions can be even more challenging. It is important to make sure you have a plan now, so that when the time comes, you can enjoy your senior years rather than worrying about who will take care of you if something should happen. Building a network of friends, family, and trusted professionals such as financial advisors, elder law and estate planning attorneys, and geriatric care managers can help you transition smoothly into life as a “solo senior.”


[1] All statistics in this article are from the following source: Elizabeth O’Brien, A Solo Senior’s Guide to Happiness, Money Magazine, November 2018, at 53.

Ask Kit Kat: Bongos at Norfolk, VA Zoo

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the newborn bongos at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk?

Kit Kat: Well, until I had read the article about them, I was not really sure what bongos are. Bongos are critically endangered animals from eastern, western, and central Africa. They belong to the antelope species, but they have whitish stripes on their side and long, spiraled horns. In short, they are magnificent creatures. Norfolk is fortunate to have them. Bongos are herbivores, and as adults measure around 5 feet tall. They are endangered in their native habitat due to poaching, habitat destruction, and diseases common to livestock.

Two calves were born on Dec. 26, 2018 to two different mothers. Johnny was born to 12-year old Juni and Bob. Johnny is about 2 feet tall, and his weight is about 44 pounds. Later in the day, mother Jesi (a 3-year old) went into labor, but after having problems, was delivered  of her calf through cesarean section. Her calf is a female named Charlie. Charlie also is 2 feet tall, but her weight is about 48 pounds. Charlie has been bottle-fed, since Jesi is still recovering from her surgery. Charlie appears to be thriving with this mother-substitute.

The number of bongos in the Virginia Zoo’s Okavango Delta exhibit is now 8. Baxter was born in March 2018, and a female named Joy was born Dec.25, 2017. The zoo said no visitors will be allowed to see the newborn calves until they are bigger and stronger. They will keep the public updated as to the calves’ progress via Facebook. (Katherine Hafner, “Virginia Zoo gets a pair of bongos for Christmas,” The Virginian-Pilot, January 3, 2019, pg.3)

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Reminder to Follow My Own Advice

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA

While discussing estate planning with clients, we often stick to the theoretical and the reason behind having certain legal documents in place; many times the clients focus on the documents themselves. However, attorneys are referred to as “attorneys and counselors at law” which means a portion of our practice is to counsel clients on best practices.  In particular, elder and special needs law often deals with client’s healthcare concerns and practices to ensure quality healthcare and different methods to advocate advocacy.  Often I have encouraged clients and their loved ones to be sure they take a second person with them to any doctor’s appointments or consultations to listen to the advice provided by the physician and to take notes about care and treatment options and to ask questions.  Recently, I failed to take my own advice and have since learned my lesson.

My spouse had seen a number of physicians over the last year about consistent pain he was having.  His condition remained undiagnosed, until we recently visited a friend in the medical field who provided her diagnosis and advised seeking a surgical consult.  Thanks to a family member in the medical field, an appointment was made for the consultation with a reputable surgeon.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t advised of the consultation, nor was I able to rearrange my schedule to attend the meeting.  However, because my spouse is young and presumably capable of processing and relaying information, I didn’t believe that my presence was necessary.

The day of the surgery arrived and, at check-in, the receptionist mentioned something about “open.”  That was when I began to mildly panic.  A nurse came to take my spouse back to pre-op, and I stood to come back with him. I had questions I wanted to ask, given what I just heard.  The nurse said she would come get me in a few minutes.  More than a few minutes went by and, by the time she came to get me, my spouse was in a hospital gown with a needle in his arm and anesthesia had been administered.  I was terrified and furious all at the same time, since I had absolutely no idea what was happening.  All I knew at that point was the situation was not what I expected.  Of course, neither the surgeon nor the anesthesiologist were around to answer any questions.  A nurse was able to read my spouse’s chart to tell me what type of surgery was scheduled, and it was vastly different than what I had been told, and much different than what I had been expecting.  It was far more serious than what had been relayed to me, and the recovery was very different than simply not lifting objects. 

After the surgical consultation, my spouse reported that the surgeon had availability on December 18th.  He reported that he wouldn’t be able to lift anything for a few weeks and would be sore for a few days, but that was all.  So, while I was aware of an upcoming surgery, my impression was that the impact would be minimal.  At a holiday party the week before the surgery, my spouse told another party goer that his surgery was going to be laparoscopic; even better I thought to myself – very little down time!

At this point, the nurse looked to me to confirm I would be with him for the next 24 hours, as he was not to be left alone due to the anesthesia.  I let the nurse know I was not going to be with him, since I had a full day of appointments the following day, and that no one had informed me he needed to be watched.  The nurse gave me a look that said I must really be out in left field not to be aware of this fact, but I really had no idea. Finally, the surgeon arrived and confirmed he was having the more serious surgery and informed me that my spouse would be unable to walk up and down stairs for days (we live on the second floor) and he would not be able to drive for two to three weeks (I had scheduled him to pick up a few last minute Christmas gifts), and would likely not be able to work at all for a minimum of six weeks.  At this point, my panic turned from mild to major, and I was furious.  It was also too late to do anything about this, since he had already been administered anesthesia.

During my spouse’s operation, my mind flip flopped between calculating what had just been added to my already miles long to-do list (this was just a few days before Christmas and guests were set to arrive shortly), concern over the possible side effects of the operation, anger with my spouse for not informing me of how disabled he was going to be for weeks, and frustration with myself for not following the advice I had been providing to clients for years.

My spouse’s surgery turned out to be fine, although we won’t know if it was successful until sometime in mid-January.  He can walk up and down steps now, but he still can’t drive.  We did make sure our son had a nice Christmas. And, I learned a valuable lesson– I was reminded to take my own advice. In hindsight, I should have made my spouse change the consultation to be at a time when I could have gone with him.  At a minimum, I should have sent my HIPAA waiver to the surgeon and spoken with him prior to the moment of surgery.

Estate planning and planning for medical events are not simply for older adults or people with disabilities; medical procedures happen to young people as well.  Remember, if you find yourself or someone close to you in need of any medical attention, take someone else to the pre-surgery appointment, and make sure all parties understand what the medical procedure will involve  post-surgery.

Ask Kit Kat – City v. Country Frogs

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, is it true there is a difference between croaking or singing of urban frogs v. country frogs?

Kit Kat: Well, oddly enough, there does appear to be a difference. Scientists first observed the difference in tungara frogs in Panama. In cities in Panama, the tungara male frog took advantage of the lack of predators like bats and snakes, and their mating calls were low-pitched, and had a beeping, more rapid quality to it. Apparently, this is more enticing to female frogs coming from both urban and rural venues. Scientists reported this phenomenon in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. When 40 female frogs originating from both types of locales were played both kinds of mating calls in a laboratory, 30 of them hopped over to the speaker playing the urban frogs’ songs.

All is not so easy for the urban male frog however. Although his call is extremely enticing, there are fewer female frogs in the city. So he has to work harder to attract a mate. Who knew the life of a male frog could be so complicated? The urban-rural divide applies not only to humans, but to frogs as well! (Christina Larson, “City frogs are sexier than country cousins,” The Virginian-Pilot, December 12, 2018, p.4)

Posted on Monday, January 7th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.
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