By Sal M. Di Costanzo
Are you a solo ager, or in some circles, an “elder orphan?”
A solo ager is typically defined as a single, childless baby boomer. Someone may have children, but there is no relationship, or in many cases, children are preoccupied with their own affairs.
While you may be unfamiliar with these terms, you may, in fact, already be a solo ager, and there is an increasing number of boomers who likely will become solo agers as well. Odds are that everyone, whether having a partner or not, may become a solo ager at some point.
Solo agers face many challenges, but the common denominator is that they often lack a support system to assist in the management of their health, legal and financial affairs. Despite these challenges, there are several, impactful recommendations that should be considered to thwart the unintended consequences of a solo-ager lifestyle.
Execute a Power of Attorney
A power of attorney grants another person (an agent) the authority to handle financial affairs. I frequently explain to my clients that one of the most important documents is a power of attorney. Failure to have this simple document may necessitate a guardianship proceeding, which is costly and burdensome.
On Dec. 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation significantly changing the New York General Obligations Law, which governs powers of attorney. Effective June 15, the new law simplifies what has been the overly cumbersome power of attorney form. While the form has been simplified, the key to a properly drafted power of attorney lies in the modifications added by an elder law attorney. Reliance on the statutory form is improper as it does not contain very impactful modifications, such as the authority to move your assets for planning purposes.
Consider a Revocable Trust
A revocable trust is an efficient and effective tool that can be utilized for asset management, asset protection and estate planning purposes. There are many advantages to creating a revocable trust. First, it ensures the continuous management of your assets if, unfortunately, you become physically or mentally disabled.
After drafting a revocable trust, you then transfer your assets to your trust. Under the terms of the trust, if you cannot serve as trustee, you appoint a successor trustee. This provides for the orderly transition of the management of your assets.
Another advantage is the avoidance of probate. In the case of a solo ager, the probate process can be quite exhausting since there may be no descendants. In these cases, New York Law requires elder attorneys to contact distant relatives and, in some instances, a genealogist might be necessary. A revocable trust avoids this hassle.
Health Care Proxy
New York law allows you to sign a health care proxy appointing an agent to make your medical decisions. An agent’s authority under a health care proxy is only effective if you cannot make your own medical decisions. I recommend that you have intimate discussions with your health care agent regarding your wishes.
If you have specific wishes regarding your burial, you should consider planning and funding your funeral to ensure your wishes are carried out. Moreover, you may want to complete a burial remains form expressing your desire to not be embalmed or to be cremated.
If you intend to donate your organs for scientific research, this is a good place for that as well. Registering as an organ donor and notifying the organization you intend to benefit is recommended.
Professional advisers exist in many areas, in part because it is nearly impossible to know everything about everything. Often clients who are proficient at preparing their own income tax returns or self-directing their own investments do not account for changed circumstances such as their incapacitation.
If case of incapacitation, those trying to assist you must first go on a fishing expedition to understand the breadth of your financial affairs to provide competent assistance. It is advisable to form relationships with other professionals such as attorneys, accountants and financial planners early in life so that you do not burden others.
Salvatore M. Di Costanzo is a partner with Maker, Fragale & Di Costanzo, LLP in Rye and Yorktown Heights. He is an attorney and accountant whose main area of practice is elder law and special needs planning. Di Costanzo can be reached at 914-925-1010 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit www.plantodayfortomorrow.com.