It should come as no surprise that an issue I wrote about a few months ago has now surfaced in the New York Times….hmmmn, maybe it was a slow day! Anyway, the NYT recently reminded readers that as we age, the childless among us are concerned about who may be there for them as they age and need help.
A statistic from AARP looks at the future and sees that a decline in childbirth means a decline in caregivers. The co author of the report writes that if there are fewer and fewer caregivers, and so many elderly do not have their own children to take care of them, “then who?” A report by Fidelity Investments found that only 3 per cent of parents agree that their children should take care of them if they become ill, so perhaps this problem is not really just for the childless. There are probably as many complications for those with children as there is for those without … sibling rivalry, what each thinks mom or dad “would have wanted”, plus all the emotional baggage that goes with the aging and loss of a parent.
But for those who are without children, many have already considered this issue and have formed their own definition of ‘family.’ They want to be sure there will be someone to advocate for them.
You have probably read here and elsewhere about new communities of seniors called cohousing who help each other, doing everything from shopping, driving or even reprogramming the remote control. Boston and Los Angeles have such housing situations already, though of course you don’t have to be childless to be a member. Many religious communities provide for their members as they age, but others have to create their own senior living arrangementss Some have compared these new living situations to a dormitory or an assisted living community without staff.
There are other issues to consider when one is childless and aging that do differ from those of people with children. Who will manage your estate planning, your financial affairs, your health directive? Elderly people in Pt. Reyes California have an arrangement with the local ambulance service which lets them know where these residents keep their important papers. Other communities have worked out their own methods, but someone, either a neighbor or a friend, needs to know the precise wishes of the elderly who live without close family. Otherwise, who will know where one wants to be buried or what kind of funeral he or she would prefer? Who knows what one wants on the headstone, or if the funeral has been prepaid?
One woman quoted in the NYT article said she and her friends have talked about a communal living arrangement in their future. They are still middle aged but are thinking ahead. “It’s all about really living to your fullest without eating dinners alone—unless you want to, of course,” she said.
The childless also need to consider who might inherit their estate, should there be anything left. They need to think about charities, siblings, other relatives or friends before they begin to age. But most of all, childless or not, one needs to think about these issues. Luckily, there are experts to help you. Ask your financial advisor, your lawyer, or your friends for recommendations. Just don’t put it off forever.