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Do You Have a Natural Support System?

It’s a growing epidemic, the number of aging Americans who have no one who would naturally be their support system as their health declines and they need assistance.  A New York Times article the other day, titled “The Childless Plan for Their Fading Days”, highlights this problem and what some seniors are doing about it.


In our practice, we’ve seen an increase in single and/or childless seniors who need assistance.  According to a recent  AARP report, nearly 12% of women between 80 and 84 in 2010 had no children.  Coupled with the fact that many of these women are widowed, divorced or never married, they have no natural support system.  Who will step into the roles of financial and healthcare decision makers, when they need it?


This problem will become even more acute when we consider that the baby boomer generation, Americans between the ages of 50 and 68, who make up the largest percentage of the caregivers right now, will themselves need care in the next 20 years.  Here are some numbers to consider.


According to the same AARP report, the number of people ages 45 to 64, the peak caregiving years, is expected to increase 1% between 2010 and 2030.  At the same time, the population of over 80 Americans will increase 79%.  This means the number of potential caregivers per senior who needs care will drop from over 7 to 1 down to 4 to 1.  Add to that statistic the fact that baby boomers, on average, have fewer children than their parents and higher divorce rates.  Many won’t have that “natural” support system.


Where will the replacement come from?  Some will look to nieces and nephews.  But, being more distant relatives, that is often not a suitable solution.  Some will look to ex-spouses.  We’ve seen a number of clients who, while divorced, still live with their ex-spouses and have an emotional and/or financial attachment similar to a married couple.


But, what if that isn’t the case?  According to the New York Times article, some people are looking to communal or co-housing arrangements.  One woman looked to friends in her apartment building and designated them as her agent under power of attorney and health care representative.  Another man is taking the drastic step of moving from his home in California to a kibbutz in Israel that he has visited for years.  A kibbutz is a collective community in which the group cares for the individuals within it as a Socialist type society.


In some cases, people will look to professionals.  Geriatric care managers and daily money managers can be an excellent solution.  Longtime trusted advisors, such as attorneys and accountants are also an option for others.


One thing, however, is clear.  While it is always best to put a plan in place before a crisis hits, it is even more critical for those who don’t have any “natural”  support system.  No one will know what you want and if you don’t have the mental capacity any longer to say, then the legal system, ie. guardianship process, will determine what happens.  And that is not likely to be what you want.

If you are interested in the New York Times article, you can find it at