Regardless of one's current marital status, I advise all women to view their estate plan through the eyes of a single person. This is because the majority of us will, at some point, be single.
Many women stay single by choice. For those of us who are married, we know the divorce rate is between 40 and 50% . The rate is even higher for second (and subsequent) marriages. As for those lucky couples that "go the distance", 80% of women will survive their husbands.
This means that women need to plan for their long-term care and estate planning needs as if they will, one day, be single.
The first step on the planning journey is identifying a means to pay for any future needed long term care. A 65 year old woman today is likely to live another 20 years. This really is the new middle age! The corollary to our longer life expectancies is that we are fairly likely to live to a point when we will need help with the 'cranky' activities of daily living: feeding bathing, dressing and toileting. As a nation, we are still bogged down in partisan warfare over primary and preventive care. Chronic and custodial care is not even part of the current "ObamaCare" discourse. Medicare is also woefully inadequate in this regard. So, it is up to us... For those healthy enough to qualify, long term care insurance should be explored.
Historically, the biggest turnoff with long term care policies is that all accrued premiums are forfeited if the policy is dropped. Now, however, there are options called "hybrid" policies which have a retained benefit feature. I encourage all women to at least, educate themselves about the current plans.
Perhaps even more challenging than identifying a payment source, is appointing the person or persons who will be in charge of communicating our future care preferences to a physician or other health care provider. This is done on a health care proxy form, which can be downloaded from www.myelderlawattorney.com. Selecting a health care proxy agent is, admittedly, a challenge for single women. This is especially true for those without children or whose children live far away.
I encourage my clients who don't have a "ready-made" care team to start recruiting and assembling their own. One's physician, attorney or accountant may be able to recommend a few geriatric care managers. Hospital discharge planning departments can also be a good source. I recommend "interviewing" these people in advance to determine whether there is a good rapport. If you cannot come up with an appropriate candidate, who you are sure is familiar with your thoughts regarding end of life care, then I recommend opting for a living will instead of a health care proxy. The living will is where we list all of our thoughts and preferences for future care that may be needed. This is the document where we can state our preference to have any needed care provided in our own home. A sample living will can be downloaded from www.myelderlawattorney.com and customized as needed.
Next, comes the selection of an executor of the will and Power of Attorney agent. Failure to fill these positions ahead of time means that a judge will one day name the estate administrator and/or a personal guardian if one loses mental capacity during life. It is far better to assemble your team ahead of time, lest some strange judge's golf buddy be appointed to handle your affairs. If you have no ideal candidates in your personal life, then I recommend a second "recruiting" process. A trusted friend, clergy member or financial professional may be a good start. To promote accountability, you may wish to name two people acting together. You can also reduce the scope of your agent's power within your documents to guard against the possibility of wrongdoing.
Ideally, you will sit down with each of your chosen care team members once a year to discuss future care and financial management plans. It is important to draft flexible documents so that you can replace your named agents whenever you wish. Once you take the smallest first step on this planning process, I promise that you will feel more empowered as you look toward the future.
Ann-Margaret Carrozza is a practicing attorney and TV legal contributor who also served as a NYS Assemblywoman. She is also a member of the UFT Welfare Fund legal plan elder law supplement.