The Stages of elderorphanism (Is that really a word?)

When we arrive on the planet, and probably for the next few decades, the thought of becoming an elderorphan likely never enters our minds.  We have parents, aunts, uncles and other relatives not to mention plenty of friends who we know that we could depend on if we needed them.  The majority of us possibly embrace the idea of parenthood at some day in the distant future.

Then come the middle years.  Perhaps our future elderorphans  enjoyed a lifestyle unrestrained by children and just kept putting it off.  Perhaps Mother Nature played a cruel joke on them and adoption would be their only path to a family, and perhaps they simply decided that they were not the parenting kind.  And life continued on as they enjoyed their time with their spouses, family and friends.

At some point though it may have begun to dawn on them that it might be a good idea to undertake some planning in case they managed to outlive those who were close to them and that they had designated if only in their minds as the people they could turn to for help and support if required someday.  But that time was still a long way off, and who could predict the changes that will confront them?  No need to hurry.  Things always sort themselves out!

As time marches on, the pressure slowly increases towards at thinking about the future.  The future elder orphans begin to study their wills.  Who will survive to be their executors?  Who will be the beneficiary of their estate?  But more importantly, who can they designate as their Power of Attorney for financial and other matters and for personal care?  Reflecting on their own acquaintances over the years, it becomes obvious that there were a few elder orphan friends, neighbours and relatives who navigated through this potential dilemma.   Some were happy and successful outcomes.  Some were sad and lonely.

Some elder orphans simply accept that the future is out of their hands and that there is little that they can do to influence the outcome.  Others decide to investigate some steps to ensure that they have the best chance of enjoying a happy ending.  The planners are probably still reading this.  Perhaps they will discover some ideas here that facilitate their quest for that goal.

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How Many elder orphans are there?

Opinions vary widely on how many elder orphans there are in our population but it seems that anywhere from 15% to 25% of people over the age of 65 either are elder orphans or likely will become one, and the numbers are trending upwards.

It is reported that U.S. Census data from 2012 showed that about one-third of Americans aged 45 to 63 are single, a 50% increase from 1980; nearly 19% of women aged 40 to 44 have no children, as compared to 10% in 1980. Today, one in three Baby Boomers is unmarried.

Several factors are contributing to the rise including historic low marriage rates. A large number of young people lack the economic security to consider marriage and it is reported that 40% of them are still living with their parents. In mid to lower income groups there are fewer desirable partners and a lot of people believe that marriage is obsolete. These and other factors contribute to the inclination to delay marriage and consequently narrow the window to rear a family.

Statistics suggest that half of all marriages result in divorce and it has been this way for the last forty years when no-fault divorce made it a great deal less complicated including elimination of the requirement for a long separation. People who get divorced and remarried are more likely to divorce again and further narrow the window of opportunity to raise children.

Especially among professional women with careers in law, medicine, finance, education and technology, many women are putting advancement in their career ahead if the desire for a family. With a strong financial foundation of income and savings these women may be less willing to sacrifice their lifestyle by compromising on a less than perfect mate.

Thanks to advances in modern medicine we are simply living longer and so providing an increased chance that we may become an elder orphan.

Whatever the number, it is clear that there are a lot of us. Let’s just assume that it is a very low estimate of 10%. With a combined population of Canada (35 million) and the U.S.A. (320 million) that would translate into a population of elder orphans the size of all of Canada or slightly less than the population of California. Unless they are elder orphans, most people would not be aware of any of the issues that confront us.

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What’s an elder orphan?

If you were to Google it, here’s one of the definitions that you might discover. “An elder orphan is an old person who is single, lives alone, has no children or family member or friend who can act on his or her behalf in handling health, legal and financial issues.”

To some this might conjure up an image of a lonely old person stooped over, dressed in tattered clothes pushing a walker. Contrast this with the depiction of a smiling happy couple enjoying sunshine, sand and sitting on a mountain of disposable income as depicted in Time magazine’s cover story in August 2013. It is a wide spectrum.

Although it serves well to understand the term, much of the audience for this blog and forum won’t consider themselves elder. Most of us would like to achieve the status, but probably long before we achieve that magic age, we become aware that in time we will grow into the role. Probably very few of us in our formative years even gave a thought to the matter.

There is a good chance that deciding not to have kids can lead you to becoming an elder orphan, but it isn’t necessarily so. Childless couples often have plenty of siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and close trusted friends. Elder orphans likely have few of these, and even fewer who are young enough to build a long term plan around.

It doesn’t matter how you became (or will become) an elder orphan. If you are fine with it, don’t spend any time exploring this web site. However if you are the kind of person who needs a plan to ensure your welfare, perhaps you will find some answers here.

It would be interesting to take a look at statistics that suggested how a person became an elder orphan. In a lot of lives, it was not an issue until the death of a spouse or child, or perhaps illness or incarceration rendered them helpless to assist you or maybe they moved to the other side of the planet. Or possibly there is no trust in the obvious person who might assume the role of our guardian. Some people are simply not good at handling money. If they inherited a fortune, it would soon be gone to fancy cars and homes, exotic vacations and questionable business schemes. Would you want this kind of person to be your power of attorney? Even though they may be your son, daughter or other closest relative, it is doubtful that they would make the list.

So, whether you charted a course for your life that would likely lead you to becoming an elder orphan or you became one by circumstance, you have, or will soon have some decisions to make. Who will care for you if you become mentally or physically incapacitated and how will you deal with your estate matters may top the list.

Finally, I think of elderorphan couples and in the same category as a single elder orphan. Unless they both perish in the same accident, one of them will survive to deal with our dilemma.

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