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Prepare essential documents if you have no family, spouse

Dear Savvy Senior: I need to find someone honest and reliable to look after my estate, health and long-term care when I’m no longer able to do it myself. I’m a 67-year-old recent widow with no children and one sibling I rarely talk to. Any suggestions? — Solo Ager

Dear Solo: This is big concern for millions of older Americans who don’t have a spouse, children or other family they can depend on to watch out for their well-being. While there’s no one solution to this issue, here are some tips and resources that can help you plan ahead.

If you haven’t already done so, your first step, before choosing a reliable decision-maker, is to prepare a basic estate plan of at least four essential legal documents. This will protect you and make sure your wishes are carried out if you become seriously ill or when you die.

These essential documents include a “durable power of attorney” that allows you to designate someone to handle your financial matters if you become incapacitated; an “advanced health care directive” that includes a “living will” that tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated and a “health care power of attorney,” which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to; and a “will” that spells out how you’d like your property and assets distributed after you die. It also requires you to designate an “executor” to ensure your wishes are carried out.

To prepare these documents, your best option is to hire an attorney, which can cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000. Or, if you are interested in a do-it-yourself plan, Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 ($199, Nolo.com) and LegalZoom.com ($179) are some top options.

Most people think first of naming a family member as their power of attorney for finances and health care, or executor of their will. If, however, you don’t have someone to fill those roles, you might want to ask a trusted friend or associate, but be sure to choose someone who’s organized and younger than you who will likely be around after you’re gone.

Also, be aware that if your choice of power of attorney or executor lives in another state, you’ll need to check your state’s law to see whether it imposes any special requirements.

But if you don’t have a friend or relative you feel comfortable with, you’ll need to hire someone who has experience with such matters.

To find a qualified power of attorney or executor for your will, contact your bank, a local trust company or an estate planning attorney. If you need help locating a pro, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) provides an online directory to help you find someone in your area.

Another resource that can help you manage and oversee your health and long-term care needs as they arise, and even act as your health care power of attorney, is an aging life care manager. These are trained professionals in the area of geriatric care who often have backgrounds in nursing or social work. To search for an expert near you, visit AgingLifeCare.org.

Or, if you need help with bill paying and other financial/insurance/tax chores, there are professional daily money managers (see AADMM.com) that can help.

Aging life care managers typically charge $75 to $200 per hour, while hourly rates for daily money managers range between $75 and $150.

It’s also important to note that if you don’t complete the aforementioned legal documents and you become incapacitated, a court judge could appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. That means the care you receive may be totally different from what you would have chosen for yourself.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.

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