I waited until my 50s to marry. I am also childless. While I don’t usually worry about things so far into the future, I have to admit that now and again I do wonder who will take care of me in my old age, particularly if I outlive my husband.
I’m hardly alone in this predicament. With more and more women choosing careers over marriage, and people, in general, opting not to have kids, the number of “elder orphans” is increasing by leaps and bounds. In fact, according to a 2015 U.S. News & World Report article, almost one-quarter of Americans over the age of 65 didn’t have anyone to care for them if they needed it. (Let’s be clear: Having children certainly doesn’t mean you have guaranteed caregivers, but the odds are better!)
While you can’t turn back the hands of time—and choose to have a few kids to care for you down the road—you can take steps to prepare for your future.
Paying for care. If you don’t have a spouse or family members to fill the caregiver role, you may need to pay someone to help you dress, drive you to the doctor, and make sure you’re taking your meds and eating nutritious meals. Be sure to have funds set aside or long-term care insurance to help you pay for home health workers or a long-term care facility.
Everyone needs someone. So you don’t have a spouse or child, niece or nephew to actually handle your care. You’ll still need someone you can trust to speak for you in the case of an emergency. That person could be a close friend, someone who goes to your church or an attorney who specializes in elder care law. Make sure your proxy knows your Social Security number, the medications you take, where you keep your insurance card and all your important papers, and other essential information. You may even want to appoint that person as your durable power of attorney for health care (that’s a person who can make your health care decisions when you’re unable to make them on your own).
A support system isn’t a cliché. If you’ve broken a bone, are recuperating from a surgery or just laid up in bed for a few days, you’ll need a village to help you get by for a while. Just a few years back, when I was still single, I broke a bone in my foot. It was amazing how many favors I had to call in to pick up groceries, mow my lawn and walk my dog. It’s also important to have a go-to person whom you can call at any time of the day or night, should you need to head to the hospital.
A DIY existence. It’s wise to scale back your needs now. Move to a home that is maintenance-free (or a city with good public transportation), replace your regular tub with a walk-in shower, install a doggie door, strategically position grabber tools around your home, automate your bill payments, and shop online (even groceries!). While you may still need outside help at some point, minimizing your needs will help you live independently longer.
Share how you’ve prepared for the future.