The California population is aging and many seniors live alone. A sad medical statistic reveals that many of these people may be in danger of having their financial affairs taken over by a stranger. People over 50 are at an increased risk of falls that can result in broken hips. One in three of those people will become incapacitated and die within 12 months of the fall. Failure to designate a power of attorney or create a health care directive can result in someone unknown to the individual making medical and financial decisions.
This is such a prevalent problem that there is a term for the planning that should be done in order to prevent it. It’s called comfort planning and a recent case illustrates what can happen in the absence of such planning. A couple had saved what they felt was a modest but adequate sum for their retirement. The woman fell and broke her hip and her health went into decline. Once the Medicare benefits were maxed out, a social service agency deemed the husband’s care inadequate and insisted she be placed in an expensive facility that quickly depleted their funds, leaving the husband with insufficient funds to cover even the basics.
In another case, a woman who had been a wildlife photographer fell and broke her hip after retiring to live alone at home. While in the hospital, a fiduciary petitioned the court and was named the woman’s conservator. She was a complete stranger to the injured woman. Had the woman named a power of attorney or created a medical directive this would probably not have happened.
Contemplating one’s own death, or the chance of becoming incapacitated in old age, is difficult to face. The fact is that failure to do so in California can cause far more grief and suffering to one’s loved ones than having a difficult conversation. In granting a power of attorney and other options that can be included in comfort planning, one can help ensure that old age may be lived with dignity and that one’s loved ones may be spared the added grief of having no control over one’s care.