Back in 2015, I wrote about elder orphans – old people who have no family or are estranged from their family and, either way, have no one they feel comfortable asking to handle health, legal and financial issues on their behalf if they become incapacitated or when they die.
Definition of Elder Orphan
In 2016, I carried on at some length here about a definition of elder orphans which is more complex for some people than can be obvious but has also been made more complicated than it needs to be.
Plus, some people who write about elder orphans – even some medical professionals who weigh in - are quite hysterical about how awful being an elder ophan is. That just is not true and I wrote about that last year. It's still worth a glance.
For today's purposes, the first paragraph above will do as a definition.
The Witnessed Documents
I have been remiss in not following up further on this issue. But a TGB reader recently emailed explaining that she, like me, is an elder orphan, that she had read the 2015 post in which I admitted to having made almost no arrangements for someone to make decisions for me or for my final wishes. She wondered if I have made any progress.
Happily for me, I have. I'm not finished but I've completed work on the major documents and, thanks mostly to my excellent attorney, John Gear, who pressured me in the kindliest way to get these documents done, it was not too painful.
I now have, duly executed:
• Last Will and Testament
• Durable Power of Attorney
• Oregon Health Information Release Authorization
The documents, in order, (1) distribute my assets upon my death, (2) give my named agent (who, in my case, is also my heir) permission to act on my behalf in legal and financial matters, and (3) is an authorization to release my health information to my health care surrogate (same person).
Having recently found a new physician, I have also completed and signed a POLST, a Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment laying out what medical interventions I do and do not want in an extreme or end-of-life situation, and naming my surrogate so that medical professionals, in whatever condition I'm in, can contact her.
A POLST is a state-specific document in the U.S., called a MOLST in some states, that can be updated and/or revoked or changed, etc. if you choose. It is registered with the state for easy access by medical professionals.
That sounds like it should cover everything, but no. There are financial documents I have now completed too.
At my death and upon presentation of my death certificate, my named beneficiaries will have full access to my accounts as if they were me. Both my local bank where I keep a checking and savings accounts and my investment advisor supplied the forms which I have executed and they now have in my records.
If your money matters are larger and more complex than mine there could be more to do. Consult your attorney and/or financial person.
Letter of Final Instructions for Survivors
This is a big deal - at least in size. It is an enormous document. It includes wishes for handling of remains, memorial service or funeral and complete list of property, various kinds of accounts, online assets, passwords, personal and family information and much more.
Although I have a file in which I'm collecting information, I haven't done this yet and I will probably break it up into two or three documents. (In my first draft of today's post, I made some lists of the items needed but it went on for several pages.
So instead of that, take a break now for a moment and follow this link [pdf] to the website of a financial consultant who posted a sample letter of instruction form.
Although it is nearly 20 years old – no spaces for email addresses or online information - it is amazingly thorough otherwise and extremely useful as a guide for collecting all the information your survivors will need and want.
According to my attorney (and many others), the final instruction letter should NOT be kept with your will which itself should not be in a safe deposit box because the bank will not release the contents of box until they have a death certificate. (A lot of people keep their will and other important documents in the freezer, sealed tightly in plastic.)
However you choose to store these documents, be sure the people you have selected to handle your end-of-life needs have copies or can easily get to them.
Also, you should review all your documents every year or so and update them as necessary. Your birthday a good reminder to do this.
Finding Your Surrogate
This blog post does not and is not meant to cover everything. There are other kinds of documents and an amazing array of different end of life choices.
Also, I understand that the biggest difficulty for elder orphans can be finding the person(s) to rely on to handle your affairs at the end. That's part of what took me so long and I have no advice to help you on that – only my personal experience.
My choice is an old friend I have known since she was a child who is now a mother. It is not ideal that I am on the west coast and she is on the east coast but I trust her completely and she has agreed to take this on for me.
My one worry is how difficult it might be to disrupt her life when I die or, moreso, if I am incapacitated and she needs to make life and death decisions as my health surrogate.
In just the past couple of weeks it occurred to me that there is one person nearby who I have come to know over three years who I would trust completely to make the right medical decisions for me and who is, like my east coast friend, enough younger than I am to probably outlive me.
Perhaps, I have been thinking, I could name him to be my health surrogate, leaving the rest to my friend on the east coast. However, he is also one of my various professional healthcare providers so even though we've become almost friends, it might not be appropriate to even ask him about doing this. I don't know. I continue to ponder it.
Meanwhile, writing this post has lit a fire under me to get that letter of instruction done. That will take awhile. An easier task is to arrange and pre-pay my green cremation. My east coast friend knows what to do with the ashes.