“Friends are the family that you choose.”
–Jess C. Scott
My wife and I don’t have kids. We made that choice a long time ago, and I don’t see that ever changing. While there are all sorts of discussions on the Internet about how society treats the childless, whether or not the childless get the short end of the stick at work, and why the “why don’t you have kids?” question is inappropriate, there’s one topic that doesn’t get much discussion, coverage, or, admittedly, thought from those of us who are childless.
More on that in a bit.
My great grandmother lived to be 95 years old. She lived in Georgia while my grandfather lived in Virginia and her other son lived in Florida. She and her sister split a duplex, and after her sister died, it came to pass that she would no longer live in the home in Georgia. I put it that way because I don’t know if she decided she didn’t want to live there or if she was encouraged by her kids to no longer live alone.
Regardless of how it occurred, she wound up being moved up to Virginia to live with my grandfather. She lived there for a few years, and then a family fight convinced her that she no longer wanted to live there. So, they packed her back into a car and drove her down to Florida, where she moved into a retirement home.
After I graduated from college, I traveled all over the country seeing friends and family, and one of my stops was to Jacksonville, Florida to see her and my great uncle. The facility she lived in was really nice. I had vague memories of a nursing home from when one of my other great-grandmothers was still alive and I was in middle school, and I just remember it being a sad place. The place that I visited in Jacksonville was not sad at all. It was vibrant, lively, perky, and had lots of Bingo. We had a good old time. Furthermore, since my great uncle was retired, he could go over every day and meet her for lunch.
A couple of years later, it was one of those lunch meetings that wound up being the end of her. My great uncle would go to her room to get her and escort her to lunch, holding her so that she didn’t fall. She could walk still, but needed a steadying hand. It was a pretty day, and she decided that she wanted to walk outside to meet him. She never made it, as she fell and bruised her hip, and the trauma to her body was simply too much for it to handle, as she passed shortly thereafter.
I’ve always been around family members who had other family members to take care of them. My mother and my aunt visit my grandmother in her nursing facility at least weekly, though with the advanced progress of Alzheimer’s, it’s probably just as much for them as it is for my grandmother. When the point came that independent living was no longer possible, my family members have always had someone else to help them make that transition to assisted living.
However, for nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States, there are no children to turn to. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5% of U.S. women reported being childless, and a Pew Charitable Trust report using other Census data reported 18% of women between ages 40 and 44 (assumed, for the purpose of the report, to be beyond normal childbearing years) had no children. Include only attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education, and that number increases to 1 in 4.
Approximately half of the childless women are childless by choice, and, regardless of how they arrived at a childless state, they (and their spouses) must be completely self-reliant for their entire lives.
How Do You Plan When You Have Nobody to Watch Out for You?
This is a problem that both childless couples, and to a lesser extent, expats face as they age. We all hate acknowledging the fact that, unless we get hit by the beer truck and become the proverbial candle in the wind, we’re going to get old, slowly lose our facilities (starting, potentially, as early as 60), and eventually pass away.
It’s not just the physical and mental debilitation that eats at us. Many of us will see our friends and family pass away before we do. So, we’re older and we’re faced with having to make new friends in potentially strange environments.
It makes you never want to get old, doesn’t it?
Here are some of the issues that childless couples need to address long before they arrive at old age:
- Long-term care insurance. Approximately 15% of Americans over the age of 65 receive care from family members (5.8 to 7 million family members provide care to 40.3 million over age 65). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 28 million of those over age 65 will need long-term care at some point, which means that approximately 30% of people with children are relying on them or other living family members to take care of them. Childless people don’t have that support. That’s why they need to either be financially secure enough to be able to pay for long term care in the cases where it’s needed or have long-term care insurance. Do you know if you need long term care insurance? Enroll at myFinancialAnswers and find out.
- Where do you want to be when you can no longer be independent? The last thing you want is to find yourself in a situation where you have to move to the first place that has a room available for you without having ever set foot in the place. I personally recommend Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) that allow for the gradual transition from completely independent living to skilled nursing care all in the same facility. If you can afford it, you will want to enter into a type A agreement, which includes all services – housing, amenities, and health-related care – in one fee that doesn’t go up aside from inflation or operating cost increases. You will also want to ensure that the facility has skilled Alzheimer’s care co-located in the CCRC. This is an expensive option and not right for everyone; regardless of the type of facility you choose, the key is doing your homework beforehand so that you get to control the circumstances of your move rather than leaving it up to the Fates.
- Be geographically proximate to your close friends. Since your closest friends will be your family, particularly as older members of your biological family pass away, you will want to be close to them for a social and a support network. What better way to enjoy the CCRC than to go raise heck there with 8 of your closest friends in tow? In a sense, this is like marriage redux: you’re committing your lives to other people for what will be the rest of all of your lives. Make sure you really, truly do want to be around each other a lot. Having people around you whom you enjoy and are comfortable with will make the transition away from complete independence less stressful, particularly if you all take the leap together.
- Triggers for when you move from your house into a community and someone to hold you accountable. We’ve previously covered the concept of a personal finance accountabilibuddy; this person will hold you accountable for having that discussion about moving out of the house. If you’re married, it could be a spouse, but it could also be someone else. A spouse might not relent to making the move despite the physical and psychological toll full-time care takes. That’s why having an outside opinion could help. It will depend on the personal makeup of each of the people involved, but you need to have some decision points that inform you that it’s time to move well before you reach those points, as you may not be cognitively capable of making those decisions at that time.
- A way for you to reach people at all times and a way for them to get in to reach you. We’ve probably all seen the “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” advertisements for LifeAlert. They seem comical. They are comical until you’re in a situation where you’ve fallen, broken your hip, have to drag yourself across the floor, take 45 minutes to reach your phone (after passing out from the pain once), call the ambulance, and then realize that you’ve locked all of your doors and that nobody can get in. There’s a balance between security and access, and you don’t want the EMTs to have to crash in your windows or kick down your door to get to you.
Are you childless? Have you considered the transition from independence to dependence, no matter how far away that may seem? What other things should we be thinking about? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!