Many of my clients who are single and have no children face a common dilemma. Who they name in the all-important role of representative under their power of attorney and health care proxy. Notice I didn’t say executor. I’m talking about who can you count on to take care of you – not your estate after you’re gone.
Unfortunately for many elderly and single persons the legal system and, perhaps to an even greater extent the healthcare system, are designed around family-based persons. The primary caregiver and decision-maker for so many of our elderly is an unpaid family member, usually an adult child. So, to whom can the single elderly person turn when they have no children?
This is a question that comes up often, but the answers tend to be sparse and inadequate. Enter a relatively new development: the Care Committee. The New Old Age Blog on the New York Times recently addressed this concept in an article titled Care by Consensus.
More likely than not, an elderly person without children already turns to other people in his or her life for advice and counsel. These other people serve as surrogate family members. In a sense, that is all a Care Committee is, with the added benefit of legal organization.
Here’s how it works: You ask and appoint members of your Care Committee and task them with carrying out your intentions when you are not able to articulate them yourself. Accordingly, they assume these powers only when you are incapacitated. Think of it as establishing an extended type of living will, or advanced directive. You can even spell out your intentions and simply ask your committee to follow them, or else appoint a guardian or care manager to follow them instead.
It is at least one possible solution for a fairly intractable problem. Nevertheless, committees always have their drawbacks, especially when there are disagreements. Of course, your family members also can (and likely will) disagree at times.
Another practical problem concerns the very friends you would appoint to your Care Committee. Unless they are significantly younger, they may have their own medical care emergencies and concerns, causing you to constantly revise and refine your committee choices.
But a Care Committee may be a good option for the right situation. If you are considering a Care Committee, be sure to call us (or other competent elder law counsel) to help you evaluate this option and prepare the proper legal instruments.