There are more elder orphans today than ever before.

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Elder Orphan?”

It seems that more people today are facing aging alone than ever before. Meaning that there are a lot of seniors who don’t have any children or immediate family on whom they can rely for assistance with their day-to-day affairs. They don’t even have someone to list as an emergency contact for healthcare. If you think this might be you, you’d most likely fall under the category of an “elder orphan.”

An elder orphan is a senior adult that is living without a spouse, children, or close family. There was a study published in 2017 in The Journals of Gerontology saying: “an estimated 6.6 percent of American adults age 55 and older have no living spouse or biological children.” 1

We all know that as we age, planning for the future becomes more important than ever. Elder orphans face certain challenges when it comes to who will take care of them and their assets. Recently I have met several new clients who are tackling this question in their Life & Estate Planning. In this blog, I’m going to go over the basics of what estate planning looks like as an elder orphan — and how you can be best prepared.

Finding a support system is challenging for elder orphans.

Challenges You May Face As An Elder Orphan

As I mentioned above, elder orphans are seniors 55 and up who live alone without a support system. This means no children, spouse, or immediate family are around to take care of them. When an elder orphan passes away, they won’t have anyone to inherit their estate.

If you fall into this category, this is one of the challenges you can face as a senior without family when estate planning. Another issue is the lack of a support system, which might cause you further isolation, loneliness, and financial insecurity. As an elder orphan, you find yourself struggling with navigating the ins and outs of healthcare and social service systems — especially since you’re facing it alone. The older you get, the more vulnerable you become when it comes to health problems and financial difficulties. 

One of the biggest challenges that you might be facing as a senior without family is finding a decent support system. You may find yourself not having as many social connections or family networks to rely on like other seniors. Which in turn, makes it difficult for you to get a hold of certain resources and services. This is a problem because if you don’t have access to those two things, it can become harder for you to maintain your independence and quality of life later on. 

Another concern that comes with the territory of an elder orphan is financial insecurity. As an aging senior orphan, you may find yourself with limited financial resources for support. Especially since you don’t have a spouse or children to rely on for help. You may be feeling worried about being able to afford your house, healthcare, and everything else that comes with aging.
Despite these challenges, seniors without family are still a resilient and resourceful group. And there are ways that you can be prepared by having the right elements in your estate plan.

Creating an estate plan is essential for elder orphans.

Important Elements You’ll Want in Your Estate Plan

In order to have peace of mind as an aging senior without family, you must take the time to create a detailed estate plan. When you pass away as an elder orphan, it’s important that you have someone to take care of distributing your finances and belongings in any way you wish. With that being said, if you’re a senior without family, there are several key elements in your estate plan that should be in place:

1. Last Will and Testament- This legal document simply explains who will get your things when you pass away (your money, property, and personal belongings.) It’s crucial to have this document so that your belongings go to the people you want them to, and that your wishes are carried out and respected — even though you’re no longer here.

2. Trust – A trust is a legal arrangement where you select someone (a trustee) to manage and protect your assets and property. This can be while you’re living, and after your death. Your trustee will also be able to distribute your money to any beneficiaries you have listed. (Pro-tip: you can use a corporate trustee like a trust company or bank trust department.)

3. Durable Power of Attorney- Someone that you designate to make legal and financial decisions if you become incapacitated or pass away. They’re able to make decisions on your property, finances, and medical care. (I’ll discuss how to nominate a Power of Attorney later in the blog.)

4. Advance Directive- A legal document that outlines your specific wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care. You can rest assured that your medical decisions will be met according to your wants. Doctors are legally permitted to carry out your instructions.

5. Beneficiary Designation – This is someone that you give the legal right to inherit your assets. They’ll have access to your retirement accounts, bank accounts, and life insurance policy once you have passed.

6. Digital Assets- You’ll want to make sure that your trustee has the passwords to access your online accounts, as well as any precious pictures and videos that are on your computer when you’re gone. This will ensure that your digital assets won’t get lost and will be taken care of.

Now, I know a lot of clients that I have without family are feeling lost on who they should appoint as their Power of Attorney, Trustee, and Beneficiary. And there are definitely things you can do to find someone who you can trust to take care of you and your assets.

Maintaining connections makes it easier to ask for help when needed.

How You Can Still Thrive Without Immediate Family

I know it can feel really scary to not have any immediate family to choose from when determining who will look after you and protect your assets. This is totally understandable. Lots of seniors without family struggle when it comes to determining a trusted Power of Attorney. Luckily, I have some ideas on how to help with this.

First, you want to make sure that you start reviving your social network. You’ll want to re-examine your family tree and reintroduce yourself to some of the more extended branches. If you become involved in these families now, before help is needed, it can make it a little easier to ask for assistance later on. Moving to be near family is not the same as moving in with family. Think of it as adding an element to your circle. Try bonding with family members who are younger than you so you can find someone who’s trustworthy and willing.

Another idea is to get more involved in creating your own network. Take a class, join a group, get involved in your community. If you belong to a church or synagogue consider getting more involved. Follow your interests and share your knowledge. The better you know those with common interests, the simpler it will be to find someone from these groups that can help. 

Last but not least, you’ll want to look into senior communities. I realize this option may not be financially feasible for everyone. If moving is an option however, joining a senior community early lets you develop those trusted relationships (either with staff or neighbors) long before you need assistance. You may also want to look into commercial services, like continuous care facilities.

You’re Not Alone!

It’s no secret that being a senior without family is hard. But the good news is, you’re not alone. There are many others in the same boat as you. And I’m also here for you, and can help you navigate these difficult decisions. I’ll be there to help simplify things that seem overwhelming and complicated. Whatever assistance you’re in need of, I’ve got your back. If you have any questions or are in need of resources that are available, reach out to me today at, or call me at (816) 550-0644.