LGBT seniors: Will we age in comfort?

Source: 
SDGLN.com
Published: 
12/02/2011

Studies and articles on our aging population catch my attention from time to time. They concern me because I, too, will be a senior someday, and also because, as a professional, I have an obligation to provide the best legal advice about the issues of aging to my clients.

I am especially interested in ways to help our LGBT community manage their later years as comfortably as possible.

Here are three issues that have been in the news:

A recent report found that people between ages 65 and 74 accounted for more than half of all suicides from 2000 to 2009. Elderly men can be as much as six times more likely to commit suicide than younger people. However, nearly all suicide prevention and intervention programs are focused on children, not on older adults.

A 2011 comprehensive review of many years worth of studies and reports on the older LGBT population reveals there are huge gaps in our knowledge of how aging affects our community. Most studies were limited to small samples, and few shed light on the lives of bisexual and transsexual older adults. Little is known about suicide rates among LGBT elders. No statistics are kept by governmental agencies.

Dr. Marion Somers, an elder-care expert and author went on a nine-week national bus tour this past summer to raise awareness about long-term care planning. She says “I want to grab people by the lapels and shout at them ‘You are going to die someday. We all are!’” She believes that baby boomers are oblivious to what is inevitable – their own elder care. Assisted living costs average about $3,000 per month. Care in a nursing home ranges from $6,000 to $8,000 per month. Three in four Americans will need long-term care services, but are not prepared to pay for them.

In my practice, I urge my clients to plan for the future so the personal and financial aspects of their lives are controlled and managed, not left to chance. It is essential for LGBT persons to do this, since many don’t have the social and economic supports that heterosexual people have. Studies show that many older gay and lesbian individuals don’t have partners, children or other close relatives on whom they can rely for support and care. Instead, they have to rely on a “chosen family” of friends, and on their own ingenuity and resourcefulness.

This means careful planning, whether you are 30, 50 or 70 years old now. We will all be elders some day, and we really do want to remain as independent and comfortable as possible. Here are the steps to take, whatever your age:

Create a will. This will give you peace of mind about how any assets you may have will pass on to your heirs. A Will allows you to choose who will inherit – your partner, a friend, or certain relatives. Without a Will, the state will determine how to distribute your estate, and you may not like their choices.

Create a trust. If you own real property or have other financial assets, a Trust will usually permit your estate to pass on to your choice of beneficiaries without going through a public probate process, which is costly and time-consuming.

Make an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD). In this document you identify a personal representative who can make critical medical care and personal care decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Even if you have a same-sex spouse or registered partner, an AHCD is essential, because not all states and agencies recognize the legal right of that person to make decisions for you.

Create a General Durable Power of Attorney. This gives your personal agent the authority to make financial decisions for you and manage your estate if you’re incapacitated, or otherwise unable to act.

Study the financing options for long-term health care. There are choices ranging from long-term health care insurance policies, to annuities, to simply establishing your own health care savings account dedicated to accruing funds to pay for long-term care when you need it.

More couples have directives than single people, but it is likely that 50% or more of our LGBT community is unprotected by essential legal documents to support them in case of incapacity. We are all going to age, we can’t stop it. But we can plan now for the comfort we want when we get there.

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