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My family is all dead, and I never married or had children. I’m about as alone in life as one can be.
The new term for that is “elder orphan.” There are millions of people like me. And, with roughly 491 baby boomers an hour turning 60, there will be a lot more.
The term highlights the dilemma one faces when they need help in managing their health, their finances, and the disposition of their estate. With no family or friends to name as trustee or executor, what does one do?
My lawyer told me I needed to hire a private fiduciary. That is someone who will step in, and take over, should I become unwilling or unable to handle my affairs. Someone to see I get medical attention when needed. Someone to carry out my final instructions when the time comes.
He gave me two referrals to fiduciaries he knew. The rest was up to me. His parting words were “Don’t procrastinate. This should be an easy decision.”
But it wasn’t quick or easy. What is “easy” about turning your health, your money, and ultimately, everything you own, over to a stranger? It could be 10 years before I go from “standby” to actively needing help; or, it could be tomorrow. What is easy about any of it? And how do you make a decision like that quickly?
In fact, finding a fiduciary has turned out to be the most daunting, arduous, and important decision I have had to make at this phase of life.
My quest to find a fiduciary, like all journeys, began with the first step.
THE FIRST STEP
I honestly didn’t know where to begin in hiring a private fiduciary. So I began with targeted research.
In Arizona, the Administrative Office of the Supreme Court licenses fiduciaries. There are 14 pages of public and private fiduciaries listed on the Court’s website. The site also lists all the complaints that have been filed, and their outcomes.
If you read through the site, you will glean a lot of useful information: how fiduciaries operate, their reporting obligations, and their internal policies and procedures.
When I checked the Court’s website, I verified that the two referrals I had been given, were licensed. I also learned they each had complaints filed against them. Although they were mostly minor in nature, it was important information to have.
I wanted more names to consider, so I searched the Internet for fiduciaries. I called estate planning lawyers, and asked whoever answered the phone, which fiduciaries they referred to.
A few names began to pop up repeatedly. I called them for interviews and looked at their company websites, but all my research left me feeling lost and overwhelmed.
THE SECOND STEP
I took some deep breaths, and acknowledged I had fears, concerns, and a lot of “what ifs.” Who in their right mind wouldn’t? Among them:
THE THIRD STEP
Interview fiduciaries. I interviewed seven fiduciaries in six months.
Asking questions and interviewing people is an acquired skill. Most anyone can do it with a little practice. I’ve listed some of my questions below. You undoubtedly will come up with others for your situation, but hopefully these will serve as a guideline.
Here are the questions I learned to ask:
THE FOURTH STEP
Making the decision—which I finally did after months of research and interviews, reviewing all of my notes, and sleeping on it for several days.
The fiduciary I decided to hire seemed head and shoulders above the rest. I felt OK with my decision and a sense of relief. But not really a sense of peace.
I informed my attorney of my decision, and he prepared the paperwork to make it official. I called and emailed the fiduciary to tell them they were hired. I asked what would happen now, and they told me the next steps they/we would take.
It is now several months later and not much has happened. I never completed their paperwork, and they haven’t contacted me to ask why. They don’t have my house keys or entry code.
Do I still think my decision was a good one? Yes.
THE FIFTH STEP (not yet taken)
There is still one more step: Appoint a trust protector.
That is someone who can “look over the shoulder” of the fiduciary, and has the power to fire them if necessary. It is someone who could receive medical reports and financial statements. Someone to monitor the performance of the fiduciary, and the fairness of their fees and charges.
Ideally, that person would be much younger than I am, someone willing to step in, and to keep an eye out. Someone who would be available in 10 years, or tomorrow.
It’s not easy to find someone like that. It is not something you ask of an acquaintance. Or of a friend’s child or grandchild. I am concerned about this step. But hopeful, I will eventually find someone.
Because we don’t know how we’ll age, it’s critical to get all your paperwork and “team” in order before you need them. Hopefully, this article will make your “journey” easier.
Here is the three part video series. We hope you enjoy.
Have you thought about Estate Planning? Do you have a plan in place for your Estate? What is a Fiduciary? Check out our new videos series with Jodi to learn more!
Posted by AARP Arizona on Thursday, March 8, 2018
Have you ever wondered, "What does it mean that I'm aging alone? What will happen to my finances? Who can I trust to watch over my finances for me?" We try to answer some of those questions with Jodi! Share this video with your friends!
Posted by AARP Arizona on Friday, April 6, 2018
This is the final video showing Jodi's journey to Finding a Fiduciary. A BIG thank you to Jodi for doing this with us! If you want to read her article or see our other videos, check out the following link! https://states.aarp.org/az-finding-fiduciary/
Posted by AARP Arizona on Thursday, May 31, 2018
Jodi Weisberg is a retired attorney, former legal reporter, stand-up comic, pet sitter, and baby boomer. She wants to help other “elder orphans,” and to educate attorneys, fiduciaries, and the public, about this issue. She received her MS and JD from the University of Arizona.
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