For many of us solidly in our middle to later years, life’s path did not include events that tend to trigger an urgency for estate and health care planning. Life changing events often and understandably motivate people to get their affairs in order. Childbirth, adoption, marriage, separation and divorce spark thoughts of how to take care of ourselves and those we care about. Who will raise the kids if we’re not around? Will my adult disabled child continue to be supported emotionally and physically? How do I ensure that my wishes for children from a first marriage are understood and honored by my surviving second spouse? What will my family tell the doctor when faced with my life prolonging treatment options?
For those of us who don’t have a spouse because we never married or are childless by choice or circumstance, a number of trigger events are bypassed. Yet, the never married and childless face their own litany of questions. How will my bills be paid when I am disabled or elderly? Who will make sure that the nursing home staff and financial advisers are providing quality services? What difference will my accumulated property make after I shuffle off this mortal coil? Without domestic pressures, what does it take for the never married and childless to plan for their welfare and legacy? Obvious answers are a serious diagnosis and looming old age, however these could apply to anyone.
As someone who falls in the category of never married and childless, it is absurd to think that the importance of planning for my health care and the beneficiaries of my estate hinges on having a legally protected partner or child. The number of similarly situated people is quite substantial. An estimated 83,135 men and women ages 45 and over who never married are living in St. Louis City and County:
St. Louis City
♂ 32.4% of men age 45+ in the city never married
♀︎ 24.6% of women age 45+ in the city never married
St. Louis County
♂ 12.2% of men age 45+ in the county never married
♀︎ 10.6% of women age 45+ in the county never married
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2016 American Community Survey, 1-Year Estimates.
Furthermore, 15.1% of women ♀︎ in the Midwest aged 40 to 50 are childless. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s June 2016 Supplement, Current Population Survey, released May 2017.) Comparable census data on childless men is harder to find. According to unpublished tabulations, 19.6% of men ♂ in the U.S. between ages 40-44 never fathered a child. (Source: Center for Disease Control, National Survey for Family Growth, 2011-2015.)
The sizes of these populations suggest that it is both just and prudent to reframe the conversation on the welfare and legacy of the never married and childless. To start, childlessness is the strongest single demographic predictor of the propensity to engage in charitable planning. (Source: American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012), Russell James, J.D., Ph.D.) On the one hand, childless adults should expect to be approached by sophisticated alumni associations and charitable organizations asking for donations and bequests. On the other, the childless and never married are in a unique position to individually and collectively make a broader impact on the well-being and growth of our extended families, communities and beyond.
Instead of asking what it takes to motivate the never married and childless to plan for their welfare and legacy, a different approach can be taken. As an estate planning and probate law firm, we want to foster a conversation that uses active problem solving to address what is often portrayed as the worrisome burdens of aging alone. Our approach focuses on the greater benefits that the well-prepared, never married and childless person gives to themselves and others.