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What Happens When Seniors Don’t Plan?

By Kathy McNair March 30, 2024 Lifestyle

Do you know what happens if you fail to plan, and you become unable to make decisions for yourself? If you don’t have a valid Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney document, you may find yourself subject to a Guardianship or Conservatorship case. A stranger could be appointed to make decisions about where you live, your medical care, who can visit you, and what should happen to you. If you have money, they will access your financial accounts, pay your bills, file your taxes, and sell your assets.

As an Elder Law Attorney in Boston, MA, I have been appointed by the court as the Guardian and Conservator for many seniors who failed to plan for their future. I am the stranger that has walked into the room, introducing myself as someone’s Guardian and Conservator, explaining that I would do my best to help them.

Meeting someone for the first time while they are not feeling well, sitting in a hospital bed, and may have difficulty communicating or understanding, is far from ideal. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to lose your rights as an adult to make your own decisions. As the person appointed to make decisions for them, I wish we had met before, when we could have discussed what was important to them and put a plan in place to make their wishes known and honored.

The Stranger in the Picture

Instead, I find myself putting a puzzle together and going on a scavenger hunt to figure out who or what is important to them and what they own. My goal is to maintain their independence while ensuring they get the care they need and are safe.

When they last left their home, unexpectedly due to a medical emergency, they never expected that it would be the last time there, and the next person to come in would be a stranger, with a court order, legally authorized to enter their home and inventory their estate, by going through their personal belongings to determine what they own, looking for valuables and bank statements.

In one case, a woman used ten different bags from large to small, like a Russian doll, to hide different amounts of money or things that were important to her. In another, a man forgot that he owned a vacation home. The only way I discovered it, was when a neighbor mentioned that he thought he owned a home in New Hampshire. After conducting a title search, I found the home, which had been unoccupied for many years, except for a raccoon family that had moved in.

Planning Makes All the Difference

As interesting as these cases can be, I know there is a better way for seniors to plan for their future, protect their autonomy, and prevent a stranger from being appointed as your Guardian or Conservator. Planning makes all the difference.

If you have a Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney document in place, Guardianship and Conservatorship should not be necessary unless you disagree with the decisions made by your Health Care Proxy or Power of Attorney.

Often it is too late to sign these documents when there is a crisis. Sometimes people do not have trustworthy family or friends to rely upon. In these cases, a professional may be the best option. A website, provides a directory of professionals nationwide ready to provide help to seniors.

Keep Your Independence by Planning

Most people hope they will remain independent and die in their sleep without any decline in their ability to take care of themselves. Realistically, most of us will need some help as we get older. Perhaps the assistance will only be needed briefly, but we have no way of knowing. Planning for whatever situation may arise is the best way to protect yourself and avoid losing control over your fate. Your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, just good enough for now.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you have a legal plan in place to avoid Guardianship and Conservatorship, including a Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney? Does someone know how to find these documents if there is a crisis? Have you given your doctor a copy of your Health Care Proxy?

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As a financial adviser who specializes in the divorce market, we discuss getting all of these documents in order with an attorney. One client who has hidden a dormant medical condition from her adult children has appointed her niece as her health care POA because she KNOWS the niece will follow her wishes. Her daughter will be her financial POA.

I will be a panelist on Guiding You and Your Loved One through the Aging Process on Friday. The other panelists are an Estate and Eldercare Attorney and a Care Manager who helps design “life plans” from where you are today to “what” you want to happen when you are in decline. It’s a great service.


The documents that you mentioned are only worthwhile if you have someone who will demand that the medical establishment follow them. It is the person that you have named in the document that is important, not the document itself. As a solo-ager, I’m well aware of this, and have found no real solutions.


Thanks, I agree that the person who you choose to act on your behalf is so important. It is important to carefully pick someone who will follow your wishes. If you don’t have anyone to rely upon, it can be difficult, and you may need to consider hiring a professional fiduciary. They are not easy to find, but this website, can help.


This is very timely as I recently my lost my husband and know I will need make adjustments to our will and other documents. Are you familiar with geriatric care managers and would you recommend hiring someone in this capacity for future medical needs when you might need assistance?


Hello, It can be hard to find a professional to be on standby to make medical decisions if needed in the future. Some geriatric care managers may be willing to do this. Check out the fiduciary section of to find a professional near you who may be willing to serve as your health care proxy.


Another great document is Five Wishes from
Buy 25 of them and gift them to friends. Complete your as well.

The Author

I am an Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney with Senior Solutions in Boston, MA. I am passionate about helping seniors, and especially Solo Agers, thrive. I am the founder of and I am currently writing a book to provide helpful tips on Solo Aging.

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