Helping those who are retiring alone and on their own: Nine tips for advisors

Dr. Sandra Timmermann

Retiring solo isn’t so unusual these days. Twenty-seven percent of people 60 and over live alone,1 and many of them are single, divorced or widowed, and have no children or children who are not geographically or emotionally close to them. They may be part of the LGBTQ community. More solo agers are women.2

Most financial professionals are accustomed to helping couples plan for retirement. The majority of them have children and grandchildren who will be there for them when needed and eventually inherit their estate. Those who are aging alone are in a different situation. They face special challenges and opportunities as they embark on planning for their retirement, and will look to advisors to understand their circumstances and help them create a plan that matches their needs and life preferences.

Embarking on a holistic planning process will be very useful for solo agers since so many of life’s non-financial decisions have financial components. First, finances need to be in order. Healthcare and long-term protection is critical too, since those living alone don’t have ready access to family members to provide care. And then there are life stage and lifestyle choices —where to live and how to live — to made as well. 

Here are some tips for working with your solo aging clients.

1.  Check your stereotypes

Couples and those in large families often think that people living by themselves must be unhappy or lonely, but it’s good to remember that large numbers of solo agers are comfortable with the single lifestyle. If they are mentally and physically healthy, they are most likely doing okay — they have friends, enjoy the freedom that living alone permits and manage their affairs very well. What they need is some support and a backup plan to give them assurance and peace of mind.

2.  Start with finances

Like everyone in their 50s, solo agers need to focus on their investment strategy and have an income plan so they can replace their paycheck once they retire. Since there will be no one to bail them out later in life, it’s particularly important they make monetary decisions that are not too risky but still have potential for growth so they don’t outlive their assets. They may want to consider working longer so they can accumulate more money and defer Social Security.

3.  Stress the importance of long-term care protection

Without children to fall back on as caregivers or decision makers, it’s even more important for plans to be in place should they need care in the future. Care, either at home (where most of us want to be) or in a retirement residence, is expensive, so long-term care protection can be a good solution. Care managers, usually nurses or social workers, can be especially helpful for those aging alone. 

4.  Discuss the value of establishing a network of caring friends

Solo agers without a traditional family can create their own “family of choice.” Having close friends is important, not only for the joy and emotional support they provide but also because they are able to help out if a crisis occurs. Good friends and neighbors also can help each other with the small things like picking up groceries, being there for doctors’ appointments and cooking a meal. 

5.  Include planning for possible cognitive impairment

For solo agers in particular, a critical part of the planning process is to make sure that advance directives are in place so someone can act on their behalf if they become cognitively impaired and can’t make decisions on their own. Since it’s likely that a family member will not automatically step in, encourage them to identify a close friend, a relative, or a third party such as an attorney or financial professional who will be able to protect them from elder fraud, be an advocate for them and carry out their wishes. 

6.  Become knowledgeable about housing options

Most people want to remain in their own home as long as possible. When people are on their own in retirement, however, finding a caring community may rise in importance. A 55+ development or a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that guarantees care for life might be a good choice. On the other hand, if they want to stay in the neighborhood where they are currently living, they may want to start exploring other innovative community-based models, such as shared housing (think Golden Girls) and the virtual village.

7.  Discuss ways to align estate plans with values 

People with children generally do estate planning with their offspring in mind. For those who are solo agers, other considerations may rise to the top. Rather than choosing distant relatives as their heirs, they may want to leave their assets to friends who have been especially important to them over the years, a cause they care about or a nonprofit organization where they volunteer. They may need help translating their passion into a charitable giving and estate plan.

8.  Suggest a “purpose plan”

Many people look forward to retirement, but after a few years solo agers with fewer family obligations may wonder what’s next. They should spend some time before they retire figuring out what is most important to them, what will keep them engaged, and what will provide meaning and happiness as they get older. Volunteering, starting a business or pursuing a long-lost dream are all viable options. Whatever it may be, a “purpose plan” will get them thinking about how to make their later years more meaningful and fulfilling.

9.  Be an empathetic listener

We all need someone to listen to us and be empathetic as we talk about our concerns and our ideas for the future. Solo agers in particular may be grateful to have a trusted advisor be their sounding board as they explore what the future may hold. Letting them talk and listening to what they say will be as important as solving problems right away. Engaging in informal conversation also will provide insights that will help you connect the dots between finances and life-stage planning.


“Advisor” in this context is not intended to necessarily refer to IAR-offered fee-based financial advisory/planning, but instead to describe insurance/annuity, investment sales, and advisory professionals who may hold licensing as insurance agents, registrations with broker-dealers, and registrations as investment advisory representatives (IAR) of registered investment advisors, respectively.

Equitable is the brand name of the retirement and protection subsidiaries of Equitable Holdings, Inc., including Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company (NY, NY), Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company of America, an AZ stock company with main administrative headquarters in Jersey City, NJ, and Equitable Distributors, LLC.  Equitable Advisors is the brand name of Equitable Advisors, LLC (member FINRA, SIPC) (Equitable Financial Advisors in MI and TN).  

IU-3160967 (07/2020) (Exp. 07/2022)