Ethan R. Okura
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

There is a term in Japanese culture — oyakökö — which means to love and care for your parents, although it is really a sentiment that is embraced universally, regardless of race. At our office, we oftentimes have clients who raised their families here in Hawai‘i and then sent their children off to the Mainland or elsewhere in the world to pursue their education or career or military service, or to raise their own families. Although the children try to get back to Hawai‘i nei as often as possible, or at least once or twice a year, life is hectic, and that doesn’t always happen. Even for those who do manage to come back once a year, it’s generally not often enough to really make sure their parents are safe, healthy and happy once their parents start aging.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, 20 percent of men and 36 percent of women over age 65 live alone. These numbers increase dramatically with age, as almost half of all women over age 75 live alone. Our elderly parents face several risks that become more severe when they live alone. They include:

Social isolation. Lack of contact and interaction with others increases the chances of suffering from depression, anxiety, loneliness, heart disease, high blood pressure and mental deterioration. A parent who lives alone may not even notice these symptoms, and there is no one around to witness it.

More likely to be poor. Several factors may be contributing to this phenomenon. With two people’s income and savings, it is usually a lot easier to pay living expenses. Ironically, in some cases, even a couple with only one income can often avoid poverty even though they are supporting two with that one income. Sometimes, one is better at managing finances than the other. Without someone there to remind you, it’s easy to forget to pay bills and, consequently, rack up late fees and interest.

Fall Risk. More than 90 percent of hip fractures are the result of falls. Falling is the cause of 70 percent of accidental deaths of those over age 75.

Financial Abuse. Financial abuse of the elderly is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. It can happen not only through scams by strangers, but also by a trusted friend, family member, caretaker, or even a clergy member or lawyer! This can be devastating to an elderly parent whose ability to live independently is threatened by financial abuse. The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported.

So what can we, their adult children, do for our parents? The first step is to communicate. Talk with your aging parents — or for those aging parents reading this, talk with your adult children — about what to do in the event of an emergency. Come up with a plan should something happen. Is there a Power of Attorney in place so that a trusted person can manage the finances should something happen? How about an Advanced Health Care Directive to express your parent’s health care wishes while they are still competent? Have they appointed someone to make medical decisions for them when they are no longer able to do so by themselves?

If the parent has always managed the finances on his or her own, maybe it’s time to start working with a financial advisor who can keep an eye out for suspicious activity or whom your parent can turn to for financial advice when presented with an opportunity that looks too good to be true.

Also, get to know their neighbors, friends, mail carrier, even their yard person, when you visit. They are your parents’ safety network and are likely the first ones who will notice if something goes wrong. Make time to be available. Set up a system of checking in by phone or having a neighbor check in on them. Perhaps you can develop a daily system of turning on a house light, or opening or closing the curtains or blinds as a signal that all is well — if it doesn’t happen, the neighbor can come over and check on them.

Help them to seek advice from a good estate planning attorney who has experience in elder law. They can structure your parents’ estate plan in such a way that it will help to protect their assets not only against probate, but also against potential scams and future nursing home costs.

Our kupuna (respected elders) cared for us as children. Let us take note and do the same for them, even if we can’t be with them in person every day.

Honolulu Office (808) 593-8885
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Ethan R. Okura received his doctor of jurisprudence degree from Columbia University in 2002. He specializes in estate planning to protect assets from nursing home costs, probate, estate taxes and creditors.

This written advice was not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. (The foregoing legend has been affixed pursuant to U.S. Treasury Regulations governing tax practice.)

This column is for general information only. The facts of your case may change the advice given. Do not rely on the information in this column without consulting an estate planning specialist.

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