National / Social Issues

Japanese firms offering more end-of-life services as population ages

Kyodo

Amid Japan’s rapidly aging population, a burgeoning industry is targeting families expecting a death in the near future.

Services on offer range from seminars on funerals and inheritance arrangements to a board game that prepares players for the financial implications of age-related decline.

With more and more elderly Japanese living alone, consultations are also offered on how to obtain guardianship needed for time in hospital, as well as how to bequeath assets to individuals and organizations other than legal heirs.

Pip Robot Technology Co.’s “Kokorozumori” (“Making Preparations in One’s Head”) is a dice board game that gets families to think about the costs and implications of caring for aging, ailing relatives.

The Osaka-based manufacturer of robot dolls intended as companions for elderly people created the game in 2015, in collaboration with a research team at the University of Tsukuba.

Players form pairs — one elderly and the other a younger family member — and earn an income in the form of pension and salary as they progress on the board. They spend the cash on medical and welfare bills as the older member’s health and mental abilities ebb away.

Along the way, the elderly person may suffer a stroke or dementia-induced memory problems, requiring nursing care that may be eligible for insurance coverage. Their physical condition plays into it.

“We devised the game to offer some ideas about institutional services available and illnesses,” a public relations official at Pip Robot Technology said.

The company hopes the game will be promoted at nursing or end-of-life events.

Chiba-based Aeon Life Co. each year conducts approximately 100 “end-of-life” seminars on funerals, grave maintenance, will-writing and inheritance.

Teamed up with around 540 undertakers across the country, it also offers phone consultations and discounts on purchases of grave plots.

The service, which logged around 120,000 members at the end of July, aims to provide advice and help with paperwork without having to contact an undertaker, lawyer and tax consultant individually.

“We hope to dispel consumer concerns about funeral costs by presenting estimates before they die,” Aeon Life President Fumitaka Hirohara said. “This should enable them to set aside all other money from savings to enjoy their second life.”

In Japan, population 126 million, more than a quarter of people were 65 or older in 2015. The demographics are graying fast, with 1 in 3 people expected to be in the old-age bracket by 2035.

Meanwhile, the number of elderly people living alone topped 6 million for the first time in 2015, at an estimated 6.24 million. There will be around 7.6 million of them in 2035.

For those living alone, Aeon Life is working with partner bodies to help clients obtain guardianship and leave a testament.

The company has received queries about how to secure a guarantor for inpatient care at a hospital or similar stay at an institution.

More and more elderly clients living alone, especially those in cities, are asking for help in filing a death certificate or ending pension payments.

In April, the nonprofit Nippon Foundation opened a support center providing visitors and callers with advice on giving away their assets and other end-of-life preparations.

The Tokyo-based foundation said it had received about 360 inquiries as of early August.

It has been working with experts in selecting possible beneficiaries or in addressing problems with inheritance, including leaving a will. A testament is required for donating assets to an institution or organization.

“I lost my only family to a heart ailment. I came for advice since I don’t have children and would like my assets used for heart research,” said a woman in her 40s from Tokyo who was visiting the center.

A staffer said if greater support is available it may encourage more people to give away their assets.