The Plan


March 6, 2017 by Jean

imageOver the holidays, during an annual celebratory dinner with friends, one of our party said that she had recently spent some time with a group of people in their seventies and they repeatedly referred to having a “plan.” Mystified, she asked what kind of plan they were talking about. The answer: a plan for what you will do when you can no longer manage your house.

The friend who recounted this conversation is a married woman with children and the youngest in our holiday gift-exchange group. She asked if any of the rest of us had a “plan.” After all, despite all the talk of “aging in place,” many of us live in houses that have served us well in our younger years but become increasingly problematic as we age. Those of us without spouses or children had clearly been thinking about this. I replied that, although I did not yet have a plan in place, I knew I needed one. While my house is well-designed for a temporary disability, it is not realistic to expect to stay here forever. The house is built on a hillside with the main entrance a full story above the driveway; there is no way to get in or out of the house without climbing a full flight of stairs. The house also has a central woodstove as its primary heating source, and wood heat will become more difficult to manage alone as I age. Another friend, like me a single woman without children and already in her seventies, replied that she had been to visit some nearby retirement communities but hadn’t yet seen anything that appealed to her.

For me, the availability of appealing alternatives that I could afford has been the biggest stumbling block to developing a “plan.” That stumbling block was at least partially removed in January when I had an appointment with a Certified Financial Planner, whose services are a benefit of having my retirement funds held by TIAA (Teachers’ Insurance and Annuity Association). The private colleges I worked for during my academic career did not have defined benefit plans that provide a pension when you retire, but they did have generous defined contribution plans (non-profit versions of 401(k) accounts). As a result, I entered retirement with more retirement savings than most retirees (although with less than the $1M some commentators claim you need to last you through your elder years).

I went over my monthly budget with the financial planner and my expectation that the Social Security I will begin to collect at age 70 will easily cover those monthly expenses. He then pointed to his printout of my retirement savings and said, “So what’s this money for?” “I don’t have a long-term care policy,” I explained, “so that is for long-term care.” He expressed the opinion that the amount I had would be more than enough to cover likely long-term care needs and promised to work up some numbers to demonstrate that to me at our next meeting. Then he returned to the question of what I would do with the rest of my retirement savings. “Are you telling me,” I asked, “that I could afford one of those fancy independent living retirement communities?” He responded that I could afford this and used as an example a coastal nonprofit continuing care community that I hadn’t heard of.

When I went home, I looked up the website of this community and saw that some of its independent living “cottages” are as big as my house. There are also smaller independent-living cottages and apartments, an assisted living facility, and a nursing home with all private rooms. This was an option I could get excited about! I looked up the website of another similar community a bit closer to where I live now and also found it an exciting possibility. When spring comes and the weather gets nice, two friends and I are going to make arrangements to visit these two retirement communities (and perhaps some others, too). I think I may have the beginnings of a plan.

9 thoughts on “The Plan

  1. Jean R says:

    Having the money to cover a wide array of options is an ideal situation. I’d say you were lucky to have that but I know that more than luck was involved. I’ve visited maybe six (?) places that have the independent through nursing care available. There sure are a lot of differences. Be sure to pick up one of their newsletters for residence so you can compare the social interactions they offer. One place I looked at has a mini bus and will take people anywhere they want to go three days a week, others only offered outings twice a month to grocery or dollar stores. Another thing to ask is if you go from independent to nursing care do you physically move to a new building or stay in place? Staying in place is a new tread and not as common.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I’m not aware of any retirement communities here that let you go from independent living to skilled nursing care without moving to a different building. I think both the communities I want to go look at in spring may allow for some help with activities of daily living in the “independent living” units, but permanent help with many of the ADLs would require moving to an assisted living unit.
      Thanks for the tip about picking up a current newsletter.

  2. Ellie Leight says:

    It’s interesting that you write about continuing care retirement communities. The last job I had before retirement was at just such a place. I was there for 6 years as the Controller. It was a lovely campus with about 240 residents and 160 staff members. I believe I can say that most of the residents seemed to greatly enjoy the lifestyle, but it definitely was communal living. Most of the living units did have kitchens, but 3 meals a day were served in the dining room, and most residents gathered there daily. There were activities and committees run by the residents, transportation for shopping and leisure activities and events planned for all of the holidays. The units varied in size and price, and the assisted living facility was located in a single building with studio sized rooms. The residents in these units did not often interact with the ones in independent living. It seemed to me that most of the residents did not engage a great deal in activities outside this community. I’m sure there were some who did, but that is not something I personally noted. People did travel or visit family. I came to think that the folks who greatly enjoyed this type of lifestyle were quite social and outgoing, and that this is not ideal for everyone. It is also pretty much a lifetime commitment. People just never left partly because there was a rather large up-front entrance fee. So there’s quite a lot to think about before making such a commitment. It’s not for everyone no
    matter how lovely the campus.

    • Jean says:

      Ellie, Thanks for the caution about how communal the living can be in some of these communities. That will be something for me to pay attention to when I visit, especially since my sanity requires periods of solitude every day. I was hoping that independent living cottages would provide for more privacy and solitude than is typical in retirement apartment buildings.
      I don’t think I could ever move to a community where you can’t move once they have your money; too much risk of having no way out if care or services deteriorate. The independent living communities in Maine all seem to have large, but refundable, deposits. I’ll have to ask about how long it takes to get the deposit back if you decide to move out.

  3. Brenda says:

    I will be interested in seeing what you think of the communities when you visit them. The important thing is to have options. I cannot ever picture myself at a retirement community. I am too hermit-like and need at least one dog and bit of garden that is my own. Plus, I envision all kinds of social cliques and rivalries in those communities. Goodness knows, we actually witnessed that in RV parks in our year on the road. Fortunately, our house is pretty well set up for us if we become less mobile. If we (or I) ever have to leave here, I think I would buy a little place in Rockland within walking distance of the town’s amenities or might consider a house sharing arrangement under the right circumstances. Our library’s reading group (which consists of women ranging in age from about 60 to 92) read a book last year called the “Winter House,” about a group of women in Maine who shared a house for the winter. The book itself has some flaws, but the concept is intriguing.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, Most of the retirement communities I know of in Maine allow pets. One of the coastal communities I’m looking at lists a dog park as one of its “amenities.” The two communities I find most interesting (at least on their web sites) also have gardening options. One has a community garden where individuals can have plots; the other allows individuals to choose the option of being responsible for the garden outside their own cottage.

  4. Diana Studer says:

    Our plan B is in this suburb. A cottage with a small garden. And separate frail care.
    The bit I would battle with is the fishbowl living. But, will have to deal with that, if and when it happens. Definitely want a bit of private garden!

    Some reirement villages have the ‘private garden’ opening onto the passing car and foot traffic. No way I am going to sit and read there.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, Privacy is an issue for me, too, and definitely something I’ll be paying attention to as I visit some of these communities. One of the communities whose web site I’ve been looking at has many units (both cottages and apartments) with private screened porches. That is a feature that appeals to me.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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