When my parents decided to move to a retirement community, they had to consider where to go. My sister lived in Austin, TX, and I lived in Irvine, CA. They had grandchildren in each city. So, where did they decide to live? They opted to stay in New Jersey near long-time friends and extended family. They chose a new residence in a new community near “the Shore” that was mid-distance between my father’s rental properties and Atlantic City.
It was a good choice for them. All the residents were starting fresh; it was easy for them to make new friends. There were no established cliques, and everyone around them—from the bingo players in the clubhouse to the ladies at water aerobics—was also seeking a way to fit in and make a new life. Moving as a couple also made it easier to expand their social reach, enabling them to make many new acquaintances that morphed into fast friendships. When my mother got ALS, their home was well equipped to provide the changing care she needed, and by then they had built a strong network of friends to support them through that difficult time. My sister and my families made annual treks to the Jersey shore, and thanks to extensive business travel, I was able to be there every few weeks as a long-distance caregiver.
For my parents, their success was due, at least mostly, to a good partnership with each other. They weighed their priorities and made the right move at the right time to the right place… for them. Perhaps if my sister and I had lived in the same state, they might have relocated to be near us. Choices are difficult because there are often conflicting priorities. I’ve seen many situations that didn’t work out so smoothly.
When I meet with clients who are deciding whether to move closer to their adult children, walking through the following questions together helps get them thinking about every aspect of the decision. Does the discussion always reveal a clear solution? No. At least not immediately. But asking the right questions gets the decision-making process off to a strong start, helping to move beyond the emotional reasons for the move and to take a close look at the practical parts of the equation as well. Here are the basics:
- How much will it cost to relocate?
Moving closer to your adult kids and grandkids can feel like a great way to build a safety net in older age, but be sure you can manage the real costs before making a move. Overspending on the move can threaten your long-term security, so the first step is to research prices for the type of home and exact location where you hope to live. Compare that to the estimate for your current home and do the math.
- What are the emotional costs of the move?
The next step is to consider the emotional costs. Will you be happier being far away from close friends and familiar faces? Many people I know who have relocated have found it challenging to rebuild a strong social network late in life. While your children and grandchildren may be physically closer than before, that doesn’t mean they’ll have as much time to spend with you as you’d hope. It can take time to make new friends, especially at an older age. Will your children and grandchildren be able to fill the gap? The answer is different for everyone.
- Should you rent or own?
Owning a home often feels like a religion in the US. We say we “believe” in homeownership. But in Finance 101, I learned that there are two decisions. Since we weren’t born with a house on our back, we need to acquire one. Therefore, the first decision is the ‘acquisition decision’—location, number of bedrooms, continuing care options, and more. The second decision is the ‘financing’ decision. Renting versus owning is a financing decision. If you’re dreaming of a house or condo, consider the total cost of occupancy. Caroline wanted to be closer to her son, but downsizing and finding a new place was overwhelming. When we crunched the numbers, we found a more attractive option: renting in a retirement community with beautiful amenities. For her, renting frees up home equity to pay rent and live well.
- Should you move now—while it’s still your choice?
Kate was determined to age in place. Despite her kids’ continued pleas to move nearer to her daughter, she insisted on staying put where she was comfortable with her space, her garden, and her neighborhood. When she had a minor stroke in her late 80s, her kids forced the move. But because she’d waited until she could no longer handle all the details, her kids ended up managing the move—choosing where she would live, which of her precious things went to her new apartment, and what was given or thrown away. The transition was difficult.
- Will being close to your kids make you happier?
This is perhaps the most important question of all. For some, being a quick drive away is ideal. For others, being a quick phone call away is even better. I’ve found that planning dedicated time to spend with my grandchildren increases the quality of the time we spend together, so I invest in family vacations rather than a move. (And you know that I’m not planning to retire any time soon.) I know that my children have jobs and community commitments, and the teenage grandkids have full lives of their own. I know I’d be disappointed if I relied on them to fill up my social calendar. That’s not the case when we’re together on a cruise or kayaking in Costa Rica! When we’re on our adventures together, I get them all to myself to create bonds and memories.
Choosing to move to be closer to adult children can be one of the biggest decisions you make later in life, so be sure the decision you make is right for you. And one final word of caution: be sure your new home is a good fit, whether your children are in the picture or not. Three years ago, my friend Marta moved from Newport Beach to Atlanta to be near her daughter. It seemed like a dream situation—until her daughter was unexpectedly transferred to Chicago. Luckily, Marta loved Atlanta and her new retirement community, so she decided to stay, but her goal of living closer to her daughter didn’t work out as she has expected. (What is it they say about ‘the best-laid plans’?!) Choose carefully, choose wisely, and if you need guidance sifting through the details, please reach out. As always, we’re here to help!