The pandemic has taught us that the future is unknowable. Uncertainty about what is ahead makes planning your next move more complex than ever. That’s especially true if you’re a senior facing the decision of where to live in the years—and possibly decades—ahead.
When Carrie’s husband Bill died a few weeks ago after a years-long battle with cancer, she had a plan. Bill’s illness had forced her to face the reality of living alone, so we had begun working on a blueprint for her future over a year ago. She knew she did not want to stay in the large, suburban home where they had raised their family. Instead, she wanted to downsize and live closer to her daughter. Though she was in good health and didn’t anticipate needing assistance, she was keenly aware of how quickly that could change. We put together a list of CCRCs (continuing care retirement communities) that offered independent concierge living, as well as assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. She wanted to be able to grab a cup of coffee with a friend or walk to lunch and see familiar faces, so we pushed the places that offered a connection to the broader community to the top of the list. She had an advantage too: she already had her ‘A-team’ in place. There’s me (acting as quarterback), her trusted attorney, a great realtor who was queued up to sell her home, and her ‘person’ (her daughter, of course) who would be there to help her through the details. With her team and plan in place, she felt as ready as she could be.
Despite all the careful preparation, losing her spouse of 40 years was a terrible blow. (Even when becoming a widow is expected, I don’t think any of us can be truly prepared.) But having a plan gave Carrie the tools she needed to make a decision and act on it quickly. She called me shortly after Bill died, and, after crying together, we began to put her plan into motion. Two days after Bill’s funeral, I chatted with Carrie and her daughter on Facetime to revisit her choices. She could 1) do nothing and stay put until after the pandemic, 2) put her house on the market and begin the process of finding a new home immediately, or 3) move in with her daughter (which we all joked could lead to a much shorter life expectancy for them both!)
Thanks to the planning that was already complete, what could have been an emotionally wrenching decision-making process was quite straightforward. Carrie chose to make a move right away, selecting a senior living community just five miles from her daughter. While COVID restrictions made it impossible for her to do the usual rounds—visiting the facility, chatting with other residents, having a meal in the common dining room—she knew enough about the location and the environment to make an educated choice. She even had ‘friends of friends’ that lived there, so she already felt a sense of connection. Today, less than a month after Bill’s funeral, Carrie’s house is on the market, and she’s moving to her new apartment on the 15th of August. She is still grieving, but she’s looking forward to the next phase in her life.
Carrie’s is a success story. Since lockdown took us all by surprise in early 2020, I’ve had a handful of clients face this transition head-on. Some, like Carrie, were prepared. Others were less than ready. No matter what your situation is today, building your plan for the future before life changes force difficult decisions helps ease the path ahead. That’s true whether you are single or married, in perfect health or dealing with an illness, and years or decades away from making your next move. Here are a few questions to get started:
- What is your vision?
It’s inevitable: aging will bring change to your life. Health changes may make you more dependent on others for everyday tasks. Even if you’re lucky to remain vital well into your later years, you may want to be in an environment that is rich with community and activities with your peers. Take time now to paint a picture of how you want to live as you age, determine what is realistic based on your health and your finances, and use that vision as the foundation of your long-term plan.
- Where do you want to live?
Year after year, 9 out of 10 people in AARP surveys say they would like to stay in their homes. I’m not surprised. I know many seniors who are hell-bent on staying in their own homes early on, only to realize later that ‘aging in place’ is either too costly (note that Medicare does not cover in-home care) or too lonely.
That said, one silver lining of COVID is that the pandemic has dramatically improved services that will be beneficial to seniors long after lockdown. In March, ordering groceries online was difficult to downright impossible. I was lucky: my daughter is nearby and was happy to shop for me every week (thank you, Jamie!). Today, shopping at home is much easier. Services like AmazonFresh and InstaCart deliver what you want, when you want it (toilet paper still being the notable exception), often within hours. Delivery is a godsend for those of us who aren’t willing to take the risk of shopping in a store during the pandemic. Longer-term, these services give seniors and those unable to drive both independence and freedom.
COVID has also introduced a new risk factor into the equation: According to the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, an estimated 40% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities—so far. Of course, not all senior living communities are the same, but be sure to take this risk into account and look closely at what type of environment is best for you overall. To understand all your options, see my blog post, House hunting seniors: finding the right option for optimal living. What feels right for you today may change over time. Be open to that reality, but don’t let it prevent you from creating a plan.
- Who’s on your A-team?
Carrie had her A-team in place long before she was ‘suddenly single.’ Do you? Your A-team should include a group of players that, together, can help tackle the most essential pieces of your life—especially in a time of crisis when just getting out of bed in the morning can be a struggle. Start with choosing ‘your person’—that one person you can count on, no matter what, to help you through. Next, choose an executor, attorney, accountant, banker, insurance agent, and (of course!) financial advisor. (To learn more about the team that I recommend you find and recruit now, see my blog post When all feels lost, it’s time to find your A-team.) Why choose your team now? It’s much easier to pick up the phone and call the person you want when you need them than it is to start choosing your team during a crisis!
So what’s your next move? Even if you already have a plan, now may be a good time to rethink your options based on where you are today. Your outlook may have shifted due to COVID as new possibilities have opened up and others have closed. You may have a completely different view of the world—and yourself—after four months in lockdown. Or your situation may have changed since you last thought about your next step. Whatever the case may be, take a close look now at what you want your tomorrow to look like, and make a plan. If you need help exploring the details, please reach out. As always, I’m here to help!