Five steps to a wise retirement

Five steps to a wise retirementThough everyone may define their exact retirement goals a bit differently, one aim seems universal; to live independently — and comfortably — for as long as possible.

Yet achieving that goal takes more than just sound financial planning — it also involves asking some rather difficult questions about your health, interests, and what form of care and assistance you may require as you age. A continuing care retirement community may be the right solution.

Assisted living facilities, which are designed for those already in need of care, and nursing homes, designed for patients requiring round-the-clock care, are available for individuals who cannot currently live on their own. But what if you aren’t there yet? While many retirement communities cater to people seeking a social, independent lifestyle, not all offer the ability to age in place.

There are, however, active adult retirement communities that afford a continuum of care. Often called continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, these properties give their members ready access to assisted living services as their needs change. Ultimately, they allow residents to stay in their own homes longer without the fear of being alone. They also offer on-site nursing care facilities in a campus-like environment, making it easy for members to stay connected with friends in a familiar environment.

Whether you’re beginning your search, already involved in evaluation, or are looking on behalf of family members, there are several things you should bear in mind when comparing these types of communities:


When should I start looking?

First, you need to apply while you are still healthy. When it comes to planning for continuing care, it is better to be five years too early than five minutes too late.

Although most communities have minimum age requirements that range from 55 upward, the real consideration is a person’s current health. Continuing care retirement communities typically require members to be capable of independent living upon entry. Members need to submit to a physical or provide a doctor’s certification of good health. Individuals who are not capable of living without assistance are not accepted. Since these requirements apply to both husband and wife, couples with a significant age disparity or disparate levels of fitness should plan accordingly.

Individuals who are not quite healthy enough to live independently might instead consider an assisted living facility, where they can receive assistance with bathing, administration of their medications, meal preparation and other tasks of daily living. Many assisted living facilities do offer spacious private apartments and accommodate your own furniture and belongings. Aside from the accommodations, assisted living residences are considerably less expensive than nursing homes. You don’t have to go to a nursing home simply because you need physical therapy or have memory loss issues. As long as you don’t have a medical condition that requires round-the-clock medical intervention, you can still live in your own apartment, comfortably and affordably.


How do I know which community is the right choice?

Five steps to a wise retirementEvaluate what is most important to you. It is helpful to examine your current lifestyle and location. What are your present interests? What don’t you like about where you are now? Taking the time to honestly assess your current situation and identify the things that are most important to you is critical to finding a location that best suits you. Do you presently live in a country club and love it? Are you a nature lover? A health and wellness buff? How you see yourself will play a big role in which property you choose.

Next, do your homework. Pay a visit to several properties and talk with their residents. Getting on the property’s waiting list is a good way to learn more, as it affords more access to the day-to-day lifestyle of residents via the property’s newsletters and e-mails. Be sure to visit the property at various times — including weekends, evenings, and holidays — to ensure that the property is well staffed. It may even be possible to take advantage of some of the property’s activities, lectures or trips. Meet some of the residents to see if you would be happy with them as your new neighbors.

Since most retirement communities include a meal plan in their monthly dues, the quality and variety of the food is also an important consideration. Inquire about the menu and ask questions regarding the chef ’s credentials and meal planning philosophy. Try to arrange to eat several different meals on site.


How much can I afford?

Independent living communities are not inexpensive, but studies show that residents live longer and healthier lives when they have access to the social environment and medical oversight they provide. It only takes caring for an aging loved one who failed to plan for their decline to appreciate the advantages. So how does membership work?

First, many properties charge an entrance fee. This one time charge, which varies widely from property to property, typically funds long term maintenance and capital improvements. The solvency of a property is a critical component since buying into a continuing care community is not just a lifestyle choice; it is a substantial real property investment as well. A close look at the property’s financial statement is well worth the time.

In addition to the entrance fee, properties charge monthly dues which cover the costs of their services, amenities, meal plans etc. Since included services vary considerably from property to property, understanding what is and is not included is essential to comparing monthly expenses. Properties typically include common area maintenance, insurance and amenities in their monthly fees, but other benefits, like housekeeping, linen service, interior maintenance, transportation  and utilities may be available on different terms or at additional cost. What works best for you will largely depend on your lifestyle and your budget. Do the activities and amenities match your interests? It’s a good idea to have your financial advisor review the costs of the community you are considering.


What about the residences?

Five steps to a wise retirementMany senior communities operate exclusively on an equity membership basis, meaning that residents must purchase one of their homes or villas. But some communities do offer alternatives, such as allowing members to rent units or purchase only a membership. There are a wide variety of options, from large waterfront homes to more modest apartments and everything in between. Here on Hilton Head Island, prices for these properties range from $200,000 to more than $600,000. Once again, your own needs and budget will dictate what property is right for you. An active couple with children who visit often might desire a 3,000-square-foot home with guest  accommodations, while a widower might be just as happy in an 800-square-foot apartment.

In any case, most continuing care communities do offer a variety of options and provide assistance to members as their needs change. Although the property is typically owned by the resident and can be passed on to heirs, the age requirements do still apply. To help facilitate transfers, many communities maintain a waiting list and help with the marketing of the property. Understanding this process
and making any necessary changes to your estate planning is advisable.


What happens when I need more assistance?

The continuum of care offered by a retirement community is ultimately the most important consideration. After all, the principal reason for electing this type of lifestyle is to ensure that your personal care and health care are provided when you can no longer live on your own. Will assistance be provided in my own home? How is a decision made about my need for additional care?

Does the property have special services for residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia? Are physical therapy services and skilled nursing care available on site? How much do medical services cost? How long have key staff members been with the property and what is their level of expertise? These are just a few of the questions each property should be prepared to answer and how they respond is every bit as important to your choice as are your present needs of comfort and independence.

Even if you are years away from needing the kind of care a retirement community can provide it is not too early to think about it. Noted author and Harvard graduate Alan Lakein coined  the phrase, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Take some time. Become familiar with the choices that are out there. But remember that  having a game plan for the future is always a good idea.



  • The Cypress of Hilton Head:
    Hilton Head Plantation. 20 Ladyslipper Lane, Hilton Head.
    Cost of Residences: From low $200s to $700+
  • The Seabrook of Hilton Head:
    300 Woodhaven Drive, Hilton Head.
    Cost of Residences: From $50s to high $200s