There are countless important decisions to make as you get older. Many of them have a financial focus—how much to withdraw from the nest egg you’ve built, when to take Social Security, how to pay for healthcare and the potential cost of long-term care, and many more.
There are a number of financial ramifications surrounding the decision of where to live in your later years as well. By deciding to downsize, you may be able to free up some equity that could be added to your nest egg, and you may be able to reduce your home operating costs as well.
But there’s another angle to the housing decision that we’re bumping up against with my in-laws right now. It comes down to three questions that don’t seem to get enough attention: How well will your housing situation enable you to get the care you will one day need and want—medical care and family care? Should you relocate to be closer to family? And if a change may be warranted, when should you make it?
Whether to move
We human beings seem to have a very difficult time imagining how our life may change in the future. When it comes to housing, we may hear that it’s best to live in a single-story house as we get older, but it’s easy to dismiss that as a not very urgent consideration.
All it takes, though, is one major surgery to discover that having to navigate a stairway several times a day isn’t ideal. In fact, it may not even be possible. So, think about your current house. If you’re assuming you’ll stay put as you get older, how well suited is it to an older, less mobile version of you?
My wife and I have often commented about how great it is that my in-laws have been able to stay in their home as long as they have. Recently, however, things have changed very suddenly, and now their housing situation appears far less suitable.
Where to move
One factor making my in-laws’ situation more challenging is that we live over five hours away from them. Another sibling is five hours away in a different direction; a third is much further away. They’re all spending as much time as they can with their parents, but it isn’t easy.
I know someone whose parents recently moved to live closer to his family and a sibling’s family. It’s been a blessing all around. The parents get to see their adult children and their grandkids more often. And, should they need medical care, no one has to travel very far to help.
Should my in-laws have moved closer to us or another one of their adult children? I don’t think that was ever a serious consideration. My mother-in-law’s sister lives near them and the familiarity of having lived in one place for a long time makes it hard to imagine ever living somewhere else. Right now, though, we sure wish they lived closer to us.
When to move
I know someone else whose parents sold their house within the last couple of years and moved into an assisted living facility. I was somewhat surprised. Sure, they’re getting older, but they didn’t seem to need the help. But now, with my in-laws very suddenly needing a lot of help, I see the wisdom of that move. They anticipated their needs and made the move before they actually had those needs.
That’s a very tough decision, though. When we’re getting along just fine, we can’t imagine life being any other way. Plenty of other priorities seem more important.
Still, it’s important to think this one through. Making a move—or any decision, for that matter—under duress, is never ideal. And if you find that it’s too late to move but you need help, you may be forced into another situation you don’t want—having various caregivers in and out of your home on a regular basis.
Tough decisions that only get tougher over time
The decision of where to live as we get older is challenging on a lot of levels, but two points are much on my mind in the midst of my in-laws’ situation.
First, as our time on earth draws short, the longings of our heart are not likely to be about traveling or remodeling the kitchen. We’ll simply want to spend time with the people who mean the most to us. That reality should warrant careful consideration about moving to be close to one of your adult children.
Second, if you decide that moving to a different type of home—possibly in a different city—would be best, it would be ideal to make that move before there’s an actual need. There may come a time when you can’t make a move—at least, not one of your own choosing—and that will create undue stress all around.
How have you navigated this territory in your family?