Dr. Bob Explains Series on Financial Topics

When Mama passed unexpectedly in 1998, Baba and we children were suddenly confronted with the question, where should he live? Even after a mild stroke Baba was lucid and able, but was 83 with a heart condition and now a widower.

This question of where to live re-surfaced poignantly two years ago in a taiji exercise class, where an 80-year-old fellow student--let's call her Mrs. Chen--shared her story with me. She “intellectually” understood that she should give more thought to where she should live while she was still of “sound mind and body.” But she was emotionally unready “to deal with it.”

Que Sera Sera?

Whether you’re in your 70s or more, or the adult child of someone who is, you probably agree. It’s far better to consider where to live when we can, not when we must. But we all have a hard time planning for distant eventualities. According to some research, one of the reasons that young people don’t save for retirement is because we respond to our future selves no better than we do to strangers. Why save for a stranger? 

Other research suggests that at all ages we perceive ourselves as younger than we actually are. (I experienced this with Baba when he was in his 90s. As we sat in a coffee shop, he asked me to glance over his shoulder at someone he claimed was old enough to be in his 80s. It was all pretty funny because Baba himself was even older.) Still other research demonstrates that at all ages we are bad at imagining our future selves.

Add to all of this an instinctive avoidance of all things unpleasant (such as the idea that we will decline in the future). We emotionally resist the thought of leaving a home that is comfortable and familiar. (I admit I do.) Of course it takes emotional energy to imagine moving into a new place, somewhere that’s not a “known factor.” Take all of the above together and we have a host of factors that conspire against us thinking about where our future selves should live.

Scaling the Emotional Wall

  • Change is hard, big change really hard, and the first step in big change the hardest. I’ve lost contact with Mrs. Chen, the fellow exercise student. I believe that she took a valuable first step in her situation simply by recognizing the need to review her options and recognizing her own emotional reluctance to do any more for the time being.
  • Warm up to the idea. Naturally-occurring events can stimulate reflection about where to live. These prompts could come from relatives who have moved or from driving by an active-adult development. I met a couple at church recently. They had been living in a 55-and-older community and loving it. That introduction could’ve been a prompt. If you are an adult child, you may help a parent warm up to a where-to-live conversation gently and reverently.

 

 
Explore 

If, according to research, we are ineffective at imagining our future selves, then it may be prudent to talk to and learn from those who have made one choice or another. For example, perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez moved to a ranch-style house. Perhaps Melissa and Henry moved into a city apartment. Perhaps recently widowed Harriet decided to stay in the house that she’d shared with her husband and modify it for the long term. And perhaps a couple at church moved into a 55-and-older community. Seek and ask them. How was their experience in the transition? Are they happy?

Consult Professionals

Further along, it’d be worthwhile to consult with professionals because they would have experience with others who have addressed where they should live. These professionals include staff (or volunteers) associated with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for general and focused questions. For home modification input, approach a remodeler, occupational therapist, or contractor who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. They have specific training to address the needs of home dwellers of all ages and their visitors.

Check with a financial advisor and elder care lawyer to put in place plans to support and protect you generally, not just with housing.

There are many more considerations in evaluating housing alternatives, especially those that pertain to safety, health, lifestyle, social life, and mobility. The point is to direct some attention to them before they come knocking.

 

Epilogue

After Mama passed, Baba had a couple of choices that included a house in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. He accepted my sister’s and her husband’s invitation to move in with them on Staten Island. He also kept his Chinatown walk-up apartment. For 11 years after, every Monday through Friday, he walked to and boarded the ferry, crossed the NY harbor, and then climbed onto a bus to hang out a bit at that Chinatown apartment that our family had called home for over 40 years. Despite the lack of forethought, he had the best of both worlds. He aged in place and with his children. His story ended well.

Disclosure: This commentary is furnished for the use of Glen Eagle Advisors and its clients. It does not constitute the provision of investment advice to any person. It is not prepared with respect to the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person. Investors reading this commentary should consult with their Glen Eagle Advisors representative regarding the appropriateness of investing in any securities or adapting any investment strategies discussed or recommended in this commentary. The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is conferred by the CFA Institute.