By Charlotte-Anne Alexander
Most of my clients want to stay in their homes, living well, as long as possible. It is a wonderful goal but requires specific planning to increase the odds of that outcome. The concept of “aging in place” is becoming a term we hear more often, but what does it really mean?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “aging in place” as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” The goal of aging in place is to help older adults live a quality life in the home of their choice, with appropriate assistance and community/family support. A smart plan to age in place must anticipate legal, financial, practical, social and emotional needs.
Throughout our lives, our needs will change. For instance, that Last Will and Testament from 20 years ago which included a Trust for Minors and designation of Guardian for your young children may not be ideal now that your kids are in their 30s and financially independent. Or, although that 2800 square foot, two-story home with the master bedroom upstairs was perfect when you first bought it, now it is too much space to maintain and the stairs are harder to climb. Perhaps it is time re-evaluate your present needs and make wise adjustments to support your desired future.
As an elder law attorney, I work with numerous community partners to help clients and their families create wise plans to age in place. My role focuses primarily on legal aspects of aging in place to ensure that clients’ estate planning, tax planning, Medicaid, disability, health care decision-making and long-term care issues are addressed, as well as create legal documents (like a Last Will and Testament or Trust, if needed) to protect heirs. Among the most overlooked and important documents we all need is a Durable Power of Attorney, which gives a trusted person the legal ability to manage finances if we become incapacitated or need help. It is crucial to have thoughtful estate and financial plans which anticipate and support the ability to live a financially secure retirement and then leave our assets as we desire.
A smart plan to age in place considers an individual’s physical environment. For instance, consider whether you can modify an existing home (e.g. enlarging doorways, make a bathroom and/or kitchen more adaptable) or whether you should relocate to a home that better accommodates changing physical capabilities. Also, consider whether your home is near important services such as: medical care, grocery and retail stores, exercise facilities, a faith community, parks and other community resources. If transportation is or may be an issue in the future, consider that where you live may affect your ability to access the goods and services you want and need to remain independent.
A supportive network of friends and family is a crucial aspect of a plan to age in place. Countless studies show the importance of a meaningful social life as we age. Consider opportunities to meet, socialize and work with individuals of all ages. And importantly, if caregiving may be an issue in the future (and it will be for many of us), then talk to family members about whether they realistically can provide in-home care or else anticipate how you can pay for such needed assistance.
Finally, be sure to contact your local Senior Center to learn about program offerings. These non-profit organizations frequently offer a range of excellent community education opportunities, falls prevention programs, help with navigating the complexities of the Medicare program, social and volunteer opportunities and nutritious meals, as well as caregiver support. Most services are free of charge and staff are dedicated to advocating for older adults.
For more information, visit ck-attorneys.com or call 252-321-2020. Offices located at 1698 East Arlington Boulevard, Greenville, NC and 130 East Second Street, Washington, NC.