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Aging in place could inflict a huge burden on your family

Decisions on your retirement home should include discussions

Decisions on your retirement home should include discussions with your adult children. Seen here, Maren McMillan, left, with her mother, Patsy Spitta, in the backyard of Patsy's home in Altadena, Calif., in April 2018. Credit: TNS / Los Angeles Times / Wally Skalij

Best Places to Retire lists are great conversation starters, but the vast majority of Americans have no intention of making a move in retirement, whether to a "best place" or a more age-friendly and financially friendly home in the same town. They want to age in place.

That’s a blind spot that can drag down multiple generations within a family. The 60-somethings who refuse to game out the best moves to make now for their 80- and 90-year-old future selves are (unconsciously) transferring those hard decisions onto their children and grandchildren.

If you think contemplating a move in your 60s is hard, the hurdle will be physically and emotionally higher later on. That can lead to the kids scrambling to bring services into your home, a move that often requires them to bear some of the cost. Even more costly is the decision more and more adult children (mostly women) make to quit their jobs to care for an elderly parent. That puts their own household’s future retirement security at risk. The loss in retirement income can be more than $750,000 for a career derailed by caregiving.

That can trickle down to the grandkids, as well. Not just in a tighter college budget, but the increased risk that their parents will not be set up well to afford retirement.

So, while in your 50s or 60s, and in good health, take a clear-eyed look at what you might consider doing now to make sure your retirement works for your entire family. That should include discussing this with your adult children. Down the line, every decision you make today will likely impact their life.

Can you really afford to stay put? The goal should be that you can cover basic living expenses from guaranteed retirement income: Social Security and a pension if you have one, and any required minimum distributions from traditional 401(k)s and IRAs.

Even if you own your home and have the mortgage paid off, don’t lose sight of property tax and maintenance. If you don’t live in a region that offers property tax breaks to older homeowners, you also need to bake in that your property tax bill will continue to climb over a long retirement.

No idea how to scope out the future cost of staying put? There are plenty of certified financial planners you can hire on an hourly or project basis to help you crunch the numbers.

Is it safe to stay put? The vast majority of homes do not have a layout that works well for seniors. Too many stairs. No bedroom/bath on the entry level. A shower that requires stepping into a tub, rather than a level-in space that can accommodate a bench or stool. The time to make those age-in-place renovations is in your 50s and 60s, when you don’t yet need them.

And consider the psychological safety of where you live. Do you and your friends need to travel a long distance — on busy roads — to see each other? Is there a big stair climb into your home? These can become obstacles to maintaining social connections later on.

Can you help your kids by moving close(r)? Maybe not into their house, but out back perhaps? Converting a garage into a small home, or building a separate small unit, brings you all close while maintaining some healthy distance. Some communities are becoming more hospitable to allowing homeowners to build accessory dwelling units.

If you are game for a bigger retirement relocation, focus on future needs, not just today’s wants. Warm weather is a popular criterion for Best Places lists, but a nonprofit consortium that tracks each state’s level of support and services for long-term care needs found Florida’s overall at the bottom. The states with the highest scores across five broad categories (cost of care, support for family caregivers, etc.) were Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin. You can learn more at covers the worlds of personal finance and residential real estate.

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