Getting older? How and what to prepare for
Susan and her husband have thought about retirement for some years. She says she started thinking about it as she approached 55 but said, “not yet.” Her husband, while knowing it was coming, didn’t actively begin to think about the next phase until he hit 60 and knew he could qualify for Social Security payments as early as 62.
Now that they are retired, I asked them what they’d do differently if they could go back. In their late 60s now, they reiterated that they wouldn’t go back, first of all. They like how their retirement looks but, like many older adults, they have their “should of, could of, would of” list.
Housing — While many individuals remain in the family home for many years into retirement, divorce or loss of a spouse to death may spur the remaining individual to move. The house may be too large with too much upkeep, a large yard or have a mortgage they can no longer pay. They may have purchased a home late in their working years and now find they are upside down with the bank. Other individuals may have taken a second mortgage out for a remodel only to go through a divorce or death.
- Do we (I) want to stay in this house?
- If I’m part of a couple, would I stay here by myself?
- If I (we) decide to stay here, what can we do to get ready for our latter years? (i.e., new roof, less maintenance, easier access, grab bars in bathroom, etc.)
- If I (we) decide to stay here, can we afford the mortgage payments, upkeep, utilities and help to keep it up?
- Is this my (our) dream home or would I (we) like to go elsewhere?
Income — Most older Americans associate monthly Social Security payments with retirement although Social Security payments average around $1,200/month. It is very important before you make the decision to retire to see where you stand on income and savings.
- Do I have the requisite number of quarters paid into to qualify for Social Security? socialsecurity.gov
- Has Social Security sent me a statement telling me how much per month I’m eligible to receive at 62?At full retirement age? How old is that for me?
- If I continue to work beyond 62 or full retirement age, how does that affect my Social Security?
- How do my other retirement benefits affect my Social Security benefits?
- Do I (we) know how much it costs now to live on a month? How will that change when I’m (we’re) retired?
Transportation — Public transportation in rural counties is available but limited particularly in the outlying areas. Having a reliable source of good transportation is vital to individuals aging in place.
- How long will my current automobile be a reliable source of transportation for me (us)?
- Should I consider purchasing a newer vehicle that is better suited to the area I (we) live in while I’m still working? i.e., 4-wheel drive for snow.
- Do I believe that in the future I may need to utilize public transportation? Am I aware of what’s available for the community I live in?
- If I choose to remain in my home regardless of location and cannot drive, how will I work around the need for transportation?
- Are there community resources out there regarding transportation that I need to look into?
Benefits — There are benefits to assist retired individuals. The benefits can be federal benefits, state and/or local. Also called entitlements, these benefits usually have stipulations to them. For example, Medicare is available at age 65 or younger with a two-year disability diagnosis. A housing voucher through Section 8 is only available in the county of issuance and is usually not transferable.
- Do I (we) know of all the benefits that are available to us as retired individuals that may help us in our older years?
- I have heard of benefits for veterans but am unsure if I qualify? What requirements are there? Do I make too much money? Do I have to agree to go into a VA nursing home?
- I may qualify for a housing subsidy due to my modest income. How do I find out what the qualifications are?
- What do you see as the biggest issue you face once you retire? i.e., lack of sufficient income. What can I do to increase my monthly income and what programs can help?
Health and health insurance — Even if older adults continue working past age 65, they are still eligible for Medicare. When leaving employment it is important to assure health insurance coverage will transition with you. Good health also gives you a firmer standing as you enter retirement and helps greatly with maintaining independent living.
- Do I understand Medicare, its benefits, its limitations? medicare.gov
- When/how do I sign up for Medicare? Do I need a secondary Medi gap policy and a Medicare Part D plan for prescriptions or will I enroll in a capitated plan?
- How much does this cost each month? How much of my medical bills will it pay?
- Should I consider purchasing long-term care insurance to help with care later in life? Can I afford it? Am I healthy enough to buy it? When should I buy it?
- What can I do as I anticipate retirement about staying healthy? How important is it to maintain good health as I age? How proactive should I be about being healthy?
Support system — Statistics show that people satisfied with their lives are happier and live longer. Couples tend to live longer than a single person. All people with some type of support system also are shown to live longer as well.
- As you age, who will you consider your support system? Your spouse? Your adult child(ren), a good friend, a sibling, a partner?
- What role do you see your support person (people) having in your life?
- Have you discussed this role with them?
- Have you put formal documents into place i.e., Power of Attorney and Durable Powers of Attorney for Healthcare, a trust?
- Have you considered an alternate or a younger person in case you outlive your support? What would you do in that case?
None of us can predict the future. Individuals are living longer and healthier, choosing as they go whenever they can to live the lives they want. Eventually we are all impacted by constrictions such as lack of financial resources, inability to drive due to vision issues, health issues that limit our activities and losses that multiply as we age. Even the best, most-organized planner among us will be surprised by an event not anticipated. However, when a life event as important as retirement begins to enter conscious thinking, it’s probably a good idea to begin your research and get the questions answered that can affect the rest of your life. You’ve been retired for years now? It’s also never too late to learn what’s out there. You may have not needed anybody or anything up until now but learning what’s available can help extend your independence.
Carol S. Heape, MSW, CMC is CEO of Elder Options Inc., serving the Sacramento Region, Placerville and South Lake Tahoe.