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  • Michelle Varela

What can you do NOW to prepare for aging?


For many seniors and those approaching their golden years, focusing on what is most meaningful means planning out preferences for future care needs, finances, legal arrangements and other personal choices, then communicating these decisions clearly to loved ones.

Yet, as AARP reports, many Americans are just not ready for this type of meaningful (or successful) aging. One national survey found that only 58% of baby boomers (ages 53-71) have estate-planning documents. The survey also noted that just over half of the 1,000 adult respondents have a power of attorney to help in case of serious health problems or mental or physical incapacity.


Be organized

If a loved one has to step in and make decisions for your care, try to make things easy for them by being organized. Make sure all your financial documents and plans are in one place. With them keep a clear list of everything coming in and out of your household finances, any savings or investments you have, any properties you own and any debts you might have. Knowing exactly what your finances are will be invaluable in sorting your care for you.

Bank accounts

Tax returns

Retirement plans, pension documents, and annuity contracts

Savings bonds, stock certificates, or brokerage accounts

Business partnership and corporate operating agreements

Property deeds

Debt and loan documentation

Vehicle titles

A financial power of attorney

Insurance Documents

Medical Records

Stock Certificates

Stock Records

Birth Certificates

Adoption Papers

Marriage Licences

Paid Mortgage Receipts

Wills

Death Certificates

Make a will

If the worst happens and you die without making a will (called dying intestate) then the law gets to specify how your money will be divided. That means your assets might not necessarily go to those you want them to after you’re gone. If you want to stay in control and decide who gets what then a will is a must. While it’s possible to draw one up yourself, even a tiny, technical mistake can invalidate it so it’s always a clever idea to get it done professionally, however it’s worth noting any will you draw up now might be invalid if you marry/re-marry so make sure you keep it up to date by checking it every five years or so and possibly redrafting it.

Have a What If… meeting

Just because you’ve decided to tackle your old age head on it doesn’t mean your family will be happy to; they may think you’re being morbid or worrying about nothing but it is important you have a what if… conversation with your nearest and dearest letting them know exactly what your wishes would be if you became incapacitated or died.

Family members should think about discussing the following topics:

  • Where do you keep your financial and estate-planning documents? What do you own? What do you owe?

  • Can I meet with your various advisors? This helps the adult child not have to[get up to speed in a crisis.

  • Who are your doctors and medical professionals? What prescriptions do you have? Which pharmacy?

  • What planning have you done for long-term care? What kind of care do you want if you need help with bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom? Do you want to stay at home? Move closer to family? Move to a retirement community?

  • What are your wishes regarding end of life care and funeral plans and expenses? If you face a medical crisis, what kind of treatment do you want?


Make a living will

A living will is a document in which you express how you’d want to be treated in different situations in case the time comes when you can’t make your desires known. It is important to have this conversation with family members so they know your wishes and have the legal authority to speak on your behalf.

Organize your power of attorney

If you think you might one day need someone with the power of attorney for you then you should set it up well in advance of when you might need it as you won’t be able to if you’re deemed not to have ‘sufficient mental capacity’ (the legal ability to make decisions for yourself). Power of attorney doesn’t have to be expensive to set up but if a loved one is forced to handle your financial affairs without it it will be an even more expensive and complicated process for them.


Set a pension up now

A lot of people resent paying into a scheme for over forty years before they see any benefit from it, particularly with the bad press some pension companies have had recently but it’s important for you to set up a private pension.

Most financial experts state to maintain your standard of living after retirement you’ll need at least 70% of your pre-retirement salary; a figure which rises to 90% for those from lower earning households. With that in mind it’s important to start paying in to a private pension as early as possible and where possible keep a separate savings account for after your retirement that you pay into regularly and that earns as much interest as possible for you.


Embrace Technology

If you missed out on learning basic computer skills, now is the time to brush up. Many cities and community colleges offer free classes to seniors. So much of what we do now requires use of a smart phone and basic technology skills.


Stay healthy

While the majority of the advice discussed so far has centered around your finances, they’re by no means the only thing you need to consider. Looking after yourself by losing weight, quitting smoking, only drinking in moderation andgenerally staying active will not only mean you live longer to enjoy all your financial planning, you’ll also increase the amount of time you can remain independent and able. It’s not just your physical health you need to look after either. Keeping mentally alert has a range of proven benefits from staving off depression to delaying/slowing down the onset of dementia.


Plan for Future Needs

Think carefully about your living situation as you grow older. Many people want to “age in place” and stay in the homes they have occupied. A large multistory home may not be safe for, especially if you live alone. Consider fall hazards and stairways which may pose a significant safety risk for older adults. Stairs, baths and kitchens can present many hazards. You may not need to make changes now, but do an annual safety review and make a plan.

Try to envision the kind of needs you might have and deal with them while it’s still easy to do so. If you are still in the family home, will you continue to need that size house? A smaller house will be much easier to manage as you get older.

Should you consider moving closer to family to form an extended support network?


Is there anything you can do to the home itself that might make it more navigable as you get older?

If you plan to remain in your current home, be realistic about adaptations you’ll need to make to ensure it remains a safe, comfortable and functional living environment as your health and abilities change over time. You may need grab bars in the bathroom(s), a chair lift or ramp for stairs, wider doorways to accommodate mobility aids and more. An occupational therapist can conduct a room by room assessment to recommend home modifications for aging in place.

It’s best to tackle the most basic additions and modifications one at a time to spread out the expense and inconvenience associated with installation and/or remodeling. Completing these incremental changes before they are urgently needed will increase the likelihood that you could continue living in your own home with minimal assistance if you were to experience a temporary or permanent health setback


Look into long-term care insurance

Getting older comes with changing health needs, and most of us who age at home will ultimately need some form of long term care. Currently, Medicare does not pay for ongoing long-term home care, so looking into alternatives such as long-term care insurance may be a good option. This type of insurance helps pay for the cost of care generally not covered by health insurance or Medicare, and it will make a big difference when the time comes to consider a caregiver at home.


Prioritize Saving for Retirement

Saving for retirement is critical. Even if you live a modest lifestyle, you cannot always control your spending. For example, according to Fidelity Investments, a retired couple who is 65 in 2021 can expect to spend approximately $300,000 on out-of-pocket health care expenses throughout the remainder of their lives.

Remember, Medicare and supplemental insurance policies do not cover all one’s medical costs. Hearing aids, vision care and dental care are examples of items and services that most seniors need but are not typically covered. In addition, long-term care services, such as nursing homes, assisted living, and in-home care, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and generally are not covered by insurance.


Think Ahead About How to Get Help

You may at some point need help with meal preparation, transportation, home repair, cleaning and help with financial tasks. Check out Elder Services in your community and have a plan in case you have a sudden need.


Plan for Emergencies

Who would you call in an emergency? Is there someone who can check in on you regularly? What would you do if you fell and couldn't reach the phone? Keep emergency numbers near each phone or on speed dial. Carry a cellphone (preferably with large buttons and a bright screen), or consider investing in a personal alarm system.



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