People and Places
Relationships Change, Along With Circumstances
Where you will live and who you will be spending time with are important factors in planning for your retirement years. The next few pages will help you focus on the personal relationships in your life, on the options you have for living arrangements in retirement and on places in your community that provide services for older adults. After you look over this information, you'll have a fuller picture of what may lie ahead. It will help you make decisions on an informed basis.
When you plan for retirement, remember that people are resources that are as important as financial resources. Everyone gets enjoyment and satisfaction from relationships with others. As you face some of the changes that aging brings, you'll need family and friends to help support you through these often-difficult transition times.
Take a look now at the people you turn to for companionship, support and assistance. How will retirement from your job affect these relationships? How can you keep these relationships going and perhaps build new ones?
Friendships on the job
When you stop working, you'll stop the casual on-the-job friendships that provide a great deal of your daily contact with other people. To keep that contact going in retirement, try to make plans on a regular basis with your friends from work. Getting together regularly to play cards on Friday nights, or go shopping on Tuesday afternoons, can help. If you want to do something new, such as joining a senior center or helping at a local children's hospital, ask a friend to do it with you. You'll have someone to go with and a new interest to share. Don't wait for others to ask you — take the initiative.
A good way to continue old friendships and start new ones is to join the AFSCME retiree chapter in your area. You will be with people you've worked with, who share similar backgrounds and experiences. (For more information on AFSCME retiree chapters, see Section IV.)
Marriage and retirement
Retirement affects marriages in different ways. After 45 years of going separate ways every weekday, suddenly a couple faces 24-hours-a-day togetherness. While this presents new opportunities, it can also present some difficulties. Talk to your spouse about what you both expect from your free time. What activities do you want to do together? Alone? How will you handle household responsibilities? What changes could you make in household routines? You need to talk openly and honestly so you can eventually negotiate schedules and activities that will be satisfying to both of you. Before retirement, you may want to start developing some new, common interests that you can enjoy together. For example, you could join an organization, take up a hobby, plan future vacations. Work on ways to be together during those free days ahead. But remember, keep up or develop some of your own interests and don't expect your spouse to share all your time, activities and friends.
If you and your spouse will be retiring at different times, you need to talk about what pressures this could put on each of you. One will be continuing a familiar lifestyle, and one of you will be starting a whole new way of life. Remember, you'll both have to make adjustments. Again, frank and open communication can help you see both sides of this situation and help you work out ways to make this transition time satisfying for both of you.
Nearly 10 million Americans over the age of 65 live alone. Some are widowed, some are divorced, some have never married. Single people who have developed interests and friendships already have the basis for establishing a support network for their retirement years, a network that will give them companionship as well as assistance, if the need arises.
So, it's wise to cultivate a network of friends over the years. This is particularly important for women, as the majority of older women live alone, due to divorce or death of a spouse.
For both women and men, the loss of a spouse is one of the most stressful events in life. That loss, no matter how much anticipated, brings grief. But preparation does help.
On a practical level, a husband and wife should counsel each other on how to cope, discussing where financial documents are located, how appliances are operated and all the other details, large and small, that one partner takes care of and the other knows little or nothing about. On an emotional level, it helps enormously to have close friends, to have a social network that can rally around and lend support at the time of loss and, later, help the widowed partner to resume living a full life.
Loss of a spouse may also result from divorce. The trend for many years has been a growing divorce rate in marriages of 20 years or more. A person's reaction to divorce often follows a similar pattern — a sense of loss, a period of emotional adjustment, and finally, recovery.
Groups of widowed adults and older divorced people can be very helpful to others who are dealing with loss, showing them how to look ahead toward a new identity and way of life. These kinds of support groups are run by churches, organizations for older adults and community groups.
Relatives can also be friends, and an important part of your support network. As you look ahead to retirement, think about strengthening family ties. Consider actually getting together with the cousins who say, every time you meet at a wedding or graduation, "why don't we get together?" Think about spending more time with your children and with your grandchildren.
Take grandchildren fishing or camping; teach them how to cook, sew, work with tools; introduce them to whatever you like to do. Try to spend time with your grandchildren, one at a time. Listen, as well as talk, and you will discover special companions.
At the same time, recognize that you have your own life and you should not be taken for granted. A grandparent does not have to be: (a) a constant babysitter or (b) a continuing source of extra financial support. Be clear about what you are willing to do and what you consider inappropriate demands.
If you have elderly parents, as many people of retirement age do, it can be very rewarding to spend time with them. It can also be difficult. Do the best that you can for an aging parent who needs help, but try not to let their problems dominate your life.
The very old need emotional support, especially in times of loss. An elderly person may feel a real sense of loss, and need real comfort, at the death of a pet or the sale of a lifetime home. Although such a loss may seem trivial to some, it may be the last unbearable link in a chain of losses. Often, the best emotional support you can give is simply being there, listening. Always keep in mind that you may be in the same spot someday, also needing the help and comfort of family members.
Today, most adults in the United States choose to stay in their own homes after they retire. A growing number, however, move to a new residence, which could be in the same community or somewhere else. The options for living arrangements for retired adults are multiplying due to demand. Since the population is aging rapidly and people are living longer, housing needs and the options available may change over twenty years of retirement.
Here's an example of how things can change. When the husband turns 65 and retires, Mr. and Mrs. Jones decide to stay in their own home. When Mr. Jones is 75, they move to a duplex that is closer to the homes of their children. Five years later, Mrs. Jones is 79 and a widow. She wrestles with the choice of moving in with her daughter or renting an apartment in a retirement community.
To plan adequately, get a sense of all the options available to you, now and in the future. Consider all the pros and cons of different options. The following information can help you begin planning for your housing needs.
Housing Options For Retired Adults
In retirement, you could:
- continue to live in your present home
- buy a smaller, less expensive house in same area
- buy a smaller, less expensive house in a new location
- buy a condominium or co-op apartment
- buy a mobile home
- rent a house or apartment
- convert current home to smaller units (live in one, rent the others)
- buy a duplex (live in one unit, rent another)
- move to a retirement community
- live in subsidized housing for older adults
- move to an assisted-living apartment with a common dining room, health services and recreational facilities
- live in the home of family members
- move into a "granny" or ECHO flat (small, prefab house put up in the backyard of relatives)
- share housing with other older adults
When looking at a particular housing option, determine what the costs will be and compare them with your retirement income. Add up annual mortgage or rental costs, property taxes, insurance, utilities, average cost of yearly repairs and any other housing-related expenses.
Also consider that if health problems occur (remember, unskilled home care or nursing home costs are not covered by Medicare), or in case of widowhood, retirement income can be reduced. Look closely at the affordability of any housing situation — for now and for the future. Make sure you get all the facts when you are considering a move.
If you have equity in your home...
Under Federal law, on a joint tax return you can exclude from taxable income any profit on the sale of a principal residence valued up to $500,00. You can exclude up to $250,000 on an individual return. There is no longer any age requirement or requirement that you purchase another home in order to qualify. You must have owned and lived in the house for at least two of the five years before the sale, however.
For many people, this benefit could make it possible to sell the family home, make a large tax-free profit, use part of the money to pay cash for a smaller place in the same community or in a new community, and still have money leftover to generate additional retirement income.
There are some innovative ideas, as well, for helping older people remain in their homes as long as possible. One such innovation, called a "Reverse Annuity Mortgage," permits a homeowner to trade equity in the home for monthly payments from a lending institution, which can add to retirement income. The homeowner can continue to live in the home and retain title. He or she remains responsible for repairs, taxes and insurance on the property. Depending on the amount of equity established by the homeowner, a Reverse Annuity Mortgage arrangement usually lasts from five to ten years.
A similar arrangement is known as a sale/leaseback agreement. It enables an individual to remain in the family home after selling it to an investor who agrees to pay all taxes and costs and, then, lease the home to the seller. The seller receives a lump sum payment or monthly payments from the new owner, as well as a guarantee of lifetime occupancy based on an agreed-upon rent.
If you are considering these or similar innovations, be sure to investigate carefully, with legal assistance, before entering into any binding agreements.
In addition to taking a close look at the financial aspect of housing for our retirement years, we need to consider other factors. Look over the following lists and evaluate the housing options you are considering.
Does the residence:
- have an adequate amount of space?
- have easy up-keep?
- provide for a comfortable, attractive environment?
- have nearby transportation services?
- have nearby shopping, restaurants, libraries?
- meet present or future health and convalescent needs?
- offer the opportunity of neighborly contacts?
Does the community or general area:
- have a climate and scenery you enjoy?
- have an affordable cost-of-living?
- provide for adequate safety?
- have good health care facilities?
- offer employment opportunities for older adults?
- provide entertainment, recreation, and/or educational opportunities?
- have easy-to-use transportation?
- have an AFSCME retiree chapter, a church group or senior center to foster social activities?
- provide opportunities to see family and friends?
The variety of living options available to older persons has increased dramatically in recent years. You'll have to decide what factors are most important to you when making a decision about living arrangements. But remember, take a look at the whole picture — finances, safety, friendships, health needs, etc. — and get all the facts before making final decisions.
You may need community services
Communities have developed public and private services to meet many of the demands of older residents.
Communities differ widely in the services they offer. In general, the larger the community, the more services it is likely to provide — both public and private. Nevertheless, there is often a surprising diversity of services available in even relatively small communities.
Health, shelter, nutrition, safety and basic finances can become serious problems for older adults. This is why it is useful to know, before a crisis, what services are available in your own community or nearby.
Here are some suggestions on how to proceed, once you've identified the problem that you are trying to resolve.
- Check the Yellow Pages First. Sometimes a needed community service can be located quickly by looking in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. Social services are usually listed under "Associations" or "Social service organizations." Programs operated by a government agency will be listed under the name of the city, county, state, or Federal agency that operates them. Churches, clubs, fraternal organizations, and educational institutions are also under separate headings. While these are organizations, not services, the names of some organizations often suggest the types of services they provide. A few phone calls could bring you more specific information.
- Look For Special Directories. Many communities have printed directories of community services and programs for older adults. These directories will vary from a one-page listing to a printed booklet. A directory will most likely include the name and address of each organization, a brief description of the services it offers, hours of operation, and any eligibility requirements, such as age or place of residence.
The Eldercare Locator
The Eldercare Locator is a free public service offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging. It is a nationwide directory of local support resources for older persons. For more information, call 1-800-677-1116 and ask how to contact the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) that serves your zip code. Your AAA can provide you with Information and Referral on senior services available in your community. You can also find the national list of AAA's on the Administration on Aging's website: www.aoa.gov.
The Internet can be a valuable research tool as you begin your retirement planning. If you don't have a computer, you may be able to use one at a local library, educational institution or senior center. A non-profit group called SeniorNet (www.seniornet.org) offers computer training for older persons at more than 170 centers around the country.
Resources in the community
Following is a list of some of the resources available in communities across the country. These agencies and organizations either provide services directly, or can help you locate them.
- Employment Service Resources: "Forty-Plus" Employment Agencies, "Over 60" Employment Agencies, Area Agencies on Aging, State Employment Offices, Senior Centers, Senior Community Service Employment Programs, Private Employment Agencies.
- Health Service Resources: State and local government Health Departments, United Way, Area Agencies on Aging, Visiting Nurses Associations, Social Security Offices for Medicare forms, State Offices of Human Resources (Welfare Office) for Medicaid, Community Clinics, Lions Clubs, Medical and Dental Schools, Local Medical and Dental Associations, Public Health Offices, Doctors, Dentists, Ophthalmologists and Optometrists, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, HMOs, Adult Daycare Services, Respite Services that offer assistance to caregivers of elderly parents or spouses, hospices for the terminally ill.
- Income Service Resources: State or local Human Resources Offices, United Way, Area Agencies on Aging, Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs.
- Legal Service Resources: United Way, Area Agencies on Aging, Neighborhood Legal Services, Legal Aid Offices, Public Defenders, Police, District Attorneys, local Bar Associations.
- Nutrition Service Resources: United Way, Area Agencies on Aging, Senior Centers, Cooperative Extension Services, Churches, Meals-on-Wheels.
- Recreation Service Resources: Area Agencies on Aging, City or County Recreation Departments, Church Clubs, Libraries, YWCAs and YMCAs, Senior Centers.
- Transportation Service Resources: United Way, Senior Centers, Community Action Agencies, Churches, Public Transportation Agencies.
- Emergency Service Resources: Ambulance Services (Police, Private, Hospital, Fire Department, etc.), Doctors or Hospitals, Utility Companies (gas leaks, broken power lines, etc.), Poison Centers, Police Departments, Fire Departments, Red Cross.
- Financial Resources for Housing: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (subsidized housing, free legal and financial counseling), Farmers' Home Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Tips for seeking services
- Always telephone before visiting a service organization, so you can be certain that the organization actually provides the service you need. If they do, you'll want them to explain the most efficient way of using their service. Then, make an appointment to meet with the person who administers the service, if that is recommended.
- Keep pen and paper handy during the phone call. Be sure to record the name of the staff member with whom you speak. You may want to call back for clarification. Also, referrals are common. One organization may suggest contacting individuals in other organizations and you'll want to be able to jot down this information.
- Prepare a brief, precise statement describing your need. The clearer you are about the help you are seeking, the more likely you will be to get the proper information and assistance.
- Be ready to share important information. If you are contacting agencies such as Social Security and Veterans' Affairs, you may save time if you have your Social Security number or military service number handy.
Start planning now
You can start to make plans for new relationships and living arrangements several years before you retire. Begin making new contacts by participating in groups in which the members share your interests. Start exploring housing options and make a list of the most important facts you discover. And become acquainted with the community services offered in your area, or wherever you plan to live in retirement.
Remember, retirement can be the best time of your life...if you plan it that way.