The next inn on the journey of life
Who is going to take care of me when I can no longer care for myself?
Lately I've been considering where I'm going to live during the next and presumably last stage of my life.
It's a question that was brought into sharper focus when I fell and hurt myself badly enough that I couldn't easily take care of my home or myself. The shoulder still isn't healed, but even though it hurts quite a lot, on and off, all the physical work around this house still has to be done. Caring for the pool (a daily project), dealing with the quarter-acre yard, cleaning and maintaining a four-bedroom house -- they all represent physical labor. And there's no one here to help.
- Calculator: How long will retirement last?
Just now I ache all over my body, as though the shoulder pain spread to every other joint all the way down to the toes. But none of the work can be put off just because my back hurts.
Clearly, I'm not going to be able to care for this house for many more years.
Then there's the issue of the costs. Property taxes can go nowhere but up, and at $2,000 a year they're already at the border of what I can afford. Because I have retirement savings, I don't qualify for the cap on taxes for the elderly.
Sooner or later the HVAC unit will have to be replaced, to the tune of about $6,000. The interior needs a paint touch-up, and the exterior will have to be repainted sometime in the next five years. There's a crack in the living room tiles, an ominous development. In another five years, too, the pool will need to be re-plastered, a $7,000 job. Power and water bills keep going up and up. With no credible source of steady income, where on earth is the money going to come from to cover those expenses?
- Calculator: Are you saving enough for retirement?
And who is going to take care of me when I can no longer care for myself?
This train of thought brings me to consider the best thing my father ever did for me: He moved himself into a life-care community.
After my mother died, he sold his house in Sun City, Ariz., divested himself of his possessions, and used the money to buy into an independent-living community. This gave him (and later, his new bride) a garden apartment, access to hobby and meeting rooms, two meals a day in a central dining hall, and guaranteed access to nursing care.
For me as his daughter, it meant I didn't have to take care of him as he grew older and more infirm. When he had a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery, the institution moved him temporarily to a studio apartment next to the nursing home, where a registered nurse checked on him several times a day to be sure he was taking his meds and to coax him to eat.
And after he had a stroke, the only medical practitioners who would care for him and respect the wishes he had expressed in his living will were the staff of the nursing home at the life-care community.
It wasn't ideal. The food was awful. I suspect the doctor on the staff was ripping off Medicare right and left. The institutional setting was depressing -- at least, I found it so. But it probably was better than the situation he would have faced had he tried to stay in the Sun City house for the rest of his life.
After he died, I discovered the staff had provided him with a lot more care than he had contracted to receive. A woman in the central office spent a fair amount of her time running interference with the various bureaucracies the elderly have to negotiate. As he grew more confused in age, he would occasionally mess up his checkbook; someone at the office went through and corrected his figures, balancing and reconciling them against the bank's statements. So, he got his money's worth, and then some.
I wouldn't care to live where he was. They've torn down the garden apartments and replaced them with massive people warrens. I'm not a rabbit or a caged chicken, and I don't want to live like one. However, there are alternatives.
My great-aunt was the one who turned my father on to life-care communities. She came to Arizona one year to visit several such outfits, which at the time were a new development. She sold her house in Sausalito, Calif., and ended up in a place in Oakland. From what I understand, it was very pleasant. One could find worse places than the Bay Area to live out one's last years.
After a little research online, I think I found the Oakland facility. The group that runs it has a number of life-care communities in northern California. There's a rather amazing place in San Francisco, for example. I'm sure I can't afford to live in the city, of course … hell, I can barely afford to live in Phoenix. There's another in the Santa Cruz area that might be less extravagant than living in the heart of San Francisco. One in Pacific Grove, which is near Monterey, probably costs no less than the place in the city. More promising, possibly, is one near Santa Rosa.
My aunt had enough money to be comfortably set. She and my uncle married in middle age, neither of them with children. They both worked for the California Academy of Sciences their entire adult lives, and my uncle invented the precursor to the Kodak Carousel slide projector. As you can imagine, even a small royalty would have allowed them to buy the architect-designed house in the Sausalito hills where they lived all the time I knew them.
Chances are I can't afford any of these places. My father and his wife were paying, for a three-room apartment and two meals a day, more than my ex and I paid for a 3,000-square-foot ranch house with a pool on a third of an acre of prime North Central Phoenix real estate. On the other hand, most of their food, their utilities, transportation (to a degree), property taxes, insurance, semiweekly housecleaning, landscape care, and nursing home insurance were included in the cost.
I already have nursing home insurance, though I suppose I could stop paying on that. But even with the long-term-care insurance, my total monthly bills come to less than my father paid for his dim little apartment. And that was for a not-very-appealing place in Phoenix. The cost of living in northern California is so much higher that you likely have to be a dot-com millionaire to live in one of those places.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, though: I'm sending away for their propaganda packages.
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
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