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How to Know When to Move Into a Retirement Community

Maybe you've avoided financial pitfalls and are enjoying retirement stress-free or you've simply become an empty nester, but you may wonder if it's time to relocate to a retirement community. For most people, it's not an easy decision. We spoke to senior housing expert and Senior Housing Solutions founder Bruce Rosenblatt about the issues to consider to get your timing right. It turns out that retirement communities may not be what you think.

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According to Rosenblatt, the sooner you make your move, the better. "Better five years too early than five years too late," he says. "Many times people wait for a crisis to occur, and it's much better to be proactive so you can make the decision yourself."

It's important to realize that a crisis for you or your partner is more likely than you think. "Usually, people at some level have denial and think nothing is ever going to happen to them," he says. "But statistically, 65% of people over 65 will need long-term care."

He urges couples, especially, to make the move sooner rather than later. "It's much better to do it as a couple, so that you're not putting the burden on one person," he says. If your spouse becomes ill before you've made the move, you're stuck with either being a caretaker or arranging assistance, and making a move without help is that much harder. If your partner dies before you move, you're not only left sifting through their things and downsizing a whole house as you grieve but, if they handled the money in the relationship, you are also tackling some difficult tasks you may not know much about. "It's much harder to do this when you're single."

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Rosenblatt also wants people to realize that assisted living communities are not the same as nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in multiple headline-grabbing cases. "There are communities where you can move in right now and they have zero cases and have mitigated the risk, and they still have activities, meals, and health care," he says.

To make the decision about where to go, a senior housing expert is just one professional to consult — you will also want to make appointments with your attorney, your accountant, your insurance carrier (if you have long-term-care insurance), and your kids. What you can afford likely will have a significant impact on your choices, as will speaking to an expert who can consider any cost-reducing factors, such as discounts for veterans. 

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There's also the basic consideration of quality of life — make the move earlier and you can have more fun in your remaining years. "Moving to a senior living community allows a couple to make friends together, enjoy their time together, and get on with their life without having to worry about burdening anyone else," Rosenblatt says. "Most of the people I worked with tell me they're happy — and only wished they had moved sooner."

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