Space, The Final Frontier: Seniors Living Apart Together

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People choose not to cohabit for various reasons. They may live far apart geographically, and love their respective homes too much to move. Or they want to remain near kids/grandkids. A huge issue for older adults is lifestyle, and feeling that each partner’s long-standing habits might not mesh well under one roof.

How we choose to live is as personal as our food and clothing preferences — perhaps more so. And while marriage or living together is still the norm for most couples, there’s another living arrangement that’s raising interest, if not eyebrows: LAT, or living apart together. The relative oxymoron may be especially appealing to seniors — and to reverse mortgage professionals, for whom one couple could yield two potential HECMs.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 2.43.06 PMTo share or not to share, that is the question

As someone who once conceived the idea of side-by-side houses conjoined by a Great Room where a couple might meet for a meal, or when both decide they want to spend time together, LAT appeals to me as one creative solution to being partnered without necessarily sharing the same dwelling 24/7.

Such an arrangement might have been viewed askance a few decades ago. But now it’s gaining currency, particularly with those who say they’re “set in their ways”, yet are in a long-term relationship. And by the time people retire, many care a lot less about what others think than they did in their younger years.

Janice Handler, a retired lawyer in her late 60s, and husband Norman Ilowite, 85, have been LAT since they married in 1978. Ilowite spends most of his time aboard a 40-foot yacht; his wife lives in a two-bedroom apartment she purchased in 1993. They spend weekends together on the boat and winters in her apartment and, while Handler doubted the arrangement would work well at first, she now says she’d choose it again in a heartbeat. With an eye on her husband’s age, however, Handler avers they may need to rethink their LAT arrangement in the near future.

Another couple, in their 70s, has always been avant-garde: after meeting at a youth group 48 years ago, they finally wed in 2007. And while they’ve been happily LAT the entire time, as they age they say they might consider a single roof if one of them becomes seriously ill.

Key factors that affect the LAT decision

“U.S. society has yet to recognize LAT as a legitimate choice. If more people — young and old, married or not — saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache,” says Jacquelyn Benson, assistant professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri. Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families. Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior, these conversations may be more important than ever.”

While it’s true that many older adults who’ve already been in a long-term marriage and are now divorced or widowed may not want to merge their lives so completely again at this stage, for some, the issue may be as simple as not wanting to change your surname if you remarry.

A 93-year-old Australian woman consistently refused her beau’s proposal for two decades, thinking taking his surname would be disrespectful to her deceased husband. When she learned she could keep her own last name she finally said yes, much to her longtime love’s delight. And since she had already convinced him to move to her town so the pair could be together, it’s a safe bet their years as a LAT couple might conclude with the wedding.

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Retirement Wizardry: Where the Smart Money Meets Reverse Mortgage Magic

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As 10,000 baby boomers a day turn 65 (a phenomenon that began in 2011 and continues through 2029), retirement savings — or the lack thereof — continues to be grist for financial columnists nationwide. And while writers tout the importance of scrupulous saving — this chart shows the median net worth of a householder aged 65-69 to be just under $200,000 — what these actuarial tables fail to take into account is the noteworthy John Lennon lyric: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Someone still shy of retirement age may have had every intention of going grandly into a well-cushioned old age, saving and investing diligently — and been wiped out by a health crisis not covered by insurance, an economic downturn, or an act of nature (e.g., fire, flood, tornado).

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 1.49.25 PMYou probably know at least one person who fits this profile, if not half a dozen. They’ve saved sincerely, and life intervened. With Social Security becoming benefit negative by 2020, and more seniors being urged to wait until age 70 to apply for it, the need for the reverse mortgage option is growing.

Yet many older Americans are still reluctant to tap their home equity. Lack of understanding typically underpins such reticence. Granted, the HECM is complex. But many older adults may need to take a step back initially, to assess what aging in place means, whether they are best suited to doing so, and how to begin readying their lives and home for the next life stage.

The rest of this post directly addresses your prospects. You are welcome to post it on your own reverse mortgage website or blog, or use the material in emails and presentations, to help open the reverse mortgage conversation.

Aging in Place with Aplomb

For people who are healthy and want to remain in their own home as they grow older, a reverse mortgage can help make this a reality. The first step is determining whether aging in place is in your best interest.

Here are 7 guidelines a homeowner can use to decide whether they want to age in place, and if so, whether to explore a reverse mortgage. Aging in place can serve you well if:

  1. You have sufficient equity in your home to qualify for a reverse mortgage, also known as a HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage);
  2. Your health is generally good, and you’re mobile;
  3. You have a network of local family, friends, and neighbors you can rely on;
  4. You drive — or public transportation is readily accessible;
  5. You live in a safe neighborhood;
  6. Your home can be modified to address changing needs;
  7. You’re outgoing, well connected, and able to reach out for social support.

A House That Adapts to Your Needs

Home modification is important, even — especially — if you’re healthy and active now. Our bodies and needs change over time. Someone who is spry in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s may be glad their house “ages with them” as they grow older.

A few simple home modifications can make a big difference. These features, elements of what’s known as “universal design,” can affordably retrofit your home for greater safety and peace of mind:

  • Grab bars, especially in the shower and bathtub;
  • Hand rails. People can slip at any age and take a tumble; as we age, this can result in a broken hip or worse;
  • Ramps. They can also be installed temporarily if someone needs to use a wheelchair for a short time, such as when recovering from surgery;
  • Door widening to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, and four-pronged canes;
  • Low thresholds to avoid tripping, and to make it easier to navigate with assistive devices (walkers, canes, etc.);
  • Kitchen and bathroom modifications to make cabinets easier to reach, floors less slippery.

Your Purse-onal PERS 

You may be familiar with personal emergency response systems (PERS), which are usually sold as a pendant, bracelet or watch you can wear to summon help in an emergency. Now there’s a PERS equivalent for your finances.

SilverBills, a startup founded by an attorney and CPA whose mission is to help people age with dignity and security, makes it easy to pay bills accurately and on time. The digital service deducts payments from your existing bank account or from an escrow account that SilverBills establishes for you with an FDIC-insured bank; they do not have access to your bank account. You also have a dedicated, specially trained customer support representative — a skilled “business assistant” to help ensure you’re protected from financial fraud.

Do You Believe In Magic?

Fans of the Harry Potter books may not realize that Hogwarts’ headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, also knew something about smart retirement planning. (That’s what happens when you live to be 150.)

For those of us with somewhat shorter potential lifespans, Dumbledore says, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Even saving $25 a week at 5-percent compound daily interest will grow to $41,302 in 20 years’ time, a nice adjunct to your HECM loan.

Take heart (and inspiration) from an extraordinary 18-year-old, who saved $85,000 working part-time jobs since age eight — while going to school and volunteering at a retirement home, where she started a Cyber Seniors program to help residents learn technology.

So save what you can, be smart about managing your finances, and keep your wand handy. With equity in your home and a positive aging in place profile, the HECM option can transform money concerns into real retirement magic.

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Your Family Resource Hot List

Five Resources for Your Older Family Members & Clients

In October we curated some of the best retirement planning resources for reverse mortgage professionals, many of whom may have an entire life phase ahead once they relinquish their current role (what encore careers expert Marc Freedman and others refer to as, “The Third Act”).

As a companion guide, we’ve curated a resource list for families. Following are some top sources to share with the families of your reverse mortgage clients, prospects, and others in your life who may need assistance, now or in the future.reverse mortgage news

  • Points of Life offers a comprehensive database of elder care services, providing accredited “senior advocates” in over 50 categories — including reverse mortgage — who help families plan and manage life’s challenges. Founder Richard Wexler, JD, created Points of Life after he and his wife Anna faced three of their elder parents becoming seriously ill at the same time. After experiencing firsthand the emotional and financial impact, along with the turmoil of not knowing where to turn, he was motivated to educate families about the complexities of aging — and to help them locate the right senior support resources. POL is one of the nation’s largest aging education platforms, offering more than 100 events annually.

Bonus: As a reverse mortgage professional, you can become an Accredited Senior Advocate in the Points of Life database. Because their Resources for Life family referral service was just launched in 2015, you may be the first, or one of the first, reverse mortgage resources to be listed in your geographic area. Contact founder Richard Wexler to learn more. Please be sure to mention this blog post, and code 124, to help him identify the referral source.

  •, a non-profit digital guide to mental health and well-being, offers an extensive section on Aging Well, with deeply researched articles covering everything from healthy aging basics (diet, exercise, sleep, sex) to common challenges (memory loss, depression, driving, mobility), senior housing options (including home care and adult day care services), planning (advance directives, end-of-life care), and related topics, such as the benefits of volunteering and having pets. Each piece contains an extensive resource list, and the information is regularly updated.
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Physician Atul Gawande’s book, profiled here, is a riveting read for people of any age. It explores how life was meant to be versus how we’re living now, with numerous stories that showcase the difference an informed patient (and family) can make not only in how someone chooses to die, but in how they choose to live. Worth taking to heart at any age. 
  • Village to Village Network is a national, peer-to-peer network that helps communities establish and effectively manage Villages. “Villages” are virtual, membership-driven, grassroots organizations run by volunteers and paid staff that coordinate access to affordable services for seniors, including transportation, home repairs, social and educational programs, and wellness programs — all with vetted and discounted service providers.
  • Senior Centers. One of the most obvious, available, yet often overlooked resources is the local senior center. With over 12,000 senior centers operating nationwde, it’s likely that a community will have one. If a town is very small, there may be a central senior center in the nearest larger town that serves several communities.

While senior centers provide a wide range of activities and functions, many also publish a resource guide to senior services in the area, from medical to social, housing to finance, and more. In addition, the staff will be knowledgeable about local senior services. Find a center by searching online for your town and the words “senior center”.

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Live Long & Prosper: Part 2

A Good Life Until the Very End

Old age is not a disease, though modern medicine has been treating it as one, argues Harvard Medical school professor and surgeon Atul Gawande in his compelling new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

“You don’t have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help,” he writes. “The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments thatreverse mortgage news addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions — nursing homes and intensive care units — where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life. Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need. Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to the very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology, and strangers.”

Strong language from a medical professional. And useful information for reverse mortgage experts, or for anyone who serves people in the Third Age.

Once upon a time not that long ago, Gawande explains, life went along at a relatively even keel until something happened and the bottom dropped out, like a trap door opening. One minute you were healthy, the next you were felled by an illness or accident, and usually died shortly thereafter.

Assisted Living Was Designed to be Different!

Today, we’re often able to stave off even severe health conditions such as cancer or heart disease for quite a while, so while the downslope levels off after each drop, patients rarely return to their original degree of health and well being. That’s one main reason assisted living facilities have exploded in popularity — though they were never intended to be an intermediary step on the road to nursing homes, says Gawande, but an alternative that would eliminate the need for nursing homes. Although it may seem like assisted living has been around a long time, Keren Brown Wilson only originated the concept in 1983 with Park Place in Portland, Oregon, which she called a “living center with assistance.”

Wilson’s design did not resemble what we now term “assisted living”, however. Her pilot project was a 112-unit apartment building where tenants (not “patients”) had their own units with doors they could lock, their own kitchens, bathrooms, furniture, even pets. The only differences from a regular apartment complex were an onsite nurse, call buttons in each unit for emergencies, and help with all the basics: food, personal care, medication.

Widely attacked as dangerous, the assisted living experiment proved to be an unqualified success: five years after move-in, the residents of Park Place had maintained their health status (physical and cognitive functioning actually improved), life satisfaction had increased, depression had declined — and the government-subsidized cost was 20 percent lower than it would have been in a nursing home. Clearly, independence with support enables older adults, even those with serious disabilities, to enjoy quality of life right to the very end — which is why aging in place, within community, is an ideal model — and why a HECM can be one key to creating and maintaining a rewarding senior lifestyle.

Paying Attention Pays Off in Improved Health

One of the biggest keys to successful aging is simply being able to talk about their lives with someone who actively listens and cares, says Gawande: in one study, patients who saw a geriatrician for eighteen months versus a general practitioner were “a quarter less likely to become disabled and half as likely to develop depression. They were 40 percent less likely to require home health services.” These are stunning results.

He writes, “We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think [it] is to ensure health and survival. But really it…is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”

Thus, the importance of having what Gawande calls “hard conversations” at life’s bifurcation points cannot be overstated. “People die only once. They have no experience to draw on. They need doctors and nurses who are willing to say what they have seen, who will help prepare for what is to come — and escape a warehoused oblivion that few really want…If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it.”

Wherever you meet them on their life journey, encouraging seniors to talk about their lives and what matters most to them is a positive, crucial step.
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Live Long & Prosper: Part 1

How Will We Fill The Bonus Years?

“I’m grateful for every age I’m blessed to become.” 

~ Oprah Winfrey, from What I Know For Sure

reverse mortgage newsAs we’ve discussed previously, while dying is feared in Western culture, there is often more trepidation about the aging process itself. A group of Silicon Valley billionaires, all years from collecting Social Security, is working to change both perceptions by exploring the outer limits of life extension. The tech titans are putting their money where their minds are, supporting leading-edge research into expanding how long and how well we might live.

We’ve explored how we might be able to turn back the hands of time by turning on our telomerase gene, but the founders of such game-changing digital empires as Google, PayPal, eBay and Facebook are funding research that goes further, “hunting for the secrets of living organisms with insanely long lives; engineering microscopic nanobots that can fix your body from the inside out; figuring out how to reprogram the DNA you were born with; and exploring ways to digitize your brain based on the theory that your mind could live long after your body expires,” driven by a certitude that “rebuilding, regenerating, and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells, and DNA will enable people to live longer and better.”

There’s a lot we can do in our own low-tech lives, however, as centenarians demonstrate. Diets ranging from protein and calcium rich to vegan with fish lengthen lives at ten times the national average, according to a researcher who studied those 100 years old in “Blue Zones” around the world. It seems that to a great extent, when it comes to aging, you are what you eat.

How to Live Longer and Better

Beyond the ethical issues of extending life by tinkering with nature, the larger question remains: what will we do with all those extra years, assuming we’re healthy enough to enjoy them?

Just living longer isn’t enough, says encore career expert Marc Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. “Aside from the mind-boggling prospect of saving for 50- or 75-year retirements, how do we make these new chapters both fulfilling for individuals and sustainable for society?

“Life extension without social innovation is a recipe for dystopian disaster — what one critic characterizes as ‘the coming death shortage,’ invoking images not only of endless (and unaffordable) retirements but of a society loaded down by a population explosion of the idle old.”

Reverse mortgage may be one viable answer to the financial requirements of an extended retirement. Life enrichment and retooling for the next life stage should be its cornerstone, says Freedman. Someone turning 65 today can expect to live an additional 19.3 years, and in a recent Centers for Disease Control study, nearly 70% said they want to continue working in order to stay active and involved. They also say it’s “very important” to them to leave the world a better place.

One of the best opportunities longer lives offer is the chance to follow your dreams, cited as the number one regret of the dying. Using a HECM to follow your heart, travel, retool to do work you love or simply spend more time with friends and family minus money worries may not banish our final bow forever, but it can make these extra years a bonus instead of a burden, and that’s what positive aging is all about.

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