Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Livable Communities for Retirement

Since the vast majority of retirees make the decision to continue to live in their current home or, at the very least, their current neighborhood when they retire, many people wonder if this is the best choice for them.  Now, AARP has come up with a matrix to help senior citizens compare the livability of different neighborhoods around the United States and enable people to look up their own community, or another one that interests them, and see how different neighborhoods compare with each other and the national averages.  Comparing different neighborhoods has just become a whole lot easier!

What is a Livable Neighborhood?

Of course, livability means different things to different people.  As a result, AARP looked at sixty different factors including: availability of affordable housing (including apartments and condos), access to work and play, transportation, the environment, engagement, health, opportunity, access to jobs, and amenities.

The AARP List of Most Livable Neighborhoods

When they were done with their research, including surveying thousands of people over the age of 50, here was the AARP final list of the ten most livable neighborhoods in the United States.  They have narrowed it down, not just to cities, but specific neighborhoods within the cities:

Mifflin West, Madison, WI
Upper West Side, Manhattan, NY
Downtown Crossing, Boston
South of Market, San Francisco
Washburn, La Crosse, WI
Downtown Sioux Falls, S.D.
Southside, Virginia, Minnesota
Downtown Bismarck, N.D.
Downtown Seattle
Downtown Los Alamos, N.M.

Other Categories of Livable Places to Retire

Of course, relatively few people live in the communities mentioned above.  In addition, those neighborhoods might not be anywhere near where you currently live or where you would like to live.  As a result, AARP also came up with several other categories of livable places.  These were:

Most Livable Cities
Best Cities for Staying Healthy
Easiest Cities to Get Around
Best Cities for Date Night
Best Cities for Making New Friends

Furthermore, they broke those lists down into three sub-categories ... large, medium and small cities.

It interested me that there were several cities on more than one list.

How to Evaluate Your Community

Are you curious about how your community compares to others?  AARP allows anyone free access to their matrix.  Here is how to find out how your community ranks:

1.  Log into
2.  Enter your address or, if your prefer, just your zip code
3.  It will show your livability score in several categories, including housing, access to work and play, transportation, environment, health, engagement, opportunity.

You can click on the various categories to learn more about each one and how your community ranked in a number of areas.

When I did this with my own community of Laguna Woods Village, California, it was above the average in five categories and below average in two.  It ranked particularly high in health, partly because there are few smokers, few obese people and there is plenty of access to exercise and health care.

My community's overall score was about the same as that of Austin, Texas ... another popular retirement city.

AARP Featured Cities

At the bottom of the website mentioned above, you can click on Featured Cities and see the scores of most of the major cities in the United States.  By entering a zip code, as described above, you can find out the details of specific neighborhoods in those cities.

Enjoy this fabulous way to research the communities where you might want to retire.  It is a great way to evaluate every place in the United States you think you may want to live and will help you decide which livable communities are right for you!

If you are looking for more retirement information and ideas, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article to find links to hundreds of additional articles about retirement.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Redesigning Death - Bring Joy to Your Final Days

While most of us do not want to think about it, we are all going to die.  It could happen at home, in a hospital or while out in public.  If we are lucky, we may have the time to say good-bye to our loved ones and spend time with them during the last few days of our lives.  However, death does not always come gradually.  Sometimes it happens with the speed of a heart attack or an auto accident. 

Most of us will have some type of funeral or memorial service; we will probably be interred in a cemetery or cremated, with our ashes distributed according to our instructions.  If we are leaving family and loved ones behind, there are likely to be sad relatives and lots of tears.  It all seems very simple, clear and preordained.  However, are there ways to change the feelings surrounding our death?

Death Redesigned

What if we could completely alter the process?  No, there is no way to prevent our death.  We may not even be able to predict when it will happen or postpone it.  However, with a little creativity, planning and forethought, we can change the way both we and our loved ones will experience our death.  What are some ways we can do that?

Plan the End of Your Life

One of the first things you can do is think about how you want to spend your final days, should you be given the opportunity to choose.  Do you want to die at home or in a hospital?  Would you prefer to cease treatment and get palliative, hospice care, instead?  Do you want your loved ones to be with you at the end?

What type of atmosphere do you want?  You can set the mood.  Do you want those last few days to be sad and tearful, or would you rather spend the time talking about all the happy memories of your life?

How to Change the Mood Surrounding Your Death

I love my children enough that it would break my heart to see them in tears while I was dying.  I would rather have them focus on the happy and funny experiences we have enjoyed together.  When I die, my goal will be to provide all the comfort I can to them.  What are some ways to do that?

1.  Put together photo albums to share with your loved ones at the end of your life.  Personalize them with photos of specific memories you had with each of them.  This could be a wonderful way to keep the conversation light and happy.  I went to a memorial service recently at which I was handed a DVD of the slide show about the deceased that was shown during the service.  The man had volunteered as a hospital clown through his church, and it was very touching to be able to play the DVD at home and see all the joy that had been part of his life.

2.  Write letters to the people you care about ... and it doesn't have to be only your family members.  One of our friends died of lung cancer a few years ago.  He owned a construction company and, during the last few weeks of his life, he wrote a letter to each of his sub-contractors, telling them how much he appreciated their years of service and giving them each one final payment.

I have also heard of parents who were dying far too young, who wrote a series of letters to their children that they could read each year on their birthdays.  The letters are usually meant to encourage them and include the things you would like to say to your children at each age.  In some cases, parents have even made DVDs for their children, so they can speak to them in a more personal way.

3.  After gifting - This was an idea I found in an article called "Death Redesigned," in the April 5, 2015 issue of The California Sunday Magazine.   You can arrange to have birthday gifts sent to family members for years after you die.  The gifts could even be something you made for each of them or a special item for a grandchild you have never met.  I think this is an especially caring thing to do if you are leaving behind young children.  It will bring them comfort to know that you were thinking of them and planning for them, even during the final few weeks of your life.

You don't have to limit yourself to family.  I recently read about a man in Great Britain who had a group of close friends that he would go with to the local pub.  He left them 3500 pounds (about $5000) so they could have a trip and a big party, at his expense.  This seemed like so much more fun for them than a terribly sad wake back at home.

4.  Messages from Beyond - The "Death Redesigned" article mentioned above also speculated about the idea of arranging for text messages to be sent to loved ones after your death.  This might work in some families; in others it might seem creepy or make it hard for them to move on.  Only you can decide whether this would be the right move for your family.  One of the points they made was how a widow would feel if she was on a date three years later and received a text message from her deceased husband.  If you decide to try this, make sure you write something loving and supportive; you will also not want these messages to go on for more than a few weeks or months. We all need to find a good time to let go of our loved ones.

5.  Share Your Story - So many times I have heard people say that they wished they had written down the stories that their grandparents shared about their lives.  Why don't you do it for your descendants?  Write down your memories and pass them on.  You can do something as simple as a typed document that you print out at home.  Or, you can get more elaborate and write it in book form, using a free service like Amazon's CreateSpace website.  They will produce paperback books that you and your family members can order for $5 or $6.  Order a couple of dozen of them yourself to be given out at your funeral.  Your descendants will appreciate knowing more about the lives of their ancestors and you will feel good knowing that your memories, experiences and dreams will not die with you.

One of our neighbors, who grew up in Korea before he and his wife moved to the United States, wrote a biography of their early years for his children and grandchildren. He also had extra copies printed out and gave them to his neighbors and friends.  I enjoyed reading about his early life and I am sure his descendants really appreciated the fact that he made the effort to do this.  

Taking Care of Your Will and Basic Funeral Plans

If you want to lighten the load on your family members, you will want to take care of all the basics, as well.  Make sure you have consulted with an attorney and written your will, trust, and advance directive.  Be sure you have put together a list of bank accounts, life-insurance policy numbers, user names and passwords for Facebook and other social media you use and put this information with your will.  In addition, you should give this information to the executor of your will.

You may also want to include any special instructions you have for where you want to be buried, specific requests for your funeral service, and any other messages you want to leave your loved ones.  We wrote a message to our daughters that we want them to read upon our death.

My husband and I have put together a notebook labeled "In The Event of Our Deaths."  We set it out whenever we are on a trip ... just in case something happens.  We have included copies of all our important information in our notebook, including copies of our will, special instructions, insurance information and anything else we thought would be helpful to them.  In addition, we made a copy of the information in this notebook and gave it to the daughters we chose to be our co-executors.  We wanted to make life as simple for them as possible.

While you may not want to do everything listed in this article, hopefully it will inspire you to redesign your own death in such a way that, while you cannot prevent your death, you feel as if you are going out on your own terms ... and that is the best any of us can do.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mortgage, No Mortgage, Reverse Mortgage or Rent?

Once you decide where you wish to live during your retirement, you need to consider how you will pay for your residence.  There are issues to consider no matter what you decide, and this article will give you an overview of some of your choices.  You might decide to get a traditional mortgage on your home, just as you have done during your working years. You could choose to pay cash for the home with savings or the equity from the last home you sold prior to moving into your retirement community.  You might decide to stay where you are and use a reverse mortgage to pay off your current debt and fund other retirement expenses.  Finally, you could choose to invest the proceeds of the last house you owned, and rent your retirement home.

Pros and Cons of Having a Mortgage on Your Retirement Home

*  Advantage: You can use the mortgage interest deduction to reduce the amount of income taxes you will pay.  This is especially useful for people who expect to pay high taxes, especially now that they will no longer have other types of deductions, such as business expenses.

*  Advantage:  Money that would have been put into a home, could be channeled into investments that would increase your income, instead.  This gives you the double advantage of increased tax deductions and increased retirement income.   This option is best for high net worth people with a large tax liability, who want to maximize their deductions.

*  Disadvantage:  Some people do not want to carry debt during their retirement.  It can cause them to experience additional stress and worry, especially if their finances are very tight.  They worry that something could happen to their investments and they would be unable to pay off their home.

Pros and Cons of Paying Cash for a Retirement Home

*  Advantage:  Many people feel more comfortable knowing that their home is paid off and they will have an inexpensive place to live, as long as they can pay the property taxes and insurance.

*  Advantage:  Many lower income retirees in moderately priced homes would not receive enough of a tax deduction to enable them to lower their tax liability more than if they simply filed using the standard deduction.  In fact, there is no tax benefit for some people who have a mortgage.  On the other hand, not having a mortgage makes them feel more financially secure.

*  Disadvantage:  When people pay cash for a home, most of their assets will be tied up in their house, which makes it more difficult for them to come up with cash in an emergency.  You do not want to pay cash for a house if it will use up all your cash assets, leaving you without any reserves.

Pros and Cons of Getting a Reverse Mortgage

*  Advantage:  People with a lot of equity in their home can use a reverse mortgage and use the money to pay off their traditional mortgage and/or use their home equity for other retirement expenses. 

*  Advantage:  You do not have to make payments or re-pay an reverse mortgage until you die, sell the home or move out.  If a couple lives in the home, however, it is important to make sure both of their names are on the reverse mortgage so that the loan does not have to be repaid until both of them have died, moved or decided to sell.

*  Disadvantage:  The equity in your home could be used up during the early years of your retirement, especially if you get the reverse mortgage soon after retiring, leaving you without an asset you can tap into during your later years.

*  Disadvantage:  You may not have any inheritance to leave your children.

Pros and Cons of Renting Your Retirement Home

*  Advantage:  Renting allows you to invest your savings and the proceeds from the sale of your last home in stocks, bonds, mutual funds or annuities, to maximize your retirement income.

*  Advantage:  Renters have the flexibility of quickly adjusting to changes in their financial situation or medical condition.  For those with serious health concerns, renting can make it much faster and easier to move into assisted living or a Continuing Care Retirement Community.  Upon death, it is often easier to probate the estate.

*  Advantage:  Renters in some areas may be able to pay far less in rent than they would in house payments.

*  Disadvantage:  Renters do not have the opportunity to participate in the increased equity they could receive during periods of real estate inflation.  They have to hope that this disadvantage is offset by rising values in their investments.

*  Disadvantage:  Renters who have investments may tap into them too easily, if they are not disciplined. This could lead to a decrease in their income later in life.

*  Disadvantage:  Renters do not have the advantage of reducing their income taxes by using the mortgage interest deduction.  They have to accept the standard deduction.  However, if their taxable income in low, a mortgage deduction may not be helpful to them, anyway.  This is often true for people who have most of their retirement assets in a Roth IRA or tax-free bonds, for example.

Bottom Line:  As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages no matter which choice you make.  You have to know yourself.  Will you be more comfortable knowing that you own a house that is paid for?  There is a lot of value in that kind of peace-of-mind.  Or, would you feel more secure knowing that your money is invested and you have maximized your retirement income?  Do you feel comfortable with the idea of getting a reverse mortgage when the time comes that you need extra cash?  Would you like the flexibility of renting your retirement home?  Only you can decide which option will work the best for you.


"Cash vs. Mortgage? Here's How to Decide" by Marc D. Allan, Where to Retire Magazine, January/February 2015, pg. 32.

If you are looking for more information about where to retire, use the tabs or the pull-down list at the top of this article.  They will connect your to hundreds of additional, helpful articles on where to retire, financial planning, health concerns, family relationships and more.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Affordable California Coastal Retirement Communities

Are you "California Dreaming," but believe that affordable housing, especially near the coast, is out of your reach?  Have your heard stories about all the multimillion dollar homes that you know are absolutely not going to be part of your retirement plan?  Certainly, the California coastal communities of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Manhattan Beach, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Carmel and Monterey, to name a few, are far too expensive for the vast majority of retirees.

However, the idea of retiring in a cozy cottage or condo near the California coast is not impossible.  There are small towns, especially along the central California coast, where people are still able to find homes for under $500,000 ... and sometimes much less.  These are not ocean front homes, of course, but they are homes within ten or fifteen miles of the coast, where they are still in a temperate climate just a short drive to where residents can enjoy a variety of beach activities.

California Geography

As in most states, the majority of California residents are clustered around the major urban areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.  Homes within commuting distances of those cities are often quite expensive, especially the properties near the beach.  Other particularly expensive areas in the state include the Silicon Valley between San Francisco and San Jose, the Napa Valley, Santa Barbara and Montecito, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey and most of the coastal regions of Orange County.

That leaves hundreds of miles of California coast that is dotted with small towns.  Many of them are too far away from any metropolitan area to make it possible to commute to jobs.  As a result, it is possible to find relatively affordable homes in a variety of locations.

California Towns Worth Exploring

If you are considering retiring in California and you think you might enjoy living in a small city or town, especially along the central coast, below is a list of towns worth exploring that are either on the coast or within ten miles of it.  You may want to contact the Chamber of Commerce or a Realtor in these towns and learn more about what they have to offer.  Ask the Realtors to expand your search to other communities in their area that they think might fit into your budget.  Several of the towns listed below have even more affordable retirement areas nearby.  Here are the towns you may want to consider, starting in the south and moving north:

Laguna Woods Village
San Luis Obispo
Avila Beach
Pismo Beach
Shell Beach
Grover Beach
Los Osos
Morro Bay
Pacific Grove

Range of California Weather

If you have not spent much time in California, you may not be aware that the weather varies dramatically between the Southern and Northern part of the state.  Southern California tends to get very little rain.  Typical summer highs are in the 80's and 90's; winter highs are usually in the 60's and 70's.    Northern California weather is colder, foggier and wetter, although it rare for weather along the coast to tip below freezing (but it does happen occasionally).  Precipitation ranges from an average of only 13 inches of rain annually in Oceanside to as much as an average of 38 inches of rain in Eureka.  Along the central coast, where you will find many of these small towns, high temperatures in both the summer and winter are usually in the 60's or 70's, although they can go higher or lower.

While the weather along the central and northern coast of California may not appeal to those who hope to spend time swimming in the ocean water, it is perfect for those who enjoy other outdoor activities such as golf, bicycling, gardening, tennis or hiking.  Be prepared for breathtaking views around every corner!

Medical Facilities Serving the California Coast

Most of the cities on the above list have access to medical facilities within 30 miles.  For example, the town of Cambria is about 30 minutes away from a hospital in Templeton; Grover Beach contains its own hospital and is also located a short distance from San Luis Obispo with additional medical facilities; Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, and Shell Beach are also near San Luis Obispo; Pacific Grove is near medical facilities in both the Monterey Peninsula and the Salinas Valley. Eureka contains its own hospitals.  The other towns on the list are also close enough to well-populated areas (like San Diego or San Luis Obispo) that there are a variety of medical facilities available.

Common Community Amenities

All of the communities on the above list have a variety of amenities to offer retirees.  Specifics vary from location to location.  However, in general, within a short drive you should expect to find the services and programs that are listed below.  Contact the local Chambers of Commerce and senior centers in the towns that interest you for more specific information:

Wide variety of places to worship
Golf courses
Tennis courts
Senior centers
Festivals, parades and local celebrations
Colleges with classes/programs oriented towards senior citizens
Farmer's Markets
Art Galleries
Wineries and vineyards
Live theater
Places to go boating, paddle boarding or kayaking
Bridge groups and similar clubs and activities
Airports (in all the major cities, plus San Luis Obispo and on the Monterey Peninusula)

Types of Housing Available along the California Coast

There is a wide variety of housing choices available in these communities, ranging from charming old cottages, manufactured homes, condos, and new home developments such as Shea Homes' Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in the town of Nipomo, with new houses starting at about $400,000.  There are also manufactured home parks in some of the above towns, some specifically designated as over-55 senior communities, with prices that are in the $200,000 to $300,000 range.  In addition, you will have to pay a space rental fee, which can vary dramatically throughout the state.

The community of Laguna Woods Village, located half-way between San Diego and Los Angeles in Southern California, has condos and co-ops available with prices starting as low as $150,000.  The town also contains a large selection of two-bedroom condos in the $300,000 to $400,000 price range.  It is located just five miles from Laguna Beach.  Like most over-55, age-restricted communities, you should expect to pay homeowner's dues.  In Laguna Woods, you must also meet reasonable income and asset requirements.  However, it is one of the most affordable places to live in Orange County, California.

Rental Houses and Apartments on the California Coast

All of the communities listed above have apartment complexes and rental homes available, often with prices in the $1250 to $2000 a month price range. Low income seniors may also qualify for Section 8 rent subsidies, so don't hesitate to apply.

Whatever housing prices and amenities you desire, the California coast has a variety of possibilities that may work for you.  You may even want to take a road trip along the California coast and explore the possibilities.  Talk to Realtors, look at the various towns and have a great vacation at the same time!

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