Aging In Place

Nima Ashtyani
November 22, 2023

“Patricia” just turned 84.  A divorced and retired schoolteacher, she owns her own home and is in good health.  She walks daily, including multi-hour walks with young friends who are amazed that she doesn’t just keep up, she has more endurance than they do!  She loves gardening in the small plot behind her house, and cooks for herself and her friends. 

She is aware, however, that as she ages, living at home will present challenges.  She lives in an old two-story Victorian home, and climbing the stairs is getting harder.  She had the hardwood stairs carpeted a few years ago to reduce the risk of slipping, but she still worries about falling.  Since she lives alone, she’s concerned that if she fell, no one would know.  She’s in good health now, but a single fall could change all of that. 

Patricia worries about money.  She taught in various school districts, but she never stayed in one place for long, so she didn’t build up a pension.  She spent years of her life in jobs where she was helping others but barely making any money: teaching preschool to poor urban children, working with refugees who needed help settling in the US, and other jobs that paid so little they were almost charity work.  At various times, she had to cash out what retirement she did have just to make ends meet.  She receives food stamps in addition to her Social Security check, but when something goes wrong with the house, she sometimes must go into credit card debt to cover the expense. 

Most of all, Patricia wants to make sure that the house she worked so hard to buy and pay off goes to her son, “Alex”.  She knows she needs the help of an experienced attorney to navigate the issues involved in aging right where she is, in her own home.  Sometimes it seems overwhelming… so she decided to reach out.

Making a Plan with an Attorney

Many of us want to remain in our own homes for all our lives.  The place where we have control over our schedules and our lives.  While places like assisted living communities can offer security and amenities, aging in place is becoming more and more common.  An experienced elder law attorney can help seniors plan to enjoy as many years of their lives as possible right at home and put them in contact with other senior-care businesses to assist them.

Home Modifications: How do I make my place safe as I age?

Here are some of the issues that seniors need to think about when planning to age in place:

  • A walk-in shower rather than a tub to prevent slipping and for easy entrance and exit;
  • Ramps on stairways and entryways to prevent falls and make wheelchair access possible if necessary;
  • Lower kitchen counters and sinks to allow for cooking and cleaning from a seated position or in a wheelchair;
  • Wider doorways in case the need arises to use a walker or wheelchair;
  • Newer carpet that is harder to slip on, or better yet, hardwood or vinyl flooring to minimize slip risk and for wheelchair accessibility.

Some localities have assistance for seniors, such as Bergen County, which can be found here: Bergen County Division of Senior Services

When considering home modifications, seniors should keep in mind that zoning requirements may apply.  Mobile ramps can be bought for outdoor stairs to avoid permanent changes to a home that may decrease its property value or violate zoning requirements.  Seniors should consult with an experienced and licensed professionals before making modifications to make sure they stay within local law and maintain the value of their home and property.

Estate Planning

Seniors who own their own home like Patricia usually want to make sure their home passes smoothly to their children or other designee.  It’s essential to put all estate planning documents in place long before a health crisis may occur that could compromise judgment or call into question any of their decision-making abilities.  Patricia worked with an estate planning and real estate attorney to set up a seamless transition for her home to her son Alex.  While Alex was content living in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City at the time, he knew he might eventually want to move into his mother’s home if he decided to start a family.  If not, he could sell the beautiful home his mom had worked so hard for and have a nest egg for some security.  Either way, setting up a smooth transition with a well-documented estate plan gave both Patricia and Alex peace of mind. 

Healthcare Decision Making

Patricia and Alex were both grateful for her good health, but both aware that her health could change.  Since Alex was an only child and they had a very good relationship, it was clear to Patricia that she should make sure that Alex had medical power of attorney if she became incapacitated.  She had friends, however, who had multiple children and who had to work with the family to decide which child would take on this responsibility, how they would work together as a family to coordinate health care decision making, and to make sure that every family member clearly understood their wishes for end-of-life care.

An experienced estate planning and elder law attorney can help families navigate these tricky issues and avoid stress and conflict when crisis strikes.

Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance policies can provide, not just for nursing homes or assisted living facilities, but in some cases for care in the insured’s home.  This can make it possible for an older person to remain in their own home and receive any personal assistance or nursing they may need.  It is important to understand the details of a long-term care insurance policy before purchasing it, and to review all policies regularly as care needs change. 

Medicare, Medicare Supplements, and Medicaid

Depending on income level and assets, seniors may be eligible for different federal benefits.  Most will want a supplement to their Medicare coverage, but figuring out the landscape of Medicare Supplement plans can be confusing.  To add to the confusion, seniors are bombarded by offers via phone, mail and even email for Medicare Supplement plans that may or may not be good value. 

Beware of Scams

Scammers abound, and seniors are their favorite target.  Seniors should never give out any sensitive information, such as banking information, social security number, or credit card information to anyone they do not know.  Seniors should contact licensed and accredited planners before making any investment.  Beware of unsolicited offers, phone calls, and emails. 

Housing Discrimination

While Patricia owned her own home, her friend Martha rented.  When Martha needed to move to be closer to her daughter, she found it harder to find an apartment than it had been when she was a younger person working full time.  Even though she could present proof of income from her Social Security check and part time job, apartment complexes kept turning her down.  Martha consulted an elder law attorney about age discrimination in housing, and was able to get help securing safe, comfortable housing very close to her daughter and in a neighborhood that was friendly, not hostile, to seniors.

Aging in place is a wonderful option for those who prefer to stay in the place they know and love.  With proper planning and the help of an experienced attorney, aging in place can be safe, comfortable, and sustainable throughout the later years of one’s life.


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