It’s an issue most every boomer parent faces: if you want to see more of your kids but they don’t live where you live, does it make sense to move to wherever they are? Grandchildren, of course, make the decision even tougher. This is what freelance writer Debra Witt of Allentown, Pennsylvania, recently wrote about on the website of our friends over at NextAvenue.org, and now you can read it here. Debra’s advice is, don’t start packing until you answer some key questions.
Dan and Alice Smith, both 64, have never shied away from change— that includes a change of address. When Dan was a marketing executive for an oil company in the 1970s, relocations came with the territory. After switching to the auto industry in the early ‘80s, he and Alice, who was a retail manager, firmed up the family roots in Louisville, Kentucky, and then stayed for about 25 years, raising kids Sam and Sarah. But in 2015, as the Smiths began plotting their retirement years, the idea of following Sam and his growing family to Seattle became more and more appealing.
“The timing was right, that area of the country was interesting to us and we wanted to be closer to Sam and [his wife] Adrienne,” says Dan. “That all made it worth the effort to make a big move and gamble on trying to make a go of it in Seattle.”
The Smiths, who’ve called Seattle home since 2016, aren’t alone in relocating for retirement to be near one or more kids. But retirement planning experts caution that such long-distance moves aren’t right for all parents and shouldn’t be done on a whim.
Regretting a Retirement Relocation Decision
“I’ve seen many retirees make snap decisions about where they’ll live and regret it,” says Jill Schlesinger, CBS business analyst and author of The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money. “They thought it would be wonderful to be closer to their kids and grandkids. What could go wrong? But this kind of a move can be dangerous for retirees, and not just because of the financial components.”
“Your kids may have very different expectations and ideas about how your lives will merge.”
There is a host of emotional factors to consider before pulling up stakes. “Of course, you want to know that you can afford such a move, but of equal importance is figuring out ahead of time whether or not leaving the community you know so well is going to be right for you long term,” says Schlesinger.
Retirement expert Nancy K. Schlossberg, author of Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work and Play as You Age, agrees. “As with so many aspects of retirement, there are problems and possibilities regarding moving,” she says, “If you do your emotional work upfront, you’re more likely to be satisfied with your final decision.”
That means asking yourself some key questions.
Go Deeper than ‘Why?’
The Why? is the easy question— you want to be close to your family so you won’t miss out on all the fun birthdays, graduations, and smaller life celebrations, like a grandchild’s first soccer goal or spelling bee. But what you really want to be thinking about are the days and weeks between those events.
The better question to ask upfront, experts say, is: What role do I want to play in my child’s life?
Once you’ve answered that question for yourself, you need to articulate it to your son or daughter. Schlossberg calls this an Expectation Exchange. “Your kids may have very different expectations and ideas about how your lives will merge.”
To get the conversation started you might say something like, “By the way, what I’m most looking forward to is helping you out more with the kids, maybe picking them up from school a few days a week. What do you think?”
This is also the ideal time to broach prickly subjects, like whether you’d like to be paid to watch the grandkids on a regular basis or how often you’d like to see your child’s family each week or month.
Schlossberg warns: “You want your kids to be honest with you, so your feelings might get hurt. But it’s better to have these negotiations before any move because the answer may make you decide not to relocate after all.”
Try a Test Run
Another question you’ll want to ask yourself: Would I really like to live in the area my child has chosen?
“Vacationing somewhere and loving it doesn’t automatically translate to moving somewhere and loving it,” says Schlesinger.
She encourages people considering such a move to do a trial run for a month or more before making a decision, if possible. When doing so, pay close attention to everything from the weather and traffic to the availability of religious institutions (if that’s important to you), social activities, and the types of people who already live there.
Your child can help you locate things like the YMCA, doctors, and community centers, but it’s going to be up to you to forge new friendships.
“Really check the place out,” says Schlesinger. “You want to see if there’s a community you think you can plug into.”
The Smiths fell in love with Seattle in 2014 when they helped Sam and Adrienne move from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over the next year, they made the trip at least five times. And with each visit, the couple says, the desire to relocate grew stronger.
“We liked the fact that it was urban and walkable,” says Alice. “And Sam kept pointing out all of the things we could do and see.”
Once they made up their minds, in May 2015, the couple scheduled more trips to scope out neighborhoods and check out places to live.
Plot Your Daily Time
After weighing the pros and cons of the new location and your expectations, the next question you’ll want to answer is: How do I want to spend my time?
“Retirees thinking about moving need to realize that in order to be happy, they need to get a life,” says Schlossberg. “You cannot depend on your adult children for your social life.”
Start by thinking about what will let you feel emotionally fulfilled in retirement, says Schlesinger. Decide, for instance, whether you’d like to travel, pursue a hobby in earnest, volunteer, or even start a second career.
As Schlossberg notes, “Moving closer to kids is a big deal, but perhaps the bigger deal is filling your days once you’re settled.”
“Later on, a Certified Financial Planner can help you find ways to match your goals with your finances,” she adds.
Don’t Forget the What-Ifs
The last questions to ponder aren’t going to be fun, but they’re a must: What if I have a health scare? And what if my child needs to relocate after I’ve moved?
“So many families run into trouble when something bad unexpectedly happens. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your kids about the What-Ifs,” says Schlesinger.
Regarding a potential health scare, at the very least you’ll want to know about the doctors and health system in the new community. But it’s also a good idea to look into the types of services offered to older residents, including transportation to health facilities.
And if you’d be leaving behind a host of friends and neighbors you could rely on in a pinch, you’ll also need to explore various possible caregiving scenarios in your new location.
The What-If about your child deciding to move again is important to consider because today’s economy frequently prompts job changes.
Schlesinger recalls working with a retired couple who moved from the Pittsburgh area to be near their grown child in suburban Atlanta. After they did, the child relocated to Savannah for work. “It was such a bummer for [the couple],” Schlesinger says. “They felt stranded.” Ultimately, the pair decided to make another move— to Savannah.
Money Matters to Weigh Before Moving Near Your Child
Schlesinger says retirees considering moving closer to their adult child should also follow this financial checklist before relocating:
Do a cost-of-living comparison. Your child can give you a sense of local prices for things like gasoline, utilities, internet service, and other miscellaneous expenses. But you’ll also want to look into things like local real estate prices and rents (websites like Zillow.com can help), car insurance rates (start with your current insurer and check with a few competitors), and health care expenses (begin by asking your current insurer how your coverage and costs might change, or visit sites like Leapfroggroup.org to research local hospital data.)
Free online cost-of-living calculators, like the calculator from CNNMoney, can give you a quick side-by-side comparison of two cities using your current income.
Explore differences in state and local taxes. They might vary widely from what you currently pay. You’ll not only want to look into sales, property, estate, and state income taxes, but also whether you’d be taxed by the new state on your retirement income and benefits. The state’s revenue office can answer your tax questions and a trusted tax pro can help you run the numbers. Also, the IRS site has useful tax information for retirees.
Find out about local resources for retirees. Some communities, for example, offer low-cost or free public transportation to people over a certain age. A good place to start your research is by checking the site of the state’s department of aging. It will likely have information about regional Area Agencies on Aging as well as local community centers. Your child’s social network may also have helpful information for you.
Meet with a Certified Financial Planner. This pro can walk you through what the relocation would mean for your money and how you might want to adjust your finances accordingly.
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