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Savvy Senior: Choosing a continuing-care retirement community

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DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: Can you give me some tips on picking an all-inclusive residential retirement community that offers independent housing along with assisted-living and nursing care?

Approaching 80

DEAR APPROACHING: If you want your next move to be your final one, an all-inclusive retirement community — also known as a continuing-care retirement community — is a great option to consider, but they aren’t cheap.

These communities are different from other types of senior housing because they provide all levels of housing, services and care in one convenient location.

While they vary greatly in appearance and services, most offer apartments or sometimes single-family homes for active independent seniors. In addition, they offer onsite assisted-living for seniors who require help with basic living tasks like bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom, and nursing-home care for residents when their health declines.

They also provide a bevy of resort-style amenities and services including community dining halls, exercise facilities, housekeeping and transportation, as well as social and recreational activities.

But be aware these services come at a hefty price. Most facilities have entry fees that range from the low to mid-six figures, plus ongoing monthly fees that can range from around $2,000 to over $4,000.

With more than 2,000 continuing-care retirement communities nationwide, finding a facility that fits your lifestyle, needs and budget will require some legwork.

>> Make a list: Start by calling the Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116) for a list of facilities, or search websites like

>> Call the facilities: Call a few to find out if they have vacancies, what they charge and what services they provide.

>> Take a tour: Many facilities encourage potential residents to stay overnight and have a few meals in their dining hall. During your visit, notice the upkeep of the facility and talk to residents. Check out the assisted-living and nursing facilities, and find out how decisions are made to move residents from one level of care to another.

Call the state long-term care ombudsman (see who can tell you if any complaints have been filed or reported problems. Use Medicare’s nursing- home-compare tool at

Review contracts and fees: Most facilities offer three types of contracts — Life-care or Type A contracts, which have the highest entry fee but covers all levels of long-term care; Type B or modified contracts that have lower entry fees but limit long-term care services in the initial fee; and Type C or fee-for-service contracts, which offer the lowest entrance fees but require you to pay for long-term care if you need it.

Find out what yearly price increases you can expect, how much of your entry fee is refundable to you if you move or die, and what happens if you outlive your financial resources.

>> Research the facility: Find out who owns the facility and get a copy of their most recently audited financial statement, along with the copy of the contract to review with your lawyer or financial advisor. Also find out their occupancy rate. Unless it’s a newer community, occupancy below 85 percent can be a red flag the facility is having financial or management problems.

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