How does one go about creating an old-ladyship home?

June 21 2013 | offbeatbride
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Living like the Golden Girls?
Living like the Golden Girls? Or… les filles qui sont d'or?
As a single woman of 68, and living in France far from my family, I am beginning to look at end of life issues — such as how to age gracefully in place, how to create a support group and face the last how-ever-many years with dignity, control, and pleasure. I have been discussing creating a shared home with four or five other women and wonder if anyone else thinks of this.

Yes, we all know The Golden Girls but reality brings up other issues — not just a lovely wardrobe. For one, I have dual citizenship which enables me to live here since the States won't provide Medicare or Medicaid outside the country.

Does one incorporate or purchase a joint dwelling together? How does one decide when it is time to give up autonomy and share space? Pets? Chores? Is it a HOME or is it shared living? There are so many aspects. If anyone else has gone through with or thinking about creating an old-ladyship home, I would like to see some (hopefully lively) discussion! -Future-forward

  1. I'm a ways off from that day in my life, but I have discussed this with a friend of mine and I think it's a fantastic idea! I'm a visiting nurse, and I have a lot of elderly clients who live alone and I know some people are happy that way, but I know some are lonely and I know that I would be.

    I hadn't thought of actually purchasing a property with anyone, rather renting a condo with my female friends who outlive their husbands. My husband and I have talked about how we would downsize once our current house becomes too difficult to manage for us, so I could also see inviting friends to live in the house I already own, but I'd rather not be in a situation where the property is owned jointly just because I think it would be more complicated for everyone's next of kin when it comes time to divvy up the property.

    Most of the talk we've had so far is just what bad things we will do when our husbands die that we don't do now. I think I will be ready for joint/community living as soon as I am faced with the prospect of living alone. It also makes sense for if you are getting to the point where some assistance is required, as it would be financially brilliant to share the cost of help. Even 2 or 3 people sharing the cost would make having a full time caretaker very affordable.

    10 agree
    • The reasons for purchasing together are legal – there's less stress for the others. The downside addresses inheritance issues which one would need to work out with children before this happens. Plus, there is the 'power' issue; if owned communally, no one rates higher on the chain than another. However, co-ownership does leave open the question of what happens if one wants to leave…

      3 agree
  2. I thought I heard about something along these lines on NPR recently, I'll see if I can dig it up. I remember the one lady saying it was nice to be independent but still have someone to come home to and ask how their day went.

    4 agree
  3. I'm 33 now but have been planning to do this for years! I imagine abstract things like an herb garden and things like that but I'm interested in the responses. I was planning to buy or build a home after my husband passes. He thinks its a great idea since we are both aware that he is likely to die before me.

    1 agrees
  4. I too am a nurse, and something that I always thought was a grand idea was an assisted living facility. While this might be more "medical" than you intend, the great thing is that you can go to being 100% independent, and if you develop problems then help is available to whatever degree you need.

    Assisted living is usually everyone has their own small apartment in a community type setting, with senior games and activities that occur. Everyone has their own space and their own "home." I am sure there are setups in an individual dwelling as well, sometimes even with a medical "overseer" that rents the rooms and provides x hours of supervision or whatnot. I am sorry, I forget what these houses are called… perhaps just another type of assisted living facility.

    1 agrees
    • Could not agree more. When my step-grandparents moved into theirs, any idea of "sad, neglected group home" vanished from my head. The grounds were lovely and after our first visit, my sister and I were like "Gee… when can we move in??"

      They started in a small apartment. The apartment had a kitchen but they was a sort of 'dinning commons" that they also took meals at. Their laundry and housecleaning was taken care of for them. There's a shuttle service.

      This was more than a decade ago and the surroundings and care have changed along with their declining health. Grandma has since passed on and Grandpa has moved into a smaller space ( think large hotel room ) but with more people looking after him as his mobility decreases. But he's still in a familiar setting with friends around him and family nearby.

      I am totally planning this for myself one day, even though leaving my house might sting a little. The key word here is planning : it's very expensive. There's a huge one-time fee and then monthly charges as well. Basically it's like you continue to pay your regular living expenses ( including house payment! ) but you hand them over the value of your house as well.

      1 agrees
      • Expense is one of the main issues! When you own your own shared home, hiring a housekeeper, or shopper or whatever else one might need is MUCH less expensive than paying some sort of firm to do it for you. Plus, cost analysis have shown that three or four sharing is a perfect break point (two cars, not four, one washer, not four, etc). Property taxes, upkeep, even these shared are much less expensive than four people going into some sort of 'retirement' home.

        3 agree
        • I agree.. until the medical care starts to mount. Then you would be effectively running a 4 bed hospital and that would be pricey indeed.

          That's when things get sticky because that wonderful community I mentioned above? Won't take you at that stage. (They're going for the long soak, you see.) Watching my parents and grandparents go through this decision tree convinced me that if I can afford this approach, I'll take it.

          3 agree
    • My grandparents lived in an assisted-living facility for years. I always equated it to a college dorm for seniors. Everyone has their own space with kitchen, but you can just wander down the hall if you need some company, eat at the commons if you don't want to cook, and join in (or not) as many activities as you want. When my Grandpa died, my Grandma was already established with friends so the transition was a little easier to handle.

      5 agree
    • Assisted living is great. My parents neighbors moved into one of those places after their house became way too much work. They have their own condo, a community center, wonderful outdoor space, and the option for help whenever they need it.

    • I've worked at a few different senior living centers as a cook in the dining commons. Like KathyRo said, it's basically just making a giant lump payment of all your living expenses to one place instead of many, and a lot of the disposable income is accounted for in that as well with all the activities the residents can do. A couple that I've interviewed at haven't been so great–it is definitely worth the time and effort to do your research, to find the place that is right for the resident. Some have better dementia/alzheimers care than others, even down to the training of non-related staff, such as the cooks. One place I went through a training on caring for the more mentally incapacitated patients, and I'm glad I did because it really helped us be able to take care with their nutritional needs as well. We had one woman who was especially prone to finishing her meal and forgetting she'd eaten once the plate was gone, but she would get really anxious if we told her she'd already eaten. A little fruit salad or cheese sandwich went a long way toward making the rest of her day better, and I never would have known that without being told.

      That being said, I really liked the Golden Girls NPR story linked above. For people who have fewer medical problems on the horizon, are more independent but really don't want to live alone, I really love the idea of a community home with a few people in it. A sorority house, if you will. Though in my case I think having a home owner/Den Mom sort of leader wouldn't be out of line, either. I think I'd prefer that over trying to rent out a place with everyone as equals. It doesn't have to be complicated if the Den Mom dies or needs to move to an assisted living home, if she sees a lawyer about it and makes arrangements ahead of time.

    • As I said at the beginning, I live in France. Socialized medicine has determined that it is less costly to keep people in their homes with lots of home care if and when it is needed. Studies have shown that a lively social life keeps seniors healthier longer so there are still lots of reasons to create a shared housing or created family set-up.

      2 agree
  5. I think that sounds great! Imagining myself in that situation tho, I would prefer to own it equally. I wouldn't live with someone else who owned it because the power dynamic would always be in their favor, they would always get the final say, and I wouldn't be ok with that. I think like any other sort of cooperative living/intentional community the most important thing is. To have a clear agreement on what is expected regarding chores, who pays for what, guests, and so forth

    1 agrees
  6. What a fantastic idea – I love the idea of also possibly being able to afford some shared help – both medical and otherwise by sharing living space, etc. That would also help avoid some usual shared living problems like whose turn is it to clean the bathroom. 😉 Maybe some type of a house-manager kind of role?

    However, as with a lot of shared living stuff, my impression is that it seems like a lot of the real issues come down to being situational (as far as buying together or separately, etc.).

    The other thing I was thinking about recently would be that it would be cool to have kind of "themed" senior living, for example those who are particularly interested in a certain topic (like art, literature, music), or have a certain set of values or background. Reminds me a little of the theme dorms we had in college.

    2 agree
  7. I think the considerations are very simular to having a roomate (or several) at any age. Who owns the property, or are you renting together? What kinds of rules are there for common spaces and visitors? Etc.
    The only thing that might need to be decided that wouldn't typically come up is what happens if someone dies or gets too sick to take care of themselves. Do you hire in-home help and continue living there? Do the others step in as caregivers? When does it become too much to put on the other house members? Having some idea of these issues will help make decisions a little easier as housemates age.

    1 agrees
  8. One of my co-workers recently moved into a Adult community [many of which seem to keep popping up around the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex]. She's divorced, single and had begun to feel isolated. She's involved with her kids and grandkids, but also wanted more of a life of her own. Now the community she's moved into has individual apartments with the standard elements as well as community rooms and a dining hall for the residents. A few of my coworkers have wanted to move in with her since the have wonderful cooks on staff. The complex does bingo, concerts, Wii events, etc to get their community involved and also allows access to medical assistance if it happens to be necessary.

    Basically she is delighted by her choice and you can tell this whenever she talks about going home.

    1 agrees
    • Exactly what I was thinking…. what if you think of it as starting a small but ongoing cohousing community? People buy in to the cooperative, and when someone leaves, new members are carefully chosen?

  9. My grandmother lived in this sort of arrangement when I was a child, and while it was good when she was in good health, things took a real turn for the worse when her mind started to go.
    She owned the house and kept roommates on as boarders. When she started to develop dementia, her roommate (who was 10-15 years younger) manipulated her into changing her will so that the roommate would inherit the house. And that was only the beginning – I won't go into the variety of things this woman did to try to get her inheritance sooner. It would break your heart.

    Anyway, my advice would be to have your living situation made clear in a contract. Include provisions for what should happen if one of you starts to lose your independence. If you have children, make sure they understand what you've chosen to do (be it incorporating, buying a new shared home, etc) or better yet, send them a copy of the contract.
    I mean you no offense, you're a lot younger than my grandmother was when she got ill, but it is something to keep in mind for the future.

    5 agree
    • Elder abuse is really a problem once someone starts getting dementia. So I completely agree to making a housing contract if you are going to be living with a stranger — and give a copy to someone you know and trust. You can also include a small "competency" questionnaire, and a list of preferences in the event of incapacity. This information can help give your family some of the information and documentation it may need if they have to contest a fraudulent will.
      To me, this is all about personal peace of mind, and making things easier on your loved ones managing your estate.

      2 agree
  10. My great grandmother and great aunt lived in a rented apartment while I knew them. For them it was their home. I'm sure being family helped, but I could imagine a similar situation for non-family as well.
    They rented a 1st floor, handicap accessible apartment together. They did not have pets, but they split rent and groceries, and would drive each other to appointments or to do the shopping. When my great aunt got Alzheimer's, my great grandmother assisted her with her daily tasks. Neither of them had in home care assistants, and they lived in their home together until they died.

    2 agree
  11. I'm involved in intentional community groups, and awhile back we had a meeting where I met a woman looking to do this exact same thing! I'll try to dig up their group info, but a quick google search turned up something that might interest you:

    http://www.steppingstonestays.com/shared_houses.htm

    This is a fascinating article providing many resources about this:
    http://www.smartmoney.com/retirement/planning/women-turn-to-alternative-housing-to-meet-retirement-needs-21857/

    Also, theres a whole conference about this! You can join the group and use the resources they provide to find other like-minded people. They might even be able to provide help and guidance for the financial side of your question.
    http://www.womenlivingincommunity.com/

    Hope you find a lovely living situation soon!

    2 agree
  12. I am a social worker for older adults who want to remain in their homes, even after significant medical issues. There are a few things I would keep in mind while purchasing a home that you can stay in while you age. Look for a single floor home, that way there will not be any areas of your home you cannot access if you begin to have mobility problems. If you have the money, the bathroom is something to specialize. Get a handicap toilet (they are a few inches higher) because transferring on an off the toilet can get to be a real problem for a lot of older adults. Also, check to see that there are convenient places to install grab bars to improve safety while toileting and showering. A walk in shower with a hand held shower head and built in bath bench would be good too. I see so many older people who are unable to get their legs up over the side of their bath tub, so they need a special long style bath bench (called a transfer bench) to get in and out. These things work great, but take up a lot of space though and definitely give your bathroom a more medical feel. For some more ideas, just google search something like "aging in place home modifications".

    2 agree
  13. My first thought was to try and set up a non profit foundation type of situation (you'll have to look into the legal details). The foundation would buy the house, the girls would all pay rent to the foundation + fees for extras like household help, medial aid, whatever you need.
    This set up avoids inheritance issues plus possible dramas on who pays what. It's like inventing your own elderly home :).
    My other thought, aside from the financial side of it, is to establish clear community rules or vision, so that everyone is going in with the same idea in mind.

    1 agrees
    • I don't know if it's the same in France, but this is essentially what my parents have done with their own assets here in the US. They've set up a trust, and everything they own and earn is paid into the trust.

      Since my parents are both of sound mind now, they handle the decisions of the trust themselves. But they have instructions for how their account managers should handle things if they can no longer maintain it themselves.

      I believe they set this all up through their investment firm (they happen to use Schwab) and it did cost them a bit to get it all set up. They are fortunate enough to have enough savings that the account managers are paid by their investment interest. It may not be a viable option for everyone, but it works very well for them.

      As for me, I've been assured they will spend all their money before I have to worry about inheriting it. 😉

  14. some friends and I toss this idea around and I keep my eyes open for good spots around town. A good movie is 'Et si vivant tous ensemble' (and if we all lived together)

    1 agrees
  15. Hello… I am still teaching but hope to retire within the next few years. I own a house and have tenants(which have often been a nightmare) . I have spent a fortune on leaking basements, struggle to mow the lawn with my arthritis.
    I am an artsy ….”off the wall” kind of person that hates cruise ships, golf and the yeah! team scene.
    I like jazz and world music… I do not live in the land of the pre coffin
    condos with their on suite and “pay a fortune to have everyone else do stuff for you” future places to live..ahhhhh..even townhouses … with ally way kitchens and all having to pay for the sweet trimmed shrubs ..does nothing for me…
    I am a hippy at heart..but a high functioning energy bunny that wants to active my mind constantly..
    I have had couch surfers (heaven)….love young people and good deep talks…
    want to travel for adventure ..not sitting by a pool at all….
    I do not like living alone and would like to meet a group of like minded people that would like to get a big house tog..or something… and share share share… but with one’s own separate space as well.
    Is there anything like this…I live in Victoria bc..but who knows… I just like arsty, adventurous company…
    Doreen…

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.