When it's time for your parents to downsize, it's challenging for the entire family. Baby boomers are the last generation of Americans that stayed in one place—so tackling a move from a house that holds years of memories is hard for the entire family. However, there are some strategies for making the transition as easy as possible, so take heart and read on.
In a perfect world, you've been privy to your parents’ health care and finances for several years before they downsize or move to a senior living community. If your world's not perfect and you don't have a clue, get up to speed with these two crucial components as soon as possible, and stay up to date going forward. The last thing you want is to have a health or financial crisis and be completely in the dark as to their situation. Asking your parents what their financial picture looks like is hard, but being blindsided when you find out your dad's best friend is that Nigerian prince stuck in the Tokyo airport and has gotten all his money is harder.
Have the conversations when there's no urgency, and your mom doesn't feel like you’re pushing her out of her house. The more you and your siblings find out over the dinner table, the better off you'll all be when you have to make decisions quickly. Meet with their attorneys and doctors to ensure that you can help manage affairs if needed and that you can get medical and health care information if there's an emergency. These two things are vitally important if you're more than a couple of hours away, as you may need to manage things remotely. HIPAA maintains that even if your mom's doctor was your second-grade cubby buddy, without that paper trail they can't tell you anything.
What to Take?
For lots of families, picking one sibling to be the point person for legal issues pales in comparison to figuring out who gets to decide what moves to the new house, what gets donated, and which sibling gets the family silver. Don't let this create a family rift, your parents are moving and will likely keep the china and silver. Besides, most downsizes mean a significant loss of space—going from a three or four-bedroom house to one or two bedrooms and one living space--so there's plenty of stuff to go around.
Once your family has made the decision that downsizing is best for your parents, if they will be moving to a retirement community, there's typically a waiting period of several months before they actually make the move. Most communities renovate the units before a new resident comes in. If the prior resident had been there for a few years, they may do a complete update—so you'll usually get things like new countertops and appliances, Wi-Fi, and updated bathroom fixtures along with fresh paint and carpet. These weeks offer your parents time to adjust to the idea of moving, especially if they are going to a new city.
Get a copy of the floor plan of their new house or apartment. Some retirement communities will give you not only a floor plan, but a sheet of adhesive peel-off furniture so you can actually place the furniture and accessories. The pieces can be moved on the paper, so you can play decorator until you get it just right. This is a huge help emotionally, knowing ahead of time what they can take with them and how it will fit in the space. Surrounding themselves with familiar furniture and mementos can take some of the sting out of leaving home.
Leading up to Moving Day
Moving day for your parents is going to be tough, no matter how prepared you are, or however much they're ready to give up the house and the yard. Here's a timeline to get ready for the big day, giving you a couple of months to get ready.
Two Months Out
Hire a professional moving company. Work with your budget to determine if you want a full-service move, a la carte (pick and choose what services the movers do) or rent a truck and do it yourself.
Figure out if you'll need short term storage, and where you want it to be. Most moving companies provide storage options, which can be very convenient. Some people aren't sure what will really work in the new space and want to have a few more options before they make the final decision. Also, when college-age grandkids are in the mix, some families opt to hang on to old furniture and stuff that will come in handy in first apartments.
Start determining what they can take, what you and your siblings want, and what to donate. However you decide to divvy up, you'll need to note what goes to whom. Different colored small sticky notes are a great way to keep track on moving day, so that the right things end up going to the correct places.
Work with your parents on what to donate--although the idea of a garage sale is tempting, if cash flow is not an issue, you'll most likely do better donating most things and taking the write-off. If they have valuable things, ask a local antiques dealer to appraise them before you donate. Some non-profits, like Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army, will even send a truck to pick-up your donations. Call a week or so out to arrange pick up.
One Month Out
Start clearing out cabinets, closets, the basement, garage, etc. If you've got more house than motivation, hire a company to come clean out once you've gotten everything that you want out of the house. This is well worth the money, especially if you're out of town and your parents are having a hard time with the move. You can also arrange to have the moving company take the household goods and personal belongings before the rest of the house is cleared out, sparing your mom and dad from seeing their house looking empty and sad.
If you're doing your own packing, get good-quality packing supplies. The moving company will have the best quality at the lowest prices and can provide packing tips. Again, pull out the sticky notes for the boxes or have a system for keeping them in order. If everyone is local, it's easy to bring over some big bins and pull out of the driveway an hour later with old prom dresses and diving trophies all packed up in the car. That's usually not the case, so as you pack boxes, label them accordingly and put them in the recipient's bedroom, or stake out corners of the living room.
One Week Out
Confirm with the moving company, both for the move to the new house and taking things to storage. If you're not sure how much storage you'll need, they can help you calculate, you will probably really need double the space you think.
Plan a two-prong strategy for this day. Have one sibling, grandchild or friend take your parents out for breakfast, and then on to the new house. You or a sibling stay behind to manage the movers. Alleviate as much stress as you can that morning, so when the truck arrives your parents aren't tired and anxious. Help them get unpacked and settled, and don't be surprised if they're invited to dinner--they're the new kids on the block and in high demand.
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