Helping your parents plan an enjoyable retirement

Multi-generation family in park

It’s never too early to start a conversation with your parents about planning for the retirement lifestyle they’ve worked hard for. If they’re in reasonable health and starting to put wheels in motion to wind down from employment, it’s a perfect time to encourage some thinking that will make life easier and enjoyable for them in the years ahead.

Lighten the burden – talk sooner rather than later

Australia’s summer holiday season for many is a celebration of having the rare luxury of time and opportunity to catch up with family and friends. Holiday celebrations often take place in the family home where adult children grew up, a perfect setting for sharing memories of days gone by – a time of sentiment.

After enjoying a few shared celebratory bubbles, sentiment can often lead to whispered concerns amongst siblings about the growing burden of maintenance due on the family property, the increasing crime statistics in their parents’ neighbourhood, street lighting in poor repair, increased graffiti, the change of demographics of the community, increased traffic congestion and how much longer their parent/s should continue working without compromising their health and relationship.

It’s an opportune time to plan a family conversation about supporting your parents in enjoying their retirement years. Don’t wait until a crisis when emotion can get in the way of rational decision making.

Retirement is a beginning

Retirement is not the end of your parents working life. It’s the beginning of a new lifestyle, a way of living that they’ve been working towards. It is about planning and making changes now for a positive outcome over the longer term. One of the biggest decisions your parents may want to consider is selling their home to achieve the retirement lifestyle they want to enjoy. The ongoing cost drain and physical burden of maintaining a family sized property may be hindering their lifestyle priorities. Travel, more time to enjoy a hobby or sport, a sense of security, more time to enjoy friends and family may all be compromised if their living arrangements are not freeing them up to achieve these goals.

Independence, security, ‘living the life’ and self-sufficiency are all within reach

Living in the house they own may fulfill their need to feel independent.  Yet a retirement village lifestyle will provide them with the same level of independence and self-sufficiency. It will also provide them with a sense of security as they live amongst like-minded peers. They will move into a new or completely refurbished villa or unit with access to shared facilities such as a swimming pool, bowling green, gymnasium and library that they may not otherwise be able to afford. They can head off on holidays knowing that their retirement village unit is in safe hands. Mowing the lawns, weeding the garden, trimming tree branches, painting fences and mending gates are no longer their responsibility, freeing them up to dedicate time to their priorities – you and your family may be one of those priorities!

Some tips on approaching that conversation

Here are some tips on how to go about kicking off a productive family conversation on what support your parents need from you to help them on their way to enjoying their retirement years. It may be wise to enjoy family
celebrations first, and plan to start the conversation in a more considered setting. Boxing Day could be the day for a productive chat.

1 – Do some homework. Plan the conversation.

Make sure you understand how the rest of the family feels before asking for their participation in a family meeting. Catch up with family members beforehand to gauge their views. While you may not feel comfortable having a prescribed agenda to discuss with them, it may help to at least write down what your concerns are and what you believe the family conversation should achieve. Next time you’re at your parents’ home take a good look around. Consider what maintenance is required over the next few years. Research what retirement living options are available. This website has a wealth of information on retirement village living, including answers to commonly asked questions.  Arrange some time with your siblings to visit a retirement village together, so that you are well informed on the options available. Cardinia Waters Village in leafy Pakenham, award winning Point Cook Village or the new development of Beleura Village in the idyllic Victorian seaside community of Mornington are some model examples of Melbourne retirement villages that welcome visitors and can answer the common questions often raised. You may even want to pull together a checklist of topics to cover off with your parents to help open up and guide the conversation.

2 – Start the conversation. Be empathetic. Be candid.

This is the hard part. Think of it as an opportunity that you are opening up for your parents. As a family you are planning to be collaborative and proactive with your parents’ priorities at the heart of the discussion. You’re offering them support in the planning process.  You’re not making decisions for them.  Ideally there’ll be an opportunity to kick off the conversation with the natural flow of conversation. Perhaps they’ve expressed frustration with the amount of work to do around the house or they’re discussing a friend’s recent health scare with you.

Here are some conversation starter examples if you need some help:

  • “How do you  feel about staying in this house over the years to come?”
  • “What does it mean to you to live well?”
  • “Do you feel safe living here? How does the community feel? Is it safe to lock up the house and go away for a week or two without worrying about security? How do you feel when mum/dad/partner is out and you’re here on your own?”
  • “What goals have you set yourself over the next few years?”
  • “What does retiring mean to you? What are your priorities / goals over the next 5 years?”
  • “What are your concerns for the future?”
  • “What would be an ideal living situation for you, say in 5 years time?”
  • “Have you had a quote on [restumping / painting / repairing woodwork / fixing the drainage problems]? What else needs doing over the next few years?”
  • “I noticed that there’s a new retirement village being built [up the road, around the corner, in idyllic location]. It looks great. Have you ever had a look around one? I’m happy to have a look with you if you want to see what it’s like.”

Make sure you’ve come prepared with some information that may help your parents reach a decision. It may be a list of website resources, information packs from retirement villages you have visited or an article that you feel may be of interest to them. Make it a positive conversation. It’s important that you are listening and understand your parents’ priorities and what you can offer to support them.

If you are genuinely concerned about your parents’ intention to continue to live in the family home and they’re not willing to consider other retirement living options, it may be time to be more candid. You may need to ask them to think about their health and mobility in the short, medium and long term, or how they plan to travel or indulge in a hobby, study or sport when the maintenance needed on the house may eat into their cash flow and time. Do they want to be selling up the house and moving at a time of family crisis or when facing into serious health issues?

3 – Follow up on the conversation

With agreement from your parents, have a participant of the family conversation write down actions that you’re parents have decided to explore.

Assign responsibility for each action with a supporting family member so that your parents feel encouraged not overwhelmed. This should not be a one-off conversation but the start of a series of follow up discussions to help your parents achieve the retirement lifestyle they want, not a lifestyle that circumstance has forced them to take.

Importantly, don’t push for decisions to be made in that first conversation. An example of an action may simply be for your parents to discuss, write down and share their list of priorities and concerns at the next family
discussion. It may be to do some research on the costs of the maintenance needed on their home over the next few years. It may be to arrange an appointment time to take a tour through a retirement village along with a
family member to gain an understanding of what a retirement village lifestyle looks like.

Professional advice may help

Family relationships are not always smooth sailing. In some cases, a collaborative family conversation or meeting may not work for your particular circumstances. You may need to consider seeking advice from a professional and independent counsellor or advisor experienced in retirement planning. This could be a legal, financial or relationship advisor or counsellor.

Hopefully, your parents will be as relieved as you all are that the topic has been put on the table for discussion now while the opportunities available to them open up possibilities for achieving their retirement lifestyle dreams.