There are lot of questions that come with taking this big step. Take a look at this extensive resource to answer all of your independent living queries.

If you're considering a move to an independent living community, either for yourself or for your loved one, you probably have a lot of questions. We're happy to answer as many as we can. Take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding independent living.

    

General Questions About Independent Living

The Costs of Independent Living

Services and Amenities in Independent Living

What Happens When Independent Living Isn’t Enough?

General Questions About Independent Living

     

  • Will I buy or rent my residence in an independent living community?

It depends on the community. Some larger independent living communities even offer you the choice within the same facility. If you buy your residence, your purchase will follow the standard process of any real estate transaction, though you may have to meet age requirements. In a rental independent living community, your monthly payment pays not only for your rent but also for facility maintenance and many services and amenities.

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  • What housing options are available?

This is another variable that depends on the independent living community that you choose. Some large retirement communities contain single-family homes with private yards while also sharing resort-style facilities such as pools and gyms. Others consist of studio apartments or individual suites centered around a common indoor living area that includes communal kitchens and dining areas. In most independent living communities, housing is available for rent, but some communities offer the opportunity to purchase. If you think about your preferences and what you can afford, you're likely to find a community that meets your needs.

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  • What are the age requirements to live in independent living?

Most independent living communities require residents to be at least 55 years old, because that's the age limit specified in the Fair Housing Act. Some communities have more stringent age restrictions.

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  • What is the difference between a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and an independent living community?

A CCRC includes independent living as one of its options, but also includes assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. In a CCRC, residents join to have all the personal and medical care they might need as they age, all within one community. Their transition from one stage to the next is less jarring, since they're staying in a familiar environment and have no further decisions, paperwork, or financial and real estate transactions to deal with. Staff at a CCRC generally join with the resident's family to determine when it's time to transition to a new living environment. If you're moving in as one member of a couple, ask what happens if one spouse needs a higher level of care but the other doesn't. Also: What happens if a resident is ready to move to the next level of care, but there are no accommodations available?

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  • Do you need a car to live in an independent living community?

Independent living communities typically offer parking lots or garages for the convenience of residents who have their own cars. However, not everyone drives in an independent living community. Most independent living communities offer transportation to the local town for shopping and entertainment as well as medical appointments. Check with the communities you're interested in to see what transportation is provided, what public transportation is available, and what the costs are for all transportation. If you plan to bring your car, check with the community about parking arrangements.

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  • What changes can I make to my residence in an independent living community?

The answer to this question will vary depending on the community you've chosen, and depending on whether you're buying your residence or renting it. If you're buying your residence, you can expect to have all the decorating freedoms you would have in any community that has a homeowners association with its covenants and restrictions. If you're renting, the permanent changes you can make to your residence are likely to be more limited. You shouldn't have to worry about alterations for safety, however, as most independent living residences include items like bathroom grab bars already.

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  • Are pets allowed in an independent living community?

Most independent living communities welcome pets, understanding how therapeutic they can be for seniors. Because some communities have restrictions on the type, breed, or size of pets allowed, make sure you ask about the policy if you want to bring a pet with you. Also ask about any deposits or fees required.

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  • Are there restrictions on visitors in an independent living community?

Each independent living community makes its own rules regarding visitors. If you're in an age-restricted community, there may be stringent regulations against minors spending the night or staying for an extended time. Larger communities in which residents own their own homes are less likely to impose strict regulations. Those with more communal settings may restrict visitors to certain hours for the sake of all residents' comfort and peace of mind.

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  • What happens if you want to move out of the community?

If you've purchased a home within an independent living community, you'll probably want to sell it if you choose to move elsewhere. Check with the community to see what age restrictions might be attached to that sale. If you are paying a monthly fee that covers your lodging and other services, you may have to give notice, just as you would if leaving a rental apartment or home.

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The Costs of Independent Living

    

  • Do I have to pay any kind of membership, entrance or upfront fee?

Most independent living communities do require some kind of upfront fee to become a resident. If you're joining a CCRC, the fee can be sizable, because you're joining a system that involves medical services. In other types of independent living communities, the fee may be the equivalent of a security deposit on a new apartment. The fee is often larger or smaller depending on the types of amenities and services the independent living community offers and on the type of residential unit you're choosing. If you're buying a condo or other home within an independent living community, of course you'll be subject to the down payment and other closing fees involved with any real estate transaction, and a membership fee may also be required.

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  • What do the monthly fees cover?

The answer to this question varies from one independent living community to the next, but in general, your fee covers your residence, utilities, landscaping maintenance, home maintenance, security, and access to the community's amenities. High-end amenities, such as a golf course, may incur extra fees, as may amenities that not everyone in the community uses, such as shuttle bus services.

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  • Are utilities, cable/satellite TV, and internet access included in the monthly fee?

Most independent living communities are wired for either cable or satellite TV as well as internet access and landline telephone service. Depending on the size of the community and its regulations, while your utilities and communications are likely to be included in the monthly fee, you may have to subscribe independently for them in some communities. Ask to see what help is available to help you get electronics properly set up and connected.

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  • How often is the monthly fee increased?

In a few cases, your monthly fee may be locked in at the moment you sign your contract for an independent living community, but usually you can expect annual increases. Ask if the fee can only be raised once a year, or is there a possibility of random increases during the year? Is there a cap on how much the fee can be raised. In addition, make sure you understand who's in charge of determining the timing and amount of each increase: the staff, a board made up of residents, or a combination of the two. You may also want to ask what happens if a resident can no longer afford to pay the increased fee.

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  • How do I know if I can afford an independent living community?

Take a look at our article here dedicated to this very question. Crunching the numbers to compare your current living expenses with those of the independent living communities you're considering will help you come to a satisfying answer to this question. In addition, the staff at most independent living communities can help you review your finances and show you which of your current expenses (possibly including property taxes, home maintenance, transportation, and more) will be covered by the community's monthly fees.

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Services and Amenities in Independent Living

Because independent living communities vary great in size and cost, it's not surprising that the amenities and services available from one community to the next can also vary greatly.

     

  • What amenities are available in my independent living community?

Different independent living communities provide a variety of amenities, and each community will be happy to show you what they offer. Many communities contain gyms and other recreational and exercise facilities, sometimes including swimming pools, golf courses, and tennis courts. Ask about exercise classes. Often independent living communities offer continuing education classes of various sorts, and they may have a clubhouse where you can meet with other residents or entertain your friends and family. Some communities also offer excursions into the local area, taking groups of residents to sports venues, shopping centers, restaurants, art galleries, and theaters.

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  • Are amenities free and available to all residents?

Typically your monthly fee provides access to most amenities in your independent living community. A few high-end amenities, such as golf courses, may require additional fees, as may some transportation services. In addition, you may need to reserve or sign up for some amenities, such as tennis courts, exercise classes, or private clubhouse use. Check with the independent living community you're considering for details.

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  • What personal and household convenience services can I expect at my independent living community?

Larger independent living communities are likely to host beauty salons, barber shops, dry cleaners, chapels and other amenities that make life a little easier. Some may also offer housekeeping and laundry services. Transportation services are also often available to take residents to medical appointments and religious services, as well as to run errands, go shopping, or visit entertainment venues. Ask your independent living community which of these services are included in the monthly fee, and which involve an extra charge, as this can vary from one community to the next.

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  • What dining services are available?

In larger independent living communities, such as active adult communities, residents typically cook their own meals at home, though restaurants or snack bars may be available for social enjoyment with others. Co-housing set-ups provide communal kitchens that are available to all residents, who may also have kitchenettes in their private residences. In some smaller independent living communities, dining halls may be available, with meal plans that are included in the monthly fee. In addition to cooking for themselves, residents can of course take advantage of meal delivery services available in their neighborhood.

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  • What social events and recreational activities are offered at an independent living community?

Most independent living communities are aimed at active adults, so they offer a wide range of social and recreational options. These may include movies, holiday celebrations, book clubs, crafting clubs, classes, and more. When you visit the communities you're interested in, ask for a monthly and annual calendar to check out the social events and see which ones appeal to you. But don't stop there. Ask as well how well the events are attended. Knowing who plans social events — staff or residents — can give you a hint as to how active and involved residents really are in the community. Make sure to ask if there are fees required for any activities and whether everyone in the community is eligible to participate in all activities and events.

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  • What medical services are available in an independent living community?

Most independent living communities don't provide any medical services. However, often you can enjoy medical services (such as diabetes care, wound care, and injections) via home health care arranged separately. Check with your independent living community to see what arrangements they can help you make and what is allowed.

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  • What security and emergency services are provided?

Independent living communities typically offer 24/7 security, which can range from automated alarms to guards at an entrance gate checking the ID of everyone who enters. All security services should be included in your monthly fee, though you will also want to maintain homeowner's or renter's insurance to cover your personal belongings. Some independent living communities provide some version of emergency call buttons in each residence. Ask whether these are available, and how the facility's security department responds when there's a medical emergency.

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What Happens When Independent Living Isn't Enough?

Independent living is appropriate for active adults who don't need assistance with the activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming and bathing. If you find that you or your loved one is in need of a little extra help, there are options available.

    

  • What is the Difference Between Independent Living and Assisted Living?

Residents in an independent living community do receive some help that makes life a little easier, but these are generally confined to areas like maintenance, yard care and maybe housekeeping. Residents in an assisted living community typically receive some assistance with the activities of daily living, including medication management and often including meal preparation. Assisted living residents, however, usually don't need significant skilled medical care on a daily basis.

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  • How do I know when it's time to leave independent living?

Your physician and your family may be able to help you with this decision. If you need help with the activities of daily living, it may be time to start looking at assisted living communities. If you've chosen a CCRC as your independent living community, your spot in an assisted living community is already waiting for you. It may be possible for you to stay in your independent living home, however, by bringing in an in-home caregiver on a regular basis. Check to see if your Independent Living community allows that, and click here to learn more about the possibilities inherent in home care.

Independent living communities are an ideal solution for baby boomers and other active adults who want to add convenience and recreation to their lives while minimizing hassle. Because these communities bring together people from the same generation, the residents share a lot and are able to relate to one another well. By checking out the various types of independent living available, you may be able to find just the right situation for yourself or your loved one.

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Review our other articles on independent living:

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