There are a few things that you absolutely must know about a community that might not be included in the traditional sales routine. Here are the ten must-ask questions:
What is your policy for refunding my entrance fee after I move out or die? How long will my estate have to wait before getting the money back?
Regardless of how much money you have, entrance fees aren’t cheap. It’s in your best interest to understand how the community will process your refund when the time comes. This information is also outlined in the resident contract, which you should read thoroughly before signing.
What is your policy regarding permanent transfer into assisted living or nursing? In the event of a disagreement about my health, how will you decide if I move?
I have read about several residents who have had to sue their community because the community forced them to move to assisted living or nursing without their consent. Communities have an obligation to discuss permanent moves with the resident and the resident’s family, but it is sometimes difficult to reach agreement on when is the appropriate time to move to higher levels of care. You want to know in advance what the community policy is regarding a permanent move and how the community resolves disagreements.
How do you decide increases in monthly fees? Do you cap yearly increases?
By far the biggest complaint from residents has to do with annual fee increases. I have seen some communities that tried to pass large monthly fee increases only to have their residents move out in protest. Although most communities won’t guarantee a maximum annual increase, make sure to ask if the community has any policy regarding increasing fees.
Do you have a resident council? If so, how much authority does your resident council have to make decisions about the future of the community?
Most communities have a resident council that meets on a regular basis to accomplish any number of tasks. The most important of these is usually to discuss the community with members of management. This is especially important during times of renovation or redevelopment when residents might feel displaced by construction crews and want a means of voicing their concerns to the folks in charge.
What is your policy for residents that outlive their assets?
Although CCRC’s often have strict guidelines regarding resident income and assets, there are occasions when residents run out of money. This can be the result of several factors (outliving assets, poor investments, etc). Almost all nonprofit communities have endowments that will pay for residents that run out of money. For profit communities have varying policies.
At a minimum, residents that deplete their assets and income should expect to be moved to the smallest available apartment and to incur reductions in their eventual entrance fee refund.
What is the religious affiliation of the community, if any?
Most nonprofit communities have some sort of religious affiliation. However, in order to attract the largest number of qualified residents, most communities tend to welcome all religions. There will often be an on-campus chapel for worship services and the occasional memorial service.
However, religious affiliation might make a big impact in your daily routines if the community changes its meals to adhere to Kosher guidelines or Lent. There might also be resident activities geared to a specific religion or denomination. Also, since health care will be offered on the campus, expect to see a priest or minister on staff making rounds through the halls. Most communities keep one on staff.
What are you doing to keep the community competitive with other local providers?
Depending on your age, you might plan to live in the community for up to thirty years. In this case, your entrance fee is an investment, just like your home. The community must keep pace with maintenance, interior decorating and furniture, and general appeal. That means that throughout your time at the community, management must continue to maintain and improve the property. Expect to see renovations, expansions, and other changes to the campus that will keep it looking nice for years to come.
What is your pet policy?
This policy matters both for pet people and for people who hate animals; pet policies vary widely by community. Some communities will accept up to two or three small pets. Others do not allow any animals. Even for communities that allow pets, it might be a good idea to ask the community’s policy on dealing with pet owners who can no longer take care of their animals, have too many, or do not do a good job picking up after them.
What sorts of activities do you have?
If you have time, try to meet the social coordinator at the community. You want to make sure that the types of activities the community schedules are things that you would be interested in participating in. Try to attend one of the events if possible. If the events are well-planned and well-executed, then you know that your life at the community will probably be a lot of fun!
Do you have friends or family that live here? If not, why would you recommend that your family member or friend move in here? Would you move in here?
This question will tell you a lot about the sales person and give you some valuable information as to why he/she believes the community is the best. One woman told me that she would never move into her community because of the no pet policy. On the other hand, another sales person told me that her mother and grandmother had lived in the community and had been given exceptional care during times of illness. I had another sales counselor at a different community tell me that she was hoping to save enough money to put her sick husband in the community’s nursing home. The sales people know the campus inside and out. Their feedback, especially when it comes to their personal opinion, is very valuable.