Margaret Roesch (67) and her wife Pat McAulay (68) wanted to have supportive community around them as they aged. So they helped create cohousing development for LGBTQ+ seniors and allies, facilitating mutual support.
“We said we don’t want to go back into the closet when we get older,” Roesch said from the front porch of her home in Durham, North Carolina.
Opened in 2020, Village fireplace is a neighborhood of 28 single-story accessible homes for residents 55 and older—and one of the few housing estates in the country specifically designed with LGBTQ+ people and allies in mind.
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“We decided we’d be better off in the community after spending eight lonely years in Florida,” McAulay said. “It’s so rewarding to know that there are 30 people who have our backs.”
“I find it very refreshing,” Roesch added.
“We’re all… going to die. People are going to get sick,” she said. “These things happen, but we’ve also found that we’re really good at taking care of each other.
Older adults in the LGBTQ+ community are twice as likely to be single and four times less likely to have children than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. SAGE, a national advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ elders. They may also become estranged from family members who do not accept their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
“A lot of people in their 70s and 80s who have been locked out don’t feel safe and stay locked up while they’re going through care — that’s stressful,” said certified financial planner Stephanie Lee, founder of East Rock Financial in San Francisco. . “You’re trying to get a caregiver and you’re hiding who you are or you’re hiding your relationship.”
The Village Hearth is a cohousing community for over 55 LGBTQ+ adults, friends and allies in Durham, North Carolina.
Experts say it’s especially important to have an early aging plan.
“As with every stage of life, planning is unique and personal to the individual,” said CFP Kyle Young, senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in New York. “The key is to start the conversation, educate yourself, and finalize plans that ensure your wishes are clear.”
At Village Hearth, residents took steps to prepare their finances, arrange care and consider end-of-life planning. They held workshops on choosing financial and health powers of attorney, had an advance directive for medical decisions, and found an attorney to help draft these key legal documents.
When you’re in a hospital or nursing facility, “if you’re heterosexual, your spouse automatically gets visitation rights,” Lee said.
This is not always the case for same-sex couples, even if they are legally married. In a hospital or nursing facility, “if a couple has kept their relationship private from others, advance health care directives and visitation authorization forms are critical to honoring the patient’s wishes,” Lee said.
“It’s really important to get the legal documents to get visitation rights,” she said, “so you can make those decisions.”
The sooner you start planning, the easier it is to take steps to stick to your plan and meet your goals.
“Having the benefit of time on your side will allow you and your loved ones to make sound and clear decisions while considering the costs, taxes and broader implications of your estate plans,” said Young, who works with many LGBTQ+ clients.
Use the time between retirement and needing services to identify your support network, consider your financial situation and educate yourself about available care options, advises Allison O’Shea, founder of Openly Aging, a consulting firm in Durham.
“A lot of people don’t think about it in the interim,” said O’Shea, who has operated senior centers for many years and works with clients as a so-called aging counselor. “There’s a really big piece missing in terms of what you could do to prepare.”
Build a support group—neighbors, family, friends, loved ones, and professionals you know you can lean on.
If you’re single or not sure if you have people around you who are willing and able to step in, O’Shea recommends hiring a geriatric care manager. These professionals, who can also be social workers, nurses, psychologists or gerontologists, regularly deal with the issue of care for the elderly. They can be your advocate, make sure you have access to resources and organize the support you need.
It’s important to understand what options you can afford and where to find help. “Don’t let your finances scare you,” O’Shea said. “You can create a plan that fits your finances.”
Getting an overview of your monthly income and assets in retirement can help you determine where and how you will receive care later—whether you age in your home, downsize, or move into some type of senior living facility.
Local senior centers can be a valuable resource for older adults seeking community and information, and many are working to serve a more diverse population. FiftyForward, which has seven community centers in central Tennessee to support older Americans, works to build a more inclusive community, conducts research and provides cultural competency training.
“Our country is not prepared for a growing group of older adults,” said Gretchen Funk, FiftyForward’s chief program officer. Issues of access to services and isolation affect seniors in general, but discrimination can exacerbate these issues for the LGBTQ+ community.
“As a society, we have to look at this for all of us, because we’re all going to face this,” Funk said. “And there should be strength in common advocacy.
Some care services may be free based on your income but have long waiting lists. Knowing where and when to apply can help keep costs down.
“If you have a plan or if you’re educated about what the options are, you’re not stressed about these big life decisions when you’re in a … crisis,” O’Shea said. “You already have a step-by-step plan that will only save you time and money.”