Planning To Stay Put

The stats show what we all know: Almost everyone wants to “age in place.” We look at meeting the concern head on, starting now, by highlighting the opportunities and realistic challenges of living long and well in your home.

01.29.2021 - Fiduciary Trust Canada

It was an early Vancouver morning when Ed and Liz received the phone call they had dreaded for some time.[1] Ed immediately recognized his parents’ cell number— James and Hilary, both in their late 80s, lived unassisted across the country in their Halifax home. James was calling to say Hilary had slipped and fallen on the tile step at their front door. She was shaken, but not seriously hurt. However, in trying to catch Hilary during the fall, James had tumbled, fractured his tailbone and would be in hospital until he recovered.

Hilary has mobility issues and some cognitive impairment and James, although frail, is her primary caregiver. Hilary was to be discharged from the hospital but could not return home alone. James needed immediate help finding a place for Hilary to stay until he recovered enough to resume caring for her.

Ed and Liz had tried without success to talk with his parents about planning for just such a contingency. James and Hilary, hardworking, capable, successful people, simply stated they would never leave their home, saw no need for backup plans, could care for themselves and had the support of friends and neighbours. They were fine. Ed suddenly faced the reality of navigating an unfamiliar provincial health and social care system, working from a distance, and tight time frames. His mother would need daily care and Ed doubted his father could cope with the demands of her care much longer.

Does this scenario sound familiar? It should. Research shows that almost every senior in Canada hopes to “age in place” in their home and community.[2] It also indicates that decisions about making health and safety modifications to homes, hiring in-home caregivers, setting up emergency family protocols, or choosing a long-term care facility are almost always made after a major health- or safety-related incident occurs.[3] Often decisions have to be made by caring family members without the benefit of knowing exactly what their elderly parent(s) want.

As wealth and estate planners, we see the very real benefits of the planning steps and decisions made by clients in documents such as wills, powers of attorney, insurance and other documents. Likewise, we believe the key to successful aging in place is planning ahead, while you are healthy and energetic. As hard as it can be to acknowledge, the reality is there may come a day when you are more physically frail, or your cognitive ability declines. Thinking about it now, means you have more control. Making the important decisions, rather than leaving it to family and friends, can help alleviate potential concerns about their abilities to do things your way. It can also help deal with that feeling of being a burden for the people who care about you. Another key is to remain open-minded about possible changes and involve your family so they have a clear understanding of your wishes should they ever need to decide on your behalf.

Know Your Options

With this in mind, let us turn back time to highlight a different possible path for James and Hilary. For instance, while in their 70s, James starts investigating steps that he and Hilary might take to make their two-story traditionally styled home better suited for aging in place. He finds a useful checklist published by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.[4] He starts storing all this type of information in a file he marks: Aging in Place Plan.

As a result of reviewing the checklist, James speaks to a local contractor who holds a certificate under the CanadianCertified Aging in Place Specialist program. Hilary and James have a ramp installed, replacing the treacherous front-door step. He discovers that, should the stairs become difficult to navigate, it is possible to install a lift chair to access the upper floor bedrooms. James and Hilary discuss the plans with their son, Ed. Admittedly, talking about growing frailty or illness is not easy. However, the trade-offs, such as creating some certainty and staying at home in your community near friends and familiar surroundings, can make it more palatable.

James and Hilary also explore their community with an open mind about different housing options, just as a backup. They find a nice apartment building within walking distance of friends, shopping and restaurants. Though James and Hilary have no desire to move, they let Ed know that, if the house ever becomes too much, they have a new address in mind. They also research and tell their son about the nearby long-term care homes they like and dislike.

On one visit to Halifax, Ed’s wife, Liz, notices James has lost a lot of weight. She also sees that he is always very worried about Hilary’s needs and is neglecting his health. When Ed and Liz talk to James about their concerns, he listens with an open mind. He agrees that he could use some help with Hilary’s personal care and has been investigating services provided by a local in-home care provider. Together, they put that service in place.

When Life Changes

Fast forward to the day when, on short notice, James does have to go into hospital for several weeks. Given the planning in place, James is comfortable and confident with the care Hilary will receive in his absence. The existing in-home caregivers increase their visits from once to twice daily. With a few phone calls, based on the file that James has shared with his son, Ed arranges a healthy, tasty meal service for Hilary. It is one his parents have already pre-tested. He also arranges to exchange daily emails with Hilary’s close friend, Betty, who visits Hilary daily to see how she is doing. Ed and Liz make work and travel arrangements to go help but are not panic-stricken, knowing there is backup already in place.

Eventually, James passes away peacefully at home. Hilary, whose cognitive decline means she now requires full-time care, does need to leave their house. However, she transitions to a long-term care home the couple had pre-selected. Ed is aware of their wishes as he and his Dad had talked things through. Plus, everything was in the Aging in Place Plan Hilary and James had built up over time. Their lives had been full of twists and turns, but what was in their control was clearly mapped out.

For all the challenges we know clients meet head-on and overcome, we urge you to do the same when it comes to planning where you want to live in the years ahead. Now is always the right time to start.


  1. Ed and Liz are a hypothetical couple created for the purpose of this story.
  2. “Pandemic Perspectives on Ageing in Canada in Light of COVID-19: Findings from a National Institute on Ageing/TELUS Health National Survey,” October 2020.
  3. Sue Lantz and Don Fenn, “Re-Shaping the Housing Market for Aging in Place and Home Modifications,” Report to Canadian Home Builders Association” on behalf of Home Modification Canada, May 2017.
  4. “Maintaining Seniors’ Independence Through Home Adaptations: A Self-Assessment Guide,” CMHC, March 31, 2018,


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