Home Upgrades to Help Aging in Place

Hook Law News | Aug 26, 2016 | Hook Law Center

Many individuals want to stay in their home through old age. Frequently, our clients are concerned that their home is a poor place to age in place because it is two-story, split-level, or simply old. Also, many are unwilling to move to a new home in order to accommodate decreased mobility due to their connection with their home or the lack of affordable options for relocation. Finally, our clients worry that any remodeling to accommodate disability would hurt their home value and result in their home appearing “clinical” like the nursing homes they are trying to avoid. Fortunately, the concept of “Universal Design” has been adopted by many contractors, architects, and designers, to create more accessible homes while maintaining stylish and appealing homes. Often such a remodel can create a better home environment for our clients and enable them to age in place.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design incorporates subtle, but important, features that benefit disabled individuals of all ages who live in the home. Simple changes such as widened doorways and levered door handles instead of knobs create a more accessible home without detracting from the home’s aesthetics. Additionally, the positioning of cabinetry, switches, and outlets significantly affects a home’s accessibility. The goal of Universal Design is to provide a livable home for individuals in all stages of life and mobility. In addition to older individuals seeking to age in place, these design concepts benefit children and younger disabled individuals.

By using Universal Design principles, a remodeling project will provide more utility while the owner keeps the home, and, because the design is meant to be aesthetically pleasing, the marketability of the home will not be affected. In fact, the home will be marketable to buyers with young children or disabled family members who may not have considered it previously. If accessibility is created without using Universal Design or aesthetically pleasing methods, many prospective purchasers will want to reverse the renovations. Accordingly, the home will likely be less marketable when it is eventually sold.

If you are building a new home or considering remodeling your home to be more accessible, you should consider using professionals familiar with Universal Design concepts. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (“NARI”) certifies remodelers as  Universal Design Certified Professionals (“UDCP”). This certification means that the individual has at least taken a course and passed a test on Universal Design principals. Avoid using remodelers who are not familiar with Universal Design concepts, because they may not think beyond widening hallways and limiting stairs and incorporate aesthetic concerns that many remodels for accessibility simply do not address.  Universal Design is mostly felt in the details of the home such as the location of towel hooks, the types of faucets used, and choices in flooring.  While any remodeler or contractor can create a wider hallway, if they are unfamiliar with the subtle changes required to make a home truly accessible and aesthetically appealing, the result will be a slightly more functional home that may be less marketable.

If you are considering the significant step of remodeling your home for accessibility concerns, it is likely a good time to review your plan for long-term care and incapacity. Meeting with the estate planning and elder law attorneys at the Hook Law Center can help walk you through what the financial and medical changes you are experiencing mean for your retirement and estate plans.

Kit Kat

Ask Kit Kat – Bear 399

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about Bear 399?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is another interesting story about a female grizzly bear in Grand Teton National Park. Bear 399, as she is known because of the number on her tracking device, is approximately 20 years old. She makes her home in the national park, and has been quite fertile during her lifetime. She has given birth to 3 sets of triplets It is thought that she has had 16 offspring, about half of which are dead due to accidents or straying off park property, and being killed by hunters. This past spring, 399 gave birth to one cub . In June, “Snowy” as the cub was known was killed by a hit-and-run- driver in the park. 399 dragged her to the side of the road, and took her into the brush.

Although one may think that 399 should choose more secluded areas to raise her cubs, there is a reason she has not done so. Given the choice of roadside areas or more hidden areas of the backcountry where male bears could prey on them, she has chosen roadside  meadows. Now even 399 may be at risk as she sometimes roans outside of park land. The Wyoming Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service gave only a 30-day comment period this spring when they tried to delist grizzlies from the Endangered Species List. The Humane Society of the US (HSUS) is now suing Wyoming to re-open the comment period. No decision to date has been made. Hearings have also taken place in neighboring Idaho and Montana.

Naturalists want to keep the grizzly listed as endangered, or at a minimum, threatened. Or the bears could be delisted, if the states in the region ban trophy hunting. People advocating for protection say that, in recent years, the grizzly population has plateaued, due to the grizzly’s increasingly difficult search for food. Cutthroat trout and whitebark pine nuts, their favorite foods, are not as plentiful, and they are forced to search further and further away. It is estimated  that there are currently 700 grizzlies in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks, known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. A population of 600 is desirable, so that would only allow for a reduction of 100 bears. In the early 70s, when the grizzlies were not protected, there were as few as 136. Stay tuned as naturalists face off with hunters who are advocating for the change. (Karen E. Lange, “Protect Wonderland,” All Animals, July/August 2016, p. 23-29 and All Animals, September/October 2016, p. 14)

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