What Is a Life Plan Community?

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Life Plan Communities blend several senior housing options within the same property. Life Plan Communities are also known as Continuing Care Retirement Communities. Many CCRCs decided to rebrand as Life Plan Communities because the phrase “continuing care” places undue emphasis on one component of communities that equally serve residents who are capable of living independently. While a Life Plan Community provides care for those who need it, it provides a living environment for all older adults, regardless of their health condition.

A Life Plan community typically offers a variety of housing options in a campus environment. Without leaving the community, residents may transition from one kind of housing to another as their needs change. 

Seniors who can live independently may choose from units of varying sizes that resemble apartments or condominium units. Some communities also offer free-standing homes. In many respects, a Life Plan Community may be similar to a retirement community in the amenities it offers to residents. Life Plan Communities differ from age-restricted retirement communities in that most residents in retirement communities purchase their units while residents in Life Plan Communities do not usually own the units that they occupy. 

If health impairments make it challenging for residents to live independently, they may move to assisted-living facilities on the same campus. Most communities also provide nursing homes for residents who require around-the-clock care. Some have secure housing for memory care patients and short-term rehabilitation facilities for older patients who are recovering from a hospital stay.

Benefits of Life Plan Communities

Life Plan Communities are typically open to residents who have reached the age of 55 or 60. Although each community sets its own rules, most welcome couples if at least one spouse meets the minimum age requirement.

Most people who enter a Life Plan Community are capable of independent living. Residents in a Life Plan Community come to know each other as they spend time on the campus. If they later require greater assistance and transition to a different form of housing, they continue to have easy access to the friends they have made within the community.

The grounds of a Life Plan Community are maintained by staff members. The community also maintains roofs and the exteriors of building in which residents live. Housekeeping services are generally provided to assisted-living residents.

Life Plan Communities typically offer a range of amenities to residents. The nature and number of available amenities varies, but may include golf courses, swimming pools, fitness centers, hobby and craft rooms, walking paths, and gardening areas. They typically have meeting rooms for community residents who participate in bridge clubs or other organized social activities.

While residents may prepare their own meals in their unit’s kitchen, a Life Plan Community typically offers dining options that range from dining halls to restaurant-style dining. Communities may lease space to privately owned coffee shops. Some communities even offer sushi bars and cocktail lounges.

Other private business may operate inside or just beyond the community’s border. Barber shops and beauty salons, bank branches, convenience stores, and pharmacies are commonly located within walking distance.

Many Life Plan Communities offer wellness and fitness programs and provide transportation for organized trips to cultural and sporting events, as well as casinos and malls. Some larger communities have small theaters that allow residents to perform music or produce plays.

Life Plan Community Contracts

The cost of living in a Life Plan Community is a function of several factors. Communities in geographic locations that are “in demand” charge higher fees than those in locations with a lower cost of living. Communities that offer many amenities are more expensive than those with few amenities.

Costs also vary with the kind of contract that the resident chooses. Common options include:

  • Rental agreements. These are usually the least expensive way to enter a Life Plan Community. The resident leases a unit and pays for services and amenities as desired. Not all communities offer a rental option.
  • Fee-for-service contracts. The resident pays an up-front entry fee to join the community and a monthly fee to cover services they actually use. While these contracts may be the least expensive initial option, it will generally be more expensive if the resident transitions to assisted-living or nursing home care.
  • Lifetime contracts. The resident pays an up-front entry fee and a monthly fee that covers all services, including those the resident does not yet need. Initially, a lifetime contract is the most expensive option. However, the resident essentially pays in advance for services that will be needed when the resident transitions to assisted-living or nursing care. The resident therefore experiences little increase in cost when the transition occurs.
  • Modified contracts. A modified contract is similar to a lifetime contract but does not cover the full cost of assisted-living or nursing services. The entry and monthly fees are less than a resident who chooses a lifetime contract would pay, but fees will increase if the resident transitions to a unit that offers assisted-living or nursing services.

Each community has its own version of the contracts that govern residence. The contracts can be complex and the differences between contracts can be confusing. Some communities allow residents to purchase units, but heirs who inherit those units may be responsible for paying monthly fees unless and until they can resell the unit. Because contract options can be difficult to understand, it is always wise to consult with a lawyer who has experience with Life Plan Communities before electing to enter into a contract.

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