If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.
—Maya Angelou

March marks Women’s History Month, a time when we celebrate the women who have changed our world for the better. Names like Rosa Parks, Anne Frank, and Amelia Earhart might naturally come to mind, but there are countless women who, either by chance or design, have made their imprint in the annals of time.

Over the course of our lives, we may not all make the history books, but we do all leave our own unique mark. Each day, a page of our individual life’s story is written. As people grow older, it is common to consider what that legacy will be — what we will one day be remembered for by our loved ones and others when they look back at our life.

A profession that makes a difference

For some people, their career or volunteerism will be key to their story. Consider the teacher who changed the trajectory of a young person’s life, which in turn led them down a path to success. Think of the doctor who treated a patient, healing them or improving their quality of life. Or of course there are the selfless volunteers who dedicated time to countless worthy causes, helping other people, animals, or the environment.

Living on through descendants

Your family can be another key component of the narrative that is written about your life — whether your family of origin or your family of choice. For those people who have children, this is most certainly true. Kristine Carlson, co-author of the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” series, wrote, “Your children are your legacy to the world. As you raise them with love, you contribute to making this world a better place.”

A monetary legacy

Among the things many people think of when they ponder their “legacy” are the financial gifts they will be able to leave to loved ones. While not everyone is a Rockefeller, many people are able to accrue enough wealth over their lifetime to create some sort of inheritance — large or small — for those they leave behind. Donations to philanthropic causes also are an important aspect of some people’s desired legacies.

>> Related: Heart and Soul: Retirees Find New Meaning Through Volunteering

The ”what ifs” of your life’s story

There is another element of the story that will be written about your life — and it’s one that some people don’t like to think about. It involves the unknowns of your potential care needs as you age. Some people will never require any type of long-term care. But others will require days, weeks, months, or even years of care services — be it assistance with just a few activities of daily living, full-time skilled nursing care, or anything in between.

The reality is that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will require some level of long-term care services at some point as they grow older. Research conducted within the senior living industry has found that the average length of stay for residents in an assisted living facility is about 28 months with the median being 21 months.

Of course, no one can predict if, when, or how much care they will need as they age. That unpredictability can be unsettling and stressful to seniors as well as their loved ones, yielding countless “what if” scenarios…

  • What if you could no longer safely live in your current home…where would you live and who would take care of your current home and all of its contents?
  • What if you began having trouble with tasks like bathing, dressing, or using the toilet…who would help you with those essential tasks?
  • What if you have a serious health event and need frequent medical attention…who would be able to provide that care to you and where?

>> Related: So I’ll Probably Need Long-Term Care, But for How Long?

The impact of care planning on your legacy

People who opt to move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community), which has a full continuum of on-site care services, eliminate many of the unknowns surrounding these what ifs.

Instead of leaving it to their loved ones to clean out all of their “stuff” and maintain or sell their current home, CCRC residents are downsizing to a maintenance-free home. They are living in an environment that will be safe and nurturing for them — physically and emotionally. But perhaps most important, CCRC residents will have ready access to care within the campus of the CCRC, should they ever need care services of any kind.

Living in a CCRC thus not only creates peace of mind for the senior, knowing they will be cared for if needed, it also can alleviate an immense weight from their loved ones’ shoulders. It is tough to understate how the act of planning for one’s own potential care needs — freeing loved ones of having to make what can sometimes be agonizing senior living and care decisions — can contribute to the legacy a senior creates for themselves.

>> Related: Pre-Crisis vs. Post-Crisis Planning: Confronting Life’s Unknowns

What will your legacy be?

A CCRC may not be the right senior living choice for everyone. But for seniors who do opt to live in a CCRC, they are taking control of the narrative around their potential care needs. They are being proactive instead of reactive to downsizing and coordinating their potential long-term care needs.

For many seniors and their loved ones, this is the pinnacle of creating a meaningful legacy as the story of their life comes to a close. Indeed, as Maya Angelou so beautifully articulates, they are making “a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”

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