If you are considering a life-care community:Check out the financial histories of provider and management companies. Ask for the names and addresses of board members and summaries of business experiences related to continuing care.
"Make sure a management company has a track record and is not just one put together by a developer to fit a nonprofit shell," says Lloyd Lewis, chairman of the continuing care committee of the American Association of Homes for the Aging.
* Ask for an audited financial statement of the project, who provides the services and whether the service companies are tied to the management firm. "Find out who makes money out of the project, how much and where their dollars go," says Lewis.
* Ask for a recent financial or actuarial audit. Have experts -- attorneys, accountants, bankers -- go over the documents.
* Determine what kinds of reserves are being held by the community and how they are presented on the annual financial audit.
* Ask whether the entry fee is refundable, and if so, how much; if health-care costs are extra; if there is a cap on percentage of service charge increases. "Be wary of statements like only 25 percent increases over a lifetime," advises Ralph D. Knight, American Association of Homes for the Aging continuing care committee member and president of several northern California facilities. "While that sounds attractive, it is not responsible fiscally."
* Get everything in writing, including facts about refunds and circumstances under which you or the provider can terminate pre-occupancy reservation agreements.
* Find out when you or the community can terminate the contract, and whether a refund is contingent on a new resident taking your place.
* Ask about frequency and duration of such services as housekeeping.
* Interview other residents. Find out if there are associations in which residents participate in planning programs and discuss problems with the administration.
* Check out the health center and ask for the government inspection report. "It's terribly important," says Lewis. "You could spend two to four years there."
* Ask about the community's policies concerning residents who become unable to pay monthly charges. Some nonprofits have a fund established to help residents in need.
* The Continuing Care Retirement Community: A Guidebook for Consumers: Send $2 to American Association of Homes for the Aging (AAHA), 1050 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.
* The National Continuing Care Directory: AAHA and AARP members, $12.40; nonmembers, $15.40. AARP, 400 S. Edward St., Mount Prospect, Ill., 60056.
* The Older American's Guide to Housing and Living Arrangements: $14, Box JMH, Consumers Union, 256 Washington St., Mt. Vernon, N.Y. 10553.