As we age…

By Amanda Ellis*

Thinking about retiring? Consider Chattanooga. 

Located in the basin between Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga boasts something for all. The Riverwalk winds lazily alongside the Tennessee River, and Point Park shows off a stunning panorama from downtown to the Tennessee River Gorge.

To top it off, Chattanooga is affordable – Tennessee is ranked #2 in the country for its cost of living, which means you can live in a beautiful place and save money.

Tennessee earned a number-one spot of states considered prime retirement locations in a Bankrate.com study. Ranked by categories such as climate, tax rates, cost of living and access to healthcare, Tennessee came out on top, with a cost of living 9.6 percent below the national average.

Find more information about why Chattanooga is the best place to retire here

Q&A with Dana Perry, Attorney at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C.

Q: How did you develop a niche in Elder Law?

When I started at the firm years ago, the partners identified a need for additional legal counsel in areas like elder law and estate planning. I found that I really enjoyed working in this practice area and wanted to help families plan responsibly for their futures.

A related area is special needs planning for families dealing with a loved one with a physical or intellectual disability or ongoing mental illness. Both elder law and special needs planning involve thinking about how best to care for a person physically, how to handle protecting monies that may need to be set aside for them and so on − the areas are first cousins to each other.

I’d say 40 to 50% of what I do is traditional estate planning and the rest balanced between elder law and special needs planning.

Q: What misconceptions do people hold about your field?

People equate estate planning with creating a will. But I prepare families for a range of issues on the continuum of aging and death, adding to family harmony really.

For example, often people say, “I just need my will updated.” But, in reality, the percentage of individuals that may not be able to live independently their entire life is high. This is where we can help prepare you and your family for those unexpected changes. Many people will have a period where someone must help care for them and often they don’t think about that whole panoply of issues – legally who do you want to take care of your affairs? Finances? Healthcare? Have you set out what you want if you can’t speak for yourself? This is all so much broader than “I need a will.”

It’s satisfying when I sit down with a client, and maybe they’ve come to me with one issue, but when they talk to me about A and B, I say what about C, D and E?

That’s what I’m here for – to bring up things you might not have thought of. I see this proactive approach to legal services as critical moving forward. My clients are like family, which makes my job incredibly rewarding from a personal perspective.

Q: What advice do you commonly give to those approaching retirement?

More and more people, especially women, are living into their 80s and longer. I think too many people draw social security at the earliest possible age of 62, possibly dooming themselves to a much reduced check for the remainder of life. My retirement advice for professionals is to defer it − continue working, even part-time, and paying into social security.

Second, it’s never too late to set money aside for retirement even if you got a late start.

Third, I see far too many people who should be concentrating on their own resources with adult children still dependent on them. It’s great to support kids in their educational and other endeavors, but if you get to retirement age with not enough money, you really haven’t done your children a service.

As you approach 65, it’s also important to become aware of the Medicare system. Some people continue working and being covered through an employer, but others needs to educate themselves on Medicare and the different options.

Q: From your standpoint as a legal professional, what do you see as the most critical challenges for America’s economy in the next decade?

Many other countries are doing things efficiently and creatively in the business and political realm that we can learn from. I wish I saw more leaders here saying, “Here’s something that worked in another country – let’s try that here.”

It’s competitive out there. We need to educate our workforce to the highest level because other countries and states are doing that and we’re competing with them.

Q: What socially-oriented issues or causes are you especially passionate about?

Currently, I’ve been chairing the Urban League board – a fabulous organization that does so much for economic empowerment on so many levels.

I also serve on the board of WTCI and have recently gotten involved with The Next Door. The Next Door is a nonprofit helping women transition back into society after being incarcerated. At board meetings, we always start with a resident telling her story. The guest at our last meeting spoke about how she became incarcerated before computers – she’d never used the internet. Think about that and the implications for employment. I want to help because I see these women as my sisters.

Q: Who’s your favorite Supreme?

Well, Justice Sotomayor’s such an inspiration. She’s an embodiment of the classic American success story who grew up in poverty. Her attitude and approach are inspiring. I also like Chief Justice Roberts. He has a view of the sanctity of the court and that it not become political. He’s been effective in terms of getting justices to play well together.

Q: What are your reccomended reads?

I always have 2 or 3 books going – I recently completed “Under Magnolia,” by Frances Mayes – she’s noted for “Under the Tuscan Sun” − but this book, is about her growing up in Georgia in the 50s– very nuanced and not all sweetness and light. I also was moved by Patti Smith’s wonderful memoir of her time as a young artist in New York in the early 70s, “Just Kids.”

I read mostly nonfiction, but in the fiction realm, I really enjoyed “The Tilted World” by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly about the Great Mississippi flood of 1927 and a couple as they make their way through that.  

AARP National Policy Council

With more than 37 million members, the AARP’s national reputation for taking positions on important issues for seniors is well-known. Recently an AARP delegation of national representatives visited Chattanooga to explore the impact of the city’s fast fiber network (GIG) on people aged 50 and greater.

“They came here to study our innovation economy and they came here with the idea their membership needs to be more engaged in the conversations,” says Ken Hays, President and CEO, The Enterprise Center. “As a card-carrying member of the AARP, I really haven’t thought too much about the fact that my generation’s often left out of this innovation conversation.”

“They mainly asked, ‘How do you come up with some scalable programs that  other communities can use to help seniors?’ We’re hoping to be a city that helps figure that out,” Hays says.

This year, AARP’s Board of Directors has charged its National Policy Council, Community and Livable Communities Committee with examining ways to promote innovation while ensuring consumer protections.

We live in a time of rapid technological change, which has the potential to greatly improve the quality-of-life of the 50+ population as they age. New technologies can positively “disrupt aging” by enhancing inclusion of the 50-plus and easing life transitions.

For example:

New mobile banking and payment features make long-distance financial caregiving much more feasible
Similarly, the “sharing economy” can help older workers find flexible jobs to earn more income and can provide valuable services at a low cost
Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, e.g., can help aging Americans get around when they may not be able or want to drive

Broadband helps reduce isolation for the 50+ by ensuring access to an increasing array of health care, employment, and entertainment technology. Increased vehicle automation has saved lives and prevented injuries by enhancing mobility, particularly for people 50+ who are impaired, unable to drive, or live in communities with few transportation options.

Similarly, some studies have identified areas or opportunities where remote monitoring devices and other technology, made possible through broadband, have the potential to facilitate chronic disease management and improve patient experience.

AARP selected Chattanooga for this community convening because of its smart grid—a state-of-the-art system that has sparked an innovation revolution.

* With contributions from AARP, Ken Hays (President & CEO, The Enterprise Center), Ann Coulter (A. Coulter Consulting), Sybil Topel and Drake Farmer (Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce)