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Financial Planning

Retirees Moving to Be Near the Grandkids

Forget all those "best places to retire" lists: For some retirees, the top retirement destination is the place where their grandkids reside.

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Nancy Kilgore, 68, and her husband were happy living in Thetford, Vt. But three years ago, they moved 90 minutes away, to Burlington, to help their divorced daughter raise her daughter. Because it was difficult to move her psychotherapy practice, Kilgore still commutes to see patients two days a week and sleeps at a friend's house. "My choices are usually about doing what I love, not making money," says Kilgore. "Family is the most important thing to me."

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For many grandparents, pulling up roots to be near adult children and grandchildren is "the last chance to focus on family and to leave a legacy of special memories," says Christine Crosby, editorial director of Grand magazine. In a magazine survey in 2014 of 1,000 grandparents, 10% said they had moved to be closer to their grandkids. Of those, 60% said "their main reason was to help their adult children by providing child care," says Grand publisher Lori Bitter.

But as Kilgore discovered, be prepared to make sacrifices if you move to be near the kids and grandkids. Before you make the move, check out opportunities to meet new people, through religious institutions, volunteer and cultural groups, college classes, and part-time employment. Also be sure your destination has access to high-quality hospitals and doctors, and that specialists you may need will take on new patients.

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Establish the Ground Rules

You and your children should set boundaries ahead of time. Grandparents must understand that their children have final say. "The parents need to run the show, and the grandparents should respect their rules," says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, a psychiatrist in Ojai, Cal., and founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting.

Those boundaries work both ways. You should make it clear that you intend to lead an independent life and don't want to be a babysitter on command. "I love being a grandparent, even more than being a parent," says Allan Zullo, 68, co-author with his wife, Kathryn, of A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $13). "But you also have to live your own life, and have a balance."

Allan and Kathryn found a middle ground a decade ago by living most of the year at their home in Asheville, N.C., while spending winters in Tallahassee, Fla., where they built a two-bedroom house on their daughter's property. Their grandsons are now 19, 17 and 9. "It has worked out fantastically," Allan says. "Physically being there, throwing a football around in the yard, helping them with homework, driving them, eating dinner together often, strengthens the bond."

Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner with Alliance Wealth Management, in Carbondale, Ill., says grandparents who are still working should look for comparable employment before they make the move. The new job, though, may not be exactly what you want. Rose says that one client in her sixties moved from Illinois to Nashville, and her new job offered one week of vacation compared with three weeks at her former employer. Another couple moved from Connecticut to San Diego, Cal., where the cost of housing was so high that they had to buy a considerably smaller home than they had. "It's a psychological decision, even if it doesn't always make sense monetarily," Rose says.

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Such a move doesn't have to be forever. Edie Iles, 65, moved with her husband, Gerald, from Florida to Colorado in 2008 to spend more time with their daughter's family. Their two granddaughters are now 10 and 8. Despite the cold winters and the higher cost of living, it was a positive experience. "My memories of special moments, of helping my granddaughters learn to walk and talk -- you can't put a price tag on that," Iles says.

After six years, Edie and Gerald moved back to Florida, but she has only one regret. She wishes they had rented and not bought their house in Colorado. They lost a lot of money on the real estate transactions, between closing costs and a year's worth of carrying expenses on the Colorado house.

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