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My recent Florida road trip had, as its primary purpose, the challenge of helping my parents move to assisted living from independent living.

More on that later, but I started the trip by attending a pension industry conference at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Florida. Parked at the front of this palatial building was a brand new Rolls-Royce convertible which is priced, I found out, at $443,000. Flipping through a local real estate magazine, the houses for sale nearby ranged from $6 to $36 million. I wondered, who are these people?

I asked a friend in real estate who explained, "typically it's the guy who sold something like a tractor dealership somewhere in the Midwest. He always wanted a Florida home on the coast, and now he has one." The answer is likewise for those big yachts, whose average length of ownership is only about 18 months.

I guess people who have worked hard all their lives should be able to buy whatever they want, but it sure seems like a misguided allocation of assets. What gets lost in the translation is the fact that this great country is fundamentally what made such extravagance possible. Some people, like David Rockefeller, Warren Buffett and others, subscribing to "The Pledge" (i .e. giving away their fortunes) haven't lost sight of this basic fundamental. They haven't succumbed to the politics of selfishness.

Speaking of which, while driving across Florida on "Alligator Alley," I listened to Glenn
Beck who talked about the gold we all should all be accumulating as our president destroys the country -- that and the bogus "fact" that it was costing $200 million a day for President Barack Obama's trip to India. I know I didn't have to listen, but by the time I got to Venice, I had to take a hot shower.

For those of us not retiring to a Palm Beach world of privilege and live-in help, we should assume that assisted living will play some role in our lives.

The toughest challenge is deciding when the time is right. I don't know of anyone who segues peacefully from independent living to the world of assistance.

The differences, however, are really profound and critical.

Critical, because most people wait too long. Then, they don't go peacefully. A lot of difficult decisions have to be made by family members.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The transition period only takes about three weeks before the typical retiree realizes that they really enjoy being waited on hand and foot. Also, they tend to feel better thanks to more rigorous medical attention. Life just becomes more "smooth" -- a choice of words my father-in-law used years ago.

In the meantime, the transition can be confusing. A change of scene and new routines become more difficult to handle for people at older ages.

Health problems, which usually accompany old age, can change personalities prompting some to get in touch with their more obstreperous side. And that's before the license to drive gets taken away.

Florida allows for anonymous notification that a senior should come in for an actual driving test with parallel parking, etc. Short of someone turning in their neighbor, the state just checks eyesight periodically. In my father's case a year ago (with just the eyesight test,) they told him that he was good for another six years -- which would have had him renewing again at age 100. Fortunately, he gave me the keys.

The cost of assisted living can range from $3,000 to $4,000 a month per person, but we're talking about 24-hour nursing, transportation and other services that fragile seniors really need to have.

Fortunately, at the age when we need assisted living, we shouldn't have that many other expenses.

But no matter how we slice it, the day we go from independence to needing assistance is a mixed bag of heartbreak offset in part by relief.

Growing old, then, is not for sissies, Those remaining members of the "Great Generation" deserve whatever we can allocate to make them comfortable in a life that's "smooth."

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