5 ways estimates help seniors and caregivers

The Cost of Long Term Care

courtesy of DailyCaring.com

Long term care options for seniors are becoming more expensive, but family caregivers continue to need help caring for their older adults. That could mean hiring in-home care help, needing home health aides, or moving them to assisted living or a nursing home.

Understanding future costs means that you can prepare for what's coming and take action while things are relatively calm (no health crisis or emergency).

Even if the estimated costs turn out to be a big number, knowing is better than living under a cloud of uncertainty. It's better than being surprised and having to scramble to try to pay for care services that have suddenly become absolutely necessary.

We explain the misconception that the government will pay for long term care, what the average costs are, where to get a cost estimate, and five ways to use that estimate to plan for the future.

The government does not pay for long term care for everyone

Unfortunately, many people incorrectly believe that government programs will cover most or all of the cost of long term care for everyone. That's simply not true.

Medicare doesn't cover long term care. It only covers limited stays in nursing homes and intermittent home health care after a hospitalization. In-home help for everyday activities like eating or bathing isn't covered. Ongoing home health care also isn't covered.

Medicaid does pay for long-term care, but the rules are different for every state. There's a lot more detail and a variety of exceptions, but in general, a person needs to have less than $2,000 in assets to be eligible.

Average long term care costs in the U.S. are high and rising

In Genworth Financial's 2017 Cost of Care Survey, they found that costs have risen significantly.

In 2017, a private room in a nursing home costs $97,455/year. That's a 5.5% increase from 2016 prices and a 50% increase since 2004. A semi-private room is currently $85,775/year.

Another category where costs increased significantly is home health care, which is essentially skilled nursing care at home. Annual costs rose 6.2% to $49,192/year for just 44 hours/week of care.

Note: National median costs are used for comparisons and prices will vary depending on location.

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Estimate the cost of long term care to prepare for the future

To get an estimate of the cost of long term care based on your older adult's location and care needs, use Genworth's free long term care cost calculator.

Seeing these costs in black and white can be overwhelming, but knowing what to expect helps you prepare for the future.

This gives you the chance to plan ahead for the care your older adult will probably need and protects you and them from being blindsided by large expenses.

5 ways to use long term care cost estimates

1. Understand your older adult's financial situation.

Assuming they're still able to manage their finances, talk with your older adult about their financial situation and update them on current long term care costs. They could be under the assumption that care costs haven't risen much in the last 20 years.

If you're already managing their finances, understand the whole picture of what will be available to pay for their long term care.

2. Understand your own financial situation.

Many caregivers end up quitting their job to care for an older adult or use their own retirement savings to pay for their parent or spouse's care.

Be realistic about your own financial situation and understand how much you'll be able to contribute to your older adult's care, both in money and time, without damaging your own future financial situation.

Seeing these facts could motivate you to seriously investigate other options to pay for long term care before it's actually needed. Doing this as early as possible helps you avoid committing to a solution that ends up hurting you because there's no time to find another way.

Even if you've already made big changes in your life so you can care for your older adult, it's worthwhile to go through the estimate to figure out what's best for the future. There's always time to make additional changes to protect yourself and get your older adult the care they need.

3. Create best case and worst case scenarios.

Take an honest look at your older adult's health and any chronic conditions they currently have.

Given their current health and expected progression, how much help will they realistically need next year, in 5 years, in 10 years, or after that? Health can change unexpectedly, but for now, work with what you know.

For example, think about the best case scenario where your older adult stays relatively healthy and independent and you and family can provide help to supplement long term care services. Also, consider a worst case scenario where full-time care is needed in a care community because their needs go beyond what can be managed at home.

Use these scenarios to make a rough estimate of their future care costs. It's not going to be exact, but at least it will give you ballpark figures.

4. Get financial and legal advice from experts.

Now that you have some idea of how much your older adult's long term care costs will be, it may be time to consult with a trustworthy legal or financial professional to get expert advice.

Elder law attorneys can advise on how to qualify for Medicaid and how to protect assets for spouses or future generations. Financial planners can advise on how to budget and plan for future expenses.

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5. Discuss with family.

It's also important to start talking with family members who will be involved in your older adult's care. This will be different for each person's situation, but if others will be involved, starting these conversations as early as possible benefits everyone.

Sharing ballpark estimates and best and worst case scenarios gives everyone time to absorb the information. It's also possible that others could help with the expenses.

Having these conversations when a health crisis isn't happening also means that it's more likely that the discussion will be calm and productive.

Caring for a parent or spouse doesn't have to be so hard. Get free, practical caregiving tips at DailyCaring.com to help you solve top challenges. Sign up for free daily emails today to get the latest information!

Take the Next Step:

  • Do you have a plan for long term care? If not, these guidelines can help you create your own long term care plan.
  • What will you do about medical costs in retirement? They could cost you $250,000 or more. Take a look at these guidelines and start some planning to control those costs.
  • Use this tool to maximize your retirement by determining the best age to take your Social Security benefits. Don't leave thousands on the table by taking Social Security at the wrong time.
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