Falling Through the Cracks

Our country may be facing a simultaneous growth and recession… unfortunately, according to journalist John Leland, the two seem to be at odds.  What we are referring to is the growth of the elderly population and the recession of funds available to help this aging community pay for the care they need.

The economic downturn of the past few years has hit the elderly with a double-whammy.  Many of them lost close to all of their savings when the stock market bottomed out, and now budget cuts to state-funded home-care services threaten to force many of them out of their homes and into hospitals or nursing facilities.

“’I’m not getting a cost-of-living adjustment, and now I’m not getting food,’ said Joyce Plennert, 83, who is on a waiting list for Meals on Wheels in Palatine, Ill. ‘Now I’m worried my home services will be cut. Without that, I’d be in a nursing home, if I could find one with room.’”

According to the above-mentioned NY Times article, a number of states have already made cuts to home-care services, including Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas.  “The situation is grim, and it’s safe to say that present trends are expected to continue,”

These budget cuts impact more than just senior citizens—they affect the professional caregivers and home aides who lose their jobs when state programs are cancelled, as well as the families of the elderly.  When these seniors lose their ability to live at home it’s their families who will have to pick up the slack either by contributing to the costs of care or more often by become the caregiver themselves.

If you or a loved one is facing a loss of benefits due to budget cuts don’t be afraid to explore your options.  Geriatric care managers can help families through confusing times, and other advisors such as elder lawyers, estate planners, financial planners and others can offer invaluable advice when creating your plan for the future.

How to Tell If Your Loved One Needs In-Home Care (And What to Do About It)

It’s not always easy to know—or to admit—that a loved one is unable to fully care for themselves anymore. The signs develop gradually, and aren’t always easy to pick up on if you see your loved one on a daily or weekly basis.  Often it’s the son or daughter who has moved away and comes home for a visit who notices (what is to them) the “sudden decline” in mom or dad’s ability to perform the most basic of tasks.

If you suspect (but aren’t sure) that your loved one may need in-home care, there are a few signs you can look for to help you decide.  The “Right at Home” website has an article listing ten signs that home care could benefit your loved one, and Responsive Home Health has a 3 page questionnaire to help you determine whether or not mom or dad is still just fine at home alone. The signs you’ll want to look for include:

  • Inability to prepare own meals
  • Frequent falls
  • Inability to keep up with basic hygiene such as bathing and brushing teeth
  • Depression
  • Sudden isolation
  • And more…

Once you know for certain that your loved one needs in-home care you’ll have to face the sometimes daunting task of finding (and figuring out how to pay for) the right service.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal provides some excellent information on how to find the right kind and level of care for your loved one.  For example: does your parent need just a little bit of help with cooking and housekeeping, or is more comprehensive care (such as daily help with bathing, grooming, mobility and medication) necessary? The level of care your loved one needs, as well as what financial resources you have available, will help narrow down your choice of agency or aide.

Always remember, you don’t have to go through any of this alone.  There are a number of dedicated professionals who can help you along the way—including our office. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have.  We’re here to help you.

Is Medicare Headed for a Crisis?

If you are among the wave of Baby Boomers about to begin enrolling in Medicare you may be in for some tough times. Recent stories in Financial-Planning.com and USA Today report that the number of doctors refusing new Medicare patients is reaching a record high—and it’s not expected to improve anytime soon, especially since last month “Congress failed to stop an automatic 21% cut in payments that doctors already regard as too low.”  Doctors simply feel they cannot afford to treat Medicare patients anymore.

Here are some of the distressing details you’ll find in the USA Today article:

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians says 13% of respondents didn’t participate in Medicare last year, up from 8% in 2008 and 6% in 2004.
  • The American Osteopathic Association says 15% of its members don’t participate in Medicare and 19% don’t accept new Medicare patients. If the cut is not reversed, it says, the numbers will double.
  • The American Medical Association says 17% of more than 9,000 doctors surveyed restrict the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Among primary care physicians, the rate is 31%.

What this means for seniors is that although you may be able to qualify for Medicare you may not necessarily be able to count on it. But you can take action to ensure that a crisis for Medicare doesn’t mean a crisis for you.  Your financial advisor or estate planner can help you determine what options you have regarding long-term care, asset protection, and even using alternate strategies in conjunction with Medicare.

The days of being able to count on the government to take care of you in your old age may be coming to an end.  It’s time to make your own luck and plan for your own future.  Our office can help.

Should A Bank Help You Care for Your Elderly Parents?

The influential Baby Boomer generation is aging, which means more and more of them are taking on the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents, and the Boomers are beginning to face up to the fact that they will need caregiving themselves in the not-so-distant future.

Large banks are not immune to this trend—and the potential to increase their client base by offering financial elder-care services.  The question is, how effective can a bank be at helping you care for your elderly relatives?

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal banks can be helpful with certain financial issues such as helping to “sort out medical bills, hire in-home care or even manage the sale of a home.”  Some of the larger banks are even beginning to offer more in-depth services such as “estate planning and setting up powers of attorney… crisis management (triggered, say, by a broken hip or a car accident); health and home assessments; Medicare-coverage selection and claims management; and evaluating retirement communities and long-term-care facilities.”

All of this sounds great, but before you get too excited our firm would like to caution you to be as careful about hiring a bank to do your estate or elder care planning as you would be with any other attorney or professional advisor.  After all, as the WSJ article says, “banks and trust companies aren’t doing this solely out of the goodness of their hearts. Providing extra services targeted at the elderly and their family caregivers can bump up the asset-management fees that clients pay each year. . . [or] persuade a few clients to move assets to an institution to meet its minimum deposit requirements.”

So we urge you, before you jump into anything—whether it be with a bank, an attorney, a CPA or other important advisor—do the research and ask all the questions you need to ask in order to find out whether this advisor truly knows their stuff; knows the ins and outs of the law and the care-giving industry; and most important of all, make sure the person or institution you hire will be working for you, will be your advocate and your ally during difficult and confusing times.

Can You Really Afford Long-Term Care Insurance?

The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance recently released a report on the costs of long-term care insurance, and the results were surprising.  Most people mistakenly believe that long-term care insurance is going to be expensive and difficult; but in fact, according to the report, “over one-fourth [of buyers under the age of 61] paid less than $999-per-year.”  And in fact, “fewer than one in 10 (9.3%) pay $3,500 or more.”

This is great news!  This means that long-term care insurance could cost you less than $100 per month!  The trick is that you have to think about it early.  “Age at the time of application plays an important role in determining the cost for long-term care insurance the Association study reports.  While 41.5 percent of buyers under age 61 pay between $500 and $1,499-per-year, only 20.8 percent of buyers who are ages 61-to-75 pay within this range.”

This is not to imply that if you’re over the age of 75 you’re out of luck.  You’re not likely to get the same great rates as someone in their 50’s, but you still may not have to pay an arm and a leg for long-term care insurance. According to the report, of applicants aged 76 and older only 28.2% end up paying an annual premium of $4,000 a year or higher.  Actually, almost half of applicants in this age range still end up paying less than $2,500 a year.  This may not be the attractive $500/year you could have gotten in your 50’s, but it also isn’t the thousands of dollars a month most people seem to be afraid long-term care insurance is going to cost them.  In fact, it’s only a little over $200/month.

If you’ve been thinking about long-term care insurance, don’t wait any longer.  This is one situation where time is not on your side; the quicker you act the better it will be.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15

As we age we become vulnerable.  We begin to doubt our memories, our bodies are not as reliable as they used to be, and technological advances outstrip our abilities to keep up with them.  With this vulnerability comes the opportunity for abuse.

Unfortunately, elder abuse is becoming more and more common, both physically and financially.  Seniors are a growing class of individuals with money in savings or retirement, and there is no shortage of scam artists looking to take advantage of them financially.  The truly sad fact is that most financial elder abuse is committed by someone close to the victim, a person in whom they have placed their trust.  In such cases, the abuse may not be pre-meditated, but that in no way makes the abuse acceptable.

The good news is that there are ways to guard against elder abuse; and one of the best ways to guard against it is to be aware of it. June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and we urge our readers to participate and find out how they can learn more about this issue. 

To learn more about the warning signs and risk factors, and what you can do to help prevent elder abuse, click here.  If you think that someone you know may be the victim of elder abuse, either physically or financially, you can help.  The National Center on Elder Abuse has a help hotline, as well as a list of warning signs, and community outreach opportunities.

How to Find the Perfect Senior Living Arrangement

When it comes to living arrangements, senior citizens have far more options available to them today than they ever have in the past: independent retirement communities, assisted independent communities, at-home assisted living, at-home nursing care, live-in nursing homes… the list can go on and on.  Having all these options available is almost certain to make it easier to eventually find the right living arrangement, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the search itself will be easier.  In fact, having so many options and facilities to consider can often make the search that much more confusing.

The search for the right living arrangement—either for yourself or for an aging family member—can be much easier if you know ahead of time the right questions to ask and the important things to look for.  This article in U.S. News and World Report shares 9 things to look for in your search for an assisted living facility, including:

  • Making sure the facility is licensed
  • Ensuring the facility’s financial stability
  • Getting referrals
  • Making visits to assess the facility’s staff
  • Asking what current residents have to say
  • Considering whether it can meet not only your current but also your future needs
  • Asking about payment options (including Medicaid)
  • And more

Having so many different options these days means we can hope that finding the right senior living arrangement is a much more personal—and pleasurable—task than it has been in the past. Some of the best retirement communities or nursing homes have long waiting lists, so starting your search early will improve your chances of finding the place that’s right for you.  But be careful, nursing home and assisted living contracts can contain surprises and should be carefully considered; or better yet, have an attorney look at the contract for you.

With the many choices now available there’s no reason not to have exactly the senior living situation you want and need.

Stuck In The Middle: Caring For Aging Relatives

“Too rich for most government-funded social programs and not rich enough to pay for full-time, long-term care services.”

Does this sound familiar?  It is exactly the kind of financial situation most elderly find themselves in today, and one which requires many adult children who are still raising their own kids to also care for their parents.  That is the situation in which Michelle Singletary, Washington Post staff writer, finds herself in today.  In her W.P. article Prepare now for a future that might include caring for your elderly family, she describes the feelings of frustration, admiration, and obligation that come with caring for her elderly father-in-law.

Singletary writes movingly about the realities of caring for an aging relative, but what she seems most determined to convey is that it is never too early to start thinking about what your own parents’ future holds. “If you have even an inkling that you may become the caregiver for an aging parent or relative, start planning for it now. Ask questions about the person’s finances. Collect information from community and nonprofit organizations. Get your own finances in order because you’ll probably have to pitch in financially.”

Part of planning for your aging parent or relative is thinking about Medicaid, Long-Term Care Insurance, and the best way to save and protect your assets.  Call our firm and let us help you—and help your aging parents.

A “Graying Trend” In Caregiving

What will you be doing when you’re 73?  If you think you will have earned the right to have someone take care of you, think again; you may end up serving as a caregiver for someone else.  A recent article in the New York Times describes a new trend in caregiving: the elderly are being cared for increasingly by the elderly. According to the article, “Professional caregivers — almost all of them women — are one of the fastest-growing segments of the American work force, and also one of the grayest.”

As odd as it may sound, the arrangement of 55-75 year olds caring for 85-100 year olds often works out beautifully.  Older caregivers may not be able to do much heavy lifting, but what they are able to do is connect with their charges.  Many older caregivers have already spent months or years caring for their parents or spouse, so they have an understanding of the fear, frustration and stress the families are going through.  In addition, because older caregivers often share similar culture and experiences, the relationship can end up turning into a friendship, as with the case of Grace Jackson and Mary-Lou O’Neill:

“Grace Jackson, who is 101, said she never wanted a helper at home and resented Mary-Lou O’Neill, 73, when she arrived four years ago at Ms. Jackson’s daughters’ insistence. But as their relationship has grown, ‘It’s developed into a friendship,’ Ms. Jackson said, adding that friends who had younger aides were often offended by their manners or language.”

The down side to this “graying trend” in caregiving is that most of these elderly women—in spite of how they excel and make the best of their situation—become caregivers because they have to, they can’t afford to retire completely, even at the age of 70 or 75.  The time to think about your own future is now. Talk to your advisors about planning for your own retirement; because although you may have everything it takes to be a wonderful caregiver in your senior years, the fact is that you may not want to.

Help For Caregivers: 10 Steps Toward Taking Care of Yourself

The number of people serving as caregivers has exploded in recent years, and according to PR Newswire the number of caregivers now tops 65 million people (29% of the population of the US.)  This includes people providing care for elderly adults, special needs children, young adults with disabilities, and more. These caregivers are people who offer their time, energy and financial support to ensure that their loved one—parent, child, sibling, grandparent—lives a life of joy and comfort.  It is admirable and often selfless work… and it can take its toll on the caregiver.

Many caregivers are working so hard to take care of everyone around them that they forget to take care of themselves.  Their health will often suffer, their financial security goes untended, and their own social interactions fall by the wayside.  All of this can quickly lead to one thing: Caregiver Burnout.

Although we don’t hear much about it, Caregiver Burnout is a very real phenomenon.  Described as similar to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Cargiver Burnout can cause depression, withdrawal from society, self-neglect, erratic behavior, and at its worst—suicidal tendencies.

But there are ways to combat the onset of Caregiver Burnout. HelpGuide.org provides an entire section on how to recognize and prevent Caregiver Burnout, including tips for family caregivers and a list of some of the warning signs of Caregiver burnout.  And that’s not all, this article in PR Newswire offers 10 steps caregivers can take to ensure they take care of themselves financially.

If you are the caregiver in your family it is essential that you (and your fellow family members) recognize the difficulty of the work you do.  Be aware of your limits, respect them, and don’t be afraid to put yourself first. Caring for yourself isn’t the selfish thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.