The High Cost of Care, and How to Cope Cost of CareFinancially

Taking care of a loved one is stressful in a number of ways: physically exhausting, emotionally draining and financially costly. Perhaps the scariest is the fear of using all of your nest egg caring for your spouse and that you will be left homeless and hungry because the treatments and medicine cost so much. Here’s how to cope.

First, get a realistic take on the situation. Know that you are tired and feel overwhelmed with the growing lists of treatments and bills. Try to get some rest and re-evaluate the situation. Once you are rested, take a look at your finances (or your parents’ finances). Talk to your loved one and family members. Talking about money is probably the most personal thing we can do. Focus on the benefits of planning. A good financial plan depends on honesty.

Make a budget with anticipated expenses. This can help you weigh the pros and cons. Assisted living can be expensive, but extensive in-home help can rapidly become costly too, especially at higher levels of care with live-in or 24-hour coverage. Measure the anticipated expenses against your current financial resources. Medicaid will sometimes pay for nursing home care.

It’s important to help the older person maintain as much control as is reasonable over their finances. You can arrange for bills to be paid electronically out of your loved one’s checking account. Your loved one might want to consider giving financial power of attorney to a close friend or family member.

Look at all income sources such as pensions, disability benefits and teacher’s retirement or Social Security. Check on cash on hand, all bank or credit union accounts, investments and IRAs. Examine all real estate: the home and any investment properties. List other property like cars, motor homes, boats, motorcycles, household items, jewelry or other valuables. Now is the time to request repayment of loans to family or friends. Put together account numbers, deeds, titles, policy numbers and what each is worth. Look at what is in the safe deposit box if there is one. You will be surprised at the value of things you don’t use, that are just lying around your home. If there is a life insurance policy, talk to the sales representative and ask about converting it to cash.

Then make a list of debts. Include the mortgage on the home, any loans and credit card debt. Subtract this amount from the value of property and valuables.

Next, look at your loved one’s health insurance. Is any care paid for that your loved one is likely to need? Get information about Medicare, Medigap, and Medicaid. Check to make sure that the policies you have are still in effect.

Contact financial advisors at the bank, attorneys, bookkeepers or insurance agents that you or your loved one have contacted in the past. Find out if they can help you. There are professionals who specialize in helping the elderly. Ask about your own liability in helping with your loved one’s finances. These services may be helpful:

  • Many employers have financial advice available to workers and their families.
  • Social services agencies.
  • Some religious groups offer advice and are available to anyone.
  • The American Cancer Society or the Alzheimer’s Association and other groups offer advice to those who are suffering from those diseases.

Government agencies can give you advice and information:

  • The Social Security Administration can give you a written estimate of benefits available to your loved one.
  • The Veterans Administration has medical care and benefits for veterans and their spouses.

Above all, evaluate your finances early so that you can plan to use your resources wisely. Once you are desperate, it is hard to look at things objectively. Medicaid allows you to keep your primary residence, a vehicle of a certain value and $3,000 in savings. For many this would be quite an adjustment, but it is not homeless or destitute.

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