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When an elderly loved one such as a spouse or parent suffers a permanent deterioration in physical or mental health, where they can no longer care for themselves, the emotional toll can make it all-the-more difficult for you to manage through the financial and logistical issues related to their care.
There are steps you can take prior to a health crisis occurring to ease the stress and ensure peace of mind for your loved one that their wishes are followed. Here are some of the basics of elder care planning:
The following steps may be helpful to take before an aging relative becomes in a situation where they need professional care and don’t have any instructions or plans in place.
- Consider long-term care insurance. This type of coverage may help defray the cost of care related to a chronic medical condition or disability. Two ways to keep premiums more affordable are to buy insurance well before it’s needed and opt for a policy with a longer “elimination period”. An elimination period is defined as the time between when the covered person becomes eligible for benefits (e.g., after getting ill or injured) and when the benefits actually kick in. For that period of time, long-term care costs would be out-of-pocket, but you could end up saving money in the long run.
- Assess your loved one’s financial status. Find out how much income they receive from Social Security, retirement plans, annuities and investments, and the value of property they own. Will they struggle to pay long-term care costs? You might look into Medicaid. An attorney who specializes in elder law may be able to advise you on qualifying for Medicaid.
- Listen to their wishes. Remember, the goal is to help elderly family members maintain as much control over their lives as possible, should they be affected by a medical setback. Sketch out a plan of eventualities in advance, so you know exactly what they would like to happen.
- Explore care and service providers. Seek out recommendations on assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and local in-home health agencies. Find out what meal delivery and transportation options are available in your area. Size up facilities by meeting with staff and, if possible, residents. See whether the site is clean and has a current license.
When a loved one needs professional care, the following checklist can help.
- Make a list of medications — From prescriptions to Over-the-Counter products to vitamins — and include dosages. Give copies to doctors and pharmacists to help avoid unwanted drug interactions. Note dates and results of recent medical tests and exams.
- Consider hiring a care manager. This is a professional who oversees long-term care arrangements. Searching “elder care associations” online is a good starting point.
- Gather important info. You will need your loved one’s date of birth and Social Security number when applying for many services. Get the names, addresses and phone numbers of all medical providers and pharmacies. Check on eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid, and make sure the person is enrolled properly. You will also need copies of health-insurance policies and insurance cards.
Assemble a caregiving team. Distribute a list of important phone numbers, including those for family members and doctors, to everyone involved in supporting your loved one in need. Family members should know how to locate legal, financial, and medical documents like durable powers of attorney, living wills, and health insurance policies. Find out who, if anybody, has been named to take care of financial matters and make healthcare decisions in case of temporary or permanent disability. If your loved one lives at home, at least a few family members or friends should have keys to the house in case of an emergency.