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Balancing act: Start planning now for future long-term care

Anyone who has watched relatives or loved ones spend their last days in a long-term care facility knows how difficult that situation can be.

One of my grandmothers died a couple years ago while living in a nursing home in my hometown of Yankton, S.D. She received good care there, but such care does not come cheap.

The government was paying her expenses for the last year or so of her life. She had burned through the carefully accumulated resources of a lifetime while spending more than a year in an assisted living center, and she had no long-term care insurance to fall back on.

We may not want to think about it, but there's a good chance many of us will need long-term care at some point in our lives. Unless we're extremely fit or extremely lucky, we're likely to have at least a few health challenges as we age. That means the time to think about how we'll deal with those challenges is now.

Such contemplation apparently has taken hold of Margene, who recently sent me an e-mail with a few questions about long-term care insurance.

"When is the best time to buy, if it is a good idea to buy, and what are some of the issues to be aware of when shopping for a plan?" Margene asked. "It seems that nowadays with increased longevity, the various health problems that may accompany aging and the cost of long-term care, this insurance is necessary.

"Please enlighten us with some basic information."

It's always good to start with the basics. So I contacted David W. King, president, and Peter E. Morse, director of planning, at Senior Care Associates in Salt Lake City.

They said that, as usual, it's difficult to give specific recommendations without knowing the particulars of Margene's situation.

However, in general, David and Peter said in a written response to Margene's questions that they think long-term care insurance is a good idea if you qualify medically and you can afford it.

"Some questions you should be asking are: did my parents, aunts, uncles and other family members need long-term care either at home or in a nursing home, and for how long? If I purchase long-term care insurance, what can I afford and for how long, and what other alternatives do I have?

"The younger you are, the less you will pay for insurance, and age 55 is a good time to start shopping," David and Peter wrote.

They said most people need a three-year benefit period. They also recommend that any policy you buy have at-home benefits. And make sure the insurance company you use has been providing long-term care insurance for 10 years or more and has a strong renewal track record.

"There are many types of insurance policies, and it can be confusing when you are shopping," David and Peter wrote. "(We) suggest that you seek advice from a certified senior adviser that specializes in dealing with people that are preparing for or are in retirement.

"Remember, the financial planning rules change when you turn age 65, and there are federal and state programs out there that you may qualify for — that will help you with the expensive costs associated with your long-term care needs."

In other words, Margene, if you're hitting your mid-50s, the time to think about long-term care insurance is now.

I suggest you start by hitting the library or the Internet and doing a little research. Then, if you decide you need more assistance, make some phone calls to collect information about local advisers who can help you. Find someone you can trust, and start making plans.

Because if you don't plan now, there's a good chance you'll regret it later.

If you have a financial question, please send it by e-mail to gkratz@desnews.com or by regular mail to the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.


E-mail: gkratz@desnews.com