The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons are upon us, and that means family gatherings and the opportunity to spend time with the older members of our extended family. For many modern families, dispersed across the country because of careers and educational pursuits, these holidays may present the only opportunity to assess the physical, mental, and emotional states of our older loved ones.
With Baby Boomers turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day, Gen-Xers nipping at their heels, and reams of data that indicate the majority of seniors will need some form of long-term care, it’s safe to assume there would be plenty of awareness attached to these needs and it would be easy to engage in related discussions with our family members. Unfortunately, that is usually not the case.
The reality is that most people continue to believe misconceptions about the wide range of long-term care insurance (LTCI) products and the benefits provided by these policies. To ease the burden on all parties concerned, the best solution is to involve the family estate planner and financial advisor as early as possible, ideally while still in the pre-crisis stage where options are plentiful and costs far less.
Educating Loved Ones About Long-Term Care
To this end, the need to educate loved ones may pose an issue. Overcoming their various states of denial may also provide a challenge. Often, the greatest challenge is a lack of desire to spend what they perceive as “their future inheritance” on a product that may not be used. For those already in crisis mode, finding the appropriate facility or in-home caregiver, or devising a plan on how to finance these costs are often the greatest roadblocks facing the family.
In my own family, when it was apparent to us that my grandmother could no longer be safely cared for at my mother’s home, the scramble was on to not only find the proper facility and arrange how the monthly costs would be covered, but also to deal with the denial of some family members. These conversations can be tremendously difficult to have while in crisis mode. How much easier, less emotionally charged, and far less expensive it would have been to begin them when calm, good health, and options prevailed.
The Decline of Unpaid Family Caregivers
While some cultures greatly embrace the concept of caring for their family elders, those days are largely behind us. Couples have fewer children to depend on, who are often scattered across the country as jobs and education take them hither and yon. Plus, more spouses remain in the workplace later in life, pensions are lacking, and more seniors carrying mortgages longer into life. Needless to say, the landscape of family caregiving has dramatically changed.
While being a caregiver can be one of the most fulfilling experiences, it’s also among the most challenging of one’s life. I have had many people share with me their own stories of the satisfaction they have derived from helping a parent or other beloved family member live independently for as long as possible. When I asked probing questions, they then confessed to the challenges they encountered as they were balanced by the exhaustion and sorrow that accompany the difficult decisions inherent to these responsibilities and to the demands of their own lives, especially if they were still working themselves.
The greatest challenge in attempting to aid our older family members is that the issue of long-term care is like the metaphoric iceberg, wherein most of the danger lurks below the waves, and only a fraction of the danger is visible. Unfortunately, even in this age of instant communication, this is an issue that stays out of sight and out of mind until the family arrives in the crisis zone. At this point, options are greatly narrowed, and a lifetime of saving and planning may be for naught.
When a family member or someone close to you or your clients becomes unable to care for themselves, it can be a life-changing and heartbreaking experience for the entire family. If you find yourself as your aging loved one’s caregiver, you see their problems and struggles up-close and personal in a way other people don’t see, which can be a big emotional burden to bear. That’s why it’s so important to discuss this potential iceberg with clients as well as loved ones as early as possible.
Don spends much of his time speaking with attorneys and legal professionals about the importance of incorporating LTCI into their practices. Don also writes articles and develops educational materials demonstrating the value of LTCI to professionals and their clients.