If you’re dealing with a nursing home, I don’t need to tell you how stressful nursing home planning can be. Between choosing the right facility and making the transition from independent living, you also have to find time to make sure the correct people are listed for making your care decisions. But, at $215 per day (or more!), the elephant in the room is the incredibly high cost of care.
Once you’re ready to confront the costs head on, it will quickly become clear that the options are dizzying. Paying out of pocket is cost prohibitive. Long-term care insurance may be workable, but not if you’re entering the nursing home soon or if you have health issues. Medicare only applies in certain situations, and only military veterans qualify for VA benefits.
That leaves Medicaid, and the rules there are spread over hundreds of pages of federal and state statutes, regulations, and policy manuals. What you need is an oasis from the stress, not the exponentially increasing stress that comes from trying to make sense of all those rules.
Don’t despair. You can achieve calm in this whirlwind. Follow these five steps and you’ll soon find that the zen of nursing home planning is easily reached.
1. Plan Ahead
Step one of the zen approach to nursing home planning is to take your mind off the current situation and picture your ideal situation. What outcome do you hope to achieve with your long-term care plan?
Sometimes, your present situation will decide your end goal – if you or your loved one -is already in a nursing home, it’s probably too late to plan on avoiding the nursing home altogether. But there are many goals that are completely achievable even after you’re in a nursing home.
2. Get Organized
The biggest challenge my clients face when they’re doing nursing home planning, whether for a parent, spouse or themselves, is locating and providing accurate and current financial information. The second biggest challenge is determining the care wishes and needs of a loved one who can’t communicate anymore.
You can easily reduce or eliminate this stress, whether or not you have a desired outcome in mind, by getting or keeping your financial information and health care wishes organized. Pulling everything together in one place will make nursing home planning exponentially easier on you and your family.
Maybe the most obvious way to eliminate the stress of planning for nursing home care is to spread out the necessary work among a group of people. You can assign organization tasks or management responsibilities to family members or other individuals that you trust. Just by delegating, you can shorten the long litany of tasks that are currently on your plate and divide the work into manageable pieces.
But communicating with your family is important as well If you will be implementing a gifting strategy or a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, you will want to make sure all of your trusted family members are on the same page regarding the steps in the plan and what actions or behaviors are expected of them. With your trusted family in the loop, you’ll have the peace of mind that your plan will continue to be effective as designed even after you’re not the person in charge of the plan.
4. Be Clear
The success of a project is often dependent on the tools being used to complete the project. In the kitchen, a chef uses a different pan, knife, or level of heat for the wide variety of dishes he prepares. A plumber uses a different pipe, wrench, or adhesive for every fixture she installs. But the ability to use the right tools isn’t the first step. Before you can learn how to use the right tools, you need to learn what tools are available.
This premise applies to nursing home planning as well. You can’t make a long-term care plan if it’s not clear what tools are available to you. Once you know what tools you can use, then you can learn how to apply those tools to your unique planning needs.
5. Work with an Expert
Some people are afraid of snakes, some people are afraid of mice. Arachnophobia might be the best know phobia out there. For me, it’s bats, so when we had at least one bat (some days two or three!) in our house a couple of weeks ago, I was ready to burn the house down and relocate. How would you feel if the creature from your darkest nightmare was suddenly inhabiting your living room on a daily basis?
Instead, my wife called the local pest control specialist. He came out to the house and inspected the roof, the eaves, and the siding. In just a few minutes up on a ladder, he had found where the bats were getting in and identified the solutions we needed to get rid of them. The solution wasn’t even implemented yet, but I was so relieved to have a solution that I would have sold my left kidney to pay him.
It’s an open question whether long-term care planning is as stressful as dealing with your deepest fears, but you can eliminate most of the financial stress by working with an elder law specialist. An expert will take on as much of the planning work as you ask them to handle and will help you delegate the things they can’t take on.
Peace of mind is within reach; you can start down that path by following this guide. Make sure you know what your desired outcome is, then get your finances and your care needs organized. With your papers in order, educate yourself about the options and communicate your needs to your family. Tie all the pieces together by hiring an expert who will give you the peace of mind that every planning strategy has been considered and you’ve settled on the best possible solution available in your circumstances. You won’t even have to sell a kidney.