What (And When) Is Long-Term Care Planning Month 2021?

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

While every month should be “Long-Term Care Planning” Month, there are only 31 days in October when this form of planning is highlighted.

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Understandably, there may be some folks that can get confused about the many healthcare options, housing costs, and long-term care solutions that they can underestimate what they will need as they age. There is no substitute for planning, but it can be hard to get started when there is no immediate urgency. 

The sooner you plan for long-term care, the more time you have to save for unexpected costs. Pensions are becoming more rare these days, and social security might not be enough to finance the care you or your loved one needs.  Understanding your options will help you plan for a safe and secure future.

What is Long-Term Care Planning Month?

Long-Term Care Planning Month is an effort to bring people’s attention to the importance of long-term care planning and encourage families to talk about it. Rising healthcare and housing costs for older adults are a growing concern across the country.

Most people wait until there is a crisis or urgent need before trying to plan, which can become more stressful and possibly more expensive. Medicare does not pay for many of the long-term care costs, so it is critical to plan for these uncovered costs.

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When is Long-Term Care Planning Month?

Long term care planning month is observed in October. But any time can be an excellent time to start the conversation about planning. The month of October is designated as a time to bring focus to this vital topic.

How Can People Acknowledge Long-Term Care Planning Month?

It doesn’t matter where you are in the process of long-term care planning. Start where you are to continue conversations or review decisions, and make changes.

In dealing with older parents, let them know that you have done your own long-term care planning (and make sure that you have).

Starting to plan now

Having conversations with your loved ones about end-of-life decisions, care needs, and finances can be challenging and uncomfortable. Approach these topics with sensitivity and accept that long-term care planning discussions is a process, and it can take time to develop a comprehensive long-term care plan.

Here are some suggestions on how to broach the subject and get things started:

  • Write a list of topics you want to discuss.
  • Be honest about your reasons for wanting to have these conversations.
  • Make sure to let your parents know that you desire to honor their wishes.
  • If it seems appropriate, schedule several meeting times to discuss long-term care planning topics. People need time to think about the future and what is of value to them. Try not to rush the process, but keep it moving along.
  • Be prepared with the documents you need and concrete plans on how to achieve tasks.
  • If long-term care planning is already in place, use this opportunity to review decisions to see if anything has changed.

Begin with advance directives

Anyone over the age of 18 should complete advance directives. It is not unusual for an older adult to not have advance directives, but regardless of age, it is critically important.

Advance directives allow you to name someone to carry out your medical wishes if you cannot do so. Every state has different forms, and some advance directives give you the authority to obtain healthcare information immediately on behalf of a family member. 

Most physician offices and assisted living communities require advance directives. You can view state by state advance directive forms to begin the process. By going through your state’s documents, you will get a clear picture of other directives you may need.

Complete a living will

A living will may be considered a part of your state’s advance directive forms. If not, make sure you fill out this document, as a living will specifies what medical intervention you want at the end of life. A living will only takes effect if you are unable to speak for yourself. 

A living will challenges you to think about under what circumstances you want life-sustaining treatment. If you don’t have this document in place, medical professionals will use all methods available to treat or revive you, regardless of the consequences. If you are talking with parents or another older adult about this document, emphasize that it can be changed at any time. A living will is a legal document that is used in long-term care settings or while you are at home.

POLST and MOLST

A POLST (Physician’s Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment) or MOLST (Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment) is a physician’s order for end-of-life measures. A discussion about this document can also help clarify when to use this form.

The purpose of a POLST or MOLST is to direct medical care in case of emergency, or if death may be imminent. It is typically used in a hospital setting or for frail people in a nursing home. Unlike advance directives, a POLST or MOLSTs does not appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.

You can read more about POLST and  MOLST forms here.

Talk about finances

Talking about finances can be very tricky. If you are talking with your parents about their finances, expect some resistance. Open the conversation by expressing the need to understand finances in the context of long-term care planning and honoring their wishes for the type of care they want.

If you or someone else becomes incapacitated due to illness or an accident, someone needs the authority to manage financial affairs. Consider discussing the following:

  • Review the entire financial picture: income, assets, retirement accounts, debt, and social security.
  • Discuss who and how someone will take over finances if needed. Talk about a financial power of attorney, bill paying, and the possibility of setting up a trust.
  • Is there a will
  • Is long-term care insurance feasible at this point, or are the premiums too high?
  • If the financial picture is too complicated, consider hiring an estate planning attorney to help.

Understand insurance

Believe it or not, many seniors and their families don’t know whether they have original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage plans are gaining in popularity due to their lower premiums. It is critical to know the difference because Medicare Advantage plans are managed care plans and typically do not have the same flexibility and options of original Medicare. 

As you consider rehabilitation centers and home health companies for future care, some choices may be restricted under Medicare Advantage plans, and out-of-pocket costs could be higher.

Discuss care and living options

Most people say they want to age at home. Figure out what your parent’s preferences are and how to make them possible. You may want to talk about the costs associated with each option, and tie it into the larger financial picture.

Some questions to consider are the following:

  • When will the home be too much to take care of? Are there some home accessibility modifications to do now to make it safer to age in place?
  • Home care is private pay. Are there the funds available to pay for personal care long term?
  • Are other options like assisted living or independent senior living possible? How do they feel about it? Factor in the costs of assisted living or nursing home care, which is not covered by Medicare.
  • What about other alternative senior living ideas such as home-sharing, co-housing, and continuing care retirement communities?
  • Open a discussion about family caregiving. Who is willing to provide family caregiving and what are the responsibilities and limits expected? It is important to note that some family members find themselves in a caregiving role that is stressful and ultimately unsustainable. 

Making funeral plans

Aside from services, it is also important to discuss what you or your parents want when they die. Some people have very strong feelings about cremation vs. burial. If those feelings are not expressed, this leaves the family having to make a decision after their death. Planning a funeral or cremation so suddenly can be very stressful and can cause tension among family members. 

Avoid the stress of trying to do the right thing by having these plans in place before you need them. You may decide to do a pre-paid plan, but this isn’t necessary. The decision to discuss is making sure you or your loved one’s values are respected and honored at the time of death.

Get help

Elder law attorneys and financial planners can be a huge help. You don’t necessarily need one of these professionals, but having their expertise gives you the confidence that financial affairs are in order and that your advance directives meet your state’s legal requirements.

The Value of Long-Term Care Planning Month

When a month is dedicated towards a certain topic, the idea is to get your attention and encourage you to think and act. Like with many things, planning for an unknown outcome can be tough to do.

However, by going through the process of long-term planning, you and your family can have peace of mind and enjoy the present moment knowing the future is planned.

If you want to learn more about long-term care planning, read our guides on advance care planning and caring for aging parents.

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