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Are Advisors Miscalculating Retirement Medical Costs?


Are Advisors Miscalculating Retirement Medical Costs?

According to CNN Money, a 65-year-old, healthy couple can expect to spend $266,600 on out of pocket costs for Medicare premiums in retirement.

If that’s the advice you give clients about what needs to be set aside for medical expenses you’re missing some major facts.

Medicare premiums are a relatively small part of what it can cost when health issues arise as people age. No one likes to discuss the subject of possible cognitive impairment, but it has to be done. We see it as the financial advisor’s responsibility to bring it up, include medical expenses in the overall financial plan and get the truth out on the table.

According to a Wealth Management article on August 30, 2016, Fidelity Investments did a survey of over 350 advisors and found that 96 percent felt unprepared to help clients who had Alzheimer’s disease. This is in contrast to the reality that a person’s chances of developing the disease are at least one in three from age 85 and above. And we are living longer than ever in history. More centenarians, more Alzheimer’s.

What is the real cost of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s? I interviewed a high end home care agency owner about this question. Many HNW people do not have long term care insurance as they plan to pay for whatever they need out of pocket. Most are not aware of the cost of best quality 24/7 care they could need with their own longevity. In our work at, we have encountered this scenario and have seen what best quality care looks like. It’s not your average home care agency.

The cost for caring for one person at home with Alzheimer’s from that agency is $300,000 per year. The workers are specially trained and well supervised. A care manager develops a plan and the workers take their shifts, prepared to deal with all manner of difficult dementia-related behavior, including violent acts and words, wandering out the door, refusing to bathe as well as those who are unable to express themselves verbally any longer. Non-specialty home care agencies do not accept this degree of client behavioral difficulty out of fear of their workers being harmed.

The ultra HNW client can pay for these costs but for everyone else, the expenses incurred with care for a progressive disease that escalates in difficulty over time could be devastating. The cost of home care is in the category “long term care” an often poorly understood subject among those outside the health care and insurance fields.


If you have clients who are at retirement age or are retired, it is a necessity that you educate them about these risks to their savings. When you work with them on their plans, you need to include the possibility, very real, that one or the other of a retired couple could develop dementia and need expensive home care. If you think they should just go onto Medicaid, think again.

Every state has different rules but in all states a person can’t have much left in the way of assets and savings in order to qualify for Medicaid. And most importantly, people typically want to stay at home as they age. The quality of care they are likely to receive on Medicaid for long term Alzheimer’s care is low, and likely to be in a nursing home. No one wants that!

The takeaways

  1. In developing retirement plans for clients consider the risk that your client may develop Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Bring it up and talk about it.
  2. Plan for significant savings to be set aside in case care is needed, not just for Alzheimer’s but for any long term condition or disabling illness requiring help. Use real numbers, not vague assumptions.
  3. Do not underestimate the real costs of caring for a person with this kind of dementia. It can last as long as 20 years. Do the math for your clients and show them what they would need to be cared for at home with a long term expensive illness like Alzheimer’s.
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