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What Will It Cost If You Have To Financially Support Your Aging Parents?


When meeting with a group of young business owners and CEOs recently, Mikol and I were were amazed that these folks were so forward thinking about their parents. 

We had been invited to come and discuss a variety of issues they saw in planning for their parents’ futures. All are 40 years old or younger.  With their own thriving businesses, they felt responsibility to share with parents who were probably going to be depending on them or already were doing so. Their foresight is likely related to their business success as well.

The cost of long term care arose.  What if you have to pay for them to get the care they need later on, even if they don’t need it yet?  How much should a person set aside?

Some had purchased long term care insurance for a parent and we were happy to see that good planning.  Others figured they’d have to pay out of pocket when the need arose.

While only about a third of aging folks believe they will indeed need long term care, the fact is that about two-thirds of them actually will need it.  The gap between what older people think and expect and what really happens as we age is startling.  And it is likely to throw the burden of paying for it on the financially successful adult children of these elders in denial.  This particular group of business owners could absorb the cost. Many average people cannot.  Many people, women in particular have to eventually quit their jobs or give up their own retirement time to care for parents themselves.

What about the dollars and cents?  The Genworth Cost of Care Survey is done every year and provides average rates charged by service providers for homemaker services, home health aides, adult day health, assisted living and nursing home care across the country.  And you can also search by state to see the average where your parents live.  Even the lowest level of care, someone to come in and help with cooking, shopping, laundry and errands averages $19 per hour, the national median hourly rate.  The national median monthly rate for assisted living is $3500.  And in my state, in urban areas and well populated centers, it is twice that.

If you have to consider paying for long term help for your aging loved ones, it’s worth your time to do the math and figure out how much it may take. According to a colleague who knows long term care insurance benefits, the average time a person with this kind of insurance is collecting paymentsis three years or less.  If it’s three years at $43,200 a year for assisted living, not factoring in the 2% annual increase in cost, that’s $129,600. And that’s under the unlikely scenario that a person who lives into her 90s, say, is going to stay level in what she needs over that three years.  More likely than not, her needs will increase and the facility will charge more every month for more services.  Here at, we have had clients who are shelling out over $10,000 a month for a parent to be in assisted living.  When parent is infirm and needs a lot of things from the staff, every new thing increases the monthly cost.

Near the end of our fruitful discussion, one of the participants asked “What do the other 99% in our society do when an aging parent needs long term care?”  

The answer: they either provide the care themselves at a very high personal cost, or their parent spends what assets he has until they’re gone.  Then he ends up on Medicaid in a shared little rom in a nursing home.   Longevity is great when they’re healthy. When they’re not, we need to be conscious of the cost of taking care of our loved ones.

If it so happens that you are the successful adult child of an aging parent with limited funds, here are four takeaway suggestions:

  1. Look ahead. If your parents aren’t wealthy and you are, guess who will be expected to help financially?
  2. If your parents or you can afford it, seriously consider long term care insurance.  If you wait too long to apply, the cost rises sharply and some diagnoses and conditions make an elder uninsurable. Dementia is one of those diagnoses.
  3. Educate yourself. If you expect to pay out of pocket in the event that your loved one needs help at home or elsewhere, do the math and figure out how much cash you will probably need to set aside.  The longer our aging parents live, the more likely they will need help.
  4. Communicate with your aging parents about these issues.  Insist on the discussion.  You need to know what assets they have and where to find them.  They may not have planned on living so long and potentially outliving their money but you need to anticipate that possibility.

Smart planning now can save you shock and distress later.  Working with your aging parents to help them stretch their assets by conservative investing and spending will benefit both you and them in the long run.  And expect the long run. People in the 85+ age group are the fastest growing segment of our population.

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