Don't Let Nana Drive You Into Bankruptcy


Nana bankruptcy As children, excursions with grandma were an adventure, with trips to the ice cream shop, the movies, and local restaurants letting her brag about her grandchild to everyone in earshot. As years pass, the ride into the golden years can get bumpy: If you're financially unprepared, it can take a dramatic turn for the worse and even drive you and your family straight into bankruptcy.

However, there are steps you can take prevent a head-on financial collision when you or a loved one needs expensive care.

The big, sick picture
According to data from author and nursing home law specialist Gabriel Heiser, the average cost of a nursing home today is -- fasten your seatbelt -- nearly $7,000 per month, and a typical Alzheimer's patient will spend almost $400,000 for their nursing home care after diagnosis. The folks at MetLife (MET) report that the national average monthly base rate for a berth in an assisted living community is about $3,300.

Even if Alzheimer's doesn't strike you or a family member, you might still be in trouble. According to a recent Fidelity Investments study, an average 65-year-old couple retiring today can expect to pay $230,000 for health care during retirement. That's just an average, meaning that you may get away with less, but you might also be socked with higher costs.

If you're thinking that it's unlikely that you'll end up in a nursing home or needing long-term care, think again. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys has found that though the risk of financial devastation because of a car accident or home fire is less than 1%, it rises 50% when it comes to long-term care. Research by the folks at Conning & Co. reveals that 60% of those who reach age 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives. And The Wall Street Journal has reported that there's a 75% chance that at least one member of a 65-year-old couple will need long-term care.

Clearly, there's a good chance that you or a loved one will require some expensive care down the line.

Protect yourself
Fortunately, you can protect yourself from being wiped out financially. Long-term care insurance can be a smart option for some. It's not cheap, but that's because there's such a good chance that you'll need it. The price is far lower, though, if you buy it while you're still relatively young, such as in your 50s, instead of your 70s. Putting off the purchase can also end up with you developing a condition that leads to being denied coverage. A few points about long-term care:

  • Prices can vary widely by insurer, so shop around. But be sure to buy from a company with a high rating, as you don't want them to be out of business when you suddenly need them.
  • Consider paying a little more for your policy in order to add an inflation-adjustment rider, especially if you expect to live for several more decades.
  • You can cut the cost a bit by only buying three years of coverage, as the average stay in a nursing home is 28 months, and also by including a waiting period of, say, 90 days before the policy kicks in.

Read up more on long-term care insurance at sites such as the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information.

The Medicaid option
For some, long-term care insurance may not make sense. If you're relatively wealthy, you may be able to handle your health-care costs out of your own pocket. If you're nearer the other end of the wealth scale or your current age makes available policies unaffordable, you're not necessarily out of luck.

Heiser notes that Medicaid can cover much of your health care needs in retirement -- "but only if you know what it takes to qualify for those benefits." He also recommends that people start planning now, even if they're many years from retiring.

It's true that many people won't qualify for Medicaid, but if you know the requirements, you can manage your affairs in order to meet them. Here are some of the current asset limits for Medicaid applicants, according to Heiser:

  • Cash: You can hold $2,000 in cash that does not get counted as an asset in determining your Medicaid eligibility.
  • Home: Homes valued at $500,000 or less are not counted as an asset, and some states set a higher bar at $750,000.
  • Car: You can own one automobile of any value.
  • Death funds: The entire value of preplanned funeral or memorial arrangements are excluded. If you don't have such arrangements, you can exclude a separate bank account of up to $1,500 set aside for funeral expenses. Prepaid burial plots are also excluded.
  • Property: Any real or personal property that's required to support you, such as rental properties or other income-generating real estate investments, may be excluded. Rental income needs to be at least 6% of the value of the property to qualify.
  • Life insurance: Term life insurance policies aren't considered at all, and only the cash value of a whole life policy is counted.

There's more to it, of course, and rules can change over time. But if you're interested in qualifying for Medicaid assistance, you may be able to swing it. You'd do well to consult a financial planner or elder law expert for more guidance.

Yes, some health-care costs related to caring for ourselves or our loved ones can wipe us out. But they don't have to. A little planning can make a big difference.

Also See: Social Security: Why Seniors Are Just Plain Angry

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian holds no position in any company mentioned.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Economics 101

Intro to economics. But fun.

View Course »

Getting out of debt

Everyone hates debt. Get out of it.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Reverse mortgage loans can provide you additional income in your retirement years which can improve you quality of life.

September 15 2013 at 1:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joy Sargent-Smith

Re: long term care insurance. You can think or plan ahead all you want, but it doesn't help. If you're willing and able to pay the extortionate premiums in the first place, the insurance companies really don't want to provide long term care insurance and will use any excuse to refuse to write the coverage. I am in my 50s and 3 years ago I applied along with my husband who was in his late 50s at the time. Neither one of has any serious health problems, we are both still working and have medical coverage through an employer. Both of us were refused for totally spurious reasons which basically came down to the fact that we might actually use it at some time in the distant future and they might actually have to provide a coverage in exchange for all the years of high premiums paid.

July 13 2011 at 9:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joy Sargent-Smith's comment

"the insurance companies really don't want to provide long term care insurance and will use any excuse to refuse to write the coverage."...This really doesn't make much sense. If insurance companies don't issue policies they don't collect premiums. If they don't collect premiums they don't make any money. If they don't make any money they go out of business. Like I said it just doesn't make sense.

July 13 2011 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nursing homes cost between $5,000 and $6,000 a month. Eventually everyone but the rich run out of money and go on Medicaid and the taxpayer foots the bill.

July 12 2011 at 9:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This 'news' article is sickening. Families should take of each other. There are too many 'news' stories and shows about hating children and older people. Nazi ideas.

July 12 2011 at 6:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KYGA's comment
Joy Sargent-Smith

Wake up. This is taking care of family. I can only assume that you have never been in a situation where you had to try to figure out how to pay for care for someone who could no longer care for themselves, live at home and/or were suffering from some physically or mentally incapacitating problem that was beyond the family to handle themselves.

July 13 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After expensive day care, private high school and what was left on four year college tuitition not covered by scholorship, pell grants and income earned by my two daughters, Grandma is going to go live with one of them. I will be paying my way with contributing my total monthly income of a little over $2,100, babysitting and housework. I am thankful that I worked for years with a company that provided me with great health benefits and a pension. That same company pays nothing now and offers it's employees even less on health benefits.. No one stays working for them more than five years....and that's the way the company likes it. When it comes to Nana's long time care, I hope I will continue to be blessed and suffer a MAJOR LIFE TAKING HEARTATTACK IN MY SLEEP occurring when my grandchildren are old enough to understand death.

July 12 2011 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to FRANCINE's comment

Then you should definitely reject vdld's advice. I think that no exercise accompanied by heavy smoking and drinking and diet rich in salty foods with lots of saturated fat should help you accomplish you goal.

July 12 2011 at 2:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Scott A. Olson

Most people overestimate the cost of a good long-term care policy. A healthy, married couple in their mid-fifties, can share a policy that starts off with over a half million in benefits for about $100 per month per spouse.

There’s a new type of government-approved long-term care policy that can protect your assets from Medicaid even if the policy runs out of benefits.

Here’s an explanation of how these policies work:


July 12 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Scott A. Olson's comment
Joy Sargent-Smith

Link doesn't work.

July 13 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well...for my opinion I think should be ''don't let kids drive you into bankruptcy''...because this day's many have many kids and with all new stuff today's and extra bills kids cost lot of money especially bigger kids and many even don't work yet but like this kids have: Internet,cellphones,cars,all new gadgets, games, and all new not important stuff for real living because anybody can survive without all this extra bills. So if you have kids and can work find him job cut the bills for non living things and for all living bills transfer all important bills for living to pay own portion for that and that mean: house or apartment part of bills, electric, wather, gas, food, insurance and only if anything left from kids paycheck he or she can buy non related living things...AMEN...

July 12 2011 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard Veleber

So many children are financially ill-prepared to take care of their parents. They can't even take care of themselves so often. It is more likely that Nana is supporting the children... with health premiums, education and just getting by on a daily basis.

July 12 2011 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So the article basically tells you that if you're wealthy, no problem, and if you're poor, no problem, but there's no solution offered for the vast majority of people who fall in the middle between wealthy and poor. Long-term care insurance can end up costing a husband and wife hundreds of thousands of dollars if they start paying at 50 and live to be in their mid-80s. That's 35 years of premiums x 2 people. The best advice (which was not mentioned in the article) is to exercise daily, eat healthy, stay thin, don't smoke, don't drink to excess, go to the doctor for regular checkups and do all the various tests you're supposed to do, keep your mind active with reading, puzzles, hobbies, friends and stimulating projects, and you'll have the best shot you can give yourself at maintaining decent health and independence in retirement.

July 12 2011 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to vdld's comment

Sorry vdld but the healthy life-style you espouse will probably increase, rather than decrease, the likelihood that an individual will someday require long-term care. Studies have shown that the longer most individuals live the more likely they are to eventually develop chronic physical or mental conditions that necessitate institutional care. As the Terminator once said, "You didn't stop Judgement Day, you only postponed it. Judgement Day is inevitable".

July 12 2011 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joy Sargent-Smith

You might not live any longer, but it will seem like it. LOL

July 13 2011 at 9:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


July 12 2011 at 10:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply