by Jackie Bedard
Remember the old fable of the ant and the grasshopper? I was reminded of it recently, and it struck me how applicable it is when it comes to long-term care planning. Sometimes, it is “crisis” planning when you or a loved one already need care or will need care very soon. For others, “pre-planning,” allows you to plan ahead for the possibility of needing long-term care.
Meet Harry and Henrietta Hopper
As Harry neared retirement, he and Henrietta decided they would take advantage of the prepaid legal plan through Harry’s employer to set up their wills. They couldn’t understand why their good friends, Andy and Alice Ant, would opt to spend money to separately hire an elder care attorney when they could just have the prepaid legal attorney draw up a will for them.
Several years later, Harry suffers a stroke. He requires significant rehabilitation and needs a walker. As such, he’s no longer able to reach their bedroom upstairs, so the Hoppers convert their dining room into a makeshift bedroom.
With Harry’s limited mobility, Henrietta is left to assume responsibility for the household chores and home maintenance. Their children stop in occasionally to help, but they also have jobs and families of their own to care for, and Henrietta doesn’t want to burden them by asking for assistance. Henrietta contacts an in-home health care company to inquire about getting some assistance for Harry, and is shocked to discover that the in-home care would cost more than if Harry were to move into a nursing home. Although they have some retirement savings, the cost of the in-home care would rapidly eat through the funds, so Henrietta decides to stick it out a little bit longer.
A few months later, the Hoppers’ children intervene. They can see that caring for their father is taking a great toll on their mother and that the time has come for Harry to move to a nursing home. Reluctantly, Henrietta agrees.
As they are completing the admission paperwork, Henrietta asks the nursing home representative about Medicaid. She is told that they will need to “spend down” their assets significantly before Harry will qualify for assistance and that she may need to go to the courthouse to obtain “guardianship” of Harry, so that she can handle the finances. Henrietta pays for Harry’s care out of pocket for several months, until Harry finally qualifies for Medicaid.
One day the stress finally catches up with Henrietta, and she dies suddenly from a heart attack. The family is devastated. All these years, they had put so much concern on Harry’s care, that they never contemplated the possibility that Henrietta might die first.
When the family settles Henrietta’s estate, they learn that Harry and Henrietta owned most of their assets jointly. With Henrietta’s passing, this means that the assets are now in Harry’s name. As a result, Harry loses his Medicaid eligibility until the assets are spent down even further to re-qualify. At this point, all that is left is the Hoppers’ home and less than $2,000 in savings.
A few months later, Harry passes away. Shortly thereafter, the children are shocked to receive a letter from Medicaid informing them that they are required to sell their parents’ house and pay Medicaid back for Harry’s care.
Meet Andy and Alice Ant
Andy and Alice Ant had seen first-hand the toll that long-term care can take when Alice’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease. They wanted to do everything they could to make sure that if either or both of them were to need long-term care, they would both be able to receive quality care in their home without becoming a burden to their children.
After meeting with a couple of estate planning attorneys who didn’t seem to understand long-term care issues, the Ants found a local elder care attorney to assist them. They discussed their goals with the elder care attorney, including things like wishing to remain in their home if care were needed, providing a legacy for their children and grandchildren, and avoiding the hassle of probate for their family to make things as easy as possible for them.
After discussing these issues with their attorney, the Ants decide to move into a single-story home in an independent senior living community. They develop some great friendships with the other residents and y enjoy all of the amenities available to them.
Those amenities really become a godsend when Andy is diagnosed with cancer and has to go through draining radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Alice is so relieved that they have housekeeping, laundry and dining services available to them, so that she can focus on caring for her husband.
Unfortunately, Andy succumbs to the cancer and passes away. With the loss of her husband, Alice’s children visit regularly to check in on their mother, and it becomes apparent that she is suffering some memory loss. After a thorough diagnosis by a neurologist, it is determined that Alice is showing signs of dementia.
As the dementia progresses, Alice begins needing assistance with some of the activities of daily living (e.g., getting out of bed, using the restroom, bathing, dressing, eating, and incontinence). The time comes for her to move to the assisted living section of the senior community she is already residing in. Although the cost of the assisted living care is quite a bit higher, the Ant family doesn’t have to worry because Alice has lifetime long-term care coverage in place that will enable her to afford the cost of the assisted living care for as long as needed, and Alice will be able to enjoy the social and recreational opportunities that the community offers.
Years later, when Alice passes away, the family again is thankful for their careful planning that allows the children to handle the estate privately without the intervention of the probate court.
Which family would you rather be a member of—the Hopper family or the Ant family?
If you have not implemented your own comprehensive estate and long-term care plan, then I strongly encourage you to make 2016 the year that you get it done.
Bedard, an elder law attorney with Carolina Family Estate Planning, can be reached at 919-443-3035 or www.carolinafep.com.