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'Just Shoot Me': A Bad Strategy for Long-Term Care Expenses

"Shoot me. Just shoot me -- I won't go into assisted living." For a few years, those were the first words I'd say to my wife after each visit with her mother, who spent her final years in several different assisted living situations. After hearing this comment several times, one day my wife gently touched my arm and said, "Hon, I'm not going to shoot you. You'll need to think of a better strategy if you become disabled in your retirement years."

The obvious truth of her comment made me laugh out loud. Then I realized I was using the "shoot me" remark as a sarcastic way of dodging this very real problem: How will we address the possibility that one or both of us might need assistance in our later years? This isn't some remote possibility, given that both my mother-in-law and my father needed care in their final years.

We talked with our friends about these issues, and we found out that the "Shoot me" solution is a common guy response to this challenge. So instead of continuing to dodge the problem, I decided to step up to the plate to face this challenge. I found a number of more realistic solutions to address the threat of ruinous long-term care expenses, including these:

  • Taking care of your health by being very serious about getting sufficient exercise and proper nutrition
  • Buying long-term care insurance
  • Having dedicated financial resources in reserve in case you incur long-term care expenses, which can mean keeping home equity untapped until the need arises, and having investment accounts that are dedicated to paying for long-term care expenses
  • Conducting open conversations with family and friends about your preferences and desires should you need long-term care, and about the strain that this could put on your family
Discussing these issues with your friends and family can raise some very serious questions about just how much money you want to spend to prolong your later years. It's sobering to realize that a year of long-term care can cost more than it would to send a grandchild to Harvard for a year -- what would you rather do? While I respect anybody's answer to this question, I know I'd rather spend the money on my grandchildren.

Many of us have already set up medical directives that tell our loved ones to "pull the plug" should we become terminally ill and reliant on life support. But most people probably haven't even thought about the months and possibly years leading up to this point -- exactly how long do you want to be spending a lot of money on long-term care expenses if your quality of life is low?

These are serious questions with no easy or obvious solution, but that's not a good reason to dodge the issues. The right thing to do is to face up to these challenges; if you do, you'll feel better about the future and the legacy that you'll leave to your children and grandchildren.

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