With more and more people living longer these days, experts say it takes smart planning to ensure that they are properly cared for and looked after well into their golden years.
According to Penny Carey, president of Aging in Montclair (AIM), a non-profit, grassroots organization whose mission is to identify and shape solutions that meet the community’s needs, the focus is helping seniors be heard.
“We have about 500 members and the population is different than it was 50 years ago,” Carey explains. “We have members in their sixties and members in their nineties, so it’s a bigger age range and those who are older are still active. Our programs are geared to help people live independently.”
Carey says the organization meets once a month at the Salvation Army building and works closely with the township’s Senior Advisory Committee and the Department of Senior Services. Support groups are available for widows, widowers, and caregivers — some of whom are seniors themselves. The Salvation Army building landlord has been supportive of the organization, says Carey, but adds that one of AIM’s goals is to help establish the long-awaited senior center.
“The stereotype of a senior always being dependent is no longer true,” she explains. “However, there are seniors who are are well and those who are not well and they all have different needs. So we try to give people the tools to make good decisions by having informational seminars. Some of the seminar topics we’ve held dealt with are senior safety, senior benefits, drug interactions and depression. You can’t make good decisions unless you have good information.”
“It’s important to plan for yourself so others don’t plan for you,” Carey says. “It’s sad that many seniors had to move out because they couldn’t afford to stay in the town anymore.”
According to Geraldine Callahan, of Callahan Financial Services Group (CFSG) based in East Hanover, one of the biggest issues older adults grapple with is the lack of a plan for retirement years.
“Overall, people are not planning properly with longevity and what can happen in the future,” Callahan says, adding that healthcare planning covers an array of things for a senior or elderly person and the first step is putting the the right legal estate planning n plaice.
“This is to ensure that if you can’t speak for yourself, someone is able to speak on your behalf and carry out your wishes,” she noted. “Healthcare planning also encompasses the ‘what ifs’ beyond Medicare and what happens when your benefits no longer cover for skilled long-term nursing.”
Callahan specializes in healthcare financial planning and works to helps families obtain government healthcare benefits to pay for care.
Callahan also emphasized that many people don’t think that anything will happen to them if they’re currently healthy but the reality is many people lose everything in order to pay for long-term care.
“Pre-planning starts with having the right healthcare plan, ” she says. “A Medicare plan is an asset protection plan, at least up until the point where someone will need long term health care services. Beyond that, what happens when Medicare stops paying? There is a solution if someone has a proper long-term care insurance policy because it will pick up those costs.”
Healthcare planning also encompasses seeing an elder law attorney, she added, in order to discuss available options to protect assets by having a power-of-attorney in place and other legal documents in order. Finally, it’s looking at options if someone does run out of money or retires with limited funds. More than half of seniors today rely on government benefits, such as Medicaid to help pay for their cost of care in a nursing home.
Callahan also stressed that adult children need to have a conversation with their elderly parents.
“For adult children who are trying to understand their parents’ wishes, it’s important that they talk to their parents in order to have their wishes followed,” she explains. “Planning protects family relationships and the legacy of being able to leave behind something.”
Housing options need to be considered and adult children should not wait until their parents are in a critical situation to start looking for a nursing home or an assisted living facility, she said. One example would be for a single elderly person who owns a home and who plans on moving into a long-term care facility. The home may have to be sold and proceeds spent down in order to qualify for Medicaid.
“Had they pre-planned by putting their money in a trust five years prior to Medicaid’s look back period, they may have been able to protect their home and pass it on to their children,” she adds.
Callahan said life can bring some curve balls and that it’s never to soon to plan ahead.
“Ultimately, you never know what’s going to happen. Planning allows you to solve as much or as best you can instead of just hoping that things are going to work out.”