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Long-term Care for Christmas | By Mark W. Rice

When it comes to long-term care, you could say that women get the short end of the stick. They are the hardest hit on both the giving and receiving ends. Women are the predominate caregivers in our society. More than seven out of 10 unpaid caregivers are women. And yet they are also more likely to need long-term care themselves, especially institutional care. About 80 percent of nursing home residents are women.

Why? Wives are often younger than their husbands. And they (arguably) take better care of themselves. Thus, the husband is typically the first to need long-term care. While the husband gets wonderful care delivered by a loving person who knows him well and takes care of him in the ultimate private room – his home – wives are often left to find help on their own. This might include supplemental home care or something more, including full-time nursing care. Either way, such help can be quite expensive, depleting assets.

Caregiving often takes a toll on the wife. And unless a family member assists, women are more likely to eventually enter a nursing home or assisted living facility. Women outlive men by an average of seven years and needing care is a nearly inevitable consequence of living a long life. Because widows lack the informal care-giving support that their husbands had, they often need commercial care sooner than their husbands and, because they live longer, they need the care longer.

Women need to educate themselves about long-term care options and be aware of the risks of being unprepared. By planning ahead, women can achieve peace of mind and ensure a more favorable quality of life. Ideally, the best time to plan is in your 40s and 50s while the insurance options are affordable and you are healthy enough to qualify.

While it might strike you as amusing for a man to buy his wife (and himself) a long-term care policy for Christmas or Valentine’s Day, a more meaningful gift would be hard to find. She would have a wonderful resource to help her take better care of him when he gets sick. It would also enable her to preserve her lifestyle and receive the best care, all while protecting hard-earned savings. Some men think they will leave enough assets to support their spouse. As people age, and particularly once they become widowed, they either become afraid they will outlive their assets, as irrational as that may be, or they start thinking of those assets as their children’s inheritance and don’t want to touch it. So widows and widowers who have the means to pay for top-quality long-term care are often reluctant to do so. Long-term care insurance has a tremendous value as the spouse and children would have no hesitation in using the insurance company’s dollars allocated for long-term care.

Thus, planning for long-term care is a critical component of a sound retirement plan, especially for women.

Mark W. Rice is president of Callahan & Rice Insurance Group.