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Health & Aging: Is Your Family Ready to Cover the Costs?

Use these four questions as a guide to help plan ahead for future medical and caregiving needs

MOST PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT the health-related what-ifs that come with aging, let alone talk about them—especially with family. Nonetheless, that conversation is critical to have. Having a plan in place that you’ve put together as a family can free everyone up to focus on each other, instead of worrying about where the money will come from should you, or an aging parent or spouse, fall ill. “The best time to talk about these matters is before you need to,” notes Cynthia Hutchins, director of financial gerontology at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Below are four questions to help you start having these important family talks with your spouse, your children, your parents and your siblings. Use them to share your expectations with your family. Consult your financial advisor about ways to prepare financially for the healthcare costs that may occur. And keep talking as years go by and circumstances change. While no one can know the future, being prepared for what might come next can make the road ahead easier.

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Talk about potential expenses associated with a long-term illness, such as home healthcare or modifications to the family home to accommodate a future disability. Should you or your parents purchase disability or long-term care insurance, consider other options such as hybrid forms of life insurance and health savings accounts, or simply save and invest more?

Review your choices with your financial advisor, who can help you ensure that your retirement and any other goals aren’t put in jeopardy.

Many people struggle with aging parents' unwillingness to face their limitations. That’s why it can be wise to bring these issues up early. Ask specific questions like: At what point would it make sense for you to stop driving, or to have a caretaker come in to help with meals? Kate Wilber, professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California–Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, says. "Often, at first, you'll be rebuffed. This will likely take more than one conversation."

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s financial gerontologist Cynthia Hutchins recommends that siblings talk first among themselves about how they'll share the caregiving role. "You want to be sure that both your parents' and your own needs are considered. Sometimes it makes sense to cobble together a combination of in-home and outside care," she says, where siblings can at least share the costs, if not the hands-on responsibilities.

Among the things to consider: Which medical treatments do you and your parents want to be used or avoided at the end of your lives? Who do you want to be your healthcare proxy if you are unable to communicate your wishes? You can use a healthcare power of attorney and a living will to document your choices. And begin thinking about how you want to pass on your legacy—financial and otherwise.

3 Questions to Ask Your Advisor

  1. How can I begin to estimate how much healthcare might cost me in retirement?
  2. What are some of my options for covering healthcare costs?
  3. Are there certain types of insurance I should consider?

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Long-term care insurance coverage contains benefits, exclusions, limitations, eligibility requirements and specific terms and conditions under which the insurance coverage may be continued in force or discontinued. Not all insurance policies and types of coverage may be available in your state.

This material should be regarded as general information on Healthcare considerations and is not intended to provide specific healthcare advice. If you have questions regarding your particular situation, please contact your legal or tax advisor.

Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax, accounting or benefits consulting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions. This material should be regarded as general information on health care considerations and is not intended to provide specific health care advice. If you have questions regarding your particular health care situation, please contact your health care, legal or tax advisor.

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