A Guide to the Types of Elder Care Professional Services and Free Supports
A version of this article originally appeared on the blog Eldercare Resource Center
Even when families are relatively well prepared financially, the process of preparing for later life can be complicated. Professional services can help guide families. However, some who present themselves as elder care planners might actually be working on a commission. They sometimes recommend unnecessary products or services for families who are trying to understand their options and make the best decisions for the care of their elderly loved ones.
The complexity and possible conflicts of interest leads some to avoid planning for care later in life; this is certainly a shame because of the many benefits of planning. People who plan for elder care and long term care costs report feeling an increased sense of control and reduced anxiety about the future. Further, planning and professional assistance can often help a family save on care and improve the quality of life for the elder.
This post describes the types of elder care planning services, from simple self-service options to the variety of specialists who help with specific cases. We share this with caregivers with the hope that it leads you to find the most appropriate assistance to start the process with your loved one. As with all planning, it is always better to start early.
Free Online Tools
There are a variety of online sites that provide free or low-cost guidance. The American Elder Care Research Organization maintains the ‘Elder Care Financial Assistance Locator.’ This free, self-service tool consists of a simple questionnaire to identify programs and services that are available to aging Americans. It searches over 400 regional, state, federal and private programs and compiles a list of only programs for which the elder is eligible or may become eligible. While this can be a fast and simple first step, families need to take the information and make their own plan. Click here to access the Elder Care Financial Assistance Locator.
Aging Services Agencies
Throughout the country, Area Agencies on Aging operate offices where families can come in and talk to a support person about their situation. They usually have an 800 number for toll free phone support as well. Because of their familiarity with local networks, they are great advisers on aging assistance programs that are available locally. Some are not as familiar with national, private and Veterans assistance programs. Because of the popularity of these free services, there can be wait times for an appointment. Find the phone and address for your local agency here.
Advisers from State Health Insurance Programs (SHIPs)
This little known service provides free, state-specific guidance on public health insurance benefits, especially for low income individuals. Typically staffed by well-trained volunteers, the toll-free SHIP hotline can be a welcome relief for individuals who are new to public health insurance—Medicare—or who anticipate having to file a claim for medical benefits in the near future. SHIPs advisers can also explain how Medicare Saving Plans help low income individuals reduce or eliminate their monthly premiums. While an excellent resource, the advisers may be limited, though, when it comes to the details on eligibility or how to become eligible for Medicaid benefits. Find your state SHIP contact information here.
Elder Care Resource Planners
A step up from free services would be to work with an Elder Care Resource Planner. They help elders and their families to identify financial assistance options and build a plan to fit the elder’s evolving needs for care. Their approach is comprehensive in that they will review all national, state and private programs to find the highest level of support. Elder Care Resource Planners are not as expensive as other types of professionals with prices that range from $500 to $1,500 per engagement. It should be noted, though, that while the Planner develops the plan families must take responsibility for following through on the recommendations. Learn more about Elder Care Resource Planners.
Many seniors may have to rely on Medicaid at some point. The Bipartisan Policy Center reported that Medicaid pays for two-thirds of the costs of long term care in this country. A Medicaid Planner that specializes in your state program can help families learn how to qualify for this program. In this area, it is often helpful to have guidance because of the complexity of the rules and the financial products that exist to help families qualify. This service can greatly improve the likelihood of an elder being accepted into a state Medicaid program. One drawback of Medicaid Planners is that they may not be able to guide families on the alternatives to Medicaid. Fees range from $2,000 for a simple case to as much as $5,000. Some work on a commission based on the sale of Medicaid-compliant annuities. Learn more about Medicaid Planning.
Geriatric Care Managers
While Geriatric Care Managers typically oversee the care of an elder, some also assist with some of the financial aspects. Because of the depth of their knowledge of the health needs of seniors, they offer a valuable service that helps families anticipate the changing needs of the loved one. They can also be quite knowledgeable about local prices and providers. They are usually educated as nurses or social workers. Although they may not have a financial planning background, geriatric care managers can help families understand whether their loved one would qualify medically for Medicaid. They typically charge hourly fees and rates range from $50 to $200. Search for a geriatric care manager in your area.
Veterans Benefits Planner
The Veteran’s Administration offers a variety of benefits to vets and their dependents. VA advisors help vets and their families save time and improve the chances that they will receive their full benefits. Although accreditation is not required, an accredited adviser can act as an official representative of the vet during the application process. Some advisers work for nonprofits or the government do not charge anything for their services. Private sector advisers might range about $2,500 – $4,000 for their advisory services. Learn whether a VA benefits adviser could help you.
Financial planners received specialized education and accreditation as professionals to advise families on their finances and retirement. They provide significant assistance for families in preparing financially for long term care including the creating of specialized accounts and trusts. They typically work with middle and upper income level individuals and may not have much specific knowledge of local aging programs and services for low income families. They focus on a range of financial products to preserve wealth and can be pretty expensive. They will charge either by the hour or based on the size of the client’s net wealth.
Elder Law Attorneys
Topping off our list of professional service providers that can help families prepare and qualify for elder care benefits, elder law attorneys are not a specific type of lawyer. Rather, the term loosely applies to legal professionals from a variety of specializations, such as tax, estate planning, wills, trusts, probate law, Medicaid planning, and administrative appeals. Because lawyers charge their client for services, you can be sure that they are working in your best interest. Attorneys can be very help in cases where an elder was wrongly denied coverage or blocked from VA benefits. The drawback, of course, is that the cost of legal advice and services can be very high, ranging from a low of $150 / hour to over $400 / hour.
Planning for later life stages can be challenging but the benefits are clear for families. We hope that this list of the types of professional resources available to help you plan will enable you get started. Please feel to let us know about your experiences or any types of planners that we missed in the comments.