What Happens When There are No Children to Provide Care to a Parent?

As we age, it is likely that many of us will need help for at least some period of time with life’s daily activities. (These include bathing, dressing, eating and using the bathroom.) And while we may not want to think much about being in that position some day, it would be a good idea to start thinking now about who will take care of us in our old age.

According to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about half of all informal caregiving is provided by adult children, with spouses providing another 20%. In addition to helping with daily activities, these informal caregivers navigate health care options and insurance benefits, manage medications, provide transportation to doctor appointments, and manage finances. Even when people go into nursing homes or assisted living facilities, their children or spouse still provide a lot of hands-on care.

But what if you don’t have a spouse or child who will be able to take care of you? Your children may live too far away, have health issues of their own, or have family and/or work obligations. Maybe your child or spouse predeceases you. Maybe you didn’t have children. According to a study by Urban.org, nearly one-fifth of women born after 1970 will not have any children.

You may find you need to rely on a sibling, niece or nephew, distant relative, friends or paid helpers. Assisted living facilities are an option for many people. Nursing homes are often regarded as the place of last resort, but people without caregivers are more likely to enter them.

Most of these options can be expensive, depending on the type of care you will need and how long you will need it. For example, the national average cost for a home health aide is $45,760 per year; for assisted living, it’s $43,200 per year; and for a semi-private room in a nursing home, it’s $80,300 per year. (Genworth has researched these costs in each state.) So, in addition to determining who will provide your care, you also need to consider how you will pay for it.

Medicare does not pay for assisted living and only pays for a limited number of days in a nursing home. Aid & Attendance benefits from the Veterans Administration will help pay these costs for wartime veterans and their spouses who qualify. Medicaid will pay for nursing home care, but you have to spend down your assets in order to qualify. Long-term care insurance is an option, but if you wait too long it may not be affordable and you may not qualify. If you have substantial savings and/or have equity in your home, those resources can be used to pay for your care.

The point is this: It is never too late to start thinking about who will care for you in your old age, in what setting you want to receive that care, and how you will pay for it. Don’t assume your first choice is willing to provide hands-on care for you. Have that conversation with your candidates to make sure they are on board with your wishes. If not, you’ll need to come up with Plan B or Plan C. Without a plan, you could end up having no say in your end-of-life care.

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