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As your parents get older, financial and legal plans can become just as worrisome as the healthcare and emotional issues surrounding aging. And with 78 million baby boomers racing toward retirement, it's important that families begin understanding some of the key financial issues related to caring for aging parents and partners sooner rather than later.
"Having the 'talk' about long-term care with an aging parent can be a difficult one," says Valerie VanBooven, RN, professional geriatric care manager and author of Aging Answers. "Knowing the answers to some key questions can help you help your parents make better, more informed decisions."
The issues and options are overwhelming and confusing. Here are three important topics that you should discuss with your parents and siblings now.Doctors and Medicare Assignment
One of the first questions you should ask your parent's physician is whether he or she accepts Medicare assignment. "Medicare assigns how much it will pay for services for a given condition or procedure," says Dr. Linda M. Rhodes, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging, author of Caregiving as Your Parents Age. "If a doctor takes as payment in full for the amount Medicare assigns, then that means the doctor takes 'assignment.' Always ask first if a physician takes assignment. That way you won't be getting a bill later to pick up the difference between what he or she charges and what Medicare pays."
On average, about three out of four doctors take assignment. If your parent's physician doesn't take assignment, he can still only charge your parent 15 percent more than what Medicare assigns as a fee for a specific service.Geriatric Care Managers
VanBooven encourages caregivers and their families to seek professional help in navigating caregiving issues. Geriatric care managers (GCMs) can assist families by conducting care planning assessments, offering screening services, reviewing financial issues, offering referrals, providing crisis intervention, and so much more. GCMs have extensive knowledge about the costs of resources within the community and can help families make informed decisions about finances and other eldercare issues.
"Talk to an elder law attorney," says Jacqueline Marcell, author of Elder Rage, or Take My Father...Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents, and host of the radio program Coping with Caregiving. "The laws are different in every state, but it's important to know what financial aid is available for your elder parent."
An elder law attorney can guide you and your parents in answering questions related to insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, estate planning, probate, and administration and management of trusts. Rhodes lists the following questions as examples of what you might ask an elder law attorney:
As important as it is to ask all the right questions, it's also important to choose an attorney with whom you and your elder parent are comfortable. Trust your instincts when choosing an attorney, in the same way you would when you choose a healthcare provider.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys offers a registry of elder law attorneys nationwide. You can find one in your area on their Web site.
"It's also very important to set up a durable power of attorney," says Marcell. "This is so vital. Do it BEFORE it's too late. If your parent is diagnosed with dementia before they sign over power of attorney to you, it's too late."Books:
Caregiving as Your Parents Age, by Dr. Linda Rhodes
Elder Rage, by Jacqueline Marcell
Aging Answers, by Valerie VanBoovenResources:
Coping with Caregiving radio program, with Jacqueline Marcell www.wsradio.com/copingwithcaregiving
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys www.naela.com