As millions of baby boomers begin to retire, the idea of long-term care can be daunting, but it’s something they need to prepare for whether they wind up needing it or not.

By Jack Roth

Retirement 101 Baby Boomer BasicsAccording to recent U.S. Government statistics, between now and 2029, baby boomers will continue reaching the traditional retirement age of 65 at the rate of about one every eight seconds. It begs the question: Is retirement at 65 still a reasonable goal for the vast majority of baby boomers, and if so, are they prepared financially and legally for the myriad of risks associated with aging?

As the 78 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 approach retirement, the need for long-term care services is expected to surge. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that baby boomers are in serious denial when it comes to their medical and long-term care costs. As a generation who is supposed to have a longer life expectancy than previous generations, they don’t feel old and don’t like being called “old,” so their mindset is often such that they don’t think they even need long-term care.

The U.S. Administration on Aging states that long-term care applies to people with chronic illness or disabilities, with the goal of maximizing their independence and ability to function when full independence is no longer an option. Medicare.gov estimates that by the year 2020, nearly 12 million people will need long-term care, and this number is sure to grow with the aging baby boomer population.

“The ‘hope’ of not getting sick isn’t a viable plan of action; you have to face the facts of aging and be prepared,” says Teresa Risner, president of LTC Advisors in Altamonte Springs. “As a generation, baby boomers have always coveted their social and personal independence, and they would rather plan their next vacation then talk about relying on others for long-term health care.”

Risner, whose goal it is to engage people to have “that conversation” and get them thinking about the risks associated with aging, stresses that planning while you still have control is critical. “This way if and when something happens such as a stroke or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, you already have your financial ducks in a row,” she explains. “You don’t want to do something in a panic once something happens, and it also makes it much harder for family members to deal with the legal and financial ramifications if you’re not of sound mind anymore.”

In reality, 70 percent of people 65 and older are estimated to need long-term care (source: U.S. Administration on Aging). People can naturally become disabled with age regardless of how fit they keep themselves, not to mention the possibility of an accident or sudden onset of an illness.

“When it comes to the rising cost of long-term care, it’s important to understand your options,” asserts Risner. “Traditional health insurance isn’t designed to cover long-term care, and Medicare wasn’t designed to adequately cover the long-term care costs many Americans may face. Time is a consumer’s enemy when it comes to long-term care planning, as a future change in health can limit your options.”

According to Fidelity Benefits Consulting, the good news is that the average life expectancy for a 65-year-old American is 17.7 years for a male and 20.3 years for a female, which represents three to four more years of life expectancy compared to what the prior generation had at the same age. The bad news is that based on this life expectancy, a baby boomer couple age 65 who retires in 2015 will, on average, have $220,000 in medical expenses in retirement. And that number doesn’t include the expense of over-the-counter medication, most dental services and long-term care.

Risner suggests that the best way for soon-to-be retirees to plan properly is to reach out to the professionals who deal with these issues on a daily basis. Estate planning attorneys, financial planners, and long-term care advisors can all help you make informed decisions and prepare for the future.

“Account for the possibility of long-term care in your retirement planning ahead of time,” she adds. “If you don’t end up needing it, great, but if you do, you’ll be prepared.”

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 LTC Advisors, LLC, is located in Altamonte Springs at One Senior Place, a one-stop resource and information office for advice, care, and services for seniors, caregivers, and those approaching retirement.