If you're in your 50s, you need to plan for long-term care right now

  • Less than a quarter of high net worth individuals have plans for long-term care in place, according to a poll of advisors by Key Private Bank.
  • Over half of people over 65 today will need long-term care at some point, according to AARP.
  • Financial advisors and aging life care experts say to plan ahead for long-term care and communicate those plans with your family.
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More money doesn't always lead to more planning, especially when it comes to unpopular subjects like end-of-life care.

Less than a quarter of high net worth clients currently have plans for long-term care in place, according to a poll of financial advisors by Key Private Bank, the wealth management arm of KeyCorp.

The poll surveyed nearly 150 advisors about their experiences with high net worth clients, those with assets over $1 million.

Advisors said persuading clients to devise plans for long-term care is a challenge. They also said it is difficult to balance saving for long-term care with other financial goals such as saving for college or buying a house.

"Part of it has to be the typical head-in-the-sand approach," said Chad Stevens, senior financial planner at Key Private Bank. "'If I ignore it, it'll go away.'"

Having tough conversations is part of the job of an advisor, and it's important to talk about the financial risks of aging, said Stevens.

"Unless you plan now, you can't be sure that your goals will be accomplished," Stevens said.

Plan carefully

It is important to make sure that your financial goals align with your lifestyle goals for retirement and end-of-life care.

Most clients said their top choice for long-term care is to stay in their own home and be fully independent, according to the survey. But this wish may be unrealistic; more than half of people over age 65 today will need long-term care at some point, according to AARP, a nonprofit advocacy group for in older Americans.

The second most popular choice is to move into an assisted living facility, followed by staying at home with the help of family members and personal aids.

The projected costs of long-term care are increasing, according to a report by Genworth Financial, an insurance company. In 2017, the median annual cost of a home health aide was $49,192, and the median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $97,455. By 2027, the median annual cost of a home health aide is expected to be $66,110, while the median cost of a private room in a nursing home will be $130,971 per year.

"Many underestimate the costs or think that Medicare or health insurance will cover it," said Jean Accius, vice president of long-term services and supports at the AARP Public Policy Institute, which does public policy research, analysis and development at AARP.

But, that is not always the case, Accius said.

Most people "think they've prepared but when something happens they don't have nearly enough," said Amy Fuchs, an aging life-care expert. She also said that when people sign up for long-term life insurance without thinking through what their needs will be later in life, they might think they are covered when they are not.

"Part of it has to be the typical head-in-the-sand approach. 'If I ignore it, it'll go away.'" -Chad Steven, senior financial planner at Key Private Bank

If clients don't prepare for these costs, they may end up paying out of pocket. This can quickly eat into their savings and negatively affect other financial goals.

"If leaving a financial legacy for your family is important, you need to plan ahead for that," said Debra Drelich, who runs a private practice called New York Elder Care Consultants LLC.

Start early

Advisors recommend that clients start planning for long-term care years before they think they will need it. The most robust planning sessions should occur between ages 40 and 50.

"Don't avoid the conversation," said Stevens from Key Private Bank. "Find a trusted advisor that will give you an idea of what plans are out there so you can make an educated decision."

Starting early will give you more time to assess what the options are in your home city and state, because location can greatly limit what services are available.

"Where you live matters — it limits your choices and options," said Accius. He said many resources are available for families who want to begin planning, including the AARP scorecard, which ranks states based on the long-term services they provide.

An early start will also help if you decide to buy long-term care insurance; the younger and healthier you are when you purchase, the lower the cost will be.

Having a plan is the best way to ensure that the late years of your life are as smooth as possible, according to financial advisors and aging life care experts.

"If leaving a financial legacy for your family is important, you need to plan ahead for that" -Debra Drelich, owner of New York Elder Care Consultants

"We plan for weddings and we plan for graduations, and we do it very thoughtfully," said Anne Sansevero, a geriatric nurse practitioner and founder and CEO of HealthSense LLC, an aging life care management consulting company. "But this is our life, our years ahead."

"Just like saving for retirement, you have to save for your health and well-being," she said.

Communicate with family 

Beyond having a plan, it is important to communicate your wishes for long-term care with your family, financial advisors and aging life care professionals say. Few advisors report that their clients are communicating with their families about their wishes for long-term care, according to the Key survey.

"Sometimes older adults don't let their kids in and provide them with that information, so the kids have no idea," said Debra Feldman, an aging life care professional and founder and president of her own firm, Debra D. Feldman and Associates.

She said that if older adults are not initiating the conversation, children should come to their parents. Waiting too long can lead to scrambling in a time of crisis, she said.

Having your family on the same page will alleviate stress and pressure and allow everyone to enjoy the golden years of your life more.

"Talking through long-term care desires early-on with family members will be crucial to setting expectations, delegating responsibilities and avoiding misunderstandings or surprises," said Stevens.

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