By Nancy Lund
AGING IN PLACE
Aging in place is a beautiful concept– and for many of us, aging here in Plumas and Lassen counties is our choice. We are enthralled by the air, the water, the relaxed pace. This is where we plan our retirement; we weatherize the cottage where we have spent so many happy summers, or we find the ideal spot to build our retirement dream home.
We are all set, living in these mountain valleys — and then the unexpected happens. One of us suffers a stroke, or comes down with a debilitating illness. Have we a plan that covers that eventuality? Perhaps we are not the ones facing this crisis but it is our elderly parents, or other family members. While they may be living independently today, we wonder if they are prepared for the time when one of the couple may require more care than the other can provide.
Twenty years ago a doctor would advise a couple to get a divorce! The cost of nursing home care would eat up all the couple’s assets, even their home. That was because then – and still true today – Medicare does not pay for long-term nursing home care. It is classified as “custodial” not “medical” care.
Today, under California and Federal Medicaid law, there is a way for the ailing spouse to get the care he (or she) needs, while the spouse at home is protected from losing everything. But it is not automatic. It is accomplished by legally dividing the couple’s assets. The ailing spouse becomes eligible for MediCal, which does cover nursing home care, while the spouse at home keeps the house, one car, a monthly stipend of up to $2739 and savings in the amount of $109, 560.
This protection is neither automatic nor simple. Even for a couple with minimum assets and income based on Social Security and a pension, it is a time-consuming process. For them, the county’s Social Services Department can provide the necessary forms, and in most cases, guidance through the process. If there are obstacles, help may be available for PLUMAS COUNTY seniors through Legal Services of California (1-800-822-0109 ) and in LASSEN COUNTY through Legal Services of Northern California (1-800-822-9687).
For couples with more complicated finances, an appointment with a lawyer, trained in “elder law” is advisable. A word of warning : “estate planning services” – coming from highly publicized, out-of-town outfits that offer seminars followed by individual consultations – are of doubtful value. For example, couples have been told that setting up a “trust” will protect them from a MediCal claim on their home. Not true. Far better to schedule an appointment with a local lawyer, trained in estate planning/elder law issues, who will be there later if issues arise.
What about alternatives to nursing home placement? For my next column I will discuss what is currently available and what to look for in the future, Happy retirement!
Nancy Lund is Chair of the Plumas County Commission on Aging. She is a former California State Senior Senator and served on the California State AARP Legislative Committee. Nedlund5@frontiernet.net. Plumas County Senior Adviser : 283-0809