Timing is Everything with a Life Care Plan

If your parents are getting older, what will you do when their health declines. How will you know when to step in and help?

One of the best forms of help available today is Life Care Planning, an approach to elder law that does far more than just qualify older adults for public benefits to pay for nursing home care. Life Care Planning guides families through the entire elder care journey.

According to Stephanie Stephens, a care advisor at Senior Law Solutions, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Montgomery, Alabama, a Life Care Plan is most effective when planning is done early. “It’s important to know how to recognize the signs of trouble,” Stephanie explained.

What is the right time to get a Life Care Plan for an elderly loved one? Stephanie points to three tell-tale signs.

One is worsening memory problems. “Frequency is the key indicator,” Stephanie said. “If your elderly mother keeps forgetting where she put her keys or if she keeps forgetting what she said five minutes ago, you should be concerned. It could be age-induced memory loss, or the early stages of dementia.”

Frailty is another indicator. Many older adults find it difficult to do everything they once did without help. “If you observe your oved one becoming frail, you need to start thinking ahead,” Stephanie advised. “What's your action plan if they can't care for themselves?”

A medical event like a stroke or heart attack, or a diagnosis of a chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is another sign.

And finally, there’s the crisis situation, most often caused by an accident, a fall, a fire, or a medication mishap. “Many families come to us after something happens,” said Stephanie. “Dad has already fallen. He's broken his hip. He's in rehab, and they're going to discharge him because they've exhausted their money to pay for it.”

Families at that point are in a tough spot. They have more questions than answers. “If you wait to ask these questions until the crisis happens, your options are always more limited than they would be if you had planned ahead,” Stephanie said. “All you can do is react at that point, and everything will cost more.”

Many seniors put off planning because they feel like they’ll be giving up control when the opposite is actually true. Creating a Life Care Plan early in the process—immediately after a trigger event like increasing frailty, a diagnosis, a fall, or an accident gives the older adult far more control. “When you have a plan in place, you decide what happens to you,” Stephanie said. “If you wait, you have no say.”

Control isn’t the only reason to get a Life Care Plan at the first sign of trouble. Money plays a part, too.

“It’s no secret that health care is super expensive,” she noted. “The high cost of care creates all sorts of problems for families. If your loved one has too much money to qualify for Medicaid, you’ll end up paying out of pocket. If you don’t get the right advice, you could make costly mistakes that can haunt you for years.

With a Life Care Plan, you have a roadmap throughout the elder care journey. “It makes a huge difference,” Stephanie added. “When you have someone walking alongside you, helping you make decisions and advocating for your loved one, everything is easier.”