The Dangerous and Silly Mistake Many Couples Make When Considering Long Term Care Planning

Ask any long-married couple what plans they have for long term care, and you’ll probably hear that they imagine being cared for by their spouse, or being the caregiver for their spouse.
That doesn’t change the glaring reality: odds are one of them will predecease the other, leaving the survivor without a caregiver.

This fact – that one spouse is at some point going to be alone – is an important one when considering long term care. It’s easy to overlook because our brains are not designed to favor long-term planning of any sort, preferring immediate gratification and handling clear and present dangers. Therefore, when a couple considers long term care, they imagine being cared for by their spouse, or being the caregiver for their spouse. It’s almost unimaginable to consider a world (or more accurately, a time in life) when the spouse isn’t around, and the surviving spouse is on his or her own.

But, in the interest of smart life planning, let’s go there. It’s said that there’s a phrase you’ll never here whispered at a funeral: “He had much too much life insurance.” A similar statement can be made relative to the surviving spouse contemplating her long term care insurance. Now on her own, will she regret the long term care insurance policy purchased to pay for her extended care needs? Unlikely. But what if she never purchased a policy, and is facing a future without her spouse? When she reflects on the decision to not purchase long term care insurance years earlier we can imagine how she may likely feel regret.

As Joan Didion explained in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” reality takes time to penetrate awareness. In the book she recounts not only losing her husband of almost-40 years to a sudden heart attack, but also her adult daughter’s series of life-threatening medical issues. Didion described the class of very successful people who believe “absolutely in their own management skills,” knowing the right telephone numbers to call, the right doctor, etc. Like the spouse who never considered being alone, as The New York Times wrote in its book review “everyone alive, all of us, are at best temporary kings.”

One of the difficulties with considering the purchase of long term care insurance is that it requires us to not only part with money but to consider a future that may be so different from the one we prefer to imagine. Spouses may predecease us. Our health may erode. Who wants to dwell on those thoughts for even a moment?

Let’s instead take action based on a different sentiment: hope for the best and plan for the worst. That’s what wise, prudent and financially successful people have always done.