Your Money or Your Wife

Wives may suffer when husbands refuse to buy long term care insurance.

It’s a common scenario: a couple meets with their financial advisor, who recommends they consider the purchase of long term care insurance. Many times, the husband refuses to consider the purchase, saying that either family history indicates care won’t be needed, or that it’s “too expensive,” or “we’ll take care of each other.” He may be in denial of the possible frailty that may accompany old age. Or he may be simply unaware of the possible consequences when long term care planning is avoided.

By deciding to wait to buy insurance they are deciding to self-insure. They are their own insurance company. Self-insuring means taking on the entire risk themselves instead of transferring some of the risk to an insurance company like they do with their: home, car, and health.

Most people overlook one source of money to pay for their premium, which will protect their nest egg, the return on investments.

What’s the frequent result for our hypothetical first couple? When the husband (who is usually older) needs long term care, his wife becomes the round-the-clock caregiver. There are no insurance funds at the ready to alleviate her burden. So, husbands often receive their long term care for free – in theory.

The true cost is borne by their wives, who may become ill when faced with the Herculean task of caregiving. Looking to their own future, these women are likely to be widows when they need long term care, which is why the vast majority of long term residents in nursing homes are female.(1) They simply didn’t have the “built in caregiver” their husband did.

Sometimes it’s the wife making the case to not insure, wanting to save money, thinking she can take care of him. Unless she has already been a caregiver for someone she will be in for a surprise. Often she will think that she can take care of him now but what about when they’re older, will she still be able to help him get in and out of the tub safely when she’s old and frail herself?

Many people are aware of the phenomena in which a spouse dies within the first year of becoming widowed; it’s often referred to as “dying of a broken heart.” But less obvious to society has been the similar impact of spouses who need long term care.

A Harvard study reported that an elderly person’s risk of dying rises when a spouse is hospitalized, especially if the spouse has a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s or other dementia, or chronic heart and pulmonary diseases. The stress involved with such a hospitalization raises the risk of the well spouse dying by up to 30%.(2) Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School comments, “There can be illnesses in your spouse that can be worse for your health than the death of your spouse.(3)”

Just as we plan for bigger retirement nest eggs to cover increased lifespans, we must also plan for the long term care that is often needed as we potentially face decades of chronic illness. Just as purchasing life insurance at the birth of a child demonstrates love of a spouse, the purchase of long term care insurance continues a legacy of financially taking care of a spouse for better or worse.

Over 24% of those applying for long term care insurance ages 60-69 are declined for health reasons. For those ages 70-79 the decline rate increases to 41%.(4) The sooner you insure the lower the premium and the less chance of being declined. You can start today by requesting a quote.

(1) US Census, National Nursing Home Survey (1999)
(2) The New England Journal of Medicine, Mortality after the Hospitalization of a Spouse (February 16, 2006)
(3) ”When one spouse ails, health risks rise for both” The Boston Globe (March 12, 2006)
(4) American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (2012)

About Partnership for Long Term Care

Promoting the idea of preventing long term care from financially devastating families by insuring for long term care with state Partnership qualified policies.
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