As estate planning attorneys, we know it can be very overwhelming for family members to care for their aging parents or spouse. Between dealing with health issues, grappling with medical insurance and complex financial concerns, it’s understandable that so many people struggle with finding the appropriate elder care. Luckily, there are several federal programs that have been developed to support family caregivers, and a recently published article on the AARP website details the government assistance options that are currently available.
Before researching these programs, we recommend starting a file with useful documents about your parent or spouse’s finances, work history, military background, and overall health. This information will be helpful for you to determine which federal programs you may be able to receive support from. The National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp program is also another great resource that will ask a few simple questions to help you find appropriate benefits.
Most senior citizens aged 65 or older already have or qualify for health coverage through Medicare, so it’s important for caregivers to understand how Medicare works. The Medicare website clarifies everything, from hospital stays to prescription drugs and medical insurance plans. You’ll also find sections that explain billing terms, which procedures are covered, finding a caregiver and financial support services, and information on how to care for someone with a disability or chronic condition.
Medicaid is another health care program for low-income Americans and is also the nation’s largest payer of nursing homes and independent living services. It is funded by both the federal government and states, so seniors must meet certain eligibility criteria in their state to be entitled to Medicaid benefits. If they do, several states have participant-directed care programs that allow family members to be paid as family caregivers.
If your parent has limited resources and is 65 or older or blind or disabled, they may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income, as well as Extra Help with prescription drug costs through Social Security. If you are a caregiver near retirement age, you may also consider claiming Social Security benefits. However, our estate planning attorneys suggest that you consider speaking to a financial professional before deciding to do so. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging explains, deciding when to claim benefits is “the most important financial decision [most Americans] will ever make.”
The Department of Veteran Affairs also offers information on several veterans benefits and assistance programs to help low-income veterans and family caregivers. One such program, entitled Aid and Attendance, pays qualifying veterans and surviving spouses who need help with daily living activities like eating, dressing, and bathing. Veteran’s benefits planning services are also available through the Veteran-Directed Care program and give veterans of all ages the power to hire family members as caregivers and enjoy an at-home long-term care plan.
Although in many cases these federal assistance programs do not provide financial aid, they offer a valuable resource for elderly Americans and their caregivers to connect to the information and services that can provide seniors with a higher quality of life.