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Estate planning also includes preparing for life before death

When we talk about estate planning, the focus is often on how your assets and property will be distributed after you die. But Michigan residents should realize that it's also important to consider your needs as you become elderly or in need of significant -- and costly -- health care.

Many of us have been in a situation in which we're forced to make decisions on behalf of a parent or other relative who can no longer live independently and may need long-term care. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers when it comes to paying for this care, which tends to be astronomically expensive. The costs of long-term care are also highly unpredictable because it's impossible to know how long you or a family member will live after retirement, possibly with ongoing and increasing medical issues.

The topic of long-term care has even stymied lawmakers in Washington, who can't seem to come to a decision on the best way for the government to assist Americans with these costs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 10 million people require some form of long-term care, and half of those are age 65 and older. Most people can't afford the high cost of skilled nursing, at least not long-term. Until congressional leaders come up with a solid plan for helping people pay for their long-term care, the only options appear to be Medicare and Medicaid, which can't cover all of the costs.

At least for now, this means that people planning for the end of their lives may want to dedicate more of their assets to their own long-term care before planning to will that money to an heir. Few people care to imagine themselves living in a nursing home or requiring similar care, but it would be wise to plan for unexpected medical costs as a part of an estate plan.

Source: ModernHealthcare.com, "Long-term tab," Jessica Zigmond, March 9, 2013

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