When a Loved One Enters a Nursing Home

Deciding to place a spouse or parent into a nursing home may be one of the most difficult decisions someone may ever be asked to make. That’s why it’s important for families to know their options and the rules that apply and to get the right help.

Facing this crisis, families are almost always under great stress. Sometimes families assume they’ve waited too long and now it’s too late to get help. The most important advice they can get is: Even if no advance planning has been done, families can save money and get better nursing home care if they act now.

At times like these it is important to pause, take a deep breath and understand that there are important things that need to…and can be…done. The most important, basic questions that people need to answer are:

Getting expert advice at this time of need is critical. Too many people worry about things they shouldn’t and take the wrong steps because they got bad information from well-meaning neighbors or relatives. The first step to success is to get the right information from someone that knows. The next step is to understand what needs to be done, and when.

Everyone’s situation is different, but here is basic information every family needs to know when facing a nursing home crisis:

  1. Selecting the right nursing home and getting good care requires a systematic approach. Research online, ask for recommendations and shop around. Personally visit each nursing home.
  2. Once you find the right nursing home, be up front with the nursing home’s admissions director, and be prepared to tell them all about your situation including your finances.
  3. Generally the nursing home’s bills will be paid either through Medicare (for a short period of time at best), Medicaid, or you. Special protections are available under the rules that apply to everyone…but you can lose out if you don’t know about them.
  4. For a single person, the right planning steps usually can preserve nearly half of his or her assets that would otherwise be spent on nursing home care.
  5. For a married couple, the spouse staying at home (the “community spouse”) can generally protect nearly all of the couple’s assets…not just one-half as some might tell them…with the right actions. There are many protections in the rules that the community spouse needs to know about so that they are not impoverished themselves. This may involve buying the right type of annuity at the right time, or deeding the house over to the community spouse, or taking other actions that will help preserve assets so that the community spouse doesn’t need to worry about losing the home and spending his or her last dime.
  6. There are important federal and state protections relating to nursing home care plans, and how nursing homes transfer and discharge residents. Knowing these rules can help ensure that the resident gets better care at the nursing home.

At this time of need, families should consult an Elder Law Attorney with experience helping many other families in their situation. Likely there are important actions they can take, and families can stop worrying unnecessarily.