Grandma Taught Me Just How Expensive Old Age Can Be

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Every one of us has had "aha! moments." Epiphanies. Days when we reach a crossroads and realize that we have to make some changes. For the next two months, we're sharing moments like those in our Life Stage Lessons series: Real stories straight from the financial lives of our DailyFinance contributors about times when they realized they were due for a serious course correction. So read on, learn from our mistakes, and get inspired to improve your relationship with your money.

Nobody wants to die, but if there was a perfect script for exiting this world, most people would agree that it should involve a long life, with a quick, painless passing that takes place before one suffers from any of the serious health issues that can be so common among the elderly. That was pretty much the way that my paternal grandfather shuffled off this mortal coil.

After a night out at his favorite Chinese restaurant with a group of good friends, he sat up in bed one morning, said "Owww," lapsed into a coma and was gone less than 24 hours later. He was 88 and had been in excellent health up until that day. An autopsy later determined that he died from a burst stomach aneurism –- not some bad kung pao beef –- much to the restaurant's relief. I think it is fair to say that he "won" at the game of life.

Grandmother's Costly Final Decade

His wife, my grandmother, took a different path during the last decade of her life, a path that showed me just how expensive long-term elder care can be -- and why I needed to plan for it.

Initially, she was able to take care of herself and lived alone in her house. But after a few years, it was clear that age was taking its toll, and her family decided it would be best for her to move to a senior community, where she could live independently in her own apartment, with access to a support staff if needed. The cost was $4,700 a month.

When her health began to decline, she moved to higher-level care, into something that could best be described as mini-suite, not unlike what you would find at a hotel, but on a floor that had full-time assistance, allowing her to live semi-independently. At this point, the price jumped to $5,500 a month.

When she was 93 and no longer able to live without full-time care, we moved her into the highest level of care, which was a room –- with a roommate –- on a medical floor with medical staff on duty 24/7. The price came in at almost $6,900 a month until she passed away 10 months later, shortly after her 94th birthday.

The Numbers Are Only Going Up

Her eight years of elder care cost close to a half a million dollars. Her monthly income from Social Security and a small pension covered less than a third of that, and the difference had to be made up from the proceeds of selling her home. And in the ten years since she passed, the cost of long-term care has only gone up.

According to Genworth Financial (GNW), one of the largest providers of long-term care insurance, the national average cost for a semi-private room in a nursing facility will run you $77,380 per year. Want to be in a private room? Then it goes up to $87,600. Over the next five years, these numbers are expected rise by 4 percent annually.

I hope that I meet my demise in a similar fashion to my grandfather -– though I'd prefer my final meal to be surf and turf -– or that I have family members willing and able to take care of me in my twilight years. But if not, I'll be OK, because after watching what happened with my grandmother, I got long-term care insurance to make sure I am financially prepared when the time –- hopefully a long time from now -– comes.

The Lund Loop is a free once-weekly curated slice of what I am writing, reading and hearing about in finance, tech, music, pop culture, humor and the good life. But not sports or knitting ... ever!
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