The Complete Idiot's Guide to Long-Term Care Planning

Marilee Driscoll, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Long-Term Care Planning. (Alpha Books, Indianapolis, IN: 2003). 340 pages.

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If you're not an idiot, trying to understand our country's baffling patchwork of payment sources for long-term care will make you feel like one. To the rescue comes this book, which makes a difficult subject highly understandable and readable--without "dumbing" it down.

Author Marilee Driscoll, a speaker and long-term care expert, begins by explaining why everyone should consider long-term care planning. She then reviews the many ways to pay for long-term care, including the tradeoffs and pitfalls of Medicaid planning; how annuities, reverse mortgages and life insurance can be useful; the realities of paying for care oneself; and how much Veterans' benefits and Medicare will cover.

A good third of the book, however, is devoted to long-term care insurancewhat it costs and covers, who needs it, and how to design a policy and choose an agent. Many people harbor the fantasy that by the time they require long-term care, the government will have set up a system of coverage for everyone. Ms. Driscoll doesn't see this happening. Instead, she says the government is increasingly using tax breaks to promote the purchase of insurance.

Guides like this one are not so much for complete idiots as for people who are rendered unconscious by dry explanations of governmental rules and insurance clauses. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Long-Term Care Planning avoids this pitfall admirably. The pages are broken up by many headers, boxes and sidebars, and Driscoll writes in a folksy, conversational style. For example, to illustrate a point about the flexibility of life insurance, she recounts a classic skit from Saturday Night Live. She also includes many anecdotes from her own experience, which is a reminder that this book was written by a real person, not a committee.

On the downside, while the book's appendix includes the ElderLawAnswers Web site, our name is listed incorrectly ("Elder Answers") and the description fails to note that we are a leading source for finding qualified elder law attorneys. Also, early on in the book Ms. Driscoll states that Medicaid never pays for unlicensed or family caregivers. This is not true in all states; a number of states have obtained waivers from federal Medicaid rules making it possible to get reimbursement for family caregivers.

But these small missteps shouldn't dissuade anyone from exploring this highly readable yet comprehensive resource on how to plan for a crisis that could derail even the best-laid retirement plans.