My father said that he would consider a long-term care policy if he could find one that offered coverage for when he could no longer mix a martini.
In recent months, I have had a number of people ask for my advice on this relatively new invention of the financial services industry. I must confess, there is no clear-cut answer when it comes to long-term care insurance.
A typical plan pays $150 a day for three years for when you can no longer perform aspects of daily living.
A typical annual premium for someone buying a policy at age 55 would be about $2,000. The same policy purchased by someone age 70 would cost about $4,000.
It is insurance, so don't start by trying to second-guess your own odds of needing the benefit and comparing them to what the industry's statistics indicate will be your chance of collecting.
As one person in a huge pool of insured people, the odds don't really apply to you. If you are unlucky enough to have a stroke the day after you pay the first premium, there's a 100 percent chance that you will be using the benefit.
If you die in a car crash at age 95, you may never enjoy the benefit. Let's not lose sight of how insurance works.
The car crash victim made possible what could have been a $200,000 stream of payments to the stroke victim -- someone who paid only one month's premium of $2,000.
Next, when you start paying premiums at, for example, age 50 for a benefit that may not transpire until age 80, there is an opportunity cost of money to consider.
A premium amount of $2,000 a year invested elsewhere for 30 years at an 8 percent annual return would otherwise have accumulated to almost a quarter of a million dollars.
This is money that probably will be there if you are fortunate enough to live that long.
Long-term care premiums, on the other hand, are gone forever once you put the check in the mail each year.
Another basic rule of insurance is that it never makes sense to insure something you can afford to pay for yourself. When you insure something that you could have afforded to cover, you are trading dollars with an insurance company and paying for their administrative overhead -- not to mention profit and commissions.
Insuring small everyday claims is almost sure to be a losing proposition, like gambling at a casino on a regular basis. Self-insurance is a valuable financial tool that often gets ignored in the heat of a sales presentation.
The effective purchase of long-term care insurance is a long-term financial commitment. I'm sure that some percentage of policyholders drop their policies along the way and walk away from the premiums they have paid.
Financial circumstances change, health conditions become apparent, a house is sold or an inheritance appears -- all of which can create self-insurance opportunities that may not have existed when the policy was purchased.
In general, the need for these policies includes a range that extends from everyone with sufficient assets to disqualify them for Medicaid to those with enough in assets to predictably self-insure.
For those in the middle, it can be a broader range of issues such as those cited above that dictate when a long-term care policy should be an arrow in the quiver.
There is a vast array of plan features and company quality to consider when purchasing one of these plans. An excellent book on the subject, and the only one of which I am aware, is local expert Bill Upson's treatise titled, "Long Term Care -- Alternatives and Solutions."
A decision involving this long-term financial commitment should be done only with professional help from someone who specializes in the field.