More than 1 million people nationwide live in assisted living facilities, according to government estimates. There's no commonly accepted definition for these facilities, but they all offer some level of assistance to people who don't need full-time attention but who may need help with personal care, taking medications or other concerns.
If you are considering an assisted living arrangement for yourself or a loved one, the California Society of CPAs (www.calcpa.org) offers this advice on issues to address.
Consider Your Options
Will your loved one be happier aging in this place? Assisted living is a good choice for many people who can no longer manage on their own, but it's not the only one. It may be possible, for example, to arrange for home health care for someone who's not comfortable with the idea of living in a facility or who doesn't want to move from their long-term residence.
Staying in their own home may be isolating, however, for someone who has lost some or all of their mobility. That's why it's important to take into account many factors-including financial, physical, mental and emotional-before making a decision.
Know What You're Getting
There are no national regulations for assisted-living facilities, which means that licensing and standards may vary from state to state. Even within one state, there may be different levels of licensing or regulation for various kinds of facilities.
When checking out the quality of a specific facility, you will want to ensure that it meets all applicable standards. To make that determination, you may want to understand which local or state regulations govern each facility you consider.
Get Started Early
It's a good idea to begin considering your options well in advance so you don't have to make a hurried decision in the future. Start out by visiting facilities. When you arrive, take note.
Does it seem like a pleasant place to live? Is it not only clean and attractive but also easy to get around if mobility is or could become a problem? Do the residents seem happy and well cared for? Are there organized activities and events? Do appropriate safety measures protect residents in their kitchens, bathrooms and throughout the building? These are some of the many questions you should ask.
You may also want to review the facility's contract with an elder care attorney and with your CPA to better understand the legal and financial issues involved.
Find Out About Fees
The national average monthly base cost for an assisted living facility was $3,477, according to a recent study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, up 5.6 percent in the last year. It's obvious that different facilities will have different base costs, but be aware that each one may also add on a variety of extra charges. There may be added fees for, say, administering medications, housekeeping or certain activities.
You'll also want to find out whether a deposit is required and how much notice is needed when moving to a new facility or another level of care. Ask, too, about how hospitalization costs are handled. These are just a few of the financial considerations you'll want to ask about before you sign a contract.
Know Where to Turn for Help
The Older Americans Act requires each state to have an ombudsman program to resolve complaints about the long-term care system and advocate for enhancements to it. If you have a complaint about or problem with a facility, your state long-term care ombudsman may be able to help. The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center can provide more information.
Consult Your CPA
Your CPA has the expertise to advise you on a wide range of financial questions. No matter what type of financial issue your family is facing, your local CPA can help.
[Copyright 2012 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The Money Management columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the California Society of CPAs as part of the profession's nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.To listen to podcasts with more financial tips, go to http://www.calcpa.org/Content/community/financialempowerment.aspx.]