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Life Insurance Or Long-term Care: Make The Right Pick

"Life insurance becomes less important to you because your obligations have been met," Horner says. "The bigger risk is about needing long-term care at some point. Any assets you accumulate and any retirement you put away -- all those assets are at risk."

If you don't have long-term care insurance, you'll have to pay for your own care -- until you've exhausted your resources and qualify for Medicaid, the federal and state program for low-income families and elderly and disabled adults. Medicaid pays for long-term care at Medicaid-certified nursing homes.

Having enough long-term care insurance or enough savings to pay for care on your own gives you more choice in the type of treatment you can receive and where you want to receive it. Very wealthy people may not need to purchase long-term care insurance because they can afford to pay for their own care. Here's more about self-insuring for long-term care.

Those who lack adequate funds typically rely instead on family members and Medicaid. The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education says you probably can't afford long-term care insurance if your assets, other than a home, are less than $30,000 as a single person or $80,000 as a couple.

Overlapping needs

You should start thinking about purchasing long-term care insurance in your 50s, before you develop health problems that could make it difficult to qualify for coverage or the best rates, Horner says.

At this point, the need for life insurance and long-term care insurance may overlap, especially if your mortgage isn't paid off and the kids haven't graduated from college.

"There is a strong need for both life insurance and for long-term care insurance," Horner says. "It's a matter of balancing the premium you pay toward those two risks."

The cost for long-term care coverage is on the rise. The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance reports that long-term care policy prices have risen by as much as 17 percent since last year.

Eventually, you might drop life insurance all together, or maintain a small policy for final expenses. For folks of relatively modest means who no longer support dependents, long-term care is a more important risk to manage, says Damon Bates, vice president of MassMutual. Besides providing a financial backstop, long-term care insurance also reduces the emotional toll on loved ones when you need help with your day-to-day needs, Bates says.

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