If you're like most Baby Boomers, you're used to being in control. When situations turn sour, you assess the situation and take action. Laid off from your job? You take the bull by the horns and find another one - or maybe even start your own business. Child's grades dropping? You meet with his teachers and maybe hire a tutor.So it's more than difficult for most Boomers to imagine a day when they may not control their destiny. That day happens when they experience a dramatic decline in health, and they run short of money to pay for the care that they desire.

That's when government programs or charity - the kindness of strangers - comes in. Friends and family can sometimes intervene, though there are usually limits to their ability to help. After all, they have jobs, children and financial obligations of their own. The friend or relative who visits in the hospital, and may even open her house to you for a short-term stay, is unlikely to sign up to help when the need for care stretches for years on the horizon.

No one should be under the illusion that money or long-term care insurance solve all the problems of long-term care.

But they solve many of them.

Cash buys options. Cash buys choice and opens doors. Having cash to back up your wishes means that if you don't like the home-care person who is coming to your house, you can replace them. It means that if you would like to move to the nice new assisted-living facility in your town, you have that option (most assisted-living facilities are private-pay only). It means that if you don't like the nursing home that you are living in, any other nursing home would be glad to have you. And, by the way, if you want a private room in the nursing home, you had better be able to pay for your room with cash or long-term care insurance.

There is a severe shortage of personal care attendants and home health aides nationwide. The pay is low, and the work is demanding. Turnover is rampant, as are late-shows and no-shows. It is a small step above the security guard job, the parking lot attendant job and the convenience store cashier job. It is an entry-level job for those in our society who are looking to make a better life. Few people make this job their career.

Those people who need care, and have either put aside cash or purchased long-term care insurance to pay for care, have a huge advantage: They can recruit the best, brightest and most dedicated. They can use private placement services and private geriatric care managers, and they can pay higher hourly rates than the publicly funded employers. Money talks!

The Baby Boomers will begin turning age 65 in 2011. That means that they are age 60 now. It's time for them to look into long-term care insurance now. As Len Fishman, chief executive and president of Hebrew SeniorLife, wrote in an editorial titled "Getting real about getting old:" "The clock is really ticking. It's time for Boomers to look in the mirror, note that Woodstock happened 37 years ago, get real, and apply their energy to getting aging in America right."

When it comes to long-term care planning, the members of the Baby Boom generation need to ask themselves: Do I want to rely on the kindness of strangers, or do I want to have a plan with money to back it up?

Michael FitzPatrick, CLTC, is a co-founder of the Parsippany, N.J.-based LTC Partnership LLC, and speaks frequently on long-term care plans. Reach him at (973) 394-0053 or mbfitzpatrick@theltcpartnership.com.

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