Choosing an aged-care home for yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming.
Sadly, for many families it is a decision undertaken in haste, with adult children asked to make a shortlist of acceptable homes within a matter of days.
The government's My Aged Care website can help you identify homes in your area, with the accommodation and care available, costs, and results of quality and compliance audits.
But nothing beats visiting a home: be sure to make a time, and ask plenty of questions.
What do you need?
Care is obviously key, so make sure you have a good understanding of your loved one's care needs, and whether the home can provide the care needed.
If dementia or other behaviours need to be catered for, find out the practices of the home: some have diversional therapy programs, while others may primarily use sedation and restraints.
You need to understand exactly what care they can offer residents.
Find out how many care staff there are, their qualifications and the roster. Most homes are not required to keep a specific nurse-to-resident ratio, and most carers are not nurses (they are personal carers).
Aged care homes are often zoned into areas, so asking questions such as, "how many care staff are in this area?" can help you better understand how many staff there are.
You're likely to visit during the day, when the maximum number of staff are working, so be sure to ask about nights and weekends.
Ask too about the number of agency staff - this will give you an idea of how often the person caring for your loved one is likely to change.
What's the food like?
Unappetising food is the most common complaint of residents and their families.
Good food that appeals to your loved one is an important element for enjoying meal times and getting the nutrition seniors need.
Many homes will have a menu in the dining area: ask for a copy to see if they are meals your loved one would enjoy.
If necessary, check that special dietary requirements can be catered to.
You may also like to ask if meals are in a communal dining room or can be served in their room, whether there is a choice of meals, if wine or beer is available (there may be an extra cost) and whether meal times are fixed.
How do residents spend their time?
There is normally an activity menu; pick up a copy of that too.
The number and types of activities on offer vary greatly, and often revolve around the home's amenities - those with a piano will usually offer singing or dancing centred around it; homes with a cinema have movie nights; and there are normally other amenities, such as a library, day spa, hairdresser, gardens or walking paths.
Can I try before I buy?
A respite stay of a couple of weeks is the best way to find out if a home is the right fit.
This will give your loved one time to get to know the staff, other residents, activities and the food.
The other great thing about respite is that there is no accommodation payment or means-tested fee. Respite residents pay only the basic daily fee (currently $53 a day), plus any extra or additional service fees.
How much will it cost?
Some homes are very transparent about charges, providing prospective residents with a quote of all the costs, including any means-tested fees.
Others are transparent about their own facility charges, such as accommodation and additional service fees, but leave it up to prospective residents to work out how that fits in with the government's means testing arrangements.
In either case, it is worth seeking specialist financial advice so you know exactly how much it is going to cost, and the smartest way to pay for it, before you sign the contract.
Putting in some work to find suitable aged care facilities that suit your loved one's needs will pay great dividends.
Getting the right care at the right price and the right time can make all the difference to the whole family's wellbeing for many years.
Like choosing a home or a school, there is no single right choice; it's about finding the right choice for your loved one, and for you.
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Noel answers your money questions
I refer to your recent separate articles on Insurance bonds and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.
With insurance bonds you mention there is no assessable income to declare on any individual tax return each year.
With regards to the CSHC eligibility, would these bonds need to be included as part of deemed income from financial assets?
There is no assets test for the CSHC - the income test is based on the deeming rules for account-based pension, which are in pension mode, plus your adjusted taxable income.
As the accruing bonuses on insurance bonds do not count towards your adjustable taxable income these bonds should not affect your eligibility for the CSHC.
When a person dies are their bequests classed as gifting for surviving spouse?
The gifting rules only apply to people who give money away - they do not apply to bequests made by the deceased.
If a person receives a bequest their assets and deemed income will increase, and their Centrelink entitlements may be affected.
This is why it's important that retirees making wills take possible Centrelink implications on the death of a partner into account when deciding what money will go to beneficiaries.
The cut-off point for a single pensioner homeowner is $588,250 which is way below the cut-off point for a couple which is $884,000.
Question. Could you please explain to me how to work out the taxable and the tax free components of my super. I have contributed both concessional and non-concessional amounts to my SMSF.
In the case of SMSFs is the 17 per cent tax payable on the whole amount if it was received by a non dependant.
And, if not, at what age would one stop being able to adopt the withdrawal and re-contribution strategy and any conditions one would have to follow.
My Superannuation is in pension mode - ie. would I need to convert some to non-pension mode for the purpose of making non-concessional contributions, if I were to engage in this strategy.
The trustee of your fund, or the administrator of your fund if it's a self managed fund, is required to advise details of both components when the end of year financial statement is being completed.
The death tax of 17 per cent applies only to the taxable component of your superannuation that is left to a non-dependent - it does not apply to the non-taxable component.
You can make tax-free withdrawals from your superannuation fund after age 60 and make non-concessional contributions until age 67.
The government has proposed that the work test will be abolished for non-concessional contributions to age 75 from July next year.
As you cannot contribute to a pension fund, all contributions would need to go to a separate accumulation fund - this could be handled quite easily within the SMSF.
To take advantage of the recontribution strategy, you would need to convert some/all of the pension back to accumulation phase. Your SMSF administrator and/or financial adviser can assist you with this process.
Can you please explain to me the difference between a reverse mortgage, to which I am somewhat averse, and the Pension Loan Scheme.
I am 73 single and own as tenant in common a property which is currently valued at $550,000 in Tasmania. I am asset rich but cash-strapped. I have spoken to my solicitor who does not recommend reverse mortgages.
Reverse mortgages are secured by a mortgage or charge over your home and because no regular repayments of principal or interest are required, the loan will increase over time.
The Pension Loans Scheme is a form of reverse mortgage offered by Centrelink. The Centrelink PLS reverse mortgage currently offers regular monthly loan drawdowns up to 1.5 times the pension.
Other home equity retirement funding providers, such as Household Capital, provide more flexibility on how you draw your home equity as an income, lump sum for a wide variety of purposes such as home renovations, a new car or to help your children.
The whole point of any form of reverse mortgage is to help asset rich, cash strapped seniors draw on the savings in their home to fund retirement.
You can live in your home as long as you want (i.e. you have guaranteed occupancy), don't have to make regular repayments, and can improve your retirement funding. Since 2012 all commercial lenders (but not the PLS) have been re-regulated so now Australia has very strong consumer protections - it's important that you and your solicitor are fully aware of these.
An issue for you may be that the property is held as tenants in common - confirm upfront if this is acceptable to the lender.
- Noel Whittaker is the author of Retirement Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. firstname.lastname@example.org