Your Money or Your Wife
By Farhana Sahibzada
Woodland Hills , CA
It’s a common scenario: a couple meets with their financial advisor, who recommends they consider the purchase of long-term care insurance. Many times, the husband refuses to consider the purchase, saying that either the family history indicates care won’t be needed, or that it’s “too expensive,” or “we’ll take care of each other.” He may be in denial of the possible frailty that may accompany old age. Or he may be simply unaware of the possible consequences when long-term care planning is avoided.
What’s the frequent result for our hypothetical couple? When the husband (who is usually older) needs long-term care, his wife becomes the round-the-clock caregiver. There are no insurance funds at the ready to alleviate her burden. So, husbands often receive their long-term care for free – in theory. The true cost is borne by their wives, who may become ill when faced with the Herculean task of caregiving. Looking to their own future, these women are likely to be widows when they need long-term care, which is why the vast majority of long-term residents in nursing homes are female. 1 They simply didn’t have the “built in caregiver” their husband did.
Many people are aware of the phenomena in which a spouse dies within the first year of becoming widowed; it’s often referred to as “dying of a broken heart.” But less obvious to society has been the similar impact of spouses who need long-term care.
A Harvard study reported that an elderly person’s risk of dying rises when a spouse is hospitalized, especially if the spouse has a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s or other dementia, or chronic heart and pulmonary diseases. The stress involved with such a hospitalization raises the risk of the well spouse dying by up to 30%. 2 Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School comments, “There can be illnesses in your spouse that can be worse for your health than the death of your spouse. 3"
Just as we plan for bigger retirement nest eggs to cover increased lifespans, we must also plan for the long-term care that is often needed as we potentially face decades of chronic illness. Just as purchasing life insurance at the birth of a child demonstrates love of a spouse, the purchase of long-term care insurance continues a legacy of financially taking care of a spouse for better or worse.
1 US Census, National Nursing Home Survey (NNHS), conducted 1999,
2 The New England Journal of Medicine, Mortality after the Hospitalization of a Spouse, published
February 16, 2006
3 ”When one spouse ails, health risks rise for both” The Boston Globe, March 12, 2006