When Long-Term-Care Policies Kick In

Most policies pay when you need help with two of six activities of daily living or you are cognitively impaired. And most have a waiting period of 60 or 90 days.

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When does a long-term-care insurance policy start to pay out? What are the benefit triggers, and how long do I have to wait before the benefits kick in?


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Most long-term-care insurance policies require two kinds of benefit triggers before they’ll pay – either you need help with two out of six activities of living (which generally include bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, transferring and continence) or you have severe cognitive impairment. Your doctor usually needs to fill out a form with the details, and the insurer may ask for additional medical records or may require a cognitive screening to verify impairment, says Mike Ashley, owner of Senior Benefits Consultants, in Prairie Village, Kan.

Most long-term-care policies then have a 60- or 90-day waiting period before benefits kick in, or another time period you chose when you bought the policy (called the “elimination period”). In most cases, the same waiting period applies to any type of care you receive, whether it’s in your home, an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. However, some policies, such as many Genworth policies, have a zero-day waiting period for home care but a 60- or 90-day waiting period for all other types of care.

How the waiting period is calculated can vary and is an important feature to consider when choosing a policy. If your policy has a “calendar day” elimination period, you count each day after the benefit trigger is met. In that case, a policy with a 90-day waiting period could start to pay out within about three months after you meet the trigger criteria. But a policy with a “service day” waiting period counts only the days you receive care. If you need care three days a week, it could take more than seven months to reach the 90-day waiting period.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.