TORONTO — COVID-19’s devastating impact on seniors in the months since the virus became a global menace has many Canadians wondering what can be done to protect their aging loved ones.
Experts say that too often, people fail to anticipate the long-term needs of aging and are unaware of the various forms of government assistance available to them.
A good way to start the planning process is to learn about the multitude of government programs and tax credits that can reduce the financial burdens for seniors and their families, says Robyn Thompson, president of Castlemark Wealth Management in Toronto.
“Take free money where you can,” Thompson says. “Make use of all the available resources. And then look to your investments and your portfolio after that.”
For example, Canada Revenue Agency lists 134 different types of medical expenses that are eligible to reduce taxable income.
“There have (also) been some pretty interesting government initiatives that have come out to try to help seniors and help them through this pandemic,” Thompson says.
But even without an event like the pandemic, Thompson says families should be proactive about making adjustments now after determining what their seniors may need in future.
For example, if the senior is likely to live in their own home or their child’s home, Thompson suggests having a budget to install ramps, stair lifts or an accessible bathroom.
In that case, she says, a parent’s life insurance policy could eventually be used to compensate a child who did paid for that type of expense.
Alternatively, it may be necessary to have the funds available for the senior to move into a retirement home or long-term care facility that provides more support services.
Isobel Mackenzie, the B.C. government’s seniors advocate, says each province provides some sort of subsidy for seniors in nursing homes or long-term care facility.
These types of facilities provide extensive medical support and the basics of living for people who may be physically or mentally unable to take care of themselves.
But details of who qualifies for subsidies vary by province, she adds.
“In B.C., and most provinces, it’s based on your income. Or there’s a flat fee and then there’s a discount if you have low income,” Mackenzie says.
“You do pay something towards it but everybody can afford it. It’s designed that way.”
Some provinces, but not all, provide some support for assisted living or retirement home living, which provide less medical intervention than long-term care.
“So, for example, Ontario doesn’t give any financial support for that. Alberta gives quite a bit of support. And B.C. gives some support,” Mackenzie says.
Similarly, she says, only some provinces provide funding for personal support workers for seniors who have medical or mobility needs but still live at home.
“The degree to which it’s available varies from province to province and the degree to which people have to pay for it varies from province to province,” Mackenzie says.
Ontario, for example, pays the cost of at-home visits by personal support workers.
Colin Marcus, a financial planner at YourLife Financial in Toronto, says some of his clients in their 80s now are still living independently but they’ve got the funds to make choices about where they can go if the need arises.
Often they want to avoid becoming a burden on their kids, Marcus says.
“Nobody wants to do that, either financially or emotionally or physically.”
David Paddon, The Canadian Press