The issue of costs is one that often arises for families considering senior housing options for an aging loved one. Clearly, affordability is a top concern for many families, with the costs of assisted living and other types of senior housing on the rise. But how much should cost play into the decision-making process?

Our perspective at SeniorHomes.com is that cost should be considered weighed against the quality of services offered. A senior living community that charges higher fees, for instance, might be well worth those added costs for additional services, amenities, and top-notch staff that make the experience one of the best available in senior living. On the other hand, a more affordable community could very well accommodate the needs of your loved one, as well. Cost shouldn't be the primary consideration when choosing senior living options--quality of life should be the top priority. While costs are not a criteria that we ask reviewers to rate senior living communities on in our Best Senior Living Awards, complaints related to non-refundable fees and similar cases will likely be revealed in written feedback provided by consumers.

Problems arise when cost issues become more complex. A recent article appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle calls attention to the problem of hidden fees and non-refundable costs that some communities require. When a loved one passes on before ever moving into a community, and the family loses thousands of dollars that were never utilized, it's not a pleasant experience. Minnesota is one state that's taking action against such policies, investigating consumer complaints related to confusing, unfair and even illegal fees imposed by senior living communities in the state.

Such costs are often confusing for consumers, who are overwhelmed with guilt and other emotions throughout the process of choosing a senior community for an aging loved one. Further complicating matters is that fees aren't always called the same thing across facilities, vary significantly in the amounts charged, as well as on the policies for refunds.

In response to a few public cases in which fees were disputed and refunds denied, when loved ones have passed away before ever utilizing a facility's services, some providers are making big efforts to be more transparent in communications. If you're in the process of choosing a senior living community for yourself or a loved one, here are a few key factors to keep in mind and questions to ask when reviewing contracts and agreements:

  • What fees are required upfront to reserve your space at the facility?
  • What payment options are accepted? Are fees entirely private pay, or does the facility accept other forms of payment, such as long-term care insurance or Medicaid?
  • What are the monthly fees? Does the facility offer a detailed breakdown of what is included with the monthly fee?
  • Is any portion of the upfront fee non-refundable?
  • Under what circumstances may the deposit be refunded?
  • Is there a notice required before moving out of the facility? What happens in the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as hospitalization or death?
While costs shouldn't be your primary concern when choosing a senior living community for your loved one, it's important to understand the specifics of the financial agreements you're entering into. Most facilities will be upfront about costs and other financial concerns when asked, if the specifics aren't already covered in written documentation. At the end of the day, choosing the right facility for your loved one that offers a pleasant, homelike environment with a great quality of life will be well worth the financial costs.

Image by Scott Jacob via Flickr