Though retirement is an exciting milestone, it can be a major source of uncertainty. Living on a fixed income can introduce financial challenges, while declining health can cause not just money-related upheaval, but logistical trials as well.

It's not surprising, then, that 50% of older Americans worry about becoming a burden to their families as they age, according to a recently published Nationwide survey. If you share similar concerns, here are a few critical steps to take.

1. Have open discussions in advance

You need a plan for how you'll receive care should you require it to function as you get older. To this end, it helps to have honest conversations with loved ones in advance. Even if you have family members who live close by, you can't assume that they'll be willing to step up and offer the type of in-home support you might eventually need. Setting proper expectations can help you and your loved ones handle that transition once it comes to be.

Older man wearing white shirt with serious expression in outdoor setting


2. Buy long-term care insurance

If you don't have family members who are able or willing to become caregivers for you when you're older, then you'll need to outsource that task. Unfortunately, the costs involved could prove astronomical.

Here's what annual long-term care costs look like today, according to Genworth's 2019 Cost of Care Survey:

  • $52,624 for a home health aide.
  • $48,612 for an assisted living facility.
  • $90,155 for a shared room in a nursing home.
  • $102,200 for a private room in a nursing home.

It's for this reason that long-term care insurance can serve as a lifeline when you're older. But if you wait too long to apply, you'll risk getting stuck with prohibitively expensive premiums, or getting denied altogether.

The best time to apply for a long-term care policy is during your early to-mid-50s. If you're relatively healthy at that point, you'll likely manage to not only get approved, but also snag a reasonable rate on your premiums.

3. Boost your retirement savings

Even with long-term care insurance, it pays to have extra money on hand to cover some of the expenses that aging might bring about. It's a good idea to boost your retirement savings as much as possible, and you can do so by taking advantage of catch-up contributions in your IRA or 401(k). Currently, workers 50 and older can set aside up to $7,000 a year in the former, and $25,000 a year in the latter. These limits are $1,000 and $6,000 higher, respectively, than the limits assigned to workers under the age of 50.

Here's how maxing out a retirement plan later in life might help you: If you're 60 years old with the intent of retiring at 67, maxing out an IRA for seven years will give you an additional $53,600 to work with in retirement, assuming your investments generate a conservative average annual 3% return during that time. Do the same for a 401(k), and you'll be sitting on an additional $191,600, assuming that same investment window and return.

If you're worried about burdening loved ones as you age, you're in good company. But if you make an effort to secure long-term care insurance and pad your savings, you'll be less reliant on family to take on the demands of caregiving.