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A helping hand through the aged care maze

Here's the harrowing, high-stakes story of how Rodney Horin got into the residential aged care financial advice business.

After his father died, Mr Horin was paying almost $4,000 a week, or $200,000 a year, for at-home care for his aged mother.

There were often midnight dashes to her house and ambulance trips to hospital as her health faded.

After one hospital visit, Mr Horin was told by social service authorities his mum could not return home, that he must find residential care for her.

He inspected about eight aged care homes, becoming demoralised by the smell of urine, the mountains of fees and paperwork, but he found one place that was clean, new, largely empty, and right for his mum.

He tried to book her in for a six-week respite trial, but he hit a brick wall because his mother was regarded as needing high care, and short-term stays were only available for low care residents.

"If I want to buy a car, they'll let me test drive it, if I want to go and buy a new suit for work, they'll let me try the jacket and pants on, but you expect us to pay (up to) $800,000 from day one for a bond to get in without a trial period - is that what you're saying," he asked.

Yes.

Mr Horin arranged a meeting with the chief executive of the aged care company running the residence. They engaged in a bartering process he likens to buying oranges at Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market.

He managed to get his mum in on a 60-day trial, but it came at a cost. He would be charged what is known as an unfunded rate of $275 a day ($100,000 annualised).

Mr Horin asked around and searched online for some specialist aged care financial advice, but all he found was general planners selling funds and insurance.

He eventually crossed paths with financial advisor Noel Carter, who came into his office, got on the phone to the aged care centre and, within 10 minutes, saved him $250,000.

Mr Carter got $150,000 taken off the bond and had his mother's contract structured for further big savings.

With aged care providers not licensed to give financial advice, it was all a matter of asking the right questions.

That's how Mr Horin got into the residential aged care financial advice business and how Mr Carter became a specialist consultant with his company, Joseph Palmer and Sons.

Mr Horin says he been inundated since telling clients his company now offered residential aged care financial advice.

"I've never worked in an area where there is such high client satisfaction," he says.

"They all come in with the same level of confusion that I had. They're all waving this Centrelink income government thing (a 32-page, 144-question form), saying; `what's this all about'?

"I want to give back to the community what I have been through because I was sure beyond any shadow of a doubt there must be tens of thousands of people unnecessarily overpaying to get into aged care and the same amount of people unnecessarily paying on a monthly basis when you get your monthly invoices."

His company charges a minimum $1,500 fee, working at about $300 an hour, with the average invoice between $1,500 to $3,500.

He says his advice can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, structure the bond payment to allow payments so the family can keep its home and the elderly parent can retain his or her pension.

"If your parents live a long healthy life into their 90s and they go to bed one night and don't wake up the next morning, it's a blessing," Mr Horin says.

"But if you've got to go down this route, you don't know what your lot in life is, you don't have any reason to prepare for it, it's often caused by a trigger event, they go to hospital and can't go home, so it happens very traumatically, families are just not prepared for it.

"Then they go and look around and they hear fees of up to a million for a bond and they hear a daily fee and they hear an extra fee and they hear a Centrelink fee ... it is mind boggling, the cost of aged care."

He says the situation has been worsened by reforms that came in on July 1.

They mainly pertain to the distinction between low and high care, up-front costs, daily fees and the assessment of home values.

MR HORIN'S FOUR KEY WAYS TO CUT AGED CARE COSTS

1. Negotiate on the refundable accommodation deposit (RAD) - formerly called the bond.

2. Reduce the Centrelink fee. It's means tested, taking into account income and assets.

3. Examine what you get for the extra services fee. It can be up to $100 a day and is supposed to give residents access to such people as hairdressers and podiatrists.

4. Protected Pension Entitlements. If the family home is sold to pay the RAD, proceeds from the sale can be counted as an asset. Any leftover cash after paying the RAD can result in the aged pension being reduced or lost.