Should I buy a long-term care policy?

The question of whether to buy is ultimately a question about your financial security. Imagining yourself so frail and vulnerable that you need to live in an institution or rely on a stranger's help is deeply unsettling. If you let an insurance agent frame the decision in those terms, you'll buy a policy in five seconds.

Instead of freaking out, focus on the potential financial need. When calculating how much you'll need to save for retirement, you may want to add in enough to pay for several months of long-term care. That way you'll have some assets standing between yourself and Medicaid - and therefore more options. And the more you save, the easier it will be to pay for long-term care insurance if you want it when you are older.

If you are already in retirement or close to it, ask yourself whether you have enough assets. If you are scraping by, you may be so pinched you'll have to drop a long-term-care policy before you need to use it.

Still feeling confused? A good fee-only financial planner - one who charges by the hour for advice - can help you think through this decision and determine whether buying a policy is a good idea for you. To find one near you, visit the Web site of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.