According to a report conducted by the AARP Public Policy Institute, approximately 40 million family caregivers provided 37 billion hours of unpaid care in 2013. Caregivers’ unpaid contributions had a staggering estimated economic value of $470 billion. Unfortunately, this care is commonly provided at a huge personal cost to caregivers, including lost wages and benefits. Many spend thousands of dollars out of pocket each year on their care recipients, often to the detriment of their own financial security and retirement savings.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the number one question asked in the AgingCare.com Caregiver Forum is, “How do I get paid for caregiving?”

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. The vast majority of family caregivers do not get paid to care for an elderly loved one. However, there are a few options available that may allow a family member to receive payment in exchange for the services they provide.

Personal Care Agreements

Not all care recipients will be amenable to this arrangement, but it is possible for aging parents to use their own funds to pay a family member (usually an adult child) for the care they provide. It is important to work with an elder law attorney to complete a formal personal care agreement or caregiving contract detailing this arrangement before it begins. The document should outline the services to be provided as well as the payment to be received. Keep in mind that a personal care agreement cannot be created for retroactive payment for past care.

To learn more about how personal care agreements work and how to draft one, read Personal Care Agreements: A Must for Caregiver Compensation and Medicaid Planning.

Sources of Government Assistance for Caregivers

Public programs and assistance vary widely by state and individual circumstances. The resources listed below may help caregivers receive compensation for their services or at least find some programs and assistance that can help offset the costs of providing care for an ill or aging loved one.

Veterans Benefits

While there are many different benefits available to veterans and their family members, the veterans pension was specifically established to help low-income vets with limited assets. There are three tiers of financial assistance:

  • Level 1: Basic pension for those with the lowest income and assets.
  • Level 2: Housebound pension for disabled individuals with low income and limited assets who cannot leave their home without great difficulty or at all.
  • Level 3: Aid and Attendance (A&A) pension for those with low income and limited assets who require the help of another person to perform activities of daily living (ADLs).

The tax-free pension amounts are based on each veteran’s income and assets, and the funds can be used however the veteran sees fit. The housebound and A&A pensions are more sizeable and meant to offset the cost of increased care that eligible veterans require. Keep in mind that surviving spouses of eligible veterans may also qualify for this monetary benefit.

For more information on veterans pensions and other VA benefits, visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website or download a digital copy of our free Veterans Benefits Guide.

Medicaid Cash and Counseling Programs

Individuals with low income and few assets other than their home may be eligible for health care coverage through Medicaid. This includes hospital care, doctor’s visits, home health care, personal care services and long-term care. Medicaid recipients must meet many eligibility guidelines, including functional and financial requirements.

Medicaid is a joint federal- and state-run program. Each state has its own eligibility guidelines and coverage parameters. One particular program called “Cash and Counseling” provides Medicaid recipients with a set amount of money each month and the discretion to use these funds to pay approved care providers of their choice. This cash benefit can be used to pay for professional in-home caregivers, family members or even friends to provide care. Keep in mind that the name of this type of program may vary. Cash and Counseling is often referred to as consumer-directed care, in-home supportive services and several other state-specific names.

To learn more about Medicaid eligibility and the Cash and Counseling Program, contact your state’s Medicaid office or visit Medicaid.gov.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to low-income aged, blind and disabled adults. Unlike Social Security retirement benefits, SSI benefits are not based on a person’s prior work. In addition to increasing a person’s income, applying for and receiving SSI is useful because the eligibility guidelines are also the basis for many other programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps, etc.

To learn more about SSI and apply for benefits, visit the Social Security Administration website.

Help Planning to Pay for Senior Care

If none of the above options is a good fit for you and your elderly loved one, it may help to search for other available benefits and services. Even a single program that can minimize the financial strain on your household can be worthwhile.

Benefits for Seniors

BenefitsCheckUp is the nation’s most comprehensive database of benefits programs for seniors with limited income and resources. BenefitsCheckUp is a free service of the National Council on Aging. This online tool allows elders to see if they qualify for more than 2,500 federal, state and private benefit programs simply by answering a few questions.

Available resources include:


Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides
  • Prescription drug savings
  • Nutrition assistance (including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance/Food Stamps)
  • Energy/utilities assistance
  • Income assistance
  • Legal aid services
  • Housing services
  • In-home services
  • Transportation services

Area Agencies on Aging

There is a federally mandated Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in your region, county or city. Each AAA is staffed by elder care professionals who are knowledgeable about every assistance program and service that is available in your area.

Gather as much information as you can about you and your care recipient’s health and finances and make an appointment to meet with a counselor at your AAA. The staff there can advise you on prospective programs and eligibility requirements and even help prepare the necessary applications and documentation. Visit the Area Agency on Aging Directory to find your local AAA’s contact information and schedule an appointment.

Hire an Elder Law Attorney

Elder law attorneys help seniors engage in estate planning and plan legally and financially for their long-term care needs. For example, an attorney who specializes in elder law may assist a senior in achieving and maintaining eligibility for public benefits like Medicaid and provide assistance with benefit applications, the spend-down process and much more.

When looking for an attorney to help you and your loved one draw up legal documents and apply for benefits, make sure the lawyer you choose has elder law experience specific to the state where your loved one resides. In addition, attorneys can pursue membership of specialized national consortiums. Look for a professional who belongs to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) or has received the Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) designation.

To find an elder law attorney near you, search the AgingCare Elder Law Attorney Directory.