A unique situation is on the rise in the United States and could affect you now or in the future. I’d like to discuss the challenges and provide some resources to help you better manage what lies ahead. Let me start with a few interesting statistics, according to recent research.
78.74 years. That is the average life expectancy in the U.S. That number hasn’t changed much in decades.
26.3 years is the average age a woman in the U.S. gives birth for the first time, and that number is steadily increasing.
As the average life span stays pretty consistent and women have children at older ages, it is no wonder people are finding themselves caring for their aging parents while simultaneously raising and caring for their children. There is a term for this; the sandwich generation.
Adults who are part of the sandwich generation have a living parent age 65 or older and are either raising a child under the age of 18 or supporting a grown child. According to a Pew research study, sandwich generation members are mostly middle-aged: 71% are 40 to 59 years old, 19% are younger than 40 and 10% are age 60 or older (click here for more information on the makeup of the sandwich generation).
If you are a part of this group, you are undoubtedly challenged by the emotional, physical and financial demands of juggling the roles of caring for your own children and your aging parents. The obligations demand considerable time and money. Taking on that responsibility can be difficult and at times overwhelming. With so many people relying on you, it is that much more important that you take the time to carefully plan for the stressors that can come up along the way.
Through this blog, I hope to help you:
- Set the groundwork for a solid plan
- Have the tools you need to face an important conversation
- Prepare for potential crises
- Put your plan in place for your parents and children with critical estate planning documents
- Deal with the financial impacts of care
- Determine how to divide your time between your family and your parents while caring for yourself
For some, you may already be caring for your parents. If you haven’t taken some of the following steps and they still apply to you, get started immediately. I cannot stress this enough. You may already feel like you’re behind, but it’s better late than never to put yourself in a position to succeed. If you are preparing to care for your parents, these tips are equally as important.
Have A Family Meeting
A reliable and thoughtful plan should start with an open and honest conversation. Depending on the age of your children and the mental state of your parents, the discussion can be held separately or together. It can be beneficial to have both parties there if it makes sense. The important thing is to talk about the necessary topics sooner rather than later.
Let’s be honest, no one wants to talk about or believes that they will be too sick or old to care for themselves, but the fact of the matter is, it’s a part of life that needs to be dealt with. If you don’t have the conversation with your parents while they are still in good health and of sound mind, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself unprepared if a crisis occurs. A vague conversation years ago about your mother’s wishes may not be valid anymore. She may have wanted to go into a care facility at some point, but now would prefer to stay home. Or dad may want to be removed from life support now even though he once believed he wanted to fight through it all. It’s not uncommon for siblings to be in a situation where there is no healthcare directive and they disagree over how to handle mom or dad’s health. Empower yourself by being prepared. These are preferences your parents may be unlikely to bring up unless you initiate a conversation. If you simply ask, you’ll be able to have some peace of mind and the ability to honor their wishes.
These are deeply personal and sometimes difficult conversations. Sit down with your parents in a non-threatening and relaxing environment to discuss their preferences. Having your older or grown children present for some of these conversations could allow them to help plan for how they can help if the plan involves home care and so they realize the additional burden you are taking on. Perhaps they will be more understanding and more likely to pitch in. It also doesn’t hurt to prepare them for a similar conversation with you someday.
Plan for Your Parent’s Future
While talking with your parents, you need to cover some specific topics. Make sure they know there are no right or wrong answers. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:
- What kind of lifesaving procedures would you want performed if necessary?
- Are there any lifesaving procedures you do not want performed?
- Who do you want to make medical and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated?
- Would you rather live in an assisted living facility or have in-home assistance?
- How will you pay for a nursing home should that be necessary?
- Are you struggling financially?
Answers to these basic questions will help you take one of most important steps you can take towards helping your parents in the future: making sure their estate plan is up to date.
Every estate plan needs four documents:
- A medical power of attorney appoints a person to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney can also include a list of specific procedures you do or do not want allowed.
- A durable (financial) power of attorney appoints a person to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so. This is a flexible document that can be used to give limited or unlimited power over your financial affairs. It can become effective immediately or only if the named individual becomes incapacitated. Even if this document is in order, you may still find yourself taking on some of the financial burden of caring for your parents.
- A living will express your wishes for end of life decisions and can appoint a person to make decisions if you are unable. This document differs from a medical power of attorney because it is only effective if a doctor has determined you have a terminal or irreversible condition.
- A will details your wishes after you pass away. A will allows for a smooth transition for the loved ones you leave behind. It will designate someone to take control of your estate, care for your dependents, distribute your property and make the transition as painless as possible for your loved ones.
The two especially important things that need to be discussed are executing powers of attorney and taking record of their assets and key documents.
Again, a power of attorney allows a designated person to make decisions on your parents’ behalf regarding their property and health care. Knowing where key documents and assets are eliminates confusion in the event of incapacity. Having these two things in place will ease some of the stress. The earlier you have this conversation with your parents the better prepared you will be for the future. It is important to loop in an experienced estate planning attorney early on in the process to make sure you are not leaving any question unanswered and that the documents are executed properly.
Plan for Your Family’s Future
Protecting your family’s needs is always a top priority. Many of the same key documents are required for your estate plan, but a few additional things need to be considered. For example, designating a guardian for your minor children is very important in the event you become incapacitated or pass away. Trust funds, life insurance policies and college funds should also be discussed. If possible, maintain a savings plan while you still have the ability to plug money into it. The future has many what-ifs, but your legal and financial affairs shouldn’t be one of them. Give yourself some peace of mind so you can get back to juggling all the other parts of your life.
Since our lives are constantly changing, I suggest you review your legal documents on a yearly basis or when a major life change occurs, such as a divorce, a death or an addition to the family, to ensure they align with your current circumstances.
Balancing it All
Every situation is different. You may be a single parent with young children, or the sole provider for your parents and your grown children. Whatever your circumstances are, you’ve got a full plate. Every caregiver’s situation is unique but there are always common factors which bridge these situations.
Some of the unique issues that come up for the sandwich generation can include:
- Dealing with the financial impact of caring for your parents while caring for your own family
- How to protect your emotional health
Assessing your financial situation is imperative. Hopefully your parents are open and honest about their current financial status. Perhaps, your parents have prepared for the future and have adequate resources for their care. In other cases, they don’t have enough resourses and may already be in a bad situation financially. If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Older people can have a difficult time opening up about their finances. Here are some things to look out for to identify a financially bad situation:
- Calls from creditors
- Forgetfulness when it comes to financial matters
- Unopened mail
If your parents have the funds to cover their care, make sure you or the durable power of attorney sticks to the plan that you have laid out. If you are not one of the lucky few that have it all covered, I suggest you explore taking these steps to ease the financial burden:
- Assess your financial resources. You can’t plan if you don’t know your assets, liabilities and cash flow.
- Make sure everyone is aware of the costs and available assets.
- Make a plan to cover the costs. This could include cutting back on certain expenses and investments.
- Tap into your family’s resources, such as having siblings and anyone else involved chip in and lend a hand.
- Investigate the options that exist for assistance, such as Medicaid, Medicare and VA benefits
Throughout the process of figuring out how to financially cover the care for you parents, it’s important to factor in the needs of your own family. Caring for so many people can be costly. You may have to sit down as a family and decide which expenses are necessary and which can be eliminated. Having everyone involved and on the same page can help relieve some of the financial burden. For example, if you have a recent college grad who is searching for a job and living off your buck, it may be time for them to seek part-time work.
While having all of your documents and finances in order is great, don’t forget to look out for your own emotional wellbeing. Taking care of everyone should not come at your expense. Here are some general tips for making sure you don’t get lost in the mix:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have a solid support system with family and friends, they will be likely to step in and help.
- Use the assistance of resources in your area, such as support groups or connections through your church.
- Take the time to do things you enjoy. Listen to music, take a long bubble bath or go out to dinner. You can still have fun despite your many responsibilities.
- Don’t neglect your relationships.
- Stay in tune with your body. Keeping yourself healthy is important for keeping everything on track.
Remember, if you are squeezed into the sandwich generation, you are not alone.
Getting assistance from the right professionals to help guide you through the legal and financial planning can really save you money and frustration in the long run. An experienced estate planning attorney, a certified financial planner and a therapist can work wonders.
You may have read this article and thought about how you are not as prepared as you thought you were. Taking these steps can certainly help you be prepared for the “unknown.” If you have any questions about your unique situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.