Between managing family, children, career and caring for aging parents, life starts to become very complex. If you find yourself in the Sandwich Generation, feeling unsure of how to maintain your lifestyle, you are not alone. According to Pew Research, 12% of parents with children under the age of 18 also provide unpaid care for an adult. At Buttonwood, we specialize in multigenerational financial health and work with many families who juggle care for children and aging relatives. We have listed several important considerations and tips below for those who are in the Sandwich Generation or will likely be in the coming years.
Start the Conversation
As we notice parents beginning to slow down mentally and/or physically, it is time to start the conversation early. We recommend talking with aging relatives to determine their desires and learn how to preserve their lifestyles.
While this can be unpleasant subject matter, both for you and your parents, we have developed strategy to ease into an eventual transition. It’s important not to dive directly into the financial discussion. Start with topics that are easier to digest. You might consider talking about maintaining family relationships as well as close friendship circles. Discuss which circles are most important to your parents. From here, you may get a better idea of their current schedule and strategize how to maintain activities important to them. In addition to fostering these important relationships, talk to your parents about social activities. If they are not currently engaged in extracurriculars, discuss fun activities they may enjoy. This may provide you, as their child, with some peace of mind knowing they will remain active and social.
Next, you may want to begin talking about health. What kind of health are your parents in today? Are there any anticipated health concerns in future years? You’ll also want to start a list of current medications with names of doctors. Based on the outcome of this part of the discussion, we recommend reviewing the best options for supplemental health insurance.
The health discussion may create a natural shift to talking about fitness and diet. Remind your parents, this is in their best interest so they can create an attainable diet and exercise regiment to extend their lives. You are only trying to do your part in keeping them around as long as possible!
Now, you can get back to the lighter part of the discussion regarding fun things to do! Get your pen and paper ready and start jotting down items for their bucket list. Note the ones which can be done easily and start there. You can have fun chatting about how to make each thing on the list a reality and develop a tentative plan for each.
Review the Finances
The next step is to get into the finances… This conversation should be taken in strides, don’t plan on accomplishing everything you set out to in the first financial discussion; it can take some time.
First, prepare the balance sheet (assets and liabilities). Start a list of physical assets such as house, cash, cars, boat, rental properties, etc. Next, record investment assets from bank and brokerage accounts. Think too about assets that may not be in an account: Coins, jewelry, savings bonds, artwork and more. This is a good opportunity to discuss login details for parents’ accounts – where are the ‘keys’ to their digital assets? As well as what they would want to happen to their house/home, vehicles and other possessions if/when downsizing takes place. Once you have a good idea of what is owned, start discussing what is owed. Liabilities such as mortgage debt (or a reverse mortgage), taxes, and any other debts like auto loans, credit cards or outstanding bills. Keep in mind, debts are likely less important than assets as creditors will tend to track you down where assets tend to remain quietly allusive.
While it may not be perfect, once the balance sheet has been fleshed out, take a look at income and expenses. Income may include: Social Security, pension, earned income, rental properties, farms, dividends and interest from investments and more.
Another consideration is whether either of your parents are veterans. If so, while talking, consider the available VA benefits, including disability income. After income has been determined, begin looking at expenses. You’ll want to consider expenses such as utilities, recurring cost of living (groceries, travel, etc), debt, house maintenance, health insurance (if under 65), life and long-term care insurance, medication (or Medicare supplement plans) and more. Assuming more income than expenses, excess cash flows can be invested for future expenses, younger generations or for bucket list items.
Now that you have created your lists or spreadsheets, get down to the legal documents. It is very important you know where documents are located to prevent headaches and stress in the future. Documents to keep track of may include: Power of attorney (legal and medical), advanced healthcare directive, last wills, trusts, deeds, titles, IDs, passports, etc. It is worth storing these in a safe deposit box, secure online vault, or at least a fire/waterproof safe at home. Generally, the only original paper document you will need will likely be the Will.
The next part of the discussion can be a little more sensitive… Caregiving needs. You will want to take a look at current insurance plans and determine if they include home health assistance. If so, you may be able to keep your parents in the comfort of their home. Another consideration is the need for mental or dementia care in the future. These aren’t things anyone wants to think about or plan for, but it can make a major impact on finances if the need arises. As you are exploring options for care and/or assisted living, keep in mind potential future needs too. Does this facility have a path for future needs? What is the cost of the facility now and potential cost as needs change? See top considerations for selecting assisted living options.
Lastly, it’s important to have the funeral discussion… No one enjoys thinking about their own demise, but it is better to be prepared rather than feeling stress during a time of grief. Discuss topics such as: Would you prefer burial or cremation? If burial, which cemetery and is there a specific location? Are there important aspects to the funeral or celebration of life you should include? What songs would you like played? Which mortuary would you like services to be held? We fully understand how difficult this conversation is and have provided guidance and solutions to many along the way.
Meet with Other Family Members
Before any major decisions are made, calmer heads will often prevail later if a family meeting is held today. We recommend scheduling dedicated time for this conversation rather than planning to discuss over a holiday or casual family gathering. Scheduling and preparing for a family discussion will help steer a productive conversation with minimal distractions.
In a perfect world, siblings and family members would agree 100% of the time with zero disputes. However, this isn’t always the case. Start with discussing your loved ones’ current health and the needs surrounding it. This will spark the conversation around in-home care versus in-patient care.
Next, it will be important to assign roles within the family. To prevent one person from carrying the heaviest load, work together to determine which roles each person can fill based on individual strengths. Tasks we recommend discussing (some may require a Power of Attorney) include:
- Managing day-to-day finances (bill pay, budget management, balancing checkbook, etc)
- Household duties and repairs
- Doctor visits
- Groceries and other errands
With many years of real-world experience, the Team at Buttonwood has been in the middle of many of these conversations and can coordinate many of the legal and financial projects that are on your plate. Engaging a trusted resource to oversee the financial components for your aging loved ones can not only free up a tremendous amount of time but can provide well-needed peace of mind.
Take Care of You
Self-care is critical as you take on more responsibilities with aging parents and caring for younger children. Be sure to make time for fun in your life. Whether that means an escape through travel, a nice day outside watching the kids play or some well-deserve quiet time, take the time you need to recharge.
Aside from doing things to recharge, employers may provide flexibility as needs change. Try to establish a more flexible work schedule with your employer if possible. With the right agreement, you may be able to reduce hours in the office while maintaining income and benefits.
Additionally, your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program to help manage stress. Between elder care resources / referrals and support counseling, options likely exist to enhance your own health and performance at work.
Lastly, remember caregiving takes balance. Whether caring for your kids or caring for aging parents or other family, you will find stronger success when taking a balanced approach. You might consider starting a list of tasks needing to be completed on a weekly basis related to your children, parents and family. Think about which of these items can be given to someone else and start delegating! Taking even two or three tasks off your list can go a long way in lightening your load.
Caring for aging parents can be challenging. If you find yourself in the “sandwich generation” and would like to explore ways to streamline, we are able to assist. Contact us today to learn more about our multigenerational approach to a simplified financial life.