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The Sandwich Generation

Stick Figure Family on Data Paperwork

An early morning stop at the hospital to visit your parent and to catch the doctor on their morning rounds, a hurried arrival at work, making follow-up appointments for your parent, schedule the well visits for the kids, start work, follow-up on the medical insurance denial, add the parent teacher conference to your calendar, work, pick up the kids, make dinner, drive the kids to practice, clean up, pay bills, start to read a book, fall asleep. Could this describe one of your days? Welcome to the “Sandwich Generation!”

More and more family members ages 40-60 are finding themselves managing not only their immediate family’s needs, but also juggling the caregiving and responsibilities for a parent or aging relative. The combination of couples delaying starting a family and the extended life span of aging parents attribute to the longer length of the “sandwich” stage. At a time when your career is reaching a peak and you are looking ahead to your own retirement, you may find yourself in the position of having to help your children with college expenses or the financial challenges of young adulthood while at the same time looking after the needs of your aging parents. The financial, healthcare and emotional needs and demands of this balancing act can be stressful and exhausting. There are strategies and resources to help navigate this phase of life that may last one or two years to several years. When it is approached as a marathon versus a sprint, it can be better managed.

Establishing a game plan and setting priorities are key elements to successfully managing this stage. Keep in mind that this needs to be a flexible plan as immediate issues present themselves and require attention. Open communication with immediate family members, siblings and extended family is crucial.  The format will be dictated by proximity and level of involvement, but some form of actual or virtual meeting to discuss issues, set priorities and delegate tasks must take place. The primary caregiver is the quarterback of the coordination, but does not have to be the only person executing or the sole source of financial support.

If you are the main caregiver, it is essential to have your financial life in order and to establish a support system. Often times, especially in a crisis situation, caregivers may feel that they have to cut back at work in order to address family needs (reduced hours, unpaid time off or passing on a promotion). This oftentimes leaves the caregiver conflicted in addressing emotional/healthcare needs versus financial needs of their family. Before assuming that your employer will not be flexible to accommodate your situation you should first have a conversation with your employer:

  • Propose a plan that would fit your needs whether on a temporary or permanent basis;
  • Explore adult day-care or in-home health aides;
  • Find out what benefits are available – elder-care resources and caregiving support are becoming more common employee benefits as the need to keep talented workforces in place.

Caring for parents poses many challenges and is increasingly difficulty if attempting it remotely. As parents age, it is helpful for at least one family member to have a comprehensive understanding of their financial position and medical history. These conversations and planning approaches are much more effective when done in advance rather than in crisis. Here are some things you should do:

  • Take inventory of your parent’s assets and consolidate his/her financial accounts.
  • Create a medical resource and history for your parents including a current list of their medicines, doctors and allergies.
  • Have your parent establish a durable power of attorney and health-care directive, which gives you legal authority to handle financial and health-care decisions if your parent becomes incapacitated.  Confirm your parent has a will.  If not, make basic estate planning a priority.
  • Consult a tax professional to see if you might be entitled to potential tax benefits as a result of your caregiving; for example, potentially claiming a parent as a dependent and/or the medical expenses associated with their care.
  • If your parent’s needs are great enough, you might be required to go a step further and explore assisted-living options or nursing homes and/or a geriatric care manager.

At some point, you might decide that the best option is for your parent to move in with you. In that case, here are some suggestions to make that transition:

  • Talk with your parent in advance about both of your expectations and concerns.
  • If possible, set up a separate room and phone for your parent for some space and privacy.
  • Research local programs to see what resources are offered for seniors; for example, the senior center may offer social gatherings or adult day care that can give you a much needed break.
  • Ask and expect adult siblings to help out. Siblings who live far away and can’t help out physically on a regular basis, for example, could make a financial contribution that can help you hire assistance. They can also research assisted-living or nursing home options. Don’t try to do everything yourself.
  • Keep the lines of communication open, which can go a long way to the smooth running of your multigenerational family.

During this time while you are feeling stretched, your children may be feeling the effect of your situation more than you think. They still need your patience and attention while you may be preoccupied with your parent’s care, meeting your work deadlines, and juggling your financial obligations. Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to balance your family’s needs:

  • Explain what changes may come about as you begin caring for your parent. Talk honestly about the pros and cons of having a grandparent in the house, and be sympathetic and supportive of your children (and your spouse) as they try to adjust. Ask them to take responsibility for certain chores, but don’t expect them to be the main caregivers.
  • Discuss college plans. Encourage realistic expectations about the college they may be able to attend. Your kids may have to settle for less than they wanted, or at least get a job to help meet costs.
  • Teach your kids how to spend wisely and set financial priorities.
  • Try to build in some special time with your children doing an activity they enjoy.
  • If you have “boomerang children” who’ve returned home, make sure to share your expectations with them, too. Expect help with household chores, occasional simple caregiving, and a financial contribution to monthly household expenses.
  • You are setting an example for your children on family responsibility, empathy and compassion.

Lastly, while you are consumed with caring for others, it is imperative to take care of yourself. As much as you can, try to get adequate sleep, eat nutritiously, and exercise–all things that will increase your ability to cope. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself when you need it, whether it’s a couple of hours or a longer weekend getaway. When you occasionally put your own needs first and look after yourself, you’ll be in a better position to care for those around you.

Careful, strategic planning can alleviate the uncertainty of being the primary caregiver and improve your peace of mind. The professionals at Mercadien can help to navigate and plan for the financial impact of these challenges and provide resources for successfully managing this stage of life. If you would like to continue this discussion, please reach out to a member of our Individual Services and Family Office Team by calling 609-689-9700 or emailing solutions@mercadien.com.

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