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Caregiving Squeeze: How To Keep Sane Within The Sandwich Generation

by Jack Lenenberg

Sandwich Generation Ltc InsuranceWith our population aging and many of our youth struggling to maintain financial independence, the responsibilities and burdens of middle-aged Americans are increasing.   The phenomenon has been dubbed the "Sandwich Generation" the population of middle-aged adults caught between taking care of their aging parents and raising their children.  Nearly half of adults in their 40's and 50's comprise the Sandwich Generation and many are financially supporting both their parents and their children.

My wife and I are members.  We have 2 teenage sons and our parents are in their early 80's.  For now, we are fortunate.  Our kids do not have special needs and our parents for the most part are still physically independent, although I am sensing a few early mild cognitive issues.

What can you do to make this stage of your life easier for you?

1. Take Care Of Yourself

If you let it, this can be a stressful and overwhelming period in your life.  Trying to do too much, staying on top of two homes at once - even with financial stability - can be emotionally draining.  You may have family issues always on your mind.  It is important for you to stay healthy, physically and mentally.  Do not forget to give yourself time to engage in activities that make you happy and allow you to de-stress.

2. Help Your Parents Get Organized

If your parents and you haven't already done so, help your parents to organize their financial, legal and estate planning documents.   Your parents should share with you their assets, liabilities, income and expenses, insurance policy documents, powers of attorney and anything else pertaining to their finances.  It is difficult for you to plan for your parent's caregiving needs and to be properly prepared without having this information in advance of the crisis.

Get Everyone's Finances Out In The Open

When it comes to money, a lot can stay hidden.  Uncertainty can cause you a lot of anxiety and stress.  For instance, we often receive phone calls from children looking to buy long term care insurance for their parents after they have had a stroke.  Unfortunately, it is too late at this point to help them once the event has occurred.   Find out if your parents do own long term care insurance.   More importantly find out exactly how much coverage your parents do have.  Find out the amount of their current long term care monthly benefit, the current pool of money, and the current annual inflation factor.  Do not settle for your parents telling you everything is covered.  Ask to see and review their policy with them.  If your parents do not have coverage, maybe it is still possible if they are healthy and young enough to help them to get coverage.  The time to be prepared is now.

Create Your Own Long Term Care Plan

Seeing your parents age and needing care will often be a catalyst for you to look inwardly and towards your own children, not wanting to burden them with these same issues. While you are taking time to help your parents manage their plan, take time to construct your own plan. 

Consider how you will fund future long term care costs for yourself.  Will your income be able to handle the costs?  Will retirement assets or real estate need to be sold or liquidated?  What will the tax implications be from depleting assets in a retirement account?  Making decisions in the midst of a crisis can be costly for you.  If you have been considering long term care insurance for yourself, and you are healthy enough to qualify for coverage today, move forward to construct your plan.

Seek Out Professionals For Help

Unless you are a financial and legal wiz and an ace social worker, it is probably impossible for you to wear every hat.  There is no way for you to manage the affairs of your life and your kid's lives, let alone your parent's lives.  If you have not already done so, you may want to enlist the aid of a financial planner to help you with retirement planning, or college funding.  You may wish to seek out the services of an estate planning attorney to draft or update wills and powers of attorney.  You may want to work with a long term care insurance specialist to help you to navigate your long term care planning options.  If your parents are needing care, you may want to hire a geriatric care manager that will oversee all of the details for you.

Love Your Loved Ones

Sure, being part of the sandwich generation is not without its challenges.  However, as much of a challenge it is taking responsibility for parents and raising children, I would not trade the challenge for anything.  My parents and my children are the people in this world that mean the most to me.  Being part of the sandwich generation is a daily reminder of how lucky I am.

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