Lessons from the Sandwich Generation

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Charles Mayfield, CFP®


Last week we went over a few things to consider when unexpected money shows up on your doorstep. While that is a great financial “dilemma” to encounter, let’s focus for a moment on the complete inverse of this situation. Fortunately, modern medicine has made it so that American’s are living much longer than in past generations. Unfortunately, many in our older generations are not financially prepared to pay for their own care during their golden years, leaving the burden of care to their children—who, ironically, still must save enough to not pass that burden on to their children! I myself am a proud member of what has been dubbed the “Sandwich Generation.” According to statistics, I have a high likelihood of simultaneously caring for my children and parents (hence sandwiched between the two).

Let’s first look at a few of the factors that play a significant role in the creation of this Sandwich Generation.

 - Modern Medicine:  Doctors and advanced treatments seem to continue doing a great job of keeping us alive.  This is despite a continued downward trend in the overall health of our population.  In other words, we are living longer NOT better.

 - New Family Dynamics:  Couples are having children later and, as a result, their children may still be minors when their parents become senior citizens. Families these days aren’t as concentrated as they were 10 or 20 years ago.  Societal changes have led to more young adults moving far away from their parents, making caring for their elders much more travel and time intensive.  In some cases, the closest child to mom and dad gets saddled with the lion’s share of care.

 - Dual Income Families:  We are seeing more families with both spouses working.  This can make care giving especially challenging should the need arise.

 - The “Kind” of Care:  Most care administered to the elderly is classified as ‘unskilled care.’  Often times, those in need require assistance with daily activities such as bathing, feeding and dressing themselves.

 - Cutting of Benefits:  Medicare continues to cut benefits for skilled care and offers very little, if anything, to cover unskilled care. 

Here are just a few helpful tips to prepare you for caring for elderly parents/family members:

• Time for a Family Meeting: Communication with siblings/parents is critical.  Don’t be caught off guard when it comes to who is responsible for what. 

• Long Term Care Insurance:  If they qualify for coverage, this is a great way to provide much needed funds to cover the unexpected expenses associated with unskilled care.
      * If budgeting for premiums become difficult, consider sharing premium obligations among family members.  It will be money well spent should the need arise.

• Talk to an Attorney: The titling of assets can play a critical role in qualification for any government programs that could lend assistance when the time comes.  It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that critical documents like a Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy are in place.

• Tour the neighborhood: Knowing your options for Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities and Adult Day Care can better prepare you to make critical decisions during a very emotional time. 

Caring for your elderly parents can certainly be stressful and lifestyle changing – as can be preparing for your own elder care. We suggest talking with a financial advisor and/or an elder care lawyer BEFORE the road begins to get bumpy. Having a solid plan and funds in place can expedite the process when housing and care decisions must be made and provide an overall more pleasant experience for all family members. And for those in this Sandwich Generation, do what you can to prepare for your own long-term care now. Sometimes taking care of your children goes beyond school supplies and trips to the dentist.

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