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Avoid Being Sandwiched – How To Plan For Concurrent Child and Parental Care

Jessica Lanning

As a financial planner, I’ve seen my fair share of families struggling with the overwhelming responsibility of caring for both their children and aging parents.


It’s a situation that I like to call being “sandwiched” – caught between two generations that both need your time, energy, and resources; how to send a child off to college and find mom an assisted living facility.  


If you’re in this position or you see it on the horizon, start planning now. 

Start the Conversation


The first step in planning for parental care is to start talking about it. This is likely to be a series of conversations over years rather than just one conversation.  Start early.


The conversations may not be initially welcome and may be difficult, but you won’t regret having had them.  You want to discuss your parents’ wishes for care as they age, what they’re planning for, and what they have covered financially.


Just about everyone believes that they will live a healthy life until age 100 and then die peacefully in one’s sleep.  I wish that outcome for everyone.  


Statistically speaking, though, it only happens to a small fraction of us. Better to be prepared for a worst-case outcome and not need to have prepared than to be caught off-guard.


Don’t be surprised when your parents threaten to “end it,” when their lives become less comfortable. Everyone says this, too.  “Just put a pillow over my head,” they say.  The reality is that few people actually want to do this on the days that are good, and the reality is that our culture doesn’t support making end-of-life decisions for ourselves.  

What To Talk About


This conversation should cover a variety of topics, including:


  • What your parents’ wishes are for care
  • Possible scenarios, like who gets sick first and how each scenario would play out
  • Their definition of “quality of life”
  • How they feel about palliative care
  • How they’ve handled sickness in the past
  • How they handle major changes (moving to a new home while dealing with illness will be a major one)


How To Get the Conversation Started


Starting the conversation can be challenging, as many older adults don’t want to think about aging and declining health, but it’s a necessary step if you want to be prepared for the future.


Be honest and open about these topics and approach them from a place of love. As I coach my clients, start with “I love you. I know you love me. And if you don’t love me, I know you love your grandchildren. So help us out here. Let’s talk about what you want your last years to look like.


You can start with smaller, five-minute conversations, and bring up aging and care in your everyday conversations.  Just like with teenagers, car rides with your elders, where you don’t have to make eye contact, are a great opportunity for conversation.


You can also use me, your financial planner, as a conversation starter. “I was talking with my financial planner about planning for our long-term care expenses. I’m wondering if you’ve had a similar conversation.


You can also pick a scenario from your own life experience.  “My friend had to make a decision about where to put her mom for memory care.  What would you have wanted in that instance?


Also don’t be afraid to let these conversations be humorous or irreverent or to go badly.  Oftentimes, seeds get planted that don’t bloom right away.  Months or years later, your aging loved one will likely come back and say, “Remember when you asked me….?  Here’s how I feel about that.”

What to Consider


There are a number of factors to consider when planning for parental care, but I’ll outline some of the most important ones here.


Long-term Care Insurance: Encourage your parents to consider getting long-term care insurance product, if they haven’t already. This can help to leverage their existing assets and ensure that they’re financially prepared for a long-term care episode. If you have the financial bandwidth, you may also be able to help pay for this insurance.


Living Situation: It’s important to think about the living situation that your parents will need as they age. This might mean moving them into a living situation that they can “grow into” – independent living to assisted living to hospice. It might also mean moving them closer to you or another family member, so that they can receive support more easily.


Downsizing and Decluttering: Now is the time for your parents to start decluttering and downsizing their homes, so that they can live more comfortably as they age. This will also make it easier for you to manage their care later on.


Memory Care: Dementia and other memory issues can make it difficult for your parents to continue living at home. It’s important to consider memory care options early on, so that you’re prepared if this becomes necessary.


Spending on Themselves: Finally, remind your parents to spend on themselves. They might want to fund a 529 plan for your kids, but if that gets in the way of their own quality of life as they age, it’s not worth it. Encourage them to spend not only on things like long-term care insurance, but experiences, travel, and things that bring them joy and comfort. This will help them to live more fully in the present and to be happier in the long run.


Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney: These legal documents can help ensure that your parents have someone who can make decisions for them if they’re unable to do so. They can also have a conversation with their doctor(s) about putting their wishes in place as well.  This can also help to prevent family disputes down the line.  


Estate Planning: Estate planning can help to ensure that your parents’ wishes are honored and that their assets are distributed as they want. Estate planning also includes things like preparing a will, creating trusts, and designating beneficiaries.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Planning


I can’t stress enough the importance of starting early when it comes to planning for parental care. 


Whether you’re in the middle of the sandwich or you see it on the horizon, remember that you’re not alone. 


With the right planning and preparation, you can make sure that everyone is taken care of and that your parents have the best quality of life possible.


If you’d like to talk about how to have this conversation with your parents, please reach out. 


Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.