She asked for a napkin to wipe the spaghetti sauce from her mouth, but all I had was a tissue, so I handed her that. She clumsily wiped her lips and cheeks, missing a few spots, and handed it back to me. She hardly ate at this point—she was so thin and weak, on painkillers, and had lost interest in food. I was happy to oblige when she surprised me by requesting a spaghetti dinner. She only ate about a dozen noodle strands, but it was something and she enjoyed it.
Flashbacks of my mom’s battle with ovarian cancer sneak up on me, sometimes out of the blue, but more often when I’m in the trenches of daily life with my 11-year old son. As I fold his video-game themed t-shirts and sort his endless socks, I sometimes imagine him in my place, with a family of his own, worried about how he’ll care for me if I need it.
I think about how I traveled to my parent’s house after a full day’s work at least three days a week (and on weekends) to give my poor dad a few hours of relief. After caring for my mom for more than two years, his skin was pale and his usual sparkling smile had dimmed. Even his posture was noticeably different; the gravity of being my mom’s full-time caregiver had weighed down his body, mind, and most importantly his heart.
At this point, my mother was dependent on my father, brother, and me to help her with dressing, bathing, eating, and getting in and out of bed. My parents didn’t have any private insurance to cover such services, so we all pitched in. My brother and I had long since left the nest and were leading our own adult lives in different cities. Thankfully, we were still close enough to help ease my dad’s burden and be there for our mother as her long battle with ovarian cancer began to enter its final chapter.
My father owned his own printing business for more than four decades. When my mom first got sick, he still worked full-time. As her condition worsened over the course of two years and he struggled to balance her needs, he made the difficult decision to sell his business and work for the buyers part-time. Eventually, he was forced to give up working entirely.
The financial hit my parents took during this period was not nearly as damaging as the mental and emotional toll it took on my father. He was a very extroverted guy and work was one of his regular social outlets. When he gave that up and was home with my mom full-time, he in large part stopped being himself. My mom didn’t want people to know she was sick, so that meant my dad didn’t have support outside of our immediate family. As for me and my brother, we struggled with balancing my mom’s care with full-time jobs and relationships, while managing the stress, sadness, and guilt that often goes along with having a loved one with a chronic health condition for which there is no easy fix.
My story is not unique. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, taking care of a loved one is a reality for more than 40 million Americans who provide an estimated value of $470 billion a year in unpaid caregiving services. Many of these people also fall into the “sandwich generation” and are squeezed between caring for both their parents and children at home. In fact, a recent survey from T. Rowe Price found that 35 percent of parents with 8- to 14-year-old kids are also caring for an aging family member. Imagine having to ensure 24-hour care for a loved one while working and maintaining all of your regular parenting duties. It’s a lot to expect of anyone.
While being able to provide care is in some ways a blessing and most are happy to do it, it’s not easy. The physical and emotional burden of caregiving is somewhat obvious, but it also has a financial impact. According to the same AARP study, family caregivers over the age of 50 who leave the workforce to care for a parent incur average income and benefit losses of more than $300,000.
As I reflect on my own experiences with family caregiving, I shudder to think about my son being in my shoes one day. While I know he’d willingly do whatever might be needed for his dear old mom, it’s not a responsibility I want him to bear, especially not alone. I’d rather he have the luxury of being able to manage my care rather than having to provide it himself.
I’m fortunate to work for a company that has taught me the value of creating a plan and exposed me to the many options that exist to help make caregiving a little easier on those who provide it. I’ve learned that planning ahead and evaluating options to cover some of the cost of future care can not only ease the burden on family members, but also help protect retirement savings by providing a dedicated source of funds to cover care costs. I also know that thinking about and planning for these things now, while I’m young and healthy, will give me and my family more options at a lower cost than if we put it off and hope that we never have to deal with it.
If there was any blessing in my family’s caregiving experience, it was that my mom was able to spend her last days in the place she felt most comfortable—at home. I didn’t know it at the time, but that night I served her spaghetti was the last night I saw her alive. As I walked out of my parent’s bedroom at the end of that visit, my mom told me something that I have carried with me ever since. Her last gift to me was to share her philosophy and an indication of her faith despite knowing she was very short on time. She said, “Meredith, kick your feet up and don’t worry about a thing. I love you.” I love you too mom. So much.
In this episode, we sit down with Chad Eyrich, a Long Term Care Professional, to talk about what Long Term Care is, why it matters, and how to make sure you and your family have a plan in place if a Long Term Care event occurs.
Here are a few of the questions we get answered:
- What is Long Term Care?
- How does Long Term Care coverage work? What kind of options are available for Long Term Care coverage?
- Why should Millennials be concerned about Long Term Care, especially when they are still so young and years away from needing this kind of service?
- How can a Millennial start a conversation with their parents or grandparents about Long Term Care?
Here are some quick Long Term Care Stats:
- 52% percent of people turning age 65 today will need some type of long-term care services in their lifetimes
- Average annual cost of private room in a nursing home (2017): $97,455
- 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult 50 or over in the past 12 months
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If the thought of talking to your parents about money makes you cringe, you’re not alone. In fact, the majority of Americans would rather talk about “the birds and the bees” than “the bills and the fees” of finances with their own family. When given the choice, we would prefer to talk about our own DEATH than asking our parents about their will or estate. (Now, that is just ridiculous). There’s no question that money is a taboo topic that makes you want to run 100 mph in the other direction anytime you hear the words “budget” or “debt.”
But, why is it so uncomfortable to talk about cash money with our family? And does it even really matter? After all, you’ve made it this far without diving into the depths of financial awkwardness with your parents. What’s the worst that could happen?
Well, here’s a few stats for ya:
- 52% of people turning 65 will need some form of Long-Term Care
- 64% of people with Long-Term Care needs rely exclusively on friends and family for care
- 25% of all caregivers are Millennials
- Average annual cost of caregiving ranges from $18,000 (Adult Day Care) to $91,00 (Private Room in Nursing Home)
- 55% of Americans have no will or plan to transfer assets at death
- Only 35% of Baby Boomers are confident that they are financially prepared for retirement
To summarize these lovely statistics: the odds that your parents may eventually require some form of Long-Term Care (assisted living, nursing home, etc.) during their lifetime is 1 in 2 (a coin flip). The chances that you will need to help pay for some of these costs are also quite high, especially if your parents don’t have any kind of long-term care insurance coverage or other savings in place. AND, if your parents are in the minority of those who have already established a will, congratulations! But, even if they do have a will, are you sure it’s up-to-date? You’d hate for your mother’s ex-husband’s cousin’s half-brother to end up inheriting money that was meant for you, right? Yikes! Talk about awkward.
With that said, yes. Having a conversation about finances with your parents is obviously very important. So, what are you waiting for?? Go ahead and throw those taboos to the wind and dive right in! OK, easier said than done, right? Let’s look at three simple conversation starters that will make the money talk a little less awko-taco.
- You’ve taken good care of me, so I want to take good care of you.
When I was visiting my parents over the holidays, I asked them if we could set aside some time to talk about money. Specifically, I wanted my parents to know that, if anything should ever happen to them, I would be adequately prepared take care of them and their finances. Just as my parents have spent years caring for me and preparing me for my future, I want to be able to return the love by taking care of them when the need arises. We discussed what kinds of insurance policies, investments, and savings they have in place, where they keep financial records, and who they use as a trusted financial advisor. I didn’t ask to see any financial statements or specific policy information (because that’s usually where the awko-meter starts to rise) — only where this information is kept, so I know where to look if I need to access it at some point in the future. By emphasizing that my purpose behind the conversation was love and care for my parent’s wellbeing, we were able to talk open and honestly — without any hurt feelings or awkward outcomes.
2. I’m interested in visiting a financial advisor, but I’m not sure where to start. Would you mind introducing me to yours?
This is a win-win conversation starter. Not only does it provide you an opportunity to visit a financial advisor for the first time (without spending lots of money), but it also provides an ideal environment to discuss difficult financial topics with your parents. Their advisor can guide the conversation and act as a third-party mediator if needed. While meeting with the advisor, you may want to discuss your parent’s current retirement plan, including protection against long-term care events, and to review any beneficiaries on your parent’s insurance policies to ensure they are up-to-date. (You’d be shocked how often an ex-wife, ex-husband, or estranged family member ends up receiving a death benefit, simply because policy information was not current). AND, while you’re in the office, you might as well glean some insight from the advisor on your own financial plan. Most likely, the advisor will be more than willing to assist you, as they see you as a potential future client. (If the advisor doesn’t see your value, you may want to look for another advisor).
Even if your parents don’t already have a trusted financial advisor, this is the perfect time to find a reputable professional together. It will be an opportunity to bond as a family, while also tackling your finances in an efficient and holistic manner.
3. Do you have a legacy plan? AKA: If you die tomorrow, what kind of legacy to do you want to leave and how do you want it accomplished?
Most people don’t like to think about dying until a death actually occurs. Can’t blame you. Death isn’t the first topic that comes to my mind when I think of “fun conversation starters.” BUT, the problem we create when we avoid talking about death is that we miss out on the opportunity to plan for a legacy — until it’s already too late. While your parents may want to leave their house behind to the family, donate their art collection to a local museum, and divide the rest of their assets equally among you and your siblings– if they don’t have these wishes expressly written in a will, they’re not likely to happen. When someone dies without a will (called intestate in legalese), your state will then determine how your assets should be dispersed. This could be okay, except that your state has no idea that you don’t even really like your spouse, you’re estranged from your son, and your daughter is a compulsive shopper who blows every penny she has on lottery tickets. But, the state doesn’t really care about your family issues. It will still divide up your assets among each of these individuals anyway. (Sorry ‘bout your luck).
Contrary to popular belief, establishing a will (and keeping it current) is not as much of a headache as many people think. For a simple estate (think: relatively small and not paying estate taxes), it may only cost around $100-$150 for an attorney to draft a will. (If you’re looking for a lawyer, start here). Or, you can also write your own will by using a reputable online software program or following a template. HOWEVER, if you complete your will on your own, you are doing so at your own risk, as each state has different regulations surrounding what is required to validate a will and, if done incorrectly, it may not hold up in court.
I’ve only scratched the surface on the importance of writing a will (both you and your parents). And I haven’t even started to explain all of the incredible information that can be contained in a will, such as designating power of attorney or establishing a living trust. But, I realize I’ve already bored you to tears, so I’ll save these enthralling topics for a different time. (Psst: stay tuned for an upcoming Face The Fear Podcast episode on Estate Planning 101, coming soon!)
In summary, you know you should probably strike up a conversation with your parents about money. It’s on your to-do list, right below “Clip grandma’s toenails” and “Watch paint dry.” At least now you’ve got a few conversation starters in your back pocket to break the ice. I promise, it won’t be as bad as you think. (Or, maybe it will be. In that case, I don’t know you). Either way, challenge yourself to start a conversation with your family about finances this week. Even simply cracking the door open today could provide fruitful opportunities for future discussions and prevent a flood of heartache, confusion, and financial strain later in life. Friend, it’s time to #FaceTheFear!
Written By: Kaitlyn Duchien
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