If you’re one of the millions of American adults already caring for aging parents, or anticipate that you will down the road, you know the job brings with it equal parts challenge and reward. Time spent with loved ones is irreplaceable. Yet, you have to juggle the rigors of your own life with that of another’s. Some careful forethought and planning may help prevent this situation from becoming your new mid-life crisis.
MAKE A PLAN.
The conversations are uncomfortable, but it’s important to understand what your aging parents want. Sit down early on, and talk about finances, living arrangements, legal documents, and healthcare needs and wishes. You’ll be much better off if you do this before a crisis arises and while they can still tell you what they have and what they want.
GET PAPERWORK IN ORDER.
After you’ve talked, if there are any documents that need to be prepared or changed, don’t put it off. Dealing with estate documents, living wills, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, beneficiary designations, etc. is a pain. But, when the time comes that you need to rely on these documents to make important decisions, you’ll be glad you didn’t procrastinate.
UNDERSTAND BENEFITS AND RESOURCES.
Navigating the various government programs, supplements and services will take some time, but it’s worth the legwork. Visit the government-hosted benefits site, www.Govbenefits.gov, for information on what may be available. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) is also a great resource. It offers extensive information for caregivers including an online locator to help you find your city or county’s Area Agency on Aging. These agencies are staffed by professionals who know about elder programs and services available in your area.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, DON’T LOSE YOURSELF.
Remember, the responsibility of caring for your aging parents isn’t just about them. Make sure you keep the situation in perspective, and don’t destroy your own financial situation to solve theirs. When you’re under the stress of balancing caregiving with the demands of your own life, it can be tempting to dip into retirement savings to ease financial burdens or even consider leaving the workforce to care for your loved one.
Before you do anything drastic, consider the full impact. Taking money from your retirement savings not only carries significant tax implications, it could mean you saddle your own kids with the burden of taking care of you later on – not the best outcome. Leaving the workforce, even temporarily, affects more than just your weekly paycheck. Maintaining your earning power and taking advantage of an employer-sponsored retirement plan can have a significant impact on your long-term finances.
Ultimately, parenting your parents is a difficult – yet admirable – circumstance. It’s also a good lesson. If you’re not doing as much as you can now to prepare for your own future, it’s probably time for a reality check. Check out the Retirement Dream Machine (log on to your account at www.retireonline.com, go to the My Accounts tab and click the Dream Machine link) to see how you’re doing.
Empower Retirement at www.retireonline.com