The joys and challenges of the sandwich generation
It is said that parenting is one of the most challenging jobs around. We expend time, money and energy attempting to raise our next generation and help them become responsible adults. The complexities evolve as children grow … as the Yiddish proverb says ‘small children small worries, big children big worries’. But at what point do you add your aging parents to the equation and start worrying about them too?
As we reach middle age and are juggling family, home and work we tend to be caught up in our daily lives and families. But there comes a time when we need to consciously and periodically look at our parents to ensure that they are coping financially, in addition to physically and mentally. That time, money and energy we have been devoting almost exclusively to our children might also need to be directed towards helping our parents. We would like to ensure that they have sufficient resources to live comfortably (although we may or may not be able to help them financially) but in any event, we need to protect them and their money from financial predators who may be lurking in the shadows.
People are living significantly longer lives nowadays – aging parents often will have many more years to enjoy their retirement, but also potentially many more years when they may need help and support. The challenge is recognizing at what point we children must step in.
Major red flags are when you see that your parents having a hard time balancing their check book or bank account, or you feel there is a vagueness about the way they relate to their finances. Running a household is complicated financially and if your parents aren’t managing their income sources, expenditure and bill payment, then someone needs to step in and assist them.
Older parents living on their own can also be the target of elder fraud (by phone or someone at the door), an unfortunate growing phenomenon around the world, including in Israel. An older person, who may hear and see less well (not to mention possible memory and cognitive impairments), might well be convinced by a professional sounding scam and may divulge personal and financial information.
According to many studies, elder fraud is growing steadily as thieves go after where the money is much easier to attain, rather than the traditional ‘robbing a bank’. And much of the fraud goes unregistered as either the cases are not discovered or not reported because of the victims‘ shame in admitting that they were duped.
Sometimes there is a caregiver looking after a parent. This person may be privy to private financial information, so every effort should be made to ensure that private information is not accessible to anyone who is not a ‘financial caregiver’.
Beware of warning signs like large withdrawals from an account, and too good to be true investment opportunities. Depending on your parents’ abilities there are safeguards you can put in place to help them avoid losing control over their money and being exposed to a wide variety of types of fraud:
- Add another signatory to the checking account.
- Put a restriction on the ability to write checks or transfer funds above a certain amount.
- Limit online transactions fromthe account.
These steps as well as any other financial involvement you have in your parents’ lives will undoubtedly be an uncomfortable transition. No parent wants their autonomy removed or their independence questioned – particularly not by the children they have raised. But sometimes there is just no other option.
Running out of money
As potentially awkward as all the above described situations may be, everything becomes even more challenging when the parents have insufficient finances to fund their retirement. That creates a scenario in which the parents are financially dependent on their children, who may or may not have enough funds to support the older and younger generation simultaneously.
If this happens, consider the following steps:
- Make a plan. Ensure thatyour parent’s financial needs are also being incorporated within your budget if necessary.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure that all the siblings are involved and helping when they are able.
- Work out the different roles that family members will take upon Those who are not able to help financially might take on other responsibilities involved in helping one’s parents. Once again, always discuss and coordinate the care.
Parents protect their children during their formative years. As they age it is not easy for them to acknowledge their vulnerability and needs, and discussing their finances and handing over responsibility is very challenging. But if we are fortunate enough to have parents still with us at an advanced age, it should be our privilege to help them adapt to the difficult role reversal in which children need to care for the parents.