Sandwiches—delicious for lunch, not so much in real life, if you are part of a “sandwich generation.” I am referring to feeling the squeeze of taking care of your own family and aging parents at the same time, often corresponding to one’s own peak career years. Each of the members on my team have lived this role—and we have learned from each other and the resources of our firm.
Today, our clients are experiencing the additional effects of a COVID-19 environment, adding home schooling, health care, and grocery shopping for the extended family to the growing list of responsibilities. This is all while the center of the sandwich—the caretaker in the middle generation—is still trying to save for kids’ college, retirement, other personal goals, and participating in company 401Ks and stock options/grants/purchase plans to boost their chances for success in reaching their goals-based financial plan.
While new modes of wealth accumulation may provide increased levels of liquidity and timing of goals, the burden of concerns regarding care for loved ones remain the same. Emotions can run high—guilt, shame, frustration—influencing the ability to help effectively. Much like airline safety protocols, we recommend focusing on yourself before you help others.
First, you need to get organized. Utilize our “Family Inventory Workbook” which can be beneficial, as it provides a framework to identify and collect financial and health care information in a comprehensive way, without judgment, and helps ensure wishes and responsibilities are understood and met. Items like personal files, documents, passwords, and medical histories are accounted for and understood. It may also uncover items that need to be addressed, like a forgotten 401K, out-of-date beneficiary information, or estate and end-of-life directives.
Once you have done this for yourself, you can start to compile an inventory of your parents’ information. Acknowledge and be sensitive to generational and/or cultural views around finances. For example, your parents may be fiercely private about their finances and health, which can compound the difficulty of providing help and care. Working through the objective workbook together may help diffuse the tension and focus on moving forward together.
Second, simplify accounts and fill gaps that are identified. Consolidating assets at one or two financial institutions can make things easier to manage today, and simpler to transition later both for caretakers and executors. The workbook can help highlight where to begin, as well as tax documents (i.e. 1099s that come annually from institutions where assets are held).
Third, get help lined up. There simply are not enough hours in a day to take care of yourself, your family, and your parents, especially if physical or cognitive (power of attorney) help is needed. It takes a tremendous toll on the caretaker and eventually may have costly physical and mental health consequences—we, unfortunately, see this too often. Become familiar with resources available in your parents’ area that you can lean on when needed.
Unfortunately, as with many things in life, we often do not have the luxury of convenient timing. Therefore, having a plan for yourself and the generation you created is an important step so that your children are better prepared than the current generation is today. Understanding what you have, any tax considerations and consequences, and what happens to it when you pass can help bring you and your family peace of mind. Fear of losing loved ones, feeling unprepared, or not sure how to start an awkward conversation may pose a barrier to this effort, but it’s never too late to get started—your loved ones will thank you for it. Let’s start the conversation today.
Heather was named a Forbes Top Women Wealth Advisor and Working Mother’s Top Wealth Advisor in 2020. She is the principal advisor on the multi-generational Krause & Thorpe Wealth Management Team, helping busy families build and preserve wealth.