Sandra Reed: Life care planning for your 50s

The 50s: The “Sandwich Generation”

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

As a part of changing demographics and longer life spans, those in their 50s are increasingly finding themselves sandwiched between the twin concerns of caring for aging parents and juggling their children’s college and career launching costs. All this while planning for their own retirement.

Many in the Sandwich Generation have parents who need costly nursing home or in-home care. Also, an increasing percentage of adults between 18 and 24 are living at home with their parents, with that number at 55 percent in the 2012 census.

The toll on the Sandwich Generation is not only financial, but also emotional and physical. Days in the 50s decade can feel as crowded and exhausting as the first few months of caring for a newborn. And often the hours in the day of a 50-something are filled with caring from which the joy of new parenthood is absent.

Therefore, it is extremely important for those in their 50s to take action that will lower their stress levels and increase peace of mind.

Don’t Be a Martyr or a Saint: Meet the Parents

Increasing life spans among Americans have upped the number of people in their 50s who have parents still living who are in their 70s and 80s. That means, to avoid feeling like the lettuce in a BLT, those in their 50s must plan ahead for the care these parents may need. They must talk about the issues with their parents.

Expect this conversation to be difficult, even painful, for both you and your parents. Anticipate the parents’ resistance. Do not, under any circumstances, allow that resistance to block the discussion.  Push through their obstructive tactics, whatever they are. Don’t and you and they will suffer the consequences. Be motivated by the realization that the repercussions of avoidance can be dire.

Discuss with your parents their financial status. Frankly discuss how they want to live, what health care they desire and what life-saving methods they would choose. Then gather the courage to turn the conversation to the hard part: facing the reality of whether or not their assets will allow them to actually have the lifestyle and care they prefer. If not, it is essential to prepare all of you for the required compromises.

Once you have a realistic picture of their financial position, explore options for preserving as many of their assets as possible. Instead of automatically assuming mom and dad must rob their own retirement accounts for long-term medical care (or robbing your own), assist parents in seeking alternative methods of payment.  If the day of reckoning has not arrived when long-term care is imminent, long-term care insurance may be an option.

Multiple factors will enter into the decision. Among them are the cost, how long it will likely be needed and the type of benefits. And while contemplating long-term care insurance for your parents, check into it for yourselves. Financial planners often recommend purchasing long-term care insurance during the 50s while it is still affordable.

Whether or not the parents need long-term care now or not, consider Medicaid planning to qualify them for that assistance.  Consult a qualified elder law attorney and educate yourselves and your parents concerning their options for obtaining this financial assistance and preserving assets.

Meet the Children

Don’t automatically pull out the checkbook to pay for college tuition. Work with your children to find financial aid for funding education.  Explore with them the benefits of two years of junior college and transfer to a four-year program after obtaining an associate’s degree. Often the savings can be tremendous without jeopardy to long-term career goals.

Discuss with the children the possibility of living at home rather than in a dorm or an apartment to save on living expenses while attending college. Outline the responsibilities expected of them with this arrangement. College-age children should begin assuming adult obligations to the extent reasonable. It will pay off for them in the long run and will reduce the physical and emotional stress on the parents.

Consider state schools rather than private institutions. Most state schools are less expensive. Don’t limit the examination to those colleges and universities located in Texas. Little Johnny or Janie can move to another state and live and work for the period of time to establish residency to avoid the added expense of out-of-state tuition costs. Postponing higher education for work experience — especially if related to a field of interest — could enhance children’s resumes when they re-enter the work force after graduation.

Think out of the box here. Consider the possibility that one or more of the children may move back home and postpone moving into a smaller home if that has been a goal. But if the possibility of the return of the prodigal child becomes a reality, don’t kill the fatted calf. Instead, contract with the child for a quid pro quo arrangement. A one-way street of parental giving and offspring taking only amplifies the difficulties heaped upon the Sandwich Generation.

Meet the Sandwiched Self

Put your own house in order, financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Those who have followed the path outlined for the previous decades, from the 20s to the present, should be in as good shape as the unpredictable cards drawn from life’s deck allow.

Those who have not followed the recommended fiscal course up to now should mend that error now. Reviewing the checklists for each decade and remedy the omissions helps take care of the financial.  Resolving disputes or rifts between you and your children or between you and your parents helps take care of the emotional.  Establishing a relationship with whatever higher power works for you helps takes care of the spiritual. Life care planning takes the squeeze out of the Sandwich Generation.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney practicing in Glen Rose, of Counsel with the Fort Worth elder law firm of Katten & Benson. Phone: 254-797-0211;  email:

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