Delayed childbearing is giving this generation of women dual responsibility for aging parents and young children. Like middle-income Americans pay all the taxes, middle-aged (apologies for the word choice) Americans shoulder the financial responsibility for both the Young and the Restless. Of course, as a product of the teenage pregnancy epidemic of the 1970s, my parents and I will probably be in the “old folks home” together. (They are 17 and 18 years older than I.) Still the time to “woman up” is now.
Some of us have parents who can help us, and others have parents who need our financial help. I have one of each. My mother needs a little help, and my father has more assets than he can spend in his lifetime. Whether your parents are financially dependent or not, you still need to understand and perhaps attend to their affairs.
For my mother, I purchased long-term care insurance. If you think you want primary responsibility for your parents when they get sick, consider this. My healthy mother lived with me one winter to enjoy the Miami weather. I adore my mother. She’s my biggest fan and the warmest most giving human on earth, but winter lasts three months. She left fingerprints of her make-up all over my house. She’s not a healthy cook. So I cooked five nights a week to help her lose 20 pounds. She wanted to clean, but she’s not as good as my cleaning lady so my place was not as orderly as I like. She didn’t know anyone here so she decided to come to work with me every day (no comment). She even reupholstered my office furniture (that was a good thing). When she left I cried, both because I’d miss the talks and walks on the beach with her and because I was overjoyed to have my home back. Through that experience, I made some beautiful adult memories with my mommy, and I learned that when my mother gets elderly and sick, I need professional care for her.
If you have parents who need help, please remember that charity starts at home. It absolutely amazes me how many people write checks to charity when their families are a charity case. If your parents don’t own their home(s), there’s your charity. If they don’t have long-term care insurance, that’s where your charitable contribution should be going.
So it is up to us to ensure that our parents have a solid plan for aging. Where will they live? How will their health be attended to? Will you be able to provide any supplemental income for their entertainment and fulfillment in their later years? Even if your parents are not wealthy, they usually have something—a bank account, a house—make sure those assets pass to you (and your no count siblings, if any) without probate. And make sure there is enough cash on hand to pay for their final expenses.
It is important that you understand their finances when your parents have wealth as well. Will you be inheriting a job? Managing a family business? How leveraged are their assets? How quickly can these assets be monetized? Is adequate insurance and estate planning in place to protect those assets from litigation, creditors, your parent’s serious illness or disability, your sibling(s) drug problem or tendency to overspend, that pretty young thang your dad is sizing up, your parents’ fear of losing control over their money before they die? Indeed, dealing with a financially independent parent can be more difficult than dealing with a more dependent one because the dependent one is incentivized to listen to you. So start having money talks with both parents.