According to Pew Research, about one in seven middle-aged adults are members of the Sandwich Generation, providing financial support to both their parents and their children. Are you one of them? While we all expect to take care of our children, I know from experience how challenging it is to be a parent to one’s parents—especially if the parents do not agree that they need help!
But the time may come one day when you do need to help your parents organize their finances if they ever become unable to do so, and it is always better to be proactive in this process rather than waiting until the family is in crisis mode.
Baby Boomer parents may have a more analog way of organizing their financial lives than their Gen X children that may entail physically going to the bank, writing checks, and paying bills through the mail. Automating these processes makes everyone’s life easier. It can leave parents feeling like they're still in control, while you don’t have to worry about their heating bill being left in the refrigerator. Here’s how you can do it. (For related reading, see: 5 Ways to Make Good Automatic Financial Decisions.)
Helping Elderly Parents
- Make costs predictable. Set up auto bill pay for your parents’ accounts and write down instructions for them to log in. You can even call companies and ask them to change due dates so that all bills are due around a certain time for predictable cash flow.
- Use services to simplify. Often, parents are still very independent but may need help in certain areas. There are many services that can fill the gaps—from grocery services like Blue Apron or Peapod to housekeepers. These services can help parents to stay independent longer.
- Make checklists. Weekly pillboxes with compartments make it easy to tell if the correct medication has been taken for each day. Use the same concept and make checklists for any other areas your parents need help remembering.
- Be vigilant of scams targeting the elderly. Scammers and con artists can be charismatic and persuasive, and unfortunately they often target the elderly. Common tactics include impersonating a family member in need of financial help, asking for “confirmation” of financial information, saying that time is limited to take advantage of an investment opportunity, and even threatening legal action for vague reasons. Make sure your parents know that they should never give out financial information from an unsolicited call or email.
- Ask parents to write an “I love you” letter. Should your parents become incapacitated, the family needs to know how to make important decisions, but most people find these conversations uncomfortable. You can ask your parents to write a letter that will only be opened in an emergency detailing health instructions, location of the will, and contact information for their attorney and other professionals. Even better, make a binder clearly identifying all of this information. Other options include buying ready-made kits, or storing documents in a secure virtual vault. (For related reading, see: Estate Planning Goes Digital: How to Get Started.)
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