If you feel like a delicious piece of cheese perfectly melted between one slice of crusty bread and another chunk of dough that wasn’t quite ready to come out of the oven, consider yourself part of the Sandwich Generation. The crusty bread - your aging parents - and the uncooked dough - your growing children - put you (the delicious cheese) right in the middle of a difficult situation, one that will affect you emotionally, financially, and legally.
Women are more likely than men to become sandwiched, spending an average of 29 hours a month providing care to senior parents, compared to the 13 hours their male counterparts are putting in. The type of care women and men give is different too. Women give more attention to jobs such as bathing and feeding. Men perform home maintenance work and supply assistance with transportation.
I speak from experience. Being the middle component of said sandwich can take its toll on a person’s mind, body, and wallet. Raising three teenagers as a working, single parent is hard enough, but add a sick parent who lives six states away, and you’ve got a challenge. Given my circumstances a few years ago, I felt lucky that my sister and I, both in Baltimore, were able to work together and take turns visiting my cancer-stricken mother and exhausted father in Louisiana.
When my mother died a few months later, parenting my parents didn’t end. My sister and I still visited our father, who needed emotional support, as often as we could. I began to deal with the disorder of their finances - something that they should have arranged long ago. These undertakings were piled on top of my long list of usual responsibilities, which included working full time, running my household, and caring for my children. I was left physically and emotionally drained.
But living through the sandwich years doesn’t have to make you wish you ordered a salad. Below is a list to keep you and both sides of your grilled cheese in good financial and legal shape, so that when you are parenting your kids and folks at the same time, you are better prepared.
Your aging parents need:
power of attorney/guardianship in cases of incompetence
shield from elder fraud and abuse
Your growing children need:
guardianship (as a provision of your will)
a plan to pay for college (federal tuition aid, tax-advantaged savings plans, loans)
assistance in preparing this plan
And most important, you need:
a plan for funding your retirement
health, disability, life, and long-term care insurance
estate planning: wills, trusts, power of attorney, estate and gift tax
ability to manage an inheritance
With your mounting responsibilities and obligations to your loved ones, it is often easy to put yourself last. But it is essential that you remember to take care of your own needs first when you are sandwiched because what good are a couple of slices of bread, whether burnt to a crisp or a little underdone, if they have no cheese between them? ■
Katherine B. Paal, MBA, CFP, RFC, CTFA
Paal is a Certified Financial Planner at Heritage Financial Consultants in Lutherville, Md., and is an investment advisor representative, registered representative, and licensed insurance broker with Lincoln Financial Advisors Corporation, a registered investment advisor and broker-dealer (1300 York Road, Lutherville, MD, 21093, (410) 339-6675. You may e-mail Paal at [email protected].