Caring for an ageing parent may be the highest calling of your life. But it also can rob you of time, money, and your own experiences. In some cases, these personal sacrifices can create bitterness and regret, causing ill will toward the very people you love and have pledged to help.
USA based MetLife’s ageing and retirement research unit, the Mature Market Institute (MMI), measured the financial costs and sacrifices of family caregiving in a 2011 study. More recently, it used those findings to create recommendations for how family members might cope with the financial stresses of caregiving. We have modified some of the advice to suit Australian circumstances.
1. Think very carefully before quitting a job to help a parent. Gaining time may be offset by not only your loss of current income but also damage to your retirement savings. If you leave work, what are the odds of finding work in the future? Would your job skills still be attractive to prospective employers if you didn’t work for several years?
2. Would you lose other helpful benefits if you left your job? In addition to your own health insurance, are there employee disability, life insurance, and longterm care insurance policies that would be very costly to replace? Check out your employer’s flextime and family leave policies.
3. Make a caregiving budget. Before making a lifestyle decision with financial consequences, put together a comprehensive look at what you are spending on caregiving. Make a companion list of your parent’s resources and how they might be better used to support caregiving activities.
4. Explore free or low-cost public benefits. Check out the government’s state and federal benefits. Government benefits are explored elsewhere in this edition.
5. Understand the costs of keeping your parent in their home. Most people want to grow older in their own home, surrounded by possessions and memories. How much will such “ageing in place” cost and what are the implications of the new Consumer Directed Care program?
6. Consider professional help. If your parent’s needs are extensive and challenging, consider hiring a professional who can put together a care plan for you, and can often identify community resources to reduce your own expenses and time.
7. Watch out for financial scams. Financial abuse of the elderly has, sadly, become a growth industry. Make sure your parents are protected from making hasty, poor, and expensive financial decisions.
8. Have “the conversation.” Make sure you understand what your parent wants should you wind up with the legal power and responsibility to make decisions for them. This conversation may be uncomfortable for both of you, but it is essential. If you don’t know the ins and outs of a power of attorney—and few people do— find an expert to help.
9. Make your own retirement plan. How are you fixed for retirement? Will you be able to support yourself? How might your financial future be affected by taking care of a parent? Are there steps you need to take to deal with these implications?