By Michelle Murdock
Becoming a caregiver can result in many challenges; communicating with doctors, managing your time and your parents’ health, and just as importantly, their financial welfare. According to the National Caregiver’s Library website, (www.caregiverslibrary.org,) “caregiving involves more than just medical problems. Helping your loved one manage his or her finances can ensure that he or she will be able to pay for needed care and live more comfortably.”
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, “more than 66 million family caregivers in the U.S. – nearly 40 percent of the U.S. adult population – provide important societal and financial contributions toward maintaining the well-being of those they care for.”
So where do you start? You’re a caregiver, not a financial planner.
“There are so many pitfalls, you want to make sure you’re doing it right,” said Carolyn Spring, a Westborough, Mass.-based Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney and financial consultant who recommends getting some professional help from someone who has experience dealing with older populations.
“You do not want an investment advisor,” said Spring. “You are not investing. You are looking for someone that will set up a plan to meet your financial needs; tailored for you and providing an objective opinion for you.”
Elder Law attorneys like Spring regularly handle estate planning, Medicare and Medicaid issues, insurance disputes, fraud cases, and other legal affairs affecting the elderly. You might also consider utilizing a daily money manager to pay bills, balance checkbooks, or monitor and track insurance claims.
AgingCare.com also recommends using an independent financial planner; one that is not tied to specific companies, products and services. While these planners typically charge a fee for their services, they provide unbiased advice and find the right products to fit your needs.
The National Caregiver’s Library website lists several other suggestions for caregivers including encouraging savings and careful spending, making sure the family knows where to find important financial or legal documents and making sure you have an accurate assessment of your loved one’s financial situation. Also recommended is being able to obtain access to bank or brokerage accounts in an emergency. Spring recommends that caregivers make sure that a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy are in place where appropriate.
When is the best time to begin your financial planning as a caregiver?
“It’s hard to say,” said Spring. “It often depends on the health of the individual. You don’t want to have to plan in a crisis, so it’s best to start earlier.”
Spring also says that it can be difficult dealing with end of life issues and wondering what will happen.
“It’s not a fun question to get an answer to. At the latest, you should probably start planning by age 70 and sooner if there is a medical history with potential problems,” she said.
For those with limited resources, there are also free or low cost assistance programs available. Spring recommended checking out the Massachusetts Dept. of Health and Human Services (617-573-1600), BayPath Elder Services (508 573-7200) and your local housing authority.
The National Alliance for Caregiving website offers research reports that identify the challenges facing caregivers and potential solutions to address some of these challenges, including the impact of caregiving and its financial costs.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Spring. “In the long run, it’s worth it.”
But what is the best advice for caregivers?
“If I could give only one piece of advice to caregivers,” said Spring, “it would have nothing to do with money. I would encourage them to take breaks from their caregiving duties and do something for themselves, even if it’s only for an hour a day. Go out to lunch, read a book, but do something for themselves to avoid burnout.”