Helping one with homework and balancing the other’s checkbook. Getting one to sports practices and the other to doctor appointments. Evaluating colleges with one and assisted living options with the other. Making sure both are eating right. Worrying when either gets behind the wheel of a car.

Financial professionals tell me that these are challenges their clients face with mounting frequency. It’s a scenario shared by over 20 million Americans? who find themselves members of the sandwich generation, tasked with raising their children while attending to the growing health and financial needs of their aging parents.

“Sandwich generation” describes the segment of Americans squeezed between the simultaneous demands of caring for their aging parents and supporting their dependent children. The ranks of the sandwich generation demographic are growing rapidly, especially as rising life expectancies increase the likelihood that parents will have to rely on their children as they age.

Being in the sandwich generation exacts a financial, logistical and emotional toll that adds pressure to family relationships. Taking on health care, financial, legal and daily living issues on behalf of parents is a daunting task for which many are unprepared. Boomers who live long distances from their aging parents face an even greater challenge.

Financial services representatives are discovering clients who are members of the sandwich generation and are struggling with the demands of this unexpected role. Helping these clients often means exploring an emotionally charged dynamic that may take precedence over planning for the client’s own financial future and well-being.

In fact, a top concern boomers cite is caring for their parents as they age.2 The challenge is that clients often neglect to plan for their own retirement as they deal with the day-to-day responsibilities of so many others. There is also evidence that some may be tapping their own retirement plans to pay for a parent’s expenses.

This is an opportunity for financial professionals to fulfill a more consultative role and enhance their value in the eyes of their clients and prospects. The attention to this emerging topic is becoming so widespread that financial services companies are beginning to target resources to help professionals assist sandwich generation clients.

Many resources are available for financial services representatives, which include comprehensive tools and information about planning and providing care for older parents. Among them are materials needed to plan and host seminars to help sandwich generation clients manage the financial risks that accompany balancing responsibilities between those of their children and their older parents.

Understanding the need

As a financial services professional, it is important to understand the very complex needs clients confront in caring for elderly parents, along with the financial and emotional needs of the parents themselves. After determining with your client that their parents are in need of care, the next step is to assess specifically what assistance is required. As parents age, they encounter a number of lifestyle changes and may avoid seeking the necessary help for fear of sacrificing their independence. Also, many parents simply aren’t willing to ask their children for help.

If there is cause to be concerned, then the next step is a difficult one for your client — initiating a conversation with their parents. It’s important for clients to be proactive before a crisis occurs and find ways to discuss sensitive topics such as loss of abilities, health concerns and financial problems.

The largest out-of-pocket expenses for aging adults relate to long-term care, prescriptions and health care. It is key that clients preview finances with their parents and maintain a monthly budget. Another crucial task is to define responsibilities by establishing Power of Attorney on the parent’s behalf. This also includes the need for a Living Will and, if needed, a medical Power of Attorney to make medical decisions on behalf of the parent if they become incapacitated.

Providing valuable resources

The intense burden of caring for an aging parent may lead a client to doubt whether they can handle the situation or worry if they are spending enough time with their own family. The answers may be found with a geriatric care manager. The manager’s role is to help families caring for aging relatives by assessing medical and social service needs and connecting them with the appropriate resources. They also can provide short- and long-term assistance for caregivers and offer support and counseling for family members.

As a financial services representative for clients with aging parents, it is important to be knowledgeable on the most trusted Web sites and support groups, as well as other additional resources. It is crucial to know and understand that there is no one set of solutions for sandwich generation members as each situation will differ from client to client. By providing this information early on to clients, you can help them embrace their care-giving responsibilities in a positive manner on the challenging journey ahead. Additionally, you can help provide them with the ability to continue saving for their own retirement and well-being while financially and emotionally supporting those they love the most.

Where to begin

The Eldercare Locator: Connects caregivers to local agencies on aging to find trustworthy care-giving services and organizations in any community within the United States. www.eldercare.gov

AARP: Offers a wealth of information and resources for caregivers and aging adults regarding eldercare issues. www.aarp.org

Choosing the best care options

Assisted Living Federation of America: Provides resources, videos and a searchable directory of assisted living facilities by location. www.alfa.org

CarePathways: Assists caregivers and aging adults with choosing the right long-term care option by providing information, resources and a searchable database of local services and agencies. www.carepathways.com

Hospice Foundation of America: Offers valuable resources, videos, a blog space for users to write about their hospice experiences and a searchable directory of local hospice care centers. www.hospicefoundation.org

Funding programs

Medicare: Provides detailed information on Medicare, Medigap and Medicaid, and how to apply for these funding options. www.medicare.gov

Insurance Information Institute: Offers detailed information about different types of insurance available, including long-term care insurance. www.iii.org

Long-distance caregiving

National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications: Empowers aging adults to continue living independently at home by offering valuable information on home modifications and home care services. www.homemods.org

Visiting Angels: Provides home care services to aging adults and valuable information about how home care can help. www.visitingangels.com

Mark Caner, MBA, AEP, ChFC, CLU, CFP, is president of W&S Financial Group Distributors, Inc., an operating unit of IFS Financial Services, Inc., and the wholesale division for Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern) based in Cincinnati. Mr. Caner joined Western & Southern in 2006 and is responsible for leading three distribution channels: broker-dealers, financial institutions and independent marketing organizations/independent agents. In addition, he has responsibility for marketing, product development and sales support.

Web sites mentioned are suggested resources and are not necessarily endorsed by Western & Southern Financial Group.

Footnotes:
1. USA Today, June 6, 2007.
2. The Financial Life Planning Institute, November 2007.